There is no way one person can tell all the stories from the 2018 Ales Hrebesky Memorial – there are simply too many teams, too many players, and far too many brightly burning moments that quickly turn to dust as another memory flares into existence. Numbers alone could never capture the totality of it all. Thankfully, we were able to send a staff of four people over to Radotín, located just outside of Prague in the Czech Republic, to cover the event, experience it all firsthand, and then bring it home for you.
Justin Meyer attended his first ever AHM, and while he didn’t play, his newcomer’s ode to the tournament is a must read. He’s been to Beroun. He’s a veteran now. Brian Witmer will undoubtedly pen a lengthy and heartfelt tome on his experiences, as will Mark Donahue. Each of us will tell our own story, but taken all together, it’s as deep a perspective on this world class event as one can find.
Maybe these are your memories too, maybe they are not, but these are some the moments that will stay with me for the rest of my life. This is a tournament that MUST be experienced. If you have a lacrosse bucket list and this event is not on it, you should seriously rethink your priorities. This is something you need to do. Hopefully my stories and my experience will convince you of that!
2018 Ales Hrebesky Memorial Stories
Editor’s Note: Thanks to the support of MaxLax, the world leader in box lacrosse gear for goalies and players, we have been able to show off the AHM like never before! Make sure you peep the new MaxLax player gloves – super protective, super comfortable, old school inspired beauties!
The Old Kind Of Facetime
For many of us, “facetime” used to mean face to face interaction. Now it means a phone call, but with video. The established mode of personal interaction has officially been digitized in our modern world. For the last week however, the old meaning of the word crept back into my life, and it was just what I needed. I didn’t bring my computer. My phone didn’t work much, if at all. There were no likes or shares, no comments or links – just real people looking each other in the eye and sharing a brief moment in time.
Handshakes, slaps on the back, and a feeling of closeness from the hundreds of hugs and hellos flipped a switch back on for me, and a smile crept onto my face constantly. Half the time I didn’t even know I was smiling and then I’d catch a glimpse of myself in the glass, and yup, smiles all around. Maybe Robert Raitilla had just got me with a backdoor cut for a good shot, but I was smiling. When Neil Roberts told me with a smirk “hey, you’re not THAT bad”, I was smiling. When I dropped a couple passes and Logan Kane told me to calm down and let the game come to me, I started smiling yet again. For someone who spends an inordinate amount of time staring at a screen with a neutral expression on his face, the abundance of real interaction of old rekindled something positively primal in me, and it was the high quality of all the people in attendance that brought it out the most – I felt truly alive.
Of course, that is probably the best thing about the AHM – the people.
I spent a lot of time with Brad MacArthur and Doug Luey of the Gaels. Those guys have brought me in to their team over the last two AHMs and they treat me like I’ve been part of the family since midgets. While I am very much an outsider in many ways (an American field player at heart), and while we don’t always agree on the things we discuss (name a topic, any topic!), this has not driven me away, but instead has only served to make our connections stronger and our conversations more poignant. The unbridled honesty, respect, and friendship these two men in particular have shown me is unbelievable, and I count myself as a very fortunate person just to know them.
Along with many returning players and staff members for the Gaels, I met a bunch of other great “new” guys like Doug Trudeau, Chris O’Reilly, and Brandon Benn. Not new to lacrosse, just new to me. Doug and I talked about the ebb and flow of life and the challenges it presents. He shared his perspective with me openly, on a deep level, without hesitation. It was so valuable for me to hear him share like that. I listened, and I learned. Chris was my roommate, he’s in his late 40s, and it was his first time playing in the AHM. He was hooked immediately. We talked Czech history, I listened to him snore like a champ and then apologize profusely, and on the floor Chris played really well and was a great teammate. He showed me I have at last another decade of this! Benner was always good for a high quality joke, but we also spoke about what makes the game special for us, and his thoughts were inspiring. The recent Hopkins grad has such a bright future and so much talent.
So while the Gaels may come off as a rough bunch to other teams (we’ll get to that soon), when they bring you in to the team, you really feel like you’re home for the very first time.
Outside of my own team, I got to see so many old friends and make so many new ones. I spent time with absolutely wonderful people like Artie Merjasch, Mike Kennedy, Erik Holt, Andrew Polkinghorne and my ex-pat friend, Kurt, who lives their full-time. I now own a full Berliner HC kit because of Artie, I shared my stories, listened to others tell theirs, and not once did I post anything anywhere about it. There was no thought of posing, talking at a camera, or being anything other than in the moment. I’m sure I could have snagged a ton of likes and comments for all the stuff going on during the week, but that wasn’t even on my mind. It was simple, it was life, it was right in front of my face, and it was beautiful. No post on social media would have helped cement it into my mind any more than it is right now.
