The Frank Menschner Cup was something special, and all in attendance are been beyond fortunate to experience this tournament in its first year. Allow me to set the scene.
The sun had gone down long ago. A solitary overhead light remained on, illuminating the field. Two teenagers had hung a bag of ice from the goal’s crossbar, and were trying their hardest to smash it with a well-placed shot.
The light also served to illuminate the outdoor area between the box arena and the main Sokol building, where old friends and new bounced from one conversation to the next on their way back and forth from the bar. I don’t actually remember what was being talking about when “the feeling” crept into the conversation, but as usual, the current conversing topic wasn’t all that important.
Whatever the topic was, the talk eventually subsided, and my group stood in silence for a short moment. I exhaled, and it must have been particularly heavy, to the point where it was clearly audible. A nod of agreement came from my good friend Lukas, and he passed me a bottle of something. What I had expressed wasn’t in Czech, nor was it English. Without words, without even knowing it at the time, I had said what everyone in Radotín felt this past weekend.
I think it’s safe to say that I walked into this weekend with an idea of what to expect. I had been to the world-famous Ales Hrebesky Memorial three times prior to this tournament, and while that was the only experience I’ve really ever had in Radotín, I did feel like I knew the locale. But the AHM has grown to become something extravagant and amazing, and its sheer size and magnitude over the past few years has made it unfathomable to think it could ever have been anything different than as it exists today.
Contrary to the above feeling, the AHM did come from somewhere. It came from a smaller, more humble beginning. And I’m pretty sure I just experienced a similar piece of history this year at the Frank Menschner Cup. The funny thing is, at least initially, I hadn’t planned on being able to attend at all.
A string of bizarre circumstances, injuries, and opportunities all came together though, and a month later, I found myself banging a ball against those world-famous LCC boards. The clock said that there were two minutes to game time. There were sixteen or so Swiss guys on the other end of the floor.
I looked at my uniform, and then at the eighteen other guys wearing the same sweater. I didn’t know them. I couldn’t tell you their names, or even what country they had come from. But in that moment I could tell you exactly what Frank Menschner felt in 2001 when he brought the Rebels over as the first ever American team to participate in the AHM:
“This is REALLY cool.”
It isn’t profound, and you certainly won’t see too many whimsical philosophers studying my poetic prose. That’s fine, because for any of you out there who’ve had that light bulb go off shortly before or after that first whistle, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I wasn’t representing America. I was representing Frank’s memory, which was a fervent love for that feeling you get right before a game. When those shoes are tied, and you’ve snapped that last buckle on your helmet, and you just look around – you’re alive.
Dave Eagan is the man I have to thank for helping me chase that feeling for this special tournament. Dave contacted me a couple times regarding the tournament, and I respectfully declined every time he asked. I won’t say he hounded me, because it wasn’t annoying in the least. If anything, I appreciated being thought of. The day before I was supposed to leave New York City on a big jet plane bound for Budapest, Dave asked one last time.
When you’re about to set off on one of these trips, there’s a dangerous feeling of invincibility and mortality at the same time. I did some math quickly, and as it would happen, incorrectly. Figuring that I could afford this further extension of my trip, I submitted to my love for playing. I was going to be one of the Menschner Men in a tournament memorializing Frank Menschner.
Initially, we had ambitions of trying to win that big shiny cup for Frank. We had talent and athleticism, but like I said, we really didn’t know each other. We were the Menschner Men, comprised of nine different nationalities. We had heart and athleticism, but as I had predicted, we just simply didn’t have that team chemistry that takes years to build.
Now, Radotín’s LC Custodes? THEY have chemistry.
We had the honor and privilege to play against LCC not just once, but twice. Some might see that as a bad scheduling draw, but I relished the experience. When you travel from every corner of the globe to play box lacrosse in the Czech Republic, it truly is a gift to share the field with the best in the business. To give our everything against LCC under the lights, just after the opening ceremony, was really something special.
We also played (and lost to, again) the Custodes in our semi-final matchup. We had improved immensely as a team, and the scoreboard showed it, but you can’t just instruct chemistry.
It was that chemistry that led LCC on to win the cup. It really is something to behold. You not only have to see it and experience it, you have to hear it. It’s SILENT on offense. Each of the O guys knows exactly where each other will be and they can sling that ball without even looking or thinking, and it works like magic.
While it’s beyond frustrating to try to defend, you instantly find yourself in their corner when they’re playing anyone else. It’s clean, it’s flashy, and it’s just everything you want to see in box lacrosse. You better believe that I’ll be pulling for a Czech win at the North American Invitational in Syracuse later this month on the Onondaga Nation.
We were able to take home the third place trophy, after beating the good ol’ boys from Dreadlax in our last game.
We had hoped to make it to the other side of the bracket to have a chance to play TJ Malesíce in the semis, but that’s the way the pork steak crumbles. And when I say that we wanted to play Malesice in the semis, it’s not to say that they’re much easier to beat than LCC. No, I say this more as I really wanted to play against every team possible. Even with playing LCC twice, we played six of the eight other teams in the tournament (plus ourselves equals 9 total). What other tournament can you say you’ve played the majority of the opposition?
I loved this feature of having a smaller tournament. Technically, we also only lost to one team in seven games. That’s a stat.
So the home team, LCC (CZE) took the inaugural Frank Mencshner Cup, defeating 2nd place Malesice (CZE) in the championship. The Mencshner Men (USA/World) took home 3rd after beating our Dreadlax (ENG) buddies in the consolation game. After that, the Box Monkeys (FIN) out of Lahti were able to take 5th from the local LC Pardubice (CZE). After sixth place, the relegated teams finishing 7-9 (respectively) were Chocolax (SUI), Wolves (CZE), and the ever improving Polish Eagles.
