It is fitting that Elmira, a top-five contender for Hockeyville 2009, is the setting for the world premiere of Shorthanded, a touching and funny tribute to the world of old timers' hockey.
The entire play, written and directed by Elmira native Michael Grant, is designed to connect to anyone and everyone who loves Canada's national sport. Right from the opening montage, which features a series of pictures ranging from backyard shinny games to arena moments, the mood is set.
Shorthanded takes place in the dressing room for the hometown team — a ragtag bunch of regulars who are in game seven of the playoffs, a feat that hasn't occurred for 20 years, since they were playing junior hockey.
In that fateful series, goaltender "Hole," played by Joe Brenner, let in a crucial shot that cost them the championship — something that his buddies mercilessly bring up, two decades later.
This year, Hole is determined it will be different. He gives them a rousing speech prior to the game, loosely inspired by the movie Braveheart, with a little Shakespeare thrown in.
His fellow teammates aren't buying, however, particularly when it becomes very clear that they will be playing with only eight men —and missing the two best players.
Somehow, Hole, with the help of unofficial team captain Hammer (played by Andrew Frey), manage to convince their crew of misfits to try for that last chance at the championship.
It doesn't hurt that the town, who has been waiting two decades years for a hometown title, turns out in droves for the match.
They decide to give it their all, even if giving their all might well kill them, given their less-than-stellar physically condition — hysterically portrayed by their painful crawl back into the dressing room at the end of the each period.
Humour is a major part of this play, with jokes flying fast and furious — everything from the ubiquitous reference to how poorly the Maple Leafs are playing, to the drugged-out hockey player going outside for some "fresh air," to the off-duty officer who has a love affair with alcohol, hence his nickname, Suds.
It's clear why Shorthanded was chosen as the best new comedy by the Playwrights Guild of Canada. It's the third full-length play written by Grant, who also penned Hamish and Bare Bear Bones, both performed by Elmira Theatre Company.
In writing Shorthanded, Grant manages to give the audience an inside look at the world of men — how they bicker with one another, show off to one another, fight with each other, and, ultimately, stand by each other.
Somehow, Grant manages to get across the men they are now, and the 13-year-old boys they once were, when hockey was their entire world.
In many ways, it still is.
They might be married, they might have children, and they might have day jobs, but hockey is still the one thing they all have in common — that, and each other.
The big game, while the focus of much of the play, isn't all Shorthanded is about. It's about camaraderie, friendship, and what it means to go out on a high note.
Every member of the cast — Brandon Maxwell, Andy Wasylycia, Joe Brenner, Andrew Frey, Thom Smith, Brian Otto, Bill Calder and John Bigelow — puts in a great performance, coming across as men who have known each other their entire lives.
The real standouts, however, are Andrew Frey as Hammer and Joe Brenner as Hole, the two best friends who have been through everything together — and together, rally the troops for this crucial match.
Everything about Shorthanded feels real, including some poignant moments at the end that cannot be revealed, for fear of spoiling the plot.
The play is even more special for Elmira residents, who can see Grant's little touches throughout the play that give it a truly local feel — including the fact that when the team wins the championship, they get a fire truck ride.
It doesn't get more Elmira than that.
Shorthanded runs from now until Feb. 17, at ETC's theatre at 76 Howard Avenue. For ticket information, call The Centre in the Square box office at 519-578-1570 or 1-800-265-8977.