One can easily argue the most wonderful and frustrating thing about sports is its unpredictability. This unpredictability is what lends addictive drama to each an every game. In this province, a popular sports lottery campaign is predicated on the notion “Anything can happen, anyone can win!” and more often than not this is the case no matter the sport. In football we hear the phrase “On any given Sunday” and in all sports we’re oft reminded, “That’s why you still have to play the games”, even when the outcome seems certain. Hockey from my experience and no matter the level is not immune, and perhaps is even more susceptible, to chance. Maybe it’s because the game is played on ice thereby adding another level of complexity to each play. Or maybe the oft-mentioned, and in some cases fanatically revered Hockey Gods have something to do with it. Seasons, games, periods and even shifts in hockey rarely, if ever, go exactly to plan. I need only hearken back to a little girls’ hockey team that could from two years ago, who made it to the championship round of their division after finishing dead last during the regular season.
Now here I will contend, speaking from personal experience, that midget girls’ hockey (the operative words being midget (i.e. aged 15-18 year old) and girls’ (i.e. the female side of the species) takes this confounding unpredictability to a whole nother level for the coach. While I’m no expert, I am fairly certain the combination of ice, competition and teenage female hormones is a potentially explosive one. Exasperating as it might be from time to time, this is probably also part of the reason I deep down enjoy the challenge of coaching at this level. Case in point in my current team’s last two week stretch of six regular season games, which they completed with a 2-2-2 record. Having the perfectly split record illustrates part of my thesis, however, the nature and circumstances surrounding these games hammers the point home.
The first of our six games came only two days after the semi-final exit from our home tournament against the other team who found themselves in the final against our semi-final foes. One of my assistant coaches and I wondered before the game started who might have a hockey hangover from having played 4 and 5 games over the previous weekend. We would unfortunately get a resounding answer from our squad as they barely skated to an 8-2 thumping against a team they’d tied 1-1 in two previous contests. My post-game comments to a very quiet room were short and to the point; we call knew they could do better.
To make matters worse we ended the game with an increasingly tenuous goaltending situation on our hands. For the past month and a half we were in an unenviable position of having a single goaltender, borrowing backups from other teams where we could, while the other nursed an injured knee. As chance would have it, our “healthy” keeper sprained her ACL at the end of the second period (putting her season on hold for at least a month); forcing the backup to face a third-period onslaught and potentially leaving us no backstop for our next game four games later. Our injured keeper was actually scheduled to come back in time for the next game, but with only one practice on her rehabilitated knee. Not to mention two additional games would follow over the following two days – three games in three days for a netminder coming back from a knee injury (did I mention this wasn’t the first time she’d injured the same knee).
Game two would pit us against a team just ahead of us in the standings and one we’d already lost to in our first tourney of the year. Oh and our goalie was just coming back off of injury, in case I haven’t already mentioned. In keeping with my theme, in the pre-game I pointed out to the team on the same night as our blowout loss two teams in the NHL were likewise blown out as were three teams on the wrong side of 9-6, 9-4 and 9-3 scores in major junior hockey. Damned Hockey Gods were obviously in a mood on that particular night. I chalked up our own debacle to “Shit Happens”, paraphrased the quote noted off the top and told the girls I had supreme confidence in their ability to compete with anyone and to bounce back – to go with the flow if you will. And bounce back they did securing a 3-1 victory on the strength of a much better team effort and a stellar goaltending performance, which had yours truly wincing with every kick save hoping it would not be the last.
We’d ride the wave of this win into a match against the league’s second-place squad; or so we hoped. Indeed the girls did carry good momentum into this next contest, battling hard through a scoreless first period against a tough opponent. Unfortunately, the same compete level was not carried through to the second period as a few lacklustre shifts resulted in goals against. Before we knew it the period was over and our side was down 4-0. It honestly didn’t feel like a 4-0 game, but this was the score, our keeper was frustrated and I decided to have her watch the final frame from the bench in favour of our borrowed backup. The game would end with the same score as good pressure in the last 15 minutes did not result in any goals for the good guys. This game would have been a whole lot different with a few bounces…yeah, I’m talking to you again, Hockey Gods.
