The boarding house - The Explorer: Sports

The boarding house

2 brothers, dad, a cousin and pals make Thursday's hockey night

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Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:04 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

The National Hockey League boasts 10 sets of brothers, and several more have gouged the ice throughout its history — but none of those rosters included a father and a cousin lacing up his skates during the same game.

Take that, Bobby and Dennis Hull. The Buerger boys have one rollerblade up on you.

Around the kitchen counter on a lazy Thursday afternoon, Jake and Johnny fixed skates and waited for their father, John, to stop fiddling with his racecar’s clutch issues.

Tonight, like every Thursday, was family hockey night — and Mom got the house to herself.

“I just do it for the exercise,” said John, a postal worker. “They do it to win.”

“I used to play to win before Dad came along,” Johnny retorted, to laughs.

The three players, ranging in age from 17 to 39, have played under the banner of M&S Paint and Body since John’s brother offered to sponsor the team with new purple-and-white jerseys last year. Previously, they called themselves The Short Bus All-Stars.

M&S’ ice hockey-seasoned defenseman Dana Boatwright showed up, and the gear was tossed into the bed for the ride south from Magee Road. Dana offered John tips on how to best fix the racecar’s clutch, to drown out the kids’ backseats threats of booger exchanges as they probed for lost seatbelts.

The time before M&S Paint unsheathed the player egos could be measured in stoplights. As the only goalie in the truck, Jake bore the brunt of the assault, targeted at his casual style.

John assured his son he’d score on him during warm-ups. The Canyon Del Oro senior deflected the notion toward the front seat.

“I won’t even use a stick,” Jake taunted.

Hockey runs through the Buerger family by way of John’s Chicago roots. A few years back, his mother paid for the family’s blade fixes, which nurtured the two Buerger kids into decent — if not humble — players.

Jake’s already earned a few accolades as a goalie. At the house, he was quick to spread a quartet of medals and trophies on the kitchen counter, hardware he acquired at Yuma and Phoenix tourneys after a traveling team recruited him at age 16.

The 140-pounder’s stats from last year’s winter league merit the hype — 83 percent saves on 334 shots, over 10 games. Still, he’s casual enough to lean his elbows back upon the net until the puck approaches across the red line.

Then it’s back to the classic goaltender’s crouch, ready to pounce.

But that didn’t stop John from making good on the fatherly threat he made during the drive. A high and right net-bound shot drew an anguished yell from Jake, as the rest of M&S Paint and Body jeered.

“That will not happen again!” he barked.

And it didn’t. Not until six minutes into the game’s first period, against a team called “The Jeffersons.”

A close-up wrist flick leaked past Jake’s right side, landing in the net for an early 1-0 deficit. Boatwright returned the favor three minutes later, tying the game — as John trucked off to the bench, lifting his mask for an early rest.

Johnny’s unassisted goal broke the tie a few minutes afterward. But a second Jeffersons goal trickled in on Jake to tie with 1:39 left, in a heated first quarter that drew 14 shots from Buerger’s opponents, versus 11 of their own.

The Buergers’ cousin, CDO sophomore Harrison Roberts, demonstrated a deft wrist shot, scoring low off John’s assist for the final M&S lead of the game at 12:19.

Jake’s quick reflexes then negated a potential mistake, when he drew cheers with a diving save past the goalie circle after leaving the net unattended.

“That was a close one,” Jake quipped later. “I nearly bought that.”

Harrison returned from the bench for a repeat slap, another low bullet into the net. The officials waved the goal off, though, marking the end of the Magee Road crew’s luck.

The Jeffersons bombarded Jake with three fast goals, within 1-1/2 minutes to end a second period that left Jake tapping his stick on the net, a mix of nerves and disgust.

Bladeworld’s overhead music cuts out abruptly as a team’s momentum can, absent of any fade or reason. The third period began after a 311 tune choked off, and M&S fought to regain their stride, as Jake smothered the puck once again —while a Jeffersons forward tried to dissect him with his stick.

When the score hit 7-3 with 9:00 left, John kicked over into the bench and slammed his stick down in frustration. M&S’s Remy Cooper — a young, speedy fill-in player from Catalina Foothills High School — whacked the team’s fourth goal within seconds. But there’d be no recovery.

A final Jeffersons goal sealed the evening at 8-4 with three minutes on the clock, despite the near-parity of 36-32 shots-on-goal. M&S huddled benchside when time expired.

“There’s nothing we could do about that one,” said a resigned voice in purple-and-white.

Back in the locker room, heads rested against the blue-painted wooden lockers, the sound of slow Velcro unraveled like a long evening. Insights, fueled by post-game munchies, ranged from an explanatory “wore out and winded,” to the apathetic “whatever.”

“There’s no crying in hockey,” Boatwright cautioned.

As M&S laughed — and Johnny wondered aloud whether to wash his lucky socks — the melancholy disappeared from another hockey night in Tucson.

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