Every year, they pull a Quad
ELLIS, TALBOT, NURSE, AND MORE
Glance up and down the rosters of the teams still alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs and you’ll see a few local players on the list. Darnell Nurse and Cam Talbot with the Edmonton Oilers, Ryan Ellis with the Nashville Predators, Kevin Bieksa and Brandon Montour with the Anaheim Ducks, Ben Harpur with the Ottawa Senators and more.
What you might not know is that all these guys share a membership in a mysterious, littleknown organization here in town as either past or current members.
“It’s the Illuminati,” quips Matt Turek. Not exactly. Summer after summer, all kinds of NHLers, minor pros, European pros, OHLers and still-fit alumni play in an elite 4-on-4 league at the Mohawk 4 Ice Centre — the Quad — to stay sharp. It’s not a secret. Not even close. Anybody can go out and watch for free. It’s actually been written about and talked about many times.
Yet, year after year, it remains largely unknown. Few people show up to check it out. Just as few pay any attention to the twice-aweek morning skates featuring a number of the same star players at the same rink, which tends to make it an eye-bulging surprise for those who stumble upon it.
Turek — a former pro who’s now a scout for the Hamilton Bulldogs and who helps run things — says occasionally a dad will be at the arena with his son or daughter for skating lessons on a weekday morning when he suddenly notices some adults playing really well on the next sheet. Then thinks he recognizes someone he’d seen on TV.
“Instead of watching his kid, you’ll see him pop him pop his head into the other rink,” Turek says. “Most of the (players) stick out like a sore thumb.”
That’s because their games are really, really fast and the players are incredibly competitive even in their off-season. There’s no hitting but loads of skill and tons of open ice for them to show it. If there’s better summer hockey in the area … never mind, there isn’t.
“It’s pretty exciting hockey,” says Mike Burgoyne, a former pro turned firefighter who runs the operation. And whose nickname explains why the league is called Burgers 4-on-4.
This isn’t just about the elite of the elite, either.
The league offers a junior version run by Turek — fittingly named Turek Development 4-on-4 — which has included many of the local Hamilton Bulldogs and other future stars on their way up. Last summer, this junior loop featured 28 kids who were drafted into the OHL this spring, including two first rounders. It also included the first overall draft pick in the OHL’s new midget draft. That would be Victor Hadfield, grandson of former NHL star Vic Hadfield.
Montreal Canadiens draft pick Michael McNiven was the top goalie in the O this season. He’s played in the junior league for a few years. Last spring when Talbot was a little late getting home from Edmonton, McNiven moved up and took his spot. Then stuck.
If you are a high-end player from around here, chances are you play — or have played — in one of these leagues. Maybe both. Not every one is involved every year. Some guys move around and sample other leagues in Toronto or elsewhere. Some have other commitments. Some are recovering from a grind of a season and need some time off.
But all have the league stamped on their resume. Including every local still in the playoffs.
Ellis and Bieksa have been consistently involved. Not only are they key pieces of the league but, according to Turek, they’re great about helping the younger kids. Several times each summer, they play a game or two in the junior league to give the kids a taste of playing with a big-time pro.
Because of how well their NHL teams are doing, they — and any of the other guys still vying for a sip from the Cup — might not be back here in time for the start of the season in a couple weeks. In fact, some certainly won’t. They may show up late or they may take a pass this summer because after a few weeks off recovering and a few more weeks taking things easy, the 4-on-4 season will almost be over.
He loves having them around, but Burgoyne isn’t going to give them any grief about it.
“I think they’ve got more important things to worry about.”
Edmonton’s Cam Talbot and Nashville’s Ryan Ellis are members of a special organization right here in Hamilton.