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culture

Blood, Sweat, and Beer

The annual Copper Kettle Cup pits local breweries against one another in a sud-soaked hockey tournament.

Beer and hockey. Aside from maybe the beaver and the maple leaf, there are probably no two things more emblematic of our great country. And when those two elements are combined, you get a quintessentially Canadian event known as the Copper Kettle Cup. Now in its ninth year, the annual tournament brings together six local breweries in an effort to determine not only whose employees are best at hockey, but also whose are able to drink the most of their companies’ products. For Steamwhistle employee and tournament organizer Ben Taylor, the mission statement is fairly simple.

“We get together, sweat and drool on each other, bleed on each other, and drink each other’s beer,” he said. Participating in either his fifth or sixth Kettle Cup, Taylor’s uncertainty in the matter seemed to underscore his team’s shortcoming in previous years. “Our weakness is always getting too drunk,” he admitted. Wellington has traditionally dominated on the ice. Their team name is etched on the hardware six times, while Steamwhistle has yet to claim the prize.

As they boarded their company bus shortly before 9 a.m. on Saturday, the motley crew from Steamwhistle was determined to change all of that this year. As cans of liquid breakfast were passed around and the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” blared over the speakers, the trek to Chesswood Arena kicked off in a rollicking fashion. The brewery’s team members—many of them sporting intimidatingly scuzzy mustaches—spanned various age groups and skill levels. The majority were in their twenties and thirties, but the team also had the tournament’s most senior player, defenseman Paul Ruttan, whose age, according to him, was “old as shit.”

The players continued to rib each other as they entered the arena’s rank dressing rooms, where the stench of man-sweat mingled with various other offensive bodily odors. Some players had distinctive nicknames—like Chris “Doctor” Johnston—while some monickers were a little more unfortunate. (Brian “Cinnamon” Rodrigues.) Steamwhistle’s president, Cam Heaps, swilled beers with the gang and delivered on what apparently had been a team obsession with procuring a masseuse to help deal with afternoon muscle tightness.

The underdogs from Steamwhistle opened the tournament on what must have felt like a familiar note. They allowed a goal in the first fifteen seconds, on the way to a disappointing 4-1 loss to Mill Street. Steamwhistle narrowly avoided a shut-out thanks to a late rally on an impressive end-to-end rush by the team’s “ringer”—Torontoist’s own photographer, Corbin Smith.

Expectations were low for the second match, but perennial heavyweights Wellington faltered defensively, allowing Steamwhistle to claim victory, 11-8. That set the stage for a do-or-die match-up with Amsterdam that would end up determining who would move on to the finals.

The game lived up to Taylor’s assertion (and implicit Maple Leafs jab) that we would be witnessing “the most meaningful, high-stakes hockey that the city is going to see.” In front of a crowd that was overwhelmingly stacked with Steamwhistle supporters, a back-and-forth battle ensued that, at times, bordered on intense and downright hostile. Buoyed by the cheers of their friends and the tournament’s only mascot, a giant bottle of beer named Steamy, it appeared that an upset was in the making. Unfortunately, despite a mad scramble in front of the net in the waning seconds, the Steamwhistle crew could not clinch a tying goal. Amsterdam prevailed, 5-4.

The Steamwhistle players didn’t seem fazed. After all, they had to focus on hosting the after-party back at their brewery. Typically, the winners of the previous year’s tournament handle the celebration, but as this is nearly always Wellington (this year was no exception), it was decided that Steamwhistle would take the reins.

There was plenty of food on hand to accompany the assortment of beer from the participating breweries, and music by Free Beer, a deejay who looked curiously like the man inside the Steamy mascot suit. It was a fitting end to a day that was less about the actual competition than, as Taylor explained, “the spirit of camaraderie.”

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