The last game of three in a row would provide another test against a team just ahead of us in the standings. I told our side there had an opportunity to change the order of things as we had played fewer games than most of our rivals; particularly those above us. We would dominate the play for the first two periods of the game, but like our opponents, would not find the back of the net. Our keeper, now playing her third game in a row, looking no worse for wear, continued to her solid play between the pipes. In the third period, still knotted at zeros, one of our players took off on a breakaway and according to the fans in the stands sent a wrist shot into the net which bounced immediately back out. Neither the referee, nor I to be honest, saw the phantom goal. In fact, when she returned to the bench I told the player to make sure she followed her shot in the future to collect any errant rebounds. I found out later she also saw the puck go in, but didn’t celebrate or protest enough to draw the officials’ attention – a lesson learned for another day. The Hockey Gods struck again and we were left with a draw.
Fast forward six days, following a mid-week practice where we would try to address some weaknesses noted over the past couple of weeks, to our next date with the league’s last place team. To me, at this or any point, Last Place Team = Danger so I made sure to make no mention of this to any player. I also knew in a recent game between 1st Place and this same Last Place the former was only able to eke out a 2-1 victory (That’s why you still have to play the games!). And play we did, dominating the first two periods. Yet again we only took a 2-1 tie into the 3rd; far too close for comfort. The girls’ domination continued in the third as I don’t think the other side even managed to get a shot on our keeper, but the score remained the same. We likewise eked out a win in what could have just as easily been a five goal differential.
The sixth and final game of our set would pit us against the 2nd Last Place team in the division and one with which several of our players are particularly familiar being from the same town as many of the opposing players. This fact would naturally provide both motivation and heightened emotion to the affair; like we need more emotion in our games. And just as we’d experienced in at least 24 of the previous 26 games, we were in a battle from start to finish. Much like the previous game, we controlled a lot of the play and had several chances to score…chances foiled by the opposing goalie. Before the start of the final period in a 1-1 game, my exhortation to the five players taking the opening face-off was to simply go and grab the lead. Instead, they proceeded to give up a goal, quite the opposite of what I’d instructed, and we were forced to come from behind to secure a draw and another single point in the standings.
To reiterate, the line after six games read 2-2-2 or metaphorically flow-ebb-flow. More positively that’s two flows to one ebb. Up and down we went and will no doubt continue to go as we strive for more highs than lows in the second half. Regardless, if the opening quote is true, and I believe it to be, a well structured, managed and cohesive team will navigate its way through the uneven tide. To their credit, this group has already shown an ability to bounce back from adversity. I wasn’t lying in game two last week when I said I have confidence in their ability to compete with anyone. Now it’s up to yours truly to properly motivate the crew, to not unduly anger the Hockey Gods and to navigate the ship safely to shore. Cuz in this as in so many other leagues, anything can happen and anyone can win.
Quote images courtesy http://thepeopleproject.com
The Sharks competed in our home tournament this past weekend. As usual, the games we played were not without drama or ample learning opportunities, which I believe are a big part of what tournaments are really all about; beyond the fame, glory and medal ceremonies, of course. One of the things the coaching staff and I have really wanted to work on with the girls of late is penalties as they’ve bitten us in the collective seat of our hockey pants on a few occasions this season. Tough to score or win if you’re playing shorthanded. And yes, penalties are part of the game. We just want to avoid the “dumb” penalties usually borne of frustration – roughing or retaliatory penalties taken in the heat of battle. To this end, a couple of weeks ago, I let the team know we would be taking steps to help ensure these types of lapses in judgment were kept to a minimum. I am not a coach who likes to “bench” players, however, I determined this would be the best way of getting the message across. I may be repeating myself, but one of the first times this new team “rule” was instituted, it happened to be one of the assistant’s coach’s daughters who was the subject, after she drew a 4 minute head shot call; during which we surrendered a game-tying goal. We were fortunate to come back and win that particular game, thereby limiting the sting of the reprimand; a measure, which has been used a couple more times in recent games and would be necessary this weekend.