The above is what facetime should always be, and EVERY SINGLE PERSON in attendance helped to give me that gift for a full week. Thanks to you all, I will keep it with me forever.
Giving The Game For A Fist Bump
There are young volunteers at the AHM, and they all wear yellow polo shirts that say “Event Staff” on the back. These boys and girls may only be 13-16 years old or so (I actually have no idea how old they are), but they make this tournament hum. They are constantly filling water jugs, searching for balls, hauling fireworks to the roof, and doing every other little thing that you could possibly imagine. On top of all that, these kids have a knack for handing out fist bumps like hot cakes. It doesn’t matter if you’re dressed in your gear, or just lounging around the arena in your casual clothes, the event staff kids know who you are, and relentlessly offer fist bumps and smiles. It doesn’t matter if they don’t speak your language or you don’t speak theirs, they are there to support each and every player that they can.
When three of the event staff kids were in the Gaels locker room, I randomly hit them all with some gear. A pair of shorts, a pair of gloves, a head… I always bring extra stuff, and these kids deserved it. But one kid really stood out for me personally, and he took the fist bump obsession to the next level. Even if he was carrying a heavy load, he’d come over my way and throw out the fist. Consider it bumped. If he saw me from 50 yards away – bee line to fist bump. Every morning, afternoon, and night. Like clockwork. He also hooked me up with a paper towel after I threw up on Day 1 post game due to slight overheating and a stomach that had not quite adapted to the Czech chili.
So when my last game ended, I absolutely KNEW I’d pass him before I got to the clubhouse, and wouldn’t you know it, he was there refilling the ice in a cooler when the game ended, working away. Still, he caught sight of the players, and had the old fist bump extended. I took off my gloves, threw them on the shaft of my stick, and handed him the entire set up. At first he thought I just wanted him to hold it, but when I smiled and started to turn he got the drift, and I saw his eyes light up as I walked away. We didn’t speak a word, and didn’t need to. After the fireworks display I saw him running around on the floor throwing fakes with his new stick. He may think I had given him a gift, but in actuality I was just trying to pay him back for what he’d done for me the entire week. I still think I came out on top in that deal. To know you have even just one fan is a truly priceless thing, even if they are a fan of every player there.
The Building Of PROGRAMS
The two championship game teams, GoldStar Tel Aviv and the Nova Scotia Privateers, are both shining examples of what hard work, determination, and high character can produce on the floor at the AHM. Their success on the floor was evident as both teams attained their highest finishes ever, but even more evident was the fact that they played the game the right way throughout the tourney. They played hard, they played together, and each and every player gave it their all, and they did so for the guy next to them, and not themselves. People preach this aspect of team sports a lot, but no where was it more evident as a successful tactic than at the 2018 AHM.
Brad MacArthur has done an unbelievable job with Israel’s box program, and in a short five years the team has gone from doormat to champion, and that is NOT an overstatement. It’s simply true, and more than anything, a huge compliment. These guys are putting in the work, and earned every bit of their title. An added bonus for the rest of us are those championship Swoveralls, supplied by Kyle Bergman, a star player for Goldstar/Israel, and a man who has clearly seen the dark side of the moon.
When it comes to Nova Scotia, Rod Humphries has been working at something that many people said could not be done, and he is proving just about everyone wrong. Heck, I even picked Scotia to finish third in their group, but thankfully I LOVE being proven wrong, and the Privateers delivered! Scotia is on the come up, and will only continue to get better over the coming years. Rod has built this up, and the players he coaches are taking it to the next level with programs at home like the Jr A Bandits. Rod brought an all Scotia team, picked the right guys, and they showed exactly what that province is capable of. Glorious, and yet, it is still only the beginning. I’m incredibly proud Rod allowed me to play for them back in 2014. Bunch of beauties, all of them!
Far from the only teams that made big jumps, I was also incredibly impressed by the Dublin Riggers, the Bratislava Bats, London Knights, and Istanbul Sultans. Plenty of other squads made big jumps as well, but these four really stood out to me. As I said earlier, each person’s experience is different.
The Dublin Riggers have always been solid, and for the last couple of years they only reason they have not finished higher were absolutely stacked groups, or really tough early playoff games. Basically, a bad draw. Even then their losses were usually by thin margins. The thing about their 2018 team is that even if they had been in a stacked group, I think they would have been just fine! Mike Burke was a stud for Dublin, but he was not alone, and those guys really played team ball with toughness and self control.
