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  LCS Holiday Hockey Tournament a Local Success
by Joe Rossi, Guest Writer

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared in the January 3rd edition of the "Greensburg Picayune" and is being reprinted with permission of the fine newspaper.)

Greensburg, Pennsylvania, isn't known for much. Founded by General Nathanael Green in 1786, the sleepy Pittsburgh suburb has contributed little of global significance. With a population hovering around the 17,000-mark, Greensburg has never produced any internationally known personalities or done anything to secure a space among the pantheon of great cities. However, that could all change thanks to the work of four local entrepreneurs.

Back in June of 1994, Michael Dell, Jim Iovino, Matthew Secosky, and a young man known only as Zippy the Wonder Chimp established LCS: Guide to Hockey, an electronic newsletter and web site (www.lcshockey.com) dedicated to the National Hockey League. The members of the group, who are all now 22 years of age, wanted to provide an alternative to mainstream hockey coverage, with their goal being to produce material that was, in their own words, "informative as well as entertaining... 50/50, a little bit of this, a little bit of that."

Over the past three and a half years, LCS has gained a large and loyal following due to its informal approach to the game of hockey. Yet while readers across the globe have been able to enjoy their work thanks to the internet, LCS' most important contributions are occurring in their own backyard.

Each year over the Christmas holiday, LCS holds an annual street hockey game to raise money for local charities and help bring some much needed attention to their home town of Greensburg. Billed as the "Happy Birthday Baby Jesus Tournament", money raised goes to help the local library, museum, and Jewish synagogues. The last one not because of any religious beliefs but simply because, as editor-in-chief Michael Dell puts it, "We just love irony."

Held each year on the tennis courts at Lynch Field, the game is fast becoming a beloved local tradition. The two teams, made up of LCS employees and associates, do their best to entertain the crowds with fast-paced, end-to-end action, featuring spirited exchanges at both ends of the rink. Fans come from far and wide to witness the annual spectacle.

"The wife and I woke up early this morning and drove four hours to get here in time for the game," said one Jerry Hubbard, a 41- year-old native of Greensburg who currently calls Fernwood, Ohio, home. "We wouldn't miss this thing for the world."

The importance of the game isn't being lost on the local government. "We're extremely honored and proud to be known as the home of LCS," said Greensburg mayor Carl Eisman. "The game is really becoming a tradition around here. And those boys really know how to put on a show. They're four decent, clean-cut young men. I really can't say enough nice things about them. They're going to be really big stars."

"We just see the game as our way to give back to the community," says Dell. "They've been a really big help to us over the years... relaxing the public drunkenness laws and failing to crack down on prostitution and whatnot. So this is the least we can do."

The game is always scheduled for Christmas day, but usually gets pushed back for one reason or another. This year the contest was held on Friday, January 2. As the crowd began to arrive for the 1 PM opening faceoff, the LCS staff was busy preparing the court. The remnants of a recent snowfall had rendered the one end a slushy mess. But it was nothing a few shovels and some hard work couldn't fix. Which just adds to the charm of this grassroots publication.

"A lot of hockey publications, like The Hockey News for example, wouldn't even bother to shovel off the snow," explains Ace Reporter Jim Iovino. "They'd probably just go home and smoke some crack and beat their wives for not havin' their pot pie ready... or, you know, whatever else they do in their spare time. But not us. We're not scared to go the extra mile for our fans and community. I guess that's what really separates us from publications like The Hockey News. We care."

Once the court was cleared, it was time to get down to business and give the fans what they came to see. There were originally 12 players scheduled to appear at the event, but when two participants got held up in transit, the game was started with only the remaining 10 headliners. Although one poor misguided youth was selected from the crowd and allowed to participate in order to fill out the teams. Matthew Secosky explained the unexpected addition by saying, "What the hell? It's the holidays." He then pulled a metal flask out from under his Chicago Blackhawks sweater and took a mighty swig.

The rosters for the two teams, which are named Team Tradition and Team Commercialism to illustrate the constant struggle between the two holiday forces, read as a who's who of LCS. Team Tradition was anchored by editor-in-chief Dell in net, while fellow founding fathers Secosky and Iovino were joined by Stat Girl Nicole Agostino on offense. When asked what it felt like to be the only woman involved in the tournament, Agostino replied, "I'm just happy to be allowed out of the kitchen." The team was rounded out on defense with LCS Pittsburgh Penguin correspondent Brett Taylor and LCS International Chief Executive Sales Associate Steve Wilson.

Zippy the Wonder Chimp was the lone LCS staffer on the Team Commercialism squad, but he was joined by local icons Shane Griffin and Todd Teacher, who are both legendary for their storied Lynch Field hockey careers. Part-time LCS consultant Dave Miller handled the goaltending chores, while the poor misguided youth from the stands, known only as "JR", was added to flesh out the squad until the reserves arrived.

Enjoying the continual five-on-four power play at the start of the game, Team Tradition roared out of the gates to an early 4-0 lead behind the speed and quickness of Matthew Secosky. Most of the goals were scored on the rush, with Secosky storming wide on right wing and beating Miller from in tight. The dazzling displays sent the crowd into a frenzy and made things appear bleak for Team Commercialism. Not only were they not scoring goals, but Commercialism was struggling to even generate any scoring chances whatsoever. That all changed, though, thanks to a fluke goal off the stick of Zippy the Wonder Chimp. Zippy launched an innocent looking slap shot from center court that struck Dell in the chest before skipping over his shoulder and into the cage.

"That was pathetic," Dell would later summarize. "But, hey, it's for charity!"

