The annual val d’or hockey-slash-broomball tournament has always been about the thrill of victory and barhopping and the agony of defeat and hangovers. That’s been less so for the past few years – ever since they stopped serving drinks in the snack bar above the ice. We asked some people at this year’s gathering what they remembered most from tournaments of yore. It wasn’t who scored at what time against whom, but the non-stop parties in and out of the arena. But like the scarred faces of net-minders, those days and nights are gone. Almost.

Friday Midnight in Louvicourt, 26 kilometers outside of Val d’Or. The bar at the Hotel Royale is nearly empty save for three Algonquin women quietly finishing off their beers and two underage Abitibiennes. At the lunch counter five Americans who look as if they haven’t showered or shaved for weeks are eating chicken and pea soup. Their 4×4 parked outside has six or seven frozen caribou in the back. They look very proud of themselves. Big mighty hunters. They probably didn’t even have to leave their warm and cozy trucks to kill them. Nonetheless, they’re very proud.

Saturday We make our way to the City of Gold at a fashionably late hour sometime in the afternoon. The arena is packed with fans and we take in our first game, after saying hi to a few friends. Waswanipi is playing Waskaganish in Class C. The game is tight, the hockey fast and furious, and the crowd excited. We are sitting beside a rabid Waswanipi fan armed with a very loud signal horn. With blood flowing from our ears, we duck a few times as the puck comes flying over the glass. Waswanipi scores the first goal with 1.6 seconds left in the first period. Soon, Waswanipi leads by 2-0. Then, Waskaganish scores to bring it to 2-1, but Waswanipi hits goal again (3-1), followed by another Waskaganish goal (3-2). With 3:55 left in the game, Waskaganish ties it up 3-3. “Now that’s good entertainment!” exclaims the Waswanipi fan. Tensions mount in the stands as Waskaganish gets a 2-minute penalty with only 2:55 left in the game. But Waswanipi can’t turn it into a point and the game ends in a tie. A great match.

2 pm We are eager for more hockey, but decide to head over to the infamous “rowdiest bar” of James Bay on world-famous 3rd Avenue to check out some of the legendary off-ice Val d’Or tournament action. The early-afternoon celebrations are in full swing as hockey fans (and a few players) lift a toast to their favourite team and catch up on tournament gossip. We’re sitting at a dark bar downstairs when we are surrounded by well-wishers and admirers of The Nation who appear out of nowhere like a moose in the night. One fellow journalist was taking the opportunity to break a two-year dry spell. After a friendly conversation, we’re back to the arena in good spirits.

Waskaganish vs. Mistissini
Saturday late afternoon
Not sure which “Class” teams were playing, but these fellas had lots of hockey class. They scrambled back and forth, but Waskaganish ended up dominating with a 4-0 victory. Best move of the game: In the 2nd period, the puck wound up behind the Mistissini goalie just inches outside the net with the opposite team swarming around. The fast-acting goalie did some kind of a back flip and landed on the puck with his back. Most painful moment: A Waskaganish player’s pass went too high and hit a team member in the nose. (Late breaking news: Class A game.)

Moose Factory vs. Lac simon
The Moose Factory Scrappers aren’t very scrappy today. Some of their felLow team members go AWOL for reasons best left out of a family magazine. The Scrappers who do make it to the game are late getting on the ice and don’t even have time to get warmed up. With only one or two players on the bench, compared to Lac Simon’s seven, things start off badly right away for Moose Factory. Lac Simon rams in its first goal within 30 seconds, then scores again twice before MF can respond. In the 3rd period, two MF players are sent to the penalty box to get some much-needed rest. The Scrappers still have a little life in them and manage to unleash a few half-decent shots on the LS net, but the goalie fends them off expertly. Five-to-one is the final tally, man.

Wemindji vs. Sept-Iles
Saturday eve
This is a real nail-biter of a game. Wemindji scores first and Neil confidently announces: “Ah, Wemindji is going to win now. They have the psychological advantage.” Little did he know… Wemindji leads 2-0 and Neil is thinking he’s some kind of prophet. But by the end of the 2nd period, Sept-Iles ties it up with two power-play goals. Neil is still confident: “No, I won’t take it back. I still think they can win. I believe in them.” With 1:11 left in the game, Sept-Iles takes the lead (4-3). Asked how he feels, Neil laughs nervously. “They’re going to score, man. They’re going to do it,” he says after a long pause. At 11 seconds, Wemindji takes out their goalie and puts six men on, but it’s still not enough. Jinxed by Neil Diamond!

We wander over to Rink 2 and a player is lying on a stretcher surrounded by people. We are told he collided with another player and has been lying there 20 minutes waiting for an ambulance! The crowd silently watches and hopes he’s okay.

Wemindji vs. Wasanipi
Saturday midnight.
Coming back from a few cordials, we see three cop cars outside the arena and we are met by an excited player from the Chisasibi Hunters, who have just won a big game against Mistissini. He tells us someone with the Mistissini team took a swing at a referee’s head with a hockey stick because he thought a bad call had been made. He missed and grazed the ref’s shoulder. Later on, with 30 seconds left in the game, another Mistissini player charged the ref in the middle of the rink and had to be restrained by his team mates. The clock runs down and security had to escort the ref from the arena. At about the same time, a fight erupts in the stands between two fans. The cops are called in, the perps are pursued and statements taken. It’s just like the good old days!

