The International Barristers' Cup

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of time-honored RCBA events such as the annual Judges’ Dinner, Golf Tournament, and our Bench and Bar Benefit. Included in this list is The International Barristers’ Cup (hereinafter “the Cup”), the “longest continuously held international lawyer hockey tournament in the world. The fine print probably notes it being the only international lawyer hockey tournament in the world, but that is beside the point.”i Legend has it that, in 1990, the Honorable Doug Shaw (ret.) of Thunder Bay, Ontario placed an ad in the Hennepin County Bar Association newsletter, looking for local lawyer hockey players to participate in a game with the Thunder Bay lawyers’ team.ii According to HCBA Captain Craig Greenberg, the Thunder Bay team was “looking for an excuse to escape the constant polar vortex up there and visit the tropical destination known as the Twin Cities, play hockey, and maybe get one or two CLE credits.”iii

For the first few years, a combined team of Twin Cities attorneys played against Thunder Bay, but as word spread about the tournament, about 40 more attorneys wanted to participate.iv Two teams became four teams, ushering in the “Expansion Era;”v the Twin Cities team separated into teams from the Hennepin and Ramsey Bars, and the Duluth/Iron Range Bar team joined the Cup. Since then, these 4 teams—Hennepin County, Thunder Bay, Ramsey County, and Duluth/Iron Range, have taken turns hosting the event.

When I sought commentary from attorney participants, all spoke highly of the tournaments hosted by the Thunder Bay team. Those Thunder Bay trips are legendary. For instance, in the first year the “missing pants incident,” when, at the end of the game, the Twin Cities team discovered that everyone’s pants were missing. Thunder Bay Captain Shaw was so apologetic that he called the owner of a men’s clothing store to open the store—on a Saturday evening—to find replacement pants for all of the players!vi

Thunder Bay hospitality continued throughout the years. Past MSBA/RCBA President Paul Godfrey mentioned that on one trip to Thunder Bay when it was -25* the entire weekend, their shuttle driver dropped them off and picked them up door to door, nearly touching the doors of their hotel, restaurant, and arena so that they were never exposed to the elements for more than 30 seconds. Throughout the years, the Thunder Bay team reserved entire restaurants for post-tournament banquets, and gave lavish gifts of clothing, Cuban cigars, wool/leather ‘letter’ jackets, and sweatshirts, all emblazoned with the Barristers’ Cup logo. Reflecting on these trips Tom Donohue said, “those nearly 35 years only could have happened with the likes of our captain Chris Messerly and Thunder Bay’s captain Hon. Doug Shaw.”

Several players I interviewed mentioned one mishap in Thunder Bay which I had (understandably!) forgotten about. The late Paul Heckt, the Barrister Cup scribe, reported on the March 2, 1996 tournament in the July 18, 1996 edition of Let’s Play

"With two minutes left in the third period, the score still tied, and momentum on their side, it looked like RCBA’s losing ways were finally over. Tragically, that’s when RCBA goalie John “The Puck Stops Here” Buckley took it in the chin, both figuratively and literally. A vicious wrist shot caught him underneath the facemask, knocked him flat and left him with a 3-inch gash. Because the rink had just opened the previous week, there was no first aid kit available. Improvising, Chris Messerly hurriedly applied adhesive tape and Breathe Right Nasal Strips to Buckley’s profusely bleeding chin. At that point, Messerly looked up to see Buckley’s wife Susan and five-year-old daughter Molly running out onto the ice.

“Wouldn’t you know it,” thought Messerly. “The one guy who brought his wife and kids on the trip is bleeding all over the ice.” As it turned out, Messerly’s fear of having to calm down Buckley’s enraged wife was misplaced. Instead of tending to her wounded husband, John’s attorney wife headed straight for the referee and demanded that he call a 5-minute major for drawing blood. The ref declined, explaining that in Canada, you need to see decapitation before a major penalty can be assessed.... For obvious reasons, and to avoid a lawsuit, Ramsey awarded their MVP to John “The Puck Stops Here” Buckley.vii"

For RCBA team members, the most significant memories involve tournaments with the late Second Judicial District Judge Michael Fetsch.viii According to Chris Messerly, Judge Fetsch "was the embodiment of the Barristers' Cup... the Cup was more about camaraderie rather than who actually takes the Cup home." Paul Godfrey noted that even when Judge Fetsch was having health issues and could not play, those issues did not prevent him from supporting the team. Godfrey believes that Judge Fetsch is the only team member on the injured reserve list to make the trip to Thunder Bay. As a tribute to his contributions and memory, team captains inducted Judge Fetsch (posthumously) into the International Barristers' Cup Hall of Fame.

As of this writing, no date has been set for the Barristers' Cup 30th Anniversary tournament, which will be held in Thunder Bay. If you would like more information, especially to know once the Cup is scheduled, contact RCBA Co-Captains Dan Gallatin ( or Alex Rogosheske (

iDuluth News Tribune, April 10, 2010.
iiMany thanks to past RCBA Captain Chris Messerly, RCBA team members John Buckley, Tom Donohue, and Paul Godfrey, HCBA Captain Craig Greenberg, and current RCBA Co-Captain Alex Rogosheske, for articles, photos, and historical commentary.
iiiCraig Greenberg
ivChris Messerly
viMesserly, Greenberg
viiPaul Heckt interviewed players in their respective locker rooms and wrote a number of articles about the Cup for Let’s Play Hockey. To honor his memory after he passed away, Barrister Cup team captains present a “Hecktor award” annually for the most press worthy event at the tournament.
viiiTom Donohue