Bob Boyes is the father of 27-year-old NHLer Brad, a member of the St. Louis Blues currently playing his fifth year in the league.
Every year at Christmas time, like thousands of other Canadians, our family would follow the Canadian junior hockey team religiously at the world junior hockey championships.
In 2001-02, Brad made the team for the second year running and they were off to the Czech Republic – only this year, I went too!
The team had left in mid-December to go to Sweden and then to the Czech Republic for exhibition games and the early tournament game.
I went with a travel agency that organized the trip for parents and fans wanting to go. We left Boxing Day, and I had never been to Europe before.
As parents, we were allowed to visit for 15 minutes or so after each game and practice with our son. That was it. No other contact. It was 100 per cent focus on hockey for the players. No distractions.
Canada’s games were in the secondary rink in Hradec Kralove. There were Canadian fans and maybe a couple of hundred other spectators.
I remember the rink was freezing inside, but the games were exciting. Canada progressed through the preliminary rounds as expected, with Brad and his linemates as the top three in scoring for the tournament.
One goal Brad scored and which made the highlights occurred right in front of where I was standing at the time at the end of the arena behind the net, and I still have that moment etched in my memory – the cold of the arena, the limited number of spectators, the excitement of a nice goal, the Canadians cheering in the background.
The championship game for the gold medal is one that I have replayed on video and in my mind a number of times.
The game was in Pardubice. It was about an hour drive from where we were staying. When we arrived, the atmosphere outside was alive. The arena was beautiful. The fans were vocal.
Inside, the arena was like something I have never experienced. The loud band, the louder plastic horns, the cheerleaders in each aisle, the colour of the scarves and hats, the singing.
It was electric and cold. There were 10,000 people packed into the rink. Our contingent of parents and fans sat in the second tier above the Canadian bench.
I wore my lucky red maple leaf-shaped hat and a Canadian jersey signed by the team. We were going to beat these Russians for the second time in the tournament.
Canada scored a couple of goals and by the middle of the game were leading 3-1 and dominating the ice, while the Russians looked like they were giving up.
The Canadians appeared in control and confident. But the Russians then got a goal, then another, and the lead went back and forth. Then they took the lead 5-4.
In the dying minutes of the game, we pulled our goalie and tried for the tying goal but it was not to be. It was devastating – absolutely devastating. To watch the Canadian kids standing there for the ceremony was really hard.
It seemed like an eternity before the Canadian players emerged one by one from the dressing room to meet with their family. All we could tell our sons was that they played their hearts out, we loved them and were very proud of them. It was a very, very tough loss.
Parents were allowed this time to travel to the hotel to be with their child. When I arrived at the hotel and went in, I remember I could not find Brad anywhere.
Finally I found him in the very back, a hidden corner of the restaurant.
He was with one other player. He was devastated. His hat was pulled way down over his forehead and he was very subdued. We chatted for a while, munched on who knows what kind of food, and then it was time for the parents to leave.
I left with the other parents to return to our hotel. The next time I saw Brad was when we were back home in Mississauga, Ont. Brad arrived before I did so family and friends were already at our house. They were very proud of what he and the team accomplished in Europe. It was still hard to lose, but I know they made him feel a little bit better.