Play Makers: The Prince George curse

Is Prince George nice?

It’s the classic question many previous Yukon Selects rookies have asked prior to embarking on the 20-hour road trip.

Along with three teammates, I have just piled into a tiny Nissan, bound for Prince George, BC.

The three of us who have done the tour before and are familiar with the city just look at each other and smile.

Prince George: the city recently dubbed Canada’s most dangerous by Maclean’s magazine and one that many associate with the putrid smell of pulp.

This wasn’t a sightseeing holiday, however, so we didn’t really care.

We, the veteran players, had bigger, more important things on our mind than crime rates and pulp mills.

Prince George’s Annual Honda North Men’s Indoor Soccer Tournament is one the Yukon Selects have been attending on a regular basis since forming in 1999.

It is a tournament in which the Selects have reached the championship game many times, but have never won.

It is a tournament that sees former Yukoners drive up from Vancouver, fly in from Calgary, road trip from Edmonton.

And yes, it is a tournament that sees four guys take a day off work and jump into a tiny import to drive 20 hours down the Alaska Highway.

Friday, 4:17 am

With three of us passed out, including two in the back using one another as pillows, we are suddenly awakened by the driver.

The treacherous roads, blowing winds and subsequent snow drift have dealt their first blow.

One-hundred-forty kilometres north of Fort Nelson, we come upon four teammates.

Their truck is stuck atop a snowbank. The driver is braving the minus 35 temperature to wave us down.

They have been stuck there for an hour, after losing control and veering right.

Thankfully the damage is only to the truck.

With our tiny Nissan full we tell them we’ll send a tow truck once we reach Fort Nelson.

Again the rookie asks, “Is Prince George nice?”

Friday, 6:04 am

It is while sitting in A&W (surprisingly the only restaurant open at that time) waiting for the tow truck driver to wake up that I find myself first pondering if this trip is worth it.

It is a common feeling, one many players before me have had. And with good reason.

Driving 20 hours in the middle of winter for a weekend of soccer to a place that isn’t cheaper, warmer, or more scenic than your hometown is not an easy choice.

The drive is long and uncomfortable and the destination at times rough and dirty.

Thankfully, the poor taste of the Bacon N’ Egger® snaps me out of it and again I remember why I am doing this.

Why all the Yukon Selects are doing this.

Friday, 3:20 pm

“What’s that smell?” asks the rookie.

Finally we have arrived in P.G.

We soon learn that this year, like Whitehorse, Prince George has also endured a long, cold, snowy winter.

Large piles of snow painted with sludge and grime litter both sides of the street.

The recent melt has created puddles throughout the city that making walking and not getting wet impossible.

Thankfully the tournament is indoors at the very impressive state-of-the-art sports facility at the University of Northern British Columbia.

This year the Selects sent two teams: a team of local “in-town” players and a team of former Selects, friends of Selects and guys away at university.

Later this year the Selects will travel to Québec to play in the Nationals. The Prince George tournament is looked at as good training.

That, plus the fact that every player who has played in the PG tourney before has that same drive, determination and flat-out need to see the Yukon finally win it.

Sunday, 11:15 am

I would love to say this tournament has a happy ending but sadly, Disney didn’t write the script.

“Why do I feel so sh*%ty?” asks the rookie.

It is moments after the quarter-final and the Yukon Selects “in-town” team has just lost 1-0.

They have joined the other Yukon team in the elimination bin and their tournament is over.

Another year has gone by and again the Yukon is leaving empty-handed.

Both teams struggle to figure out why. Both are full of talented, fit, dedicated players.

Was it the refs and the apparent home-side advantage?

Was it the schedule that saw the “out-of-town” Selects teams play back-to-back games in the round robin, the only team to do so?

Maybe it was the pulp fumes!

Regardless, the tournament served a purpose.

It brought together 30 guys to play for the Yukon and fuelled their desire to win as a member of the Selects.

Sure it saw many take time off work, many sit uncomfortably for hours, some drop hundreds on plane tickets and one even damage his truck. But, more important, it laid the ground for a team heading to the Nationals wanting and expecting a good result.

Perhaps the rookie summed it up best.

“Damnit, I can’t wait to come back to Prince George next year and win this thing.”

You and me both, rookie. You and me both.

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