Ev­ery year, they pull a Quad

EL­LIS, TALBOT, NURSE, AND MORE

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

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.”

MARK HUMPHREY, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ed­mon­ton’s Cam Talbot and Nashville’s Ryan El­lis are mem­bers of a spe­cial or­ga­ni­za­tion right here in Hamil­ton.

JEFF MCIN­TOSH, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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