Haliburton Hurricane Matt Duchene loved the Coby Islander

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Matty and Don. Back when Matty was still just a youngster?

By Terrance Gavan

   The Coby Islander tournament is a beautiful segue.

From twigs to mashees.

From tacks to tracks.

And in case you were wondering why parking spots inMindenand Haliburton were so scarce last weekend?

Well, blame the legendary end of season rec league showdown known as the Coby Islander.

It’s a tradition.

And it’s a solid reminder that in spite of the snow and that wind and those gales, summer is close.

Easter Sunday dawned sunny and warm and contributed to the bonhomie as finalists dragged hockey bags to the rink for one last kick at this friggin’ winter.

So what’s the deal with the Coby anyway?

I’m a foreigner. So I can’t quite encapsulate the history of this storied jaunt.

But I did get a chance to see just how important it was through the eyes of a young Haliburton lad.

One of my first interviews with Matt Duchene – who is over inEuroperipping it up in the IIHF World Hockey exhibitions – was at a cottage nearMinden.

It was just after he made the decision to join Cody Hodgson as a member of the OHL’s Brampton Battalion.

Dave Bolland (Chicago), Stan Butler (Bramptom Battalion Coach) and Andrew Cogliano (Edmonton) were there with some player agents. The players came armed with some World Junior mementoes lining a long folding table.

The sprawling cottage – and the huge guest bunky – was headquarters for the triple A midget Nationals fromToronto. They were there for a summer camp.

Bolland, Duchene and Cogliano were there to bolster young dreams. Bolland was headed to the Blackhawks, Cogliano was moving toEdmonton, and Matty? Well Matty had just made the decision to forego a scholarship atMichiganStateUniversityfor the Battalion.

Good Decision? Nods please.

I chatted with all three players. Bolland, Duchene and Cogliano and I had a chance to chat with Stan theMan.

Cogliano was hoping to stick withEdmontonthat year, and I recall Stan the Man, quite candidly, warning the young player not to party with former Battalion all purpose forward Raffi Torres – who it should be noted learned only the good stuff fromButler.

Butlerknew even back in 2008 that Raffi had some, hmm,  issues. (Raffi later leftEdmontonfor Vancouver, a trade that generated zero concussive publicity until recently.)

I remember that I was disappointed that Cody Hodgson coudln’t be there. He was over inEuropeplaying in the under 18 tourney at the time. Duchene?

Well I had seen him play two games I think with the Red Hawks.

Anyway, Matty, Dave and Andrew sat down with me for an interview for the old Highlands Communicator – now theCountyConnections.

Talk rolled around to the Coby Islander Tournament and Matty’s eyes lit up instantly.

Duchene told me that he had fond memories of one Coby in particular. Playing with a cousin and some close friends. I’m pretty sure they won.

But it was the look in his eyes as he chatted about playing in this seminal end of season tourney that impressed me most.

Because the Coby Islander – a Rec League end of season tourney – seemed to nudge a cord with the young man.

Now I’m thinking back and asking, just what it was about this Coby Islander weekend brought that instant flash and flood of reminiscence?

I think I got it this weekend. Finally. Remember that I only arrived here from theRockiesin 2002. I’m a wee bairn of a Highlander. A puppy’s piddle. An oustsider.

But.

Watching those guys and girls fly around the arenas last weekend inMindenand Haliburton.

And then stepping out and settling down on the brown grass with my netbook and pictures in the Easter Sunday sunshine at SG Nesbitt Arena?

Watching some young players sitting in shorts and tee-shirts, in the back of a pickup truck trading hockey stories.

The voices and the laughter.

Intermingling above the whistles and sharp thwack of puck from the arena ice?

And I really think I get it..

Cody Hodgson, Matt Duchene, Dave Bolland, and Andrew Cogliano may be playing for huge stakes right now – oops, sorry Andrew.

But deep down.

Where it counts.

Somewhere on the sleeves right next to the hearts.

Is a Coby Islander Hockey Tournament.

Where hockey is not a business.

But a memory; of friends, neighbors and family.

Memories of a dipsy-doodle, a 360, a huge save, or a missed chance.

Congregating on hardwood seats.

Enjoying our game.

And I realized then why Matt’s eyes lit up.

Hockey may be a business.

But thankfully… to the young men that play it?

It’s still a frozen pond; a backyard rink; a shared wink; and a Coby Islander.

Just a great weekend of hockey.

A great weekend of memories.

Good on ya’ Coby Islander.

Oh and good for business inHaliburtonCountytoo!

gav@countyvoice.ca  twitter.com/terrancegavan

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