With the score now 4-1, Commercialism picked up the tempo and started to make a game of it. Zippy, Griffin, and Teacher soon started to swarm the Tradition net, pressuring the attack and eventually cutting the lead to 5-4. That's when Steve Wilson took it upon himself to make a play. The rugged backliner pinched in deep on the left side and chipped a shot from the left post over Miller to give Tradition back a two-goal advantage. The clubs would exchange goals one more time before agreeing to take a 10-minute break. At the intermission, Team Tradition led 7-5.

By this point, it was clear that the fans were enjoying the show. As the players left the court for the intermission, the devotees in attendance gave them a raucous ovation that was measured in minutes. With the other combatants resting themselves, Dell and Secosky came back out and provided entertainment for the fans, reciting inspirational poems and reenacting scenes from the movie "SHAFT". But while two of the club's stars revelled in the applause of the fans, the intermission held some disastrous news for Team Tradition. Brett Taylor, the squad's standout defensemen, became ill and was forced out of the lineup. His loss would prove to be costly. Another harbinger of bad tidings occurred a few minutes before the intermission when Ryan Gaffney, a new face on the Lynch Field scene, finally arrived and replaced the mysterious "JR" on the Commercialism roster, providing his club with a major step up in talent. These two events would soon spell doom for Tradition.

Although the teams were now at even-strength and playing four-on- four, the second period opened up much as the first ended, with Tradition increasing its lead thanks to more lightning quick rushes from Secosky. Iovino got into the act by hammering a slap shot between Miller's pads to further secure Tradition's grasp on the game, making the score 9-6. However, the contest's momentum was about to change.

With Taylor no longer around to provide the steady stay-at-home defense for Tradition, Team Commercialism gradually began to take control. To put it mildly, the floodgates were opened. Seemingly every trip up the court was a breakaway or an odd-man rush. While the crowd loved the wide-open action, Dell was fighting for his life under the onslaught of scoring chances. The shots came in a steady stream, with one glorious opportunity after another being sent Dell's way. The crowd offered its support to the frail butterfly netminder, chanting "Delly! Delly! Delly!" with each passing save. Thanks to some spectacular goaltending, including a sensational goal-line theft at the expense of Todd Teacher, Tradition still enjoyed a 12-11 lead as the game entered its fourth hour.

Plans for a second intermission were scrapped much to the delight of those in attendance when it was determined that putting a halt to the breakneck pace of the game would have been criminal. So the teams decided to keep on playing without fail, electing to go at it until one squad reached 15.

While the game's marathon length was a dream come true for fans, Team Tradition soon began to wilt with exhaustion. It was clear that Commercialism was the stronger squad. The longer the game wore on, the worse things got for Tradition. The outcome seemed inevitable. As Zippy and crew continued to pour on the offense, Tradition's scoring chances all but dried up. And whenever Secosky or Iovino managed to find an opening, Miller was there to bail out his Commercialism teammates with the clutch save.

While Miller was starting to shine at one end of the rink, Tradition's goaltending began to crack. As the scoring chances continued to mount for Team Commercialism, Dell displayed signs of fatigue, yielding two long snap shot goals to Griffin that put Commercialism in front 14-13. Moments later Zippy broke behind the defense with a chance to end the game, but Dell rallied to regain his technically sound butterfly style and denied the chimp five-hole. The save was a nice respite from doubt, but it was obvious that it was only a matter of time.

The game's deciding play started with another odd-man break for Commercialism, with Gaffney bursting free down the left wing. Yet oddly enough, after all the unbelievable scoring chances over the second half of the contest, the game-winner came when Gaffney simply threw a rather meager shot on net from a bad angle. Dell went down to make the save, but the rebound hit some traffic directly in front and skipped underneath the battered netminder for the winner. The goal was scored on Commercialism's 115th shot of the game. The final score: Commercialism 15, Tradition 13.

"That was awesome!" exclaimed Greensburg's own Billy McCormick, 12, who was one of many elated onlookers in the immense crowd. "That was better than any NHL game this season. When I grow up I want to be just like LCS!"

Not everyone was quite so enthusiastic about the contest. "I wasn't real happy with the game's outcome," admitted Dell afterwards, as he and the rest of the LCS staff were besieged by autograph seekers. "We had the lead the entire time right up until the end but just couldn't close the deal. We pretty much ran out of gas... or for our European friends, petrol. But it was for charity and the fans seemed to enjoy themselves. So that's all that really matters. Plus, we did beat the hell out of Zippy... so that's pretty cool."

Yes, the game was played for charity, but that doesn't mean things didn't get a little rough at times. And Zippy was clearly the target of all the aggression. Patterning himself after his hero Claude Lemieux, Zippy is famous for getting under the opposition's skin. This all culminated in a serious brawl near the end of the game. Dell had covered the ball, but Zippy continued to relentlessly dig at his glove. That's when Agostino stepped in and belted Zippy with a straight left hand. Iovino and Secosky then came to their teammate's aid, pulling Zippy's jersey over his head and pummeling him senseless. All the while Zippy's teammates looked on without offering the slightest hint of backup.

"It's all part of the game," a dazed Zippy would later say. "Claude would be proud."

When informed of Zippy's comments, Iovino was quick to respond. "Claude Lemieux my ass!" he snapped. "Try Geoff Courtnall. Or weasel boy Slava Kozlov. I can't believe I shook his freakin' hand."

Brief moments of animosity aside, the afternoon was an unprecedented success. Money was raised for charity, fans got to enjoy some incredible hockey, and the staff of LCS further cemented itself in the local folklore. A few more events like this one, and it won't be long before Greensburg is on the map. And the envy of all.

Tournament Photos

Be sure to browse the Happy Birthday Baby Jesus Photo Gallery.

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