The Medina Bees had just wrapped up pool play at the 2013 Toyota-USA Hockey Boys’ Varsity High School Championships in Coral Springs, Fla., and head coach Randy Hrabak was talking about the plans for the rest of the day.
“We’re off to South Beach this afternoon,” Hrabak said. “You know the rule about swimming and hockey — my rule now is they better swim in South Beach. That’s what we’ve been doing, we’ve been breaking all the rules and winning. It needs to be an experience.”
As it turned out, the Ohio-based squad didn’t win the tournament, losing 2-0 in the semifinals to eventual runner-up Regis Jesuit of Colorado. But it most definitely was an experience to remember for Hrabak and his players.
Truth is, playing the tournament at the Florida Panthers’ state-of-the-art practice facility was a unique experience for just about all of the 20 teams involved.
This was the fourth year of the USA Hockey Varsity High School Championships, but the first time the event was held in warm weather after twice taking place in Chicago and last year in Salt Lake City.
For teams like Medina, John Jay High School out of New York; Waterloo, Iowa; or Skyline in Idaho, the magnitude of the event went beyond hockey.
“Without a doubt, no two ways about it,” said John Jay head coach Mario Chiacchia, whose team played in the 2010 event in Chicago.
“We leave here, we walk out and it’s palm trees. I texted my wife pictures, and she’s not happy ... she’s calling a lawyer. It’s very special down here. To tell you the truth, we had a good time in Chicago, but when you add the weather factor in and we can go back to the hotel now and go in the pool, I think this is a little bit more special.”
Of course, playing a hockey tournament in South Florida has its dangers. The biggest for these coaches was watching their players get drained by the South Florida heat or spending too much time in the water.
“It’s a great place to have it,” Waterloo coach Doug Dietz said at the conclusion of pool play. “The only concern for me as a coach is the sun and the heat for my players. We’re done today at 1 p.m. and I just told them, if you’re out in the sun you better put on the highest sun block there is.”
Hrabak, though, didn’t care about any rules.
“It’s got to stay here,” he said emphatically. “We play so many games a year that if this would have been — no offense to other cities — in Chicago, in Cleveland where we’re from, it would have been another set of games, another tournament championship. This, if you’d see the boys at the pool hanging out, just the stuff they’re doing right now, the bonding experience is absolutely amazing.
“They’re doing everything that a youth coach tells their kids not to do."
“I can’t remember the score two games ago, so let them be kids. They’re here for the whole experience. And if we can win games and break the rules, I’m all for it.”