This particular seven-team tournament happened to feature four teams from our league so there was a pretty good chance we’d come up against one of them, although we wouldn’t face any unless we advanced beyond the round robin. The tourney scheduler did a good job of setting our first three games up against squads from other leagues. Another goal of entering tournaments is to play against varied competition, but you generally don’t get much choice when it’s your own event.
The juxtaposition of penalties and drama struck early in the first game on one of the oddest occurrences I’ve ever witnessed in a game. During a mutual line change one of our defencemen and an opposing player collided only a few feet from our adjoining benches. Both players fell to the ice, but ours got back to her feet quickly while the opponent struggled to leave the surface on her hands and knees in obvious discomfort; that being said she was noted to return to the game no long thereafter. All the while, the game continued for another two minutes without a whistle being blown. When the play finally was stopped the head referee and one of the linesmen came together to have a prolonged conversation. Eventually, they skated over and summoned me down from the bench to have a ice-side tête-à-tête. The head ref proceeded to tell me he had missed what the linesman felt was a major tripping infraction; the operative word being MAJOR, which thereby enabled the linesman to call a penalty – a major penalty, which in turn meant ejection from the game for our bewildered player and a five minute powerplay for the other team, during which the first goal of the game was naturally scored against us. Not only had I never heard of a linesman calling a penalty 2+ minutes after it occurred, I had never heard of a GM73 Major Tripping penalty. To make matters worse, I would find out post-game the infraction also carried with it a 2-game suspension. We heard from the other linesman post-game that no official really saw what happened, but only the post collision result. The only, albeit important, positive from this first game was an eventual 3-2 win.
So we would enter game two (and then game three for that matter) down a member of our defence corps. We were confident knowing our second opponent had lost their first game 6-0 to one of our close competitors, but we also knew all too well nothing is to be taken for granted. As the two teams took to the ice, I noted one of my fave referees (he says trying not to sound tooooo sarcastic) would be handling the head officiating duties. I wanted to be sure I properly denoted my suspended player’s info on the game sheet so I asked her to review it for me. She immediately asked what happened in the last game and I described the unusual circumstance as objectively as I could. She patted me on the shoulder, gave me a quick wink and said, “Let’s try to not let that happen again.” I returned the wink, but dreaded what could potentially ensue. The game started and we carried a three-goal lead into the final period. With the other side having given up 9 goals to none, over the last five periods, they understandably started to get a bit frustrated and it showed in their play. Their aggressive play was unfortunately matched by our own. One of our defencemen in particular retaliated to being struck with a right jab of her own; earning her a two-minute penalty…one of those we’ve been trying to limit. Consequently, when the offender returned to the bench I suggested she have an additional rest. ”She hit me first,” signaled her mild protest and frustration. To which I quickly countered with, “Yeah, but we all know they always catch the retaliator.” To her defence (pun fully intended as always), even most NHLers have a difficult time grasping this incontrovertible truth and perhaps in this we are seeing learned behaviour. She hung her head and served her extra team-inflicted mini-suspension…lesson hopefully learned. The game ended with the Sharks registering their highest goal total to date (5) and none against.
Game three was a semi must-win or at least a must-tie despite our unblemished record through the first two matches. We knew we would be in for a tougher match, but would hopefully ride the wave of our last and eye the prize of a semi-final berth. A short time into this game it became apparent our referee du jour was very familiar with his whistle and willing to use it as both teams were tagged with early penalties. As such, I gave a quick warning to those on our side to be mindful of their actions. They were for the most part until a few minutes into the final frame, at which point we were deadlocked in a 0-0 contest. An over-aggressive play in the corner ended with one of our defenders being banished for the obligatory 2 minute span; thereby putting the game and our opportunity to advance is some jeopardy. Again, luckily, we were able to kill the 2 minutes with no damage done, but again I felt it necessary to allot an extra brief punishment to try to get the point across to the offender’s teammates. Having secured/survived a 0-0 tied score, the Sharks were headed to the medal round against their nearest and “dearest” rivals.
