There’s no doubt that hockey rules the scene in Charlestown for young and old, but in the summer, one would think that ice rinks, hockey skates and sticks are put up in storage for the warmer months.
One of the most highly anticipated hockey events in the Town and beyond happens right in the heart of summer, next weekend on Aug. 6 and 7, and this year’s version of that event, the Kitchen Kup at Eden Street Playground, is going to be every bit as exciting as ever this year, according to coordinator Joe Brennan.
“There are a lot of people who may not know what we’re talking about, but the hockey community is very tight and everyone in the Boston hockey community knows about the Kitchen Kup,” he said. “It’s a staple. It’s a simple format and I’ve had as many as 30 teams and I’ve had as few as 12 teams. Right now I have 20 teams committed. These are top flight talents, and anyone playing at least high school hockey who can handle themselves is invited to play, but this is dominated by high, high level 20 year old players…I have teams from Charlestown, from all over Boston, from other parts of New England and one from Canada this year. There are other roller hockey tournaments, but the Kitchen Kup got to be bigger and better than everybody else because it was done for all the right reasons. It was just formed here in Charlestown and none of it is artificial. It all happened the way it did because it’s who we are.”
He stressed that the Kup is special in the Town because it is one of the last storied traditions they have, excluding the Bunker Hill Parade, that is steeped in the lore of great players from the past and present.
“It’s one of the last bastions of old tradition we have in Charlestown,” he said. “The things that the original Charlestown people who have lived here forever do. This is big for us.”
The Kitchen Kup has been under Brennan’s watch for the last 13 years, and he took it over from his uncle, who passed away suddenly. That previous version of the Kup was called the Charlestown Invitational, and it was played on foot. Previous to that was the Gunny Cup, a Charlestown street hockey tournament played on foot and in memory of a young man, Jimmy Donovan, who died tragically. This year’s Kup, he said, is already lined up to continue that special tradition.
That’s because high level ice hockey players from Charlestown have long competed in it, and the rest of the hockey community has made note of that and has found that roller hockey really translates well to the ice rinks.
“I played on the professional level and I played in Europe and I played roller hockey,” said Brennan. “It’s elements contain everything you want to be able to enhance your game. The skills are very much the same with stick work, vision and anticipation. The good players do both very well. It is the best complement to ice hockey out there. Anyone who seriously plays ice hockey is playing roller hockey in the summer.”
Street hockey at the Kup is quite simple. There are teams of five, three-on-three, with a goalie and a substitute player. That follows a long tradition of summertime hockey in the City.
Street hockey is no stranger to Boston, and it has been popular with the families who have called Charlestown, Everett, Medford, South Boston and Dorchester home for generations. Young people and adults for years played the summer hockey game on foot, and quite competitively, until a group in South Boston had the idea in the 1990s to put players on in-line skates.
Brennan said he played in that tournament several times using in-line skates and noted it was a lot more fun. In Charlestown, at Eden Street Playground, players began using in-line skates as well. Shortly after Brennan’s uncle passed away and the Charlestown Invitational had lapsed, Brennan said he felt a calling, quite suddenly, while watching kids play roller hockey at Eden.
“We were on Eden Street, which is now called the Kitchen, and were skating around and talking about the old Charlestown tournament,” said Brennan. “Suddenly, it just came to me that I was going to put this thing together again for Charlestown. I went down to CVS and got some paper and drew it all up. It was extremely successful from the first time we held it. Since then, it’s boomed.”
Part of the reason, Brennan said, is they created an environment that was no-nonesense and safe for the high-level players and the kids. Sometimes the tournament in Southie would get out of hand, he said, and people would fight or be too rough. That, he said, was something he was not going to entertain.
“It was definitely the environment I was able to foster,” he said. “You have young City kids and they can drink or find trouble, and if that’s not policed well, it will be trouble. We didn’t let anything get out of hand and we have partnered with CHAD and the police. That was a big part of it because these high, high level players saw that they could come here and showcase their skills and not worry about getting hurt. I take a lot of pride in creating an environment that’s respectful. That doesn’t mean we don’t play hard. There’s a lot of skill and emotion in these games, no question.”
Even it’s name is steeped in neighborhood lore, Brennan said, as even though he came up with the name, he had to be reminded by youths in the area what brought it about.
“I didn’t even remember saying it,” he said. “At the time I had a couple of hockey gloves that looked like oven mitts. I had on these oven mitt gloves and we were playing at Eden. Someone was on the phone trying to get people down to play and I told them to get down here because we were cooking up dangles (a term used to mean they were embarrassing other players with good moves) in the kitchen. From that point forward that’s what everyone started calling it and it just stuck. Now you have ESPN calling it the Kitchen.”
However, when Charlestown players Jimmy Vesey (this year’s collegiate Hobey Baker Trophy winner), Matt Grzelcyk (under contract with the Boston Bruins) and Brendan Collier (a senior player now at Northeastern University) were all drafted by NHL teams in 2012, the Kup got a whole new level of attention.
The three Charlestown players – now legendary in the Town – had long been participants in the Kup and spoke about it several times while being interviewed by major media outlets. The informal nature of the tournament – being neighborhood-based and featuring some of the best players in the northeast showing off their skills and relaxing with friends – appealed to the reporters.
For the media, it was seemingly made for TV.
Brennan said many articles began to appear and ESPN made a visit to cover the Kup one year. Another film group from Boston University proposed a documentary with two years of filming and the prospect of making it into an ESPN-type sports film – all focusing on Charlestown hockey and the Kup’s role in it.
So much attention began to be focused on the tournament and so many people began laying claim or citing it that Brennan said the relaxed nature of the gathering had to be stepped up a bit. He eventually had to trademark the name, he said.
“We’ll see where it goes,” he said. “It’s moving forward, but I wanted to protect the tournament and what we have.”
All of that is still up in the air, he said, but the Kup continues no matter what. He said he hopes that the City will understand how important this kind of event is to the fabric of the community. While football and baseball are popular, Brennan said it is the game of hockey that Boston people play.
“It’s supposed to happen here,” he said. “Everyone is invited to play, but the backbone of it are Charlestown residents whose families have been here a long, long time… We need to continue the momentum with a new generation now. What we’re doing is very good for the entire City. Boston is the city for this sport. People may watch the Patriots or the Red Sox, but the sport people play in this city is hockey. It needs to be understood that whatever we need to do, this environment here needs to be continued on.”
The Kitchen Up will drop off at 7 a.m. – or so – on Aug. 6 at the Eden Street Playground rink.