Looking for a fun way to beat the winter blues this year? How does a vacation in Arizona to take part in the Sauce Hockey Cup sound?
Andrew Rodger – NHLA Writer
Looking for a fun way to beat the winter blues this year? How does a vacation in Arizona to take part in the Sauce Hockey Cup sound? While you are there for some great hockey action, you can also attend the PGA’s Phoenix Open and enjoy the nightlife at Birds Nest. From January 29th until February2nd, 2013, NHL Alumni member Alex Hicks will be welcoming hockey teams from throughout North America as they arrive for the third edition of the Sauce Hockey Cup tournament. Taking place in the days leading up to the NFL’s Super Bowl, it is the perfect way to say goodbye to winter, or at the very least, enjoy a temporary break.
“I am involved with a company called Tournament Headquarters,” Alex explained during our recent interview. “We assist people that run tournaments with our software, helping them to manage their own event, upload pictures, rosters and schedules onto a website, as well as text-messaging live scoring updates – all the things you need to run a great tournament.”
“We were brainstorming one day, thinking that we should do a local event here in town. There are a lot of tournaments here for younger kids, so we came up with the idea of doing one that was adult-oriented. We approached clothing company Sauce Hockey about partnering with us and decided to have it during the weekend of the PGA’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, which is one of the biggest attractions in the area each year.”
“Six months ago we met with the Phoenix Open organizers and they thought the Sauce Hockey Cup tournament was a great idea,” he continued. “So, we have partnered with them as well to have discounted prices on tickets and VIP passes for the parties and the golf tournament. The Open is held on Super Bowl weekend and draws the most fans of any PGA event on the schedule during the entire year. It’s a big party atmosphere and people of all ages are having a great time celebrating and watching golf. Every night, there is a huge party on the golf course grounds at a place called Birds Nest. With the bands they have playing, it has a real rock concert atmosphere!”
The hockey tournament takes place throughout the week (Tuesday through Friday) and Alex and the event organizers have scheduled the games to be played both in the morning and afternoon, which allows the participants to enjoy themselves in the evenings. Once the hockey games conclude on Friday, the participants will have time to enjoy the atmosphere on the golf course during the important third and fourth rounds of the Phoenix Open and prepare for Super Bowl Sunday.
For players that may be new to the game, the tournament offers three different divisions for teams based on skill levels. Teams can register knowing that they will be playing at a pace they are comfortable with. If you take things a little more seriously, you can register your team to compete at the highest level. The Sauce Hockey Cup organizers also kept in mind that not everyone interested in participating is able to assemble their own team, so they incorporated the concept of free agency into the tournament.
“When teams register, we will be able to slot them exactly where they belong. Obviously, it is not a perfect science, but it will be based on how teams rate themselves. We came up with the idea of having a free agent option because we thought that perhaps there are two or three guys that can’t get everyone on their team to come to Phoenix for whatever reason. If they really want to come down, enjoy some golf, and have a good time playing hockey, then they can put their names on the free agent list. We will be able to place them with another team coming down that needs a few extra guys. Or, we could combine them with other players doing the same thing and have guys coming together to make their own team.”
Passion for the game of hockey is a longstanding tradition for Alex and his family. His father Wayne is an NHL Alumni member as well, having played 115 NHL games with Chicago, Boston, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia during his pro career in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
“One of the memories from growing up I talk about with my own kids all the time was watching Hockey Night in Canada,” Alex said. “Everyone in Canada would watch every Saturday night and some of my earliest memories of hockey was going down to the basement with my parents and watching those games, or having my cousins over and we’d all watch.”
“I guess the passion for hockey started at an early age. With my dad being an athlete and playing, I was really fortunate to have him coach me for a good part of my career growing up. That passion never really left and I have been involved with hockey my whole life.”
When Wayne Hicks retired from the game after the 1973-74 season as a member of the Phoenix Roadrunners in the AHL, the family returned to Calgary where Alex was born. While they lived in the city that the Flames would eventually call home, it was a team further North that Alex cheered for – inspired by a player that would soon become known as the Great One.
“When I really started to get into hockey, it was the years that Gretzky came into the league and there were those great teams in Edmonton. I don’t think Calgary got their team until a few years after I started watching hockey, so I was instantly a Gretzky fan and an Oilers fan. I think I tolerated the Flames, but I was an Oilers fan first,” he said with a laugh.