The Bratislava Bats finished in 8th place, and that is their highest finish ever at the AHM, as far as I can tell. The Bats have been improving over the last number of years, but what they were doing this year was definitely a step up yet again. Larry Fila has brought a lot of structure to this team, and if they keep it up there is no reason that they won’t continue to climb and develop quickly. Denis Englis is the real deal as an O guy, and the level of everyone else is on the up and up in a big way.
For the London Knights, I was really impressed by how seriously they take this tournament now. In my early days at the AHM, London was a bit partied out at times, but now it’s a whole new ball game. Jon Arthur and others have made a great push to really use the AHM as a true test, and the results are showing. The hope is that this translates to more top quality English guys showing an interest in box. If they don’t they will be missing out on something special. Look at how far Israel has come in such a short period of time. England, through the London Knights, could do that too with broader support. I was glad to see one of their guys was still rocking the eye black cat whiskers on Saturday though.
Istanbul was also a revolutionary looking team, and the Sultans brought back quality, and added to it with more quality. CJ Flemming, Andy Aumiller, Nick Patterson, and a host of other new guys made the team stronger, and the Sultans also did a great job of staying out of the penalty box. They still finished third in the tourney for penalties but 42 minutes in six games is a huge improvement over past years, and it showed as the Sultans were super competitive and a lot of fun to watch!
ALL The Penalties
As a member of the Green Gaels, I feel like I can talk about the penalty issue at the AHM this year with a pretty good perspective on it all.
What penalty issue am I talking about?
The one where we, the Gaels, took an absolute crap ton of penalties.
Over five games, we amassed 201 minutes in penalties, which is ~40 minutes per game for you English majors out there. The games are only 30 minutes long so it’s kind of like eating an entire wheel of cheese in 4 minutes – it’s an impressive feat, but maybe not in a good way. Now, if you’ve ever wondered how a team filled with all the talent we had (aside from yours truly) finishes in 7th place, that’s how. Given all the penalties (and the fact that I was on the roster) it’s actually kind of remarkable that we still managed to win 3 of our 5 games and finish in the top 8.
Now, none of the above is really the point. The point I’m going to make is that refs are going to call the game however they choose to call it, and they will not change their call if you sass mouth them. They won’t. In fact, many will give you another penalty if you do yell at them. And we sass mouthed too much. We also continued to play a very physical style of lacrosse, and didn’t change our game enough as the reffing demanded.
Of course, sometimes you have to take a penalty. For example, I felt that I had to stop Radek Skala from scoring on one play against LCC, so I dragged him into the crease with a bit of a horse collar tackle. He still almost scored (he’s very good), but I made sure to let him go so he wouldn’t get hurt. However, it was very clearly a penalty. I ran off, with no complaints, happy that it was a minor and not a major. That stuff happens. And that’s the way a lot of our initial penalties went – they were simply the call on the floor. But the extra minutes for arguing? We did that to ourselves. I can’t chastise the other players, as they are grown adults, but I do know it hurt us on the scoreboard. That’s undeniable.
Do I think we caught some soft calls? Sure. Did some clear calls in our favor get missed? Yup. Did I disagree with some of the assessments or calls in every single game I watched? ABSOLUTELY. But at the same time, I NEVER saw a ref who was wrong. Not once. So nothing about what I think of the refs matters in even the slightest regard. The fact is, the refs are the refs, and their word is bond on the field or floor. They are always right, even if they are wrong.
This can be a very hard pill to swallow, but as players, it is very much on us to do so. If we don’t want the refs picking up our sticks during the game and playing our role, we can not try to play theirs. And no one wants to see Keith Gagne actually play lacrosse at the AHM, so let’s let these guys do their jobs, and try to support them a little more. Maybe even a lot more. If this sounds like some Kumbaya nonsense to you, that is because it is, BUT sometimes Kumbaya-ism is actually true, and this case, it’s the truth. Treat refs like human beings and with decency, and they do their jobs better. We won’t like all the calls, ever, but that’s true everywhere, isn’t it?
I have to trust the refs to do their jobs, respect their role, and allow them to do their job as well as they can. I want to argue, and protest, but I can not. That’s how this whole thing (you know, sports) works – TRUST.
It can be awfully hard to accept. I’ve had plenty of personal slip ups over the years. When you catch a slash and it doesn’t get called or you see a teammate get mugged, but then the refs nail you for something perhaps more minor, it can be frustrating to say the least. It feels like you’re being cheated or that a code is being violated. There is certainly a place for protest, but there is also a place to bide your time and focus on the task at hand, which is winning the game. I know, I don’t like it either. But with refs (and most figures of authority) it’s more often the latter than the former, especially in the heat of the moment. That’s how you play the game of lacrosse, and life. I fought the law, and the law won. Nothing new here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still learn from it.