After the championship games, the trophies were presented to the teams respective of where they finished up. In addition to the impressively sized 1st, 2nd and 3rd place cups, individual awards were also given out for best offensive player, highest point scorer, best defender, transition player, and goaltender.
LCC’s lethal scorer Dom Pesek finished up with something crazy like 33 points in six games to win the highest scorer trophy. If you’ve never seen Dom play, you really have to watch him put the ball aways sometime. I’d say look up some of his games, but it’s just something you really have to see live. He’s a magician. A big, fast, airborne magician who only smiles when he scores.
The Custodes took home an additional piece of hardware when Martin Hodan was awarded with best defensive player, and rightfully so. I’m not sure what the total number of goals that LCC allowed was, but I’m pretty sure I don’t need my toes to count that high. TJ Malesice’s Martin Mrlík was awarded with the most impressive offensive player, because without his smart play out the O door, it would’ve been a lot tougher for Malesice’s short bench to score as many goals as they did. He was a rock all tourney for the guys in yellow and blue.
Our great friend Kris Kunnert was crowned king of the goaltenders for his spectacular role in Dreadlax’s phenomenal run to 4th place. They had a very short bench and a lot of players who’d never played box before, and without Kris it could’ve been a rough go for the Dreadlax boys, but he stood tall, and the runners elevated their collective game. A great team effort for sure.
The guy who won the Best Transition Player trophy is the guy I really hate talking about. I blushed, and I really am honored to say that yours truly was the recipient of this year’s award. I did what I’m good at, running really hard and passing the ball to guys who know what they’re doing. I won’t dwell on this, because it isn’t about me, but it was pretty damn cool and I really am proud.
Moving on? Moving on.
I had a lot of other highlights as well this weekend, which are of a more important variety. Besides seeing all my good friends, there were a couple different aspects that really stuck with me and I won’t forget these good times anytime soon.
I “coached” the Dreadlax boys for a couple of their games.
Ok, I don’t know if coaching is really the correct term for it, as it was pretty informal. I knew Kris from tournaments passed, and I had actually just stayed at Emil’s house in Vienna only three weeks prior. They had a short bench and nobody really helping those who were new to box lacrosse learn the ropes. I gave someone one quick tip, and then I caught the next guy who came through the door, and next thing you know I’m demanding calls from referees, orchestrating warm-ups, drawing power plays, and even demanding calls from the officials.
I grew up playing field lacrosse. No two ways about it. So it was pretty cool that someone would actually value whatever knowledge I had to offer after my admittedly short time with the box game so far.
The Box Monkeys are hilarious.
They are much younger than their Turku counterparts. Where they may lack the size and experience that the Titans have, these boys had just as much, if not more, fun as any other team at the tournament. Taking these guys to their first ever visit to the Chinese Disco was an honor and a debaucherous riot. And that’s all I got ta say about that.
My favorite memory has to be the two biggest fans of the Mencshner Men.
Dan and Max are two local boys aged 9 and 7, respectively. These two brothers have been at every game of mine since my first year with the Glasgow Clydesiders. I don’t know why they chose my team, and I’m really not sure why they’d elect me as their favorite player, but they’ve been my biggest fans ever since. I’ve unloaded so much extra clothing and gear on these kids it’s hilarious. Their mother, Kristina, even posted an awesome picture online of Dan sleeping in my shooting shirt. Really hope it got washed at some point prior.
Before the 1st and 3rd place games the U10 Czech kids played a full field box game, and I got to cheer for Dan and Max alongside their father. It’s a two way street. I’m as big a fan of those two as they are of me!
Patty Menschner, Frank’s loving sister, even made the trip out to Radotin with her friend Sharon for the tournament.
I believe I heard that Patty never was able to make the trip with Frank before he passed, but I think she really felt what Frank felt about this place. Tears show mourning. Patty’s big smile from the stands showed her pride in what her late brother had fallen in love with. It was truly an honor to run my hardest knowing that every game I had Frank’s family in the stands. I’m sure if I had run a little easier she might not have noticed, but I would’ve known.
For me, as well as the rest of the Mencshner Men, we knew we were out there to give it all because that’s all we really could do to honor Frank’s memory. Mine is just one opinion, but I think we did a pretty darn good job with that!
I’ve been trying to end this article for a long time now. I really have. It’s tough. Woe is me. There are just so many amazing things that this beautiful event had to offer. It’s impossible to really comprehend it all unless… well unless you were actually there. I don’t have a deep and soul-searched message to force-feed you. I don’t know really how to encompass all that I saw and felt into a short summary. All I can say is that I am proud to have made it to this tournament and I’m proud of how we played.
Maybe I’ll never make it again. Maybe I’ll never make it over to the Memorial again. Who knows? Life happens. What I do know, is that all the guys who stepped foot on that floor on September first through the third gave it their all, and that’s something that can not be forgotten.
Frank’s love for Radotin, and lacrosse can not be forgotten.
We all come in to this world, and we all must leave the party at some point as well. Frank was taken far too soon, but not before he could change a number of lives forever, and for the better. May we all be so fortunate to find something that we love so dearly that it consumes every fiber of our being.
I can’t say I knew Frank really all that well.
I can say that I think I know the feeling he had towards this game, along with all the people who play it.
That’s love, and I feel it too.