Our semi-final opponent was familiar, but a bit surprising, as the first place team in our league entered the tourney round in 4th place, though in a tight 7-team tourney anything can and usually will happen. Once more, we realized we were in for a fight to secure a place in the Championship game. Pre-game I had fashioned a new motivational “Survivor Hockey” sign instructing our charges to Outsmart, Outwork and Outlast the other side. And indeed they did, dominating the first half of the game on the ice and the scoreboard with a 1-0 lead. The lead would evaporate before the end of the second period, making the third a race to the finish. We implored the players to keep battling shift by shift. However, a few shifts in our skating gave way to the other team’s pressure and they notched a go-ahead marker. As frustration and/or panic set in, we took the first and only, but certainly ill-timed and unwarranted penalty of the game. Shorthanded, we gave up a third nail in our proverbial coffin when again the girls’ efforts lagged momentarily and the puck found the back of our net. For a third consecutive game, I found myself patting a player on the shoulder as she begrudgingly served a second sentence. Two hard lessons learned over the span of a single period.
So the tournament didn’t go quite as we hoped, however, it was not without value for showing the team what is required to win hockey games. Keep up your efforts, especially against the tougher opponents, and keep your emotions in check against the rougher ones….always. We’ve told them these are the things they are able to control, though both are easier said than done in hockey as in life. We’ll see how things progress from here with the hope the benching subsides because as Snoopy adeptly points out, we are all really “…such a nice guy(s).”
“Peanuts” image courtesy of http://www.nemhl.net/NEMHLNews_all_the_news.htm
There’s been a lot of bad news recently around hazing and bullying in sports and society in general. Just this week we heard about a professional football player who gave up the game and a nearly $800,000 salary because he could not handle the pressure of his peers. No one can dispute these mean-spirited acts in male-dominated sports are not to be tolerated. So I was a little apprehensive when the Devil announced we would be hosting a team “Rookie Party” a couple of weeks ago. We have three younger rookie, i.e. first-year midget players, on the squad though nearly the entire team is new to this Midget A level. She assured me it was all going to be in good fun and that the three rookies in question were on-board. Against my better judgment I agreed to let the festivities proceed; under my roof no less. I figured this would provide a good bonding opportunity. Hockey Momma and I would be on-site to semi-supervise should there be any questionable behaviour.
The rookie “initiation”, over two months into the season no less, would begin with sending two of the three victims to the wrong address; a prank lost on the third who’d already visited our house on more than one occasion. Most of the team arrived early to watch the first unwitting rookie get dropped off then walk up and ring the doorbell across the street only to be greeted by our eight year old neighbour. Seconds later as she turned in confusion the team broke out in laughter and beckoned her to join the party on the right side of the street. The laughter derived from this first gag would be continuously echoed over the next several hours.
With no hockey scheduled until the next night, several more players shuffled in with sleeping and overnight bags in tow – 13 of 17 would arrive with only a couple members either having to work, unable to secure a ride or feeling under the weather. Their lack of presence was duly noted and missed by those in attendance. One stalwart teammate even made a brief appearance, despite having three wisdom teeth removed only 24 hours prior.
Our team captain, of her own accord, arrived with a special sign decreeing the “Rookie Rules”:
I think the sign speaks for itself and befitting this team is chock full of musical references. Mind you, I don’t need to know anything about how one “twerks it out”.
I’ve said on a few occasions this season if pre-game music volume was a determining factor in a team’s success, we’d come out on top every time. Case in point…just a couple of weeks ago our crew was getting ready for a tourney game while another game was in progress. The two teams from the prior game came off the ice between the second and third periods. This would be the time when coaches would have a quick pep talk and perhaps relay some tactical information before the final period. But as I walked down the hall towards our dressing room, the walls were literally shaking due to the beats blasting from behind our door. I almost felt like apologizing to the other teams and may have felt the glare of a couple of opposing staff members as I walked by. Though who am I to quell the pre-game rituals of a bunch of teenage girls. I will further point out that we won our first game of the year on the heels of the auditory deluge.
Back to the Rookie Party, where the next ritual followed the musical theme and involved dressing the three minor subjects in Elf costumes to partake in some early Christmas carolling. I am sure a few of my neighbours were taken aback when the answered their doors to be greeted by “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” as 10 young ladies giggled uncontrollably while crouching behind the shrubs in their front yard. The rookies, to their credit, were more than willing sacrificial elves.