In the Wemindji vs. Waswanipi game, a ref is dazed when a puck hits him in the chin. It’s a tight game that goes into over-time. Wemindji ends up winning 2-1.

Moose Factory finds some of its “lost” team-mates for the match against Waskaganish at 1:30 a.m. Everyone is sleepy, including the horn-blower who sounds like a depressed moose.
The announcer is mumbling into the mike in a Japanese accent.
Waskaganish fans are silent as MF wins 5-0. The Scrappers’ goalie stands out with some great saves (“he’s a
wall,” someone says).

Saturday night. The Apollo on 3rd Avenue. The place is dead except for a girl from Waskaganish and three French guys playing pool. Too boring so we head over to the Chateau Inn and quietly grab a table near the bar. The place is mostly filled with Crees of all shapes and sizes. On the dance floor are two guys dancing with Christmas garlands wrapped around them. Several people stop by our table to offer congratulations on our fifth year, advice on how to cover Cree news, and their likes and dislikes in The Nation. Closing time and we’re invited to a party by members of one of the Wemindji teams at the Monaco. We politely decline and head back to Louvicourt.

2:34 pm.
We are back at the arena after a loooong night’s sleep and lots of coffee at the Hotel Royale. The playoffs are under way in Class B broomball: Waskaganish vs. Lac Simon. The players aren’t afraid to shove and be shoved, tackle their opponents and go diving for the ball. Waskaganish scores, but LS comes right back with three goals of its own to take it 5-1. The Lac Simon players dance on the benches to the music in between plays. Bertie Wapachee arrives at the Waskaganish bench to offer them encouragement, but even his support isn’t enough for the team to come back.

Wasanipi vs. Chisasibi broomballl
The Class A broomball finals feature a little necessary roughness. It’s a close one with no score in the first period. Charles Bobbish sits down nearby and proudly points out his daughter who’s trying to hustle up a play for the Chisasibi team. There’s a lot of horn blowing in this one. “It’s a horny game,” quipped Charles. The game is tied 1-1 when a coaching mistake leaves six players on the ice for Chisasibi, leading to a penalty. But Waswanipi can’t turn it into a point. It goes into 0T. After 20 minutes of 0T, still no score! In the second 0T period, Chisasibi again has too many players on and gets a penalty. Finally, Chisasibi scores with 10:21 left.

Moosonee vs. Mistissini OT
The oldsters push the puck around and engage in a little friendly jostling in yet another close game. One Mistissini player gets a four-minute penalty for some infraction. Moosonee ends up winning the finals 2-1.

Wemindji vs. Waskaganish class C
“It’s gonna be a close one,” Neil predicts before this game starts. When Wemindji scores 19 seconds into the game, he starts to worry: “That can’t be good for Waskaganish.” Wemindji keeps on keepin’ on, winning easily 4-1.

Moose Factory scrappers vs. chisasibi Hunters class A
We miss the Class B Finals because of a previous dinner engagement with the lovely and talented Val d’Or personality Yvon Boisvert and his charming wife Colette. We’ve gotta eat sometime, dammit! But we’re back in just in time for the final game. And what a game it is! The goalies and defense dominate early on with excellent plays. In the second period, Glen Salt, number 44 of the Hunters, rams the first goal in from 20 metres out seconds after a faceoff. The game really heats up. The Scrappers’ Greg Moore, #77, hits back with a power-play goal in the third. Moose Factory gets a penalty with 3:24 left and at 2:16 Chisasibi turns it into gold with a great goal by Francois Bobbish. They win 2-1.

Sunday, midnight
The Chateau Inn. A few hours after Chisasibi and Moose Factory’s championship game, and the house is almost full. Members of the Hunters and the Scrappers are in attendance enjoying celebratory drinks. A very drunk young man keeps bumping into everybody. A while later he staggers to our side of the table and slurs, “Who are you?” Neil tells him but it doesn’t seem to register. He grabs him roughly by the collar. “Are you so and so’s brother?” Neil asks trying to calm him down. He nods yes and lets him go. Whew. Then, he grabs Neil’s collar again and spits on him, saying angrily, “I hate that guy!” He lets go of Neil and staggers off to the dance floor. Later he is dancing on one of the tables by the dance floor and, still later, wrestling with a bouncer.
“Where are you guys from?” a fat guy asks. “You guys should get a haircut,” he offers. “This is the ’90’s. Your hair’s supposed to be short.” He says as he runs his hands through his thick hair which makes him look like he’s wearing a football helmet. We don’t bother to ask him why hair should be short in the ’90’s. We leave with the crowd at closing time and a fight between lovers is just beginning outside in the falling snow. We do a quick drive-by, shooting photos of the crowds gathered outside the two Indian bars, and head back to Louvicourt at 4:00 a.m. And that’s the last we saw of the Sin City tournament. And, like Lot, we didn’t dare look back.