Pain Is Medicine
One of my annual AHM goals is to come out of the event more or less healthy, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be beat up, battered, and bruised. In fact, I consider getting beat up a little to be healthy, because if I can’t stand to get beat up a little it means I’m done for, and I’m not ready for that yet.
Last year it was a big turf burn on my knee, a soaked shot to the back of my leg, and a crosscheck to the neck that gave me the most trouble, but this year it was just one thing, and it happened on the last day, in my second to last game. I almost got out without a good one, but Sean Gibson helped me avoid the strike out and hit me with a grand slam. Yes, that was an intentionally clunky baseball analogy, thank you very much.
Playing against Dublin, the Riggers ran a beautiful two man game on my side, I was far too ball focused, didn’t see Gibby until he was right upon me, and he landed a perfectly placed (and 100% legal) crosscheck on my upper ribs. My hands had been extended, I was totally exposed, and Sean’s old man strength did the rest. The bruise has to be 4-5 inches wide and 10 inches long. It’s pretty yellow now, but should deepen to a nice purple soon. It hurts to breathe really deeply, and sneezing is an exercise in the pain. I’ve been trying not to sneeze. You can see I am in immediate discomfort after it happens.
Nothing is broken (my self diagnosis skills are legendary), and I can apply pressure without much discomfort. It’s just a big, painful bruise, but it reminds me that I’m still alive. I can still battle, and even if I get bested (Gibby also scored on the play, of course!), I can still come back out and compete. My next run on the floor I came right back at him, and while I didn’t knock him over, I did run into him, he didn’t score, and he knew I’d keep coming, even if I’d lose another battle, or two, or three, and even if they would win the game, which they did. I played as hard as I could against Bratislava in the next and last game as well, which we won handily (with few penalties!) and my ribs were a constant reminder as to why I was there.
At this point in my lacrosse playing life (let’s not disparage the pros by calling it a career) I’m just trying to prove I can still go out there and compete. It’s really not about being “good”, it’s about giving a good, honest effort. If I can get through bodily pain and still give it a go, then that’s what I want to do. And a big old crosscheck bruise does just that for me. So to Sean Gibson, thank you sir, and I hope to see you out on the floor again next year, just to prove I can still take it.
Another reason for me to keep playing is to catch passes from Gavin Prout. When I’m struggling, he can always tell and he gives me a nice soft pass right into my stick. It happened last year and I scored, and it happened this year and I scored. These guys WORK to get me goals, and I appreciate it! My one goal per tournament average is safe for another year.
The Man Behind The Curtain
While there are a ton of people that make the AHM tick, there is really one guy who stands head and shoulders apart from the rest. He is the man everyone looks to for direction, he runs the show, and he is the one and ONLY Ondrej Mika. He played for LCC back in the day, and now he is what ties this amazing experience all together. When most people would be screaming or losing their minds, Ondrej keeps his cool. He has a strong will and a fantastic vision, but he still listens to others, and is as adept a problem solver as I have ever encountered.
Ondrej will likely tell you how it takes a village to run this tourney (and it does!), and he will point out the innumerable people who assist and play large roles, but at the end of the day Ondrej Mika is the reason that the current version of the Ales Hrebesky Memorial is as special as it is. There was a small pre-event get together where Ondrej was recognized for his work by Doug Luey and other team organizers, and you could plainly see how much Ondrej means to so many people in this stronghold of a lacrosse community.
All of this stems from his love for LCC, for the town of Radotín, and for the game of lacrosse. He pours himself into the tournament, into the sport, and into the community that he has helped foster and grow. LCC, Radotín, and lacrosse all helped Ondrej Mika, and now he is giving that same love back to everyone else. Simply put, Ondrej gives a priceless gift to THOUSANDS of players, fans, and community members each year. He deserves more than our thanks or praise – the man is a living patron saint of lacrosse.
All Hail Radotín!
While Ondrej and LCC deserve so much credit, the town of Radotín also deserves an enormous amount of love and appreciation. They welcome this tournament in, and put up with any headaches it can create. People come together, and they forget their smaller problems, and focus on what exists in the now. The world watches as this small town becomes the focus for anyone in lacrosse who really knows what’s good, and they embrace us right back.
My first trip over was in 2012, and even though 2018 was my fifth AHM, this year’s event still managed to have a profound effect on me. I gained a new appreciation for lacrosse, for people, for interaction and communication. I reminded myself that I’m not done yet, and that a smile can still be the most common facial expression I wear.
I’m sure this can happen in other places, but there is something about Radotín that is transformative. It’s not JUST the people, or the location, or the event. It’s none of that, and it’s all of that, and somehow it’s more than that. It’s hard to explain, but anyone who has been to the AHM can vouch for what I’m saying. Quite simply stated, it is a little slice of heaven, right here on Earth.