Aaron Ladzinski- Staff Writer
In every sport, there comes a time in a player’s life when that person is told he or she is no longer allowed to play the game. For some, this sad event may occur at age ten, 21 or even 40. Yet the reality is that eventually all athletes will be told they can no longer play.
For eight of the Dordt Blades hockey players, such a scenario took place this weekend. It was their final curtain call, the last semester they would pull on the sweater for Dordt.
This past weekend the team road tripped to the University of Arkansas to play the Razorbacks. The Dordt players who hit the ice one last time included Aaron Ladzinski, Dylan Bartels, Lucas Koomans, Chris Soodsma, Ross Van Gaalen, Levi Minderhoud, Andrew Koetsier and Alex Tan Napel.
To give a sense of who these men are, both on and off the ice, let’s dive into the rough agenda that made up these men’s last hoorah.
Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
When practice time draws near, it is a tradition for the Blades to play a few games of NHL on Xbox, a tradition started this season and observed before all games.
Players begin arriving at practice and preparing themselves for the evening’s skate. Preparation includes taping sticks and putting gear together for the long weekend ahead.
Practice beings with an intense workout, drills focusing on the power play and breakout and in-game situations. Near the end of practice, the team holds a controlled scrimmage to mentally prepare for the game.
Sticks, tape and skates are stuffed into bags or hurried to the sharper for maintenance. The team heads to bed.
Friday morning, 6 a.m.
The alarms sound, and the players grab their bags, pillows and blankets. These men know that they have a long trip ahead of them.
The bus pulls away from the All Seasons Center and begins its nearly 500-mile trip south. Most of the team is wrapped in blankets and scattered across the bus. Some of them spread out on the floor while others recline in their seats.
By this time the team is awake and watching “Hot Rod,” a flick that gets everyone laughing and cracking jokes.
The team stops for lunch at Perkins, a senior favorite. As the men eat and talk, some of the seniors discuss past road trips and their favorite memories from those trips. Coach Langeraap checks on senior Dylan Bartels’ meal to make sure he doesn’t go over budget, a common occurrence.
The team arrives at the hotel to settle in and grab a pregame nap before they head to dinner and then the arena.
Dinnertime. The team walks to Jimmy Johns to loosen up the legs that were crammed in the bus all day.
The Blades head to the rink to prepare for the game. At this point, the bus is silent as the team becomes reflective.
The team arrives at the rink and begins its pregame ritual. The routine begins with team prayer and a speech from Coach Langeraap. The seniors have a lot of traditions before every game: Van Galen will eat an orange and the seniors will smell the peels, Koomans will get dressed by always putting the left skate on before the right, Ten Napel will sit with his headphones on and barely speak a word to anyone, Ladzinski will write “RIP 16” on his gloves and sticks in remembrance of a teammate that he lost in high school. Captain Soodsma and Ladzinski also preform a special handshake before the team goes out onto the ice.
11 p.m.-1 a.m.
In this weekend game, Dordt and Arkansas went back and forth each period, but the Razorbacks took the first game of the series, 8-5. Caleb Groot and Tom Soodsma both had two goals, while Ladzinski tallied one more.
Saturday 1:30-2 a.m.
After a tough Dordt loss, the team returns to the hotel to get some rest.
Half of the team wakes up in time for breakfast. Shortly after, Coach Langeraap tells the team he is now a grandfather.
The team hops onto the bus after checking out of the hotel and heads to Walmart to pick up snacks and water for the long trip back home. They will travel through the night. The final person to get on the bus is Coach Langeraap, and he receives many jokes, such as, “Grandpa, did you lose your watch, you old man?” The jokes continue to fly until the team heads to a local park.
The team gets to the park, takes out its gear and airs it out behind the bus in a parking lot so that it isn’t soaking wet when they go to battle in a few hours. Then the team participates in a game of kickball. Some of the team does homework during the game. There is a speaker playing music as the team enjoys the 65-degree weather.
3:30- 5 p.m.
The team gets one final treat from Coach Langeraap as he takes them to Olive Garden before their final game. Most of the team saves their meal for the bus ride home.
The team arrives at the rink for the final road game of the year and prepares itself for a grueling game.
The game once again goes back and forth. The Blades tie the game with only a few minutes left in the third period. The game goes into overtime but ends in a draw as neither team scores.
The team stops at McDonald’s after the game for one last meal on the road. The seniors are given the treat of going first and getting ice cream. The men talk about who they think will cry at the last home game, and then who will cry at their wedding. They also transfer the power and rules of Blades hockey onto the juniors of the team, telling them the traditions and rules.
Sunday 12-8 a.m.
After a long bus ride home, the players drop off their gear and return to their residences to reflect on the weekend and look forward to the next four games. It’s a bit chilly for the players as they walk back to their dorms because the majority of them are in shorts. The seniors, all back together, realize that was their last road trip. These memories of hockey will be remembered forever as brothers united. To all of them, hockey isn’t just a game; it’s a way to escape life, breakups, school and reality. But now reality knocks at the door.