Editor’s Note: We’re heading back to Prague! For the first time, LaxAllStars.com will have three of our members on the ground in Radotin for the Ales Hrebesky Memorial 2018 to give you the most in-depth coverage and behind the scenes views of the week. Thanks to the support of MaxLax, the world leader in box lacrosse gear for goalies and players, we’ll be showing off the AHM like never before! Make sure you peep the new MaxLax player gloves – super protective, super comfortable, old school inspired beauties!
Let’s not waste any time getting to 25 of our favorite photos and 25 of our favorite memories from the 25th annual Ales Hrebesky Memorial box lacrosse tournament, held every April in Radotin, Prague, Czech Republic! Connor already shared his favorite stories from the event, and while some are similar, there’s no reason not share my favorite snapshots of the Memorial! In no particular order…
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Goldstar Tel-Aviv won 6-3 in the final over the Nova Scotia Privateers. This was Goldstar’s first ever Ales Hrebesky Memorial Championship, and both teams in the finale were new to the finals after taking down the previous winners of the 2016 and 2017 championships, respectively, in the semifinals.
The Bratislava Bats advanced on to the semifinals after a win over Czech-league rival SK Jizni Mesto. This was the highest that the Bats have finished in recent years, a major achievement for Slovakian lacrosse, and things are looking bright for the boys from Bratislava as we head into a World Indoor Championship in 2019.
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation made it’s debut in the Ales Hrebesky Memorial. Six individuals, myself included, shaved their heads in an effort to raise funds to support treatment and research directly targeting pediatric cancers. 9,999 CZK was the total collected in cash at the event, bringing the greater sum of the team’s efforts to roughly $2,000 USD. The larger event that the Couple O’ Muppets took part in raised over $77,000 USD this year.
The 25th annual AHM saw a change in the tournament structure, as the field was widened from 21 to 24 teams. The top 12 and bottom 12 were split into “Gold” and “Silver” groups, and this change saw instant results. Teams of similar strengths were squaring off from game one all the way through Saturday evening, and the support for this new system was unanimous.
The fireworks display that followed the closing ceremony was the best of my five year tenure with the tournament. The show was shorter, but the sky was alive with explosions of color. Screaming rockets were accompanied by music as they soared over the otherwise-sleepy town of Radotin. This show is a staple of the tournament and a testament to the quality of show you know you’re going to get when you come to the Czech Republic.
Production value was way up! Our new partnership between LaxAllStars.com and the Ales Hrebesky Memorial brought in added services. In addition to streaming all the games FREE for thousands of lacrosse fans around the world to see, we also had Stephen Stamp of the NLL come in to do color commentary for a large number of the games. A big thanks to Uncommon Fit for powering this partnership!
With one team dropping out, we had four new teams in 2018 that were NOT in the tournament for 2017. We loved seeing the youthful resurgence of the Plzen Old Dogs as well as LCC’s junior team, the world-famous LCC Wolves. Also new on the docket were the Jagged Mountain boys showcasing Colorado’s commitment to box lacrosse. Lastly, we had the Non-Olympic Athletes from Everywhere, a collaboration from all over planet Earth!
The Glasgow Clydesiders slipped from their Cinderella performance of 2017, but the Clyde made up for the shortcomings on the floor with benevolence off it. An equipment drive saw multiple gear bags packed to capacity and then hauled off by a couple of boys to the Silesia Cup in Poland the following weekend. There the donated items were passed along to Polish and Danish programs to help support youth, women’s, and box lacrosse programs in Europe.
Mike Burke’s MVP performance lifted up the Dublin Riggers from a drought. The Riggers have had a hard go in recent years, but the former Mammoth lit up the scoreboard time after time to lift the Riggers from the Silver group into the semis. Mike Cregan and Andrew Polkinghorn were also instrumental in the run to Top 8, but without Burke I don’t think we would have seen the same showing out of Dublin. I hope Mike was able to get all of his trophies home safely without having to pay for extra baggage!
Scottish box lacrosse took strides the weekend prior. While it wasn’t part of the Ales Hrebesky Memorial, it was great to see Scotland taking part and participating in the fourth annual “E-Box” event. E-Box is a non-championship event that helps national programs develop players as well as teams to raise the overall standard of box lacrosse in Europe.
The London Knights win the 2018 Sportsmanship Award. The Knights did not achieve the final result they might have wanted, but these boys were easily the most vocal team in cheering for one team, the other, or sometimes both. Songs, chants, and cheers rattled Radotin windows from sun-up to sun-down and beyond on Saturday, and to the Knights, we love you (we love you, we love you)!
Goaltending legend (and all-around great guy) Marty O’Neil was in attendance, sharing his knowledge of the game. Marty had his second annual goalie clinic before the tournament began, and he could always be spotted on a bench opening doors for one team or giving pointers to another. We’re a big fan of guys like Marty and MaxLax. There’s a lot we can each do to build up this game, and Marty is an example to follow!
ShutterLax and Martin Bouda’s photography once again has lit up the lacrosse Instagram world. Every year we see profile pictures change and photos framed from these two brilliant photographers. To view more images like the spectacular ones we’ve posted here, please head to LCC’s Flickr account and Shutterlax.com!
