By Greg Price
It was a team made of Taber Fading Sons that emerged victorious in the 40-plus division in the CAN/AM Challenge Cup: Texas Hold Em Division, in Las Vegas.
“There were only eight teams that were in the tournament and I was quite disappointed having never gone before and not knowing what to expect. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great experience, it’s just when you look at the website, you’d be expecting more teams,” said Tod Pickerell, a co-captain with the Taber Fading Sons team, who had 15 skaters and two goalies make the trip, with an average age of over 50.
The Fading sons played the Screaming Eagles of Florida, the Vikings from California and the Battle Born from Las Vegas.
The Fading Sons went undefeated in the tournament with one game being a one-goal contest. Given it was a fun tournament situated in Sin City, Pickerell jokingly noted perhaps not every team was in peak playing shape with the camaraderie of late nights and early game times.
“The game against So Cal, we only beat them by a goal (6-5). We played at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. that day, so you can imagine what we were doing in-between,” said Pickerell with a chuckle. “But maybe they weren’t in their best shape either. It never felt like we were in trouble.”
The Fading Sons were able to record lopsided wins against the Screaming Eagles and Battle Born where Pickerell noted the team did take the foot off the pedal a bit.
“It certainly seemed clear to us that the California team was the strongest of the other three teams and we expected to play them in the gold-medal game, but they ended up losing to South Florida,” said Pickerell. “So we ended up playing South Florida in the final, a team we beat 7-1 earlier. That game (final) was 8:45 a.m. so everyone was in rough shape.”
The Fading Sons took the gold medal while having a golden time in Las Vegas. The tournament was at City National Arena which is just a year old. It is the practice facility of the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Easily taking care of the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the NHL playoffs, the Golden Knights had some down time and were practising during some days the CAN/AM Challenge Cup.
“On the Saturday after their practice, they had a family skate. They were out on the ice with their wives and children. None of us are all that familiar with the players. I’d know James Neal to see him and Marc-Andre Fleury to see him, but the rest of the guys, they are not household names to me,” said Pickerell of the Cinderella Golden Knights, a team of castoffs with the NHL expansion draft who are taking the NHL by storm with their success in their inaugural year. “There were like eight players on the ice and the one I truly recognized was Marc-Andre Fleury. He came out in the lobby and was very approachable and got a picture with a few of the guys.”
There were 400 to 500 people showing up to watch the Golden Knights practice as Las Vegas has truly embraced its NHL hockey team.
“Talking to locals and cabbies, they have all said the city has really fallen in love with the Golden Knights. That’s partially to do with how well they are doing this year, beating the odds. Will that translate into minor hockey? Who knows,” said Pickerell. “There are not leagues yet, but there are kids programs and adult programs. But, there is still not that many ice surfaces in the city. We were told there were five total ice surfaces. In a city of one million people, if you started up minor hockey, you’d probably need more ice surfaces, but it’s a start.”
Seeing the success of the Golden Knights in the regular season, sweeping the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs, and proving their mettle against the San Jose Sharks in the second round, the vibe was electric for NHL hockey everywhere the Fading Sons went during its tournament run late last month.
“You see it everywhere you go in the city and on the strip,” said Pickerell, noting New York New York’s 150-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty wearing a gigantic Golden Knights sweater. “I have no idea how they got it on there. It was a cool feeling. They treated us great, it was a great experience all the way around.”