The rest of the event was confined to our basement, which had been lovingly decorated by the Devil with nearly every Christmas light we own. Our downstairs was a veritable festival of colour. Other tongue-firmly-in-cheek tasks were reportedly assigned to the rookies and other team members equally. As the evening proceeded, amidst an unending chorus of familiar teenage squealing and laughter, Hockey Momma and I ushered down pizza, wings, meatballs, veggies, chips and dips; most of which were consumed in due course. Each time I descended I was greeted with “Hey Coach”, “Thanks Coach” or “Sorry about the objectionable language Coach.” And yes, there was unsurprisingly some of that from this rowdy bunch of teenage athletes – nothing I haven’t heard from them from behind the bench on occasion as they’ve returned from a particularly gruelling on-ice battle.
Being admittedly something of a Twitterholic and part-time online creeper I saw the occasional Tweet originating from my basement, espousing the virtues of the Rookie Party in familiar teenage lingo accompanied by an ample emoticons ;-p, ♥, etc. In one case, I actually noted a player from an unrelated local team, tweeting her envy of our club’s extra curricular festivities.
Momma and I retired to bed around midnight and the din of bass-laden beats subsided about an hour later. I continued to hear sporadic giggling for another 30 minutes. The clock on the wall said the next day’s practice had a pretty good chance of being unproductive with a weary bunch. Actually, I knew already the pickings would be slim as several players told me they had previous commitments to a country music concert, a university tour, work or a variety of other priorities. While I hope for full attendance at all practices, I recognize the midget-aged girls do have busy lives outside of hockey and they have to be given some leeway.
The next morning probably came earlier than many of them, or I for that matter, hoped, but the echo of giggling two floors below me resumed around 8:30am. Momma and I dutifully prepared a breakfast smorgasbord for the seven remaining players; some had already left to attend to some of their aforementioned priorities. A night of laughing apparently fuelled appetites as the food disappeared nearly as quickly as it was prepared.
Parents would arrive shortly thereafter to gather their weary kids and each would slowly depart, but not before saying thank you a half-dozen times or so. The good manners displayed by each was heartening. The Rookie Party, by all accounts, was an unequivocal success. The “Rookie Rules” sign was claimed by one of the hazees who said it would be given a spot on her bedroom wall.
While the girls reported having had tons of fun, the hockey coach hopes the occasion served to bring the group even closer together as a means to positive on-ice results. I dare say any team could only but benefit from this team’s fun-hearted hazing session. And the best part is I had almost nothing to do with it.
So occasionally I get to thinking these scribblings should be entitled I’m the Father of Two Hockey Players rather than I’m a Hockey Dad as the paternal nature of the job generally trumps the sports angle making it more deserving of the top billing. Such was the case this past weekend as the Devil’s first official “boyfriend” (yeah, I said it) accompanied us in the family vehicle to one of her away games. Now I don’t have a problem with the “boyfriend” (as a living, breathing person) since, as chance would have it, I’ve know him since he was 8 or 9 years old. There is a whole back story here about him being one of the Boy’s former hockey teammates and up until recently good friend. Suffice it to say the Boy was not a big fan of one of his buddies pursuing his sister. And I gotta say, I don’t blame him. I’ve discussed the whole situation with my buddies and we generally agree that he is contravening an unwritten, unspoken Bro-Code. Regardless, he is the “boyfriend” and it’s something the Boy and I are just going to have to deal with. Actually, the Boy has likely decided to just ignore the whole situation for now from his new university digs nearly 2 hours away. Leaving me to handle this male conundrum on my own.
As the father of two hockey players, my challenge is coming to grips with the whole “boyfriend” concept. I reluctantly have to realize she will not be my “little” Devil forever and yes I know this is something every dad goes through eventually. It’s just that eventually came a whole lot quicker than I, or I’m sure Hockey Momma, expected.
