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The best game you can name (video, photos)

Sault Ste. Marie has a long and proud record when it comes to the game of hockey. But there exists a long-standing local league that you've probably never heard of. It's never had corporate sponsorship, uniforms, penalties or officials.

Sault Ste. Marie has a long and proud record when it comes to the game of hockey.

But there exists a long-standing local league that you've probably never heard of.

It's never had corporate sponsorship, uniforms, penalties or officials.

The championship is contended for outdoors no matter the conditions: rain, sleet, snow or sub-zero temperatures.

It embraces many rituals, including celebratory breakfasts at the Husky East Restaurant after the only two league teams complete their best-of-three battle.

It is the A&PHL, by far one of the Sault's best-kept secrets.

"Every year we go for a victory breakfast at the Husky with a brief stop in the A&P parking lot," jokes Al Wood.

A bit of A&PHL history

Christmas Eve 1988, four bored buddies bundled up, grabbed their sticks and headed out for a late-night game of hockey in the Trunk Road A&P parking lot.

Al Wood, Paul (Rusty) Sim, John Doherty and Rob Harten had no idea they were about to create a legacy.

What transpired was the birth of the A&PHL.

The first three-game match between Hogan's Office Equipment (Doherty, Wood) and Tube Division (Sim, Harten) went virtually unnoticed by anyone aside from the players.

Hogan's emerged the champion team, scoring 10-7, 10-7 and 10-8.

The following year they did it again in minus-40 degree Celsius temperatures.

Wood, the only member of the Hogan's team to make an appearance, single-handedly won all three games.

In 1990, the traditional Christmas Eve game was open for the first time to the general public.

But due to record snowfall, soccer was played in place of hockey.

1993 saw the worst turnout in league history as a one-on-one struggle between Doherty and Harten was witnessed by one solitary spectator.

And the tradition continued as the A&PHL's popularity grew and player numbers increased until the future of the league was put into question by the four founding players.

A lack of solidarity and sharp increase in poor sportsmanship prompted the founders to unite the Hogan's Office Equipment and Tube Division teams into the Unity Squad and develop a set of A&PHL rules in 1996.

1996 also saw the purchase of hockey nets and the introduction of the now highly-coveted trophy.

The A&PHL today

Although Harten and Doherty no longer take part, the game goes on with the oldtimers of the Unity Squad battling the younger Community Squad.

Christmas Eve 2007 marked the 20th anniversary of the A&PHL as Wood gave his traditional opening address, dedicating the momentous occasion to the dearly departed Oscar Peterson, Evil Knievel, Luciano Pavarotti and Ken Danby.

"Let's keep it going for 20 more," he encouraged.

Following the singing of O Canada at 12:45 a.m., the ball was dropped and two games were swept by the Unity Squad for the third year in a row.

To view some game footage captured by SooToday.com's Donna Hopper and edited by faithful reader and friend Dan Nystedt, click here.

Game 1 was a rough skirmish, lasting more than two hours.

"The loser of Game 1 basically has to decide whether they want to fight for the opportunity to play hockey until 6 a.m.," Wood told SooToday.com.

Eighteen players in total attended the landmark match, including veterans Al Wood, Paul Sim, Mark Kuntsi, Frank Guidoccio and Peter Von Althen.

Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy singled out Von Althen as the dirtiest player in the Musician's League in a 2002 CBC Radio interview.

Five-year participant Marcus Fryia stood in for the outstanding, but unfortunately absent Community Squad goalie Jerry "Junior" Lemieux.

A few archival league photos and shots from the 2007 match are included in the photo gallery below.

Turning 40 next year, Wood is pleased at the number of younger players who have participated in the last couple of showdowns.

"Possibly someone to pass the torch to," he said of 13 year-old Matthew Sageloly, the youngest contender to ever participate in the A&PHL.

What started as a simple way to kill time has developed into a noble and charming Christmas Eve tradition.

"You wanna know the real reason I started the A&PHL?" asked Wood. "Ever since I was little, I was always too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve. I kept coming up with ways to stay up all night."

So, if you find yourself unable to sleep next Christmas Eve, head down to the Trunk Road A&P parking lot.

New players and spectators are always welcome.

Bring coffee and/or hot chocolate.

Warm-ups are greatly appreciated and often necessary.

View photos, kinda-official league video

A&PHL 20th Anniversary Championship video highlight reel.