“Being an Oilers fan in Calgary wasn’t very popular, but I’m still like that with sports, I always look for the best player and who is a good role model. That’s one of the reasons why I always cheered for Gretzky. He always seemed to say and do the right things on and off the ice. I always like the guys that have the most pressure on them and yet they still perform the best. We forget it now because he is such an icon, but Wayne always had a bulls-eye on him and he had a lot of haters and a lot of doubters; he seemed to thrive on that and do well.”
On his journey to the NHL, Alex spent three seasons in the AHL, IHL and ECHL after playing for four years at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. He made his NHL debut during the 1995-96 season as a member of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. During his pro career, Alex would go on to play as a left-winger with the Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers; retiring from the game after the 2004-05 season as a member of the Cologne Sharks in the DEL (Germany’s top league).
“It was pretty incredible,” Alex reminisced when I asked him about putting on an NHL jersey for the first time. “The thing I remember the most is that when it actually happens, you are kind of expecting it to happen because the road has been so long. When the moment arrived, it wasn’t like I was shocked or scared to be there; I had put in a lot of time, hard work and a lot of effort to get there. Having said that though, I will never forget it!”
“It was in Anaheim and I remember having the stall in the corner, the one behind the door – it is basically the worst stall you can get. I put the jersey on and got ready to go out for warm-up and at that moment, just walking down the hallway to get on the ice I realized what I had just accomplished. With my father there to watch and knowing that everyone back home was watching on television, it was exciting for sure.”
For many players, there is often a moment when they fully realize that they have arrived in the world’s greatest league. In an NHL Alumni interview last year with Shean Donovan, we spoke about the moment he felt he had “made it” to the NHL. Selected by the San Jose Sharks in the 1993 draft, Sheantold the story of skating through the shark’s head at the arena in San Jose and in that instant, having the realization that he was really part of the league. In relating this story to Alex, he shared one of his own – the moment he realized he had arrived.
“When I think about it now, I would have to check the schedule to see which game number it was in my career, maybe the 7th or 8th, but there was one game where we were playing against Pittsburgh at home. They were the best team at that time and I think they had won 11 or 12 in a row. Somehow, we were beating them pretty good, I think it was 6-3 or 7-3 and there were six or seven minutes left in the third period. I was on the ice for a defensive face-off as a left-winger and Mario Lemieux was on their right wing, so I was lined up against him. We were going through our talk on the ice to figure out our responsibilities and I said ‘I’ve got Lemieux’. I honestly remember thinking at the time, did I just say that? Did I just say ‘I’ve got Mario Lemieux?’”
“We ended up winning the game, but they were so good and that was the first time I had faced those guys – Lemieux, Francis, Jagr and all of them. We were so scared with 40 seconds left that we would still lose the game. Even with that big lead, they were that good. That was the moment when I realized where I was and what I had accomplished.”
As Alex prepares for the 3rd annual Sauce Hockey Cup tournament, one aspect of the event we discussed, and an element that cannot be overlooked, is the opportunity to vacation in Phoenix and escape from winter. When you consider the time of year, playing the game you love with old friends and new ones, plus the amazing events happening throughout the week, it is a great opportunity for hockey players to get away from winter – that’s an opportunity that is too good to pass up.
“The weather is finally breaking here after a long summer,” he said. “It’s still warm during the day but it is cooling off at night. Now for the next 7 or 8 months, the weather will be beautiful. In January, people are right in the middle of winter and the weather is usually miserable in a lot of places in Canada and the United States. Hopefully, that can draw some people down to take a week’s vacation to enjoy some golf and play some hockey. You could bring the whole family and the kids can watch dad play, or come down with some old college teammates that you haven’t seen in 10 or 12 years. We’re hoping to create something that people will want to play in every year and it can turn into something really big!”
Registration for the 3rd annual Sauce Hockey Cup is open now – you can visit the website to sign up or obtain more information: www.saucecup.com
You can also follow Alex on Twitter: @Hicks21Alex
Andrew Rodger is the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association and his goal is to shine the spotlight on Hockey’s Greatest Family and help bridge the gap between hockey fans and their hockey heroes. You can find him on Twitter as @ARodgerTVOS.