When we reached the arena and Hockey Momma sent me and the “boyfriend” on a traditional Timmies run, thereby subjecting at least one and probably both of us to 10 minutes of uncomfortable small-talk. We started naturally with hockey talk. But then my “How’s college?” question (did I mention he’s in college and she’s in Grade 11?) was mutually understood to be no more than a veiled reference to “Don’t touch my daughter.” I had a flash back to Bill Engvall recalling a conversation where he forewarned one of his girl’s suitors about what he would do should anything bad befall her on a date.
Had I not known this boy for as long as I have, I may have related the same.
Once at the hockey rink the new “boyfriend” caught the attention of several of the Devil’s teammates who hurled a catcalls in his general direction as teenage girls are wont to do. He retreated to a safer part of the arena, out of their sight. I gotta tell ya, the kid must be relatively smitten for all the abuse he’s taken over the last couple of weeks. Problem is I kinda recall likewise being cupid’s bullseye at a tender age and that doesn’t make me feel any better.
I was curious to see how the Devil would perform with him watching from the stands. Now, this was not the first time he had watched her play, but it was the first time as the “boyfriend”. Yeah, no matter how many times I write or say it, it’s not quite rolling easily off the keyboard or tongue. In any case, you could say the Devil played a less than inspired game with her beau cheering her on. I’m not sure, and pretty certain, if there was any cheering it was done quietly under his breath and she didn’t give him many opportunities anyway. Unfortunately, the Devil was not the only one with a sub-par performance as our Sharks were lucky to escape the first game of the weekend with a 1-1 tie after having registered a grand total of five or six shots on the opposing goal. Post-game, I made my way from behind the bench towards our dressing room, stopping briefly to mostly jokingly let the “boyfriend” know he was no longer allowed to attend our games. On the way home, we let the Devil know we thought she was negatively affected by her biggest fan. The pros and cons of his attendance at future contests would need to be weighted heavily in the best interest of the team.
The next day brought another game with one particular spectator notably absent due to a work shift. Now after the ribbing she received the day previous, the Devil was likely to have a better performance. And that she did; scoring the loan Sharks’ goal off of a beauty pass from one of her linemates. Upon scoring said goal and after an appropriate amount of cheering, I announced to the bench that the boyfriend was hereby banished from all future contests – an edict I know I’m not likely going to be able to enforce, but one which was thoroughly appreciated by those within earshot. A second very-spirited and penalty-filled match ended in a 1-1 draw bringing our regular season record to 0-1-4; something we and the Sharks will need to work on. That’s a whole other topic to be addressed in short order.
For now we’ll reserve judgment on the “boyfriend’s” presence at games and his affect on the Devil’s play; a pretty small concern for this father of two hockey players in the grand scheme of things. Glad I got a good Hockey Momma to help me deal with all this growing up stuff because I’ve had a difficult enough time handling my own maturation, much less that of a couple of young adults under my watch. I’m open to suggestions from any other fathers of female hockey players or who’ve gone through this before me.
Image courtesy https://twitter.com/HockeyGF23
I don’t want to take any undue credit, but I’m happy to report the Sharks winless streak ended right after my last post about chasing an elusive first W. Based on the way the girls had been practicing and for that matter playing to this point, a win was bound to come. But until you get the first one, particularly when it’s been a while, you’re never quite sure when it will.
This past weekend we travelled an hour and a half down the road to compete in our second tourney of the year. Applefest 2013 guaranteed us four round robin games, with the top four out of seven teams going on to play semi-final and hopefully championship final games. A little quick online research helped us get a sense of our competition and revealed what looked to be three strong opponents in games 1, 3 and 4 and one presumably lesser foe in game 2.
So we knew we had a challenge right out of the gate. Pre-game I tried to position the entire tournament as an opportunity to set a new winning precedent for the rest of the year. The squad had proved to this point they could “skate” with any team, but had yet to translate their effort into wins. I told them in order to win they would need to do a couple of things – play like a team, which meant passing the puck more and committing to a forecheck we’d been working on over the last few weeks in order to create more scoring opportunities. To their credit, they did both and entered the 3rd period with a less than comfortable 1-0 lead. They would extend this to a 2-0 gap just 20 seconds into the final frame. The other side would manage to put one past our keeper a couple of minutes later to raise our combined blood pressure. Moments later a shot from the point would sail towards our net and then be deflected over the right shoulder of our defenceless goalie. Luckily, the hockey gods and an observant head referee noted the deflection came from a high stick. Our 2-1 lead was preserved and maintained until the final buzzer rang. The proverbial monkey was off our back. The previously elusive W was behind us. With a weaker side (who we watched lose their first match 6-1 to the home team), scheduled for game two later that evening, things were certainly looking up for the Sharks.