The kids. These are by no means in any particular order, and it would be hard to rank things if I had to. One of the greatest pieces to this elaborate event is that the future is assured with an entire generation of wide-eyed dreamers wearing oversized shorts and uniforms. On top of their volunteer efforts off the floor, it’s always a pleasure to watch the annual LCC Ants exhibition game. The kids are playing full-floor box lacrosse, with full crosschecks, and zero tears. Parents cheer for their kids as well as the kids in the other uniforms, and the kids love every minute of it. Big fan.
Another point goes on the board for Bratislava for hosting their “Bats Against Kids Cancer” program, where the Bats raffled off five uniforms from over the past decade. Proceeds were collected throughout the four-day event in the form of raffle tickets. Winners were called after the first period of the final game. In total the Bats raised 17,371 CZK/679 EUR and the proceeds were donated directly to a local pediatric oncology clinic in Bratislava.
Dominik Sika played only one game of the Ales Hrebesky Memorial, and it was the big one. Goldstar Tel-Aviv’s goalie Bailey Brown was assessed a match penalty in the semifinals, and as a result the former Custode/Czech National Team goaltender got off of his bartending job for the night and stepped in to win the Ales HrebeskyMemorial’s 25th edition. The guy clearly still has some gas in the tank!
Shortly after the conclusion of the tournament, the world enjoyed celebrating 73 years since the end of World War 2‘s devastation of Europe. This glaring example from 1939 shows how such a special place in so many hearts was once the site of fascist law and oppression. It does warm the heart to see such a dark day in history transform into one of the brightest examples of international sport creating friendship and understanding in the world. (Not a smile, but a very powerful photo.)
The officiating crew needs a round of applause. No team caught every pass and scored every goal. I made mistakes and so did you. Officials are just as human as the rest of us, but this really was the best officiating crew we’ve had to date. This tournament can be thanked for being large and special enough to attract top referees from North America, as well as top teams to give European referees a higher caliber of team to officiate.
We’re about to see European youth test their mettle in North America! LCC Wolves goalie Viktor Blaha, Polish Eagle Mlkolaj Smigiel, and Glasgow Clydesider Per Olters will all be doing big things across the pond. Blaha and Smigiel will be playing junior box lacrosse this summer, and Olters will be Germany’s first born and raised lacrosse player to play NCAA division one college ball when he debuts for the University of Vermont this fall. Best of luck to all!
The hospitality needs a mention. Ondrej Mika is one of a kind, and in this particular circle, that’s very well known. From the moment you touch down, to the time you get dropped off at PRG airport on your way back to wherever, Ondrej is taking care of YOU! From flexible lodging requests and handling even the most obscure issues, Ondrej and his team of dedicated helpers will take care of you. When I lost my passport five years ago, the first call was Ondrej Mika. Two hours later, I walked out of the embassy with a little blue book that said I could go home. That’s just one example. Anyone who’s been to the AHM can give you ten more. THANK YOU, ONDREJ!!!
The uniforms are always a big piece of the puzzle. There definitely is a “best dressed” award that everyone in attendance gives out, either silently in their own head or by trying to make a trade on Saturday. My top picks this year are easy, with the Non-Olympic Athletes from Everywhere and the Turku Titans out of Finland. The NOAFEs (pronounced Know-fffffs) had uniforms similar to the Winter Olympics’ “Olympic Athletes of Russia” uniforms, and the Turku Titans attempted decided to let their hair down and just hang loose with some interesting colors and patterns. Both were well done examples of Uncommon Fit uniforms, the title sponsor and main uniform provider of the event.
Burning of the Witches! This one isn’t technically part of the tournament, but it really should be something you make part of your AHM experience. The Pagan ritual of burning the effigy of a witch on the last day of April is a tradition celebration with Spacke sausages and bonfires two stories tall. Towering infernos can be sighted dotting the countryside as music, laughing, and a simple calm fill the air. Sidenote: it’s advised to stick around for May first, as all surviving witches are to be kissed under blooming trees, so there’s that.
Prague. I forgot Prague. Twenty-three items in and I forgot one of the most beautiful cities humankind has ever managed to construct. Spared from the majority of WW2’s destruction, the beautiful city highlights the height of architectural achievement from centuries ago, all the while functioning as a modern city with ample transportation. AND IT’S CHEAP! If nobody has broken the news to you, central/eastern Europe is culturally and naturally one of the greatest places on Earth, all the while being super affordable. Even if the AHM isn’t in your schedule, Prague is the heart of Europe and I recommend you find yourself there someday soon.
If we’re going to talk Prague, beer (PIVO!) needs to be mentioned. I want to make it very well known that this isn’t your frat-rat party. There are hundreds of beers being poured by the hour, but the atmosphere and the culture are far different from the Bud Light wannabe party culture of the United States. It’s social, it’s goofy, it’s light-hearted, and it’s quite simply the best beer on Earth. I don’t really think this paragraph can go on any longer because if you haven’t been there, you just simply can’t understand.
The people. My people. Your people. The best friends you’ve ever made, and fifty of your next greatest friendships are only one laugh and a handshake away. I’ve been lucky enough to share this beautiful tournament with my own brother and great friends from home. Guys I’ve traveled the world with and guy’s who would be part of my fictitious wedding should one ever need to take place. You simply can’t go to this event and not meet some of the greatest people in the lacrosse community. It takes a special kind of person to save up their money all year to make the pilgrimage to a tiny little village in the countryside of the Czech Republic to play and watch box lacrosse.
That said, see you in Prague. Next year.