The game two pre-game speech was relatively simple. Take your effort from game one and bring it up a notch. This should be plenty to advance the tournament record to 2-0. Of course, things are never as simple as we’d like or often expect them to be. Instead, the team we watched lose 6-1 earlier in the day brought their game up a notch and our side inexplicably dialled their back a few. While the play and scoring chances skewed slightly in the Sharks favour, the 1-0 score on the clock when the game ended did not. With a 1-1 record, the team had now put itself in a bit more of a precarious situation as much stronger foes were on tap the next day.
The next day started would start unusually early for a Midget team with the first puck scheduled to hit the ice at 8am. My fellow hockey parents and I thought we were done with waking up at 5:30am for hockey several years ago. To make matters worse, our fourth and final game would start 13 hours later at 9pm. However, this was simply another challenge we would have to deal with if we wanted to advance to the semi-finals on Day 3. Challenge one would be getting past the team we thought would be our stiffest competition. Though it was a bit of a fib, I told our charges we were in a must-win situation. I wanted them to bring everything they had in order to give them their best chance to win. And I believe it worked as we watched a night and day transformation of the team was saw drop a 1-0 decision a mere 12 hours ago.
Even with this improved effort our side entered the third period down 2-1 on the scoresheet, but still had a positive result in their sites. Unfortunately, the hockey gods had other plans. A little over 5 minutes into the 15 minute 3rd period, a puck shot harmlessly behind our net and just above the boards, caught a stanchion and ricocheted directly out in front to a fortunately positioned opponent, who in turn quickly buried the errant rubber disk into the mesh behind our goaler. Our sides effort had not diminished, but their spirits after falling behind 2 goals with only 10 minutes left to play certainly did. Having taken a must-win attitude myself as the game wore on, I decided to pull our goaltender with just over 1 minute left in the game so see if an extra attacker could pull us within a goal. This tactic unfortunately resulted in an empty net goal against making the score 4-1. Insult to injury came with only 7 seconds left on the clock as our now decidedly dejected troops allowed an unchallenged shot from in close, which rang off a post for a 5th goal. Post-game my consolation speech revolved around the fact that we gave our opponents all they could handle for two periods. I honestly told the girls the 5-1 final was not an accurate measure of the game they had played. That being said, I could now definitively tell them game four was a MUST-WIN. Adding to our early morning drama was the realization that our netminder had re-injured her knee at some point during the contest. She was in considerable pain as a couple of fathers escorted her out of the arena – a scene no one wants to watch. See y’all in 11 hours to fight for our tourney lives against the host team.
I was concerned by the time the final round robin game rolled around our players would be less than fresh having sat around at a hotel or in a local mall trying to kill 11 hours. A 9pm game for girls (and coaches for that matter) who woke up a 5:30 was far from ideal. Yet, I implored our side, reminding them of how well they played earlier in the day. I reiterated the MUST-WIN message and let them know not all hope was lost. In fact, because we knew the scores of those who were battling for the last playoff spot, we also knew we were actually in a win-and-get-in scenario. Our opponents on the other hand, were pretty much already advancing on the strength of their results in their first three games. Before the opening face off I get one more chance to talk to the players on the ice. As I tried to deliver this serious invocation someone actually asked the question “Who farted?” and tone of this game was somewhat set. Despite the gravity of the situation, I was encouraged to see our players relatively unfazed. The first two periods were fought tooth and nail deadlocking our squads in a scoreless tie. With the Zamboni preparing a fresh sheet of ice four our final push to the playoff round, we retreated to our dressing room where we encountered a surprisingly upbeat, loose and I dare say confident group of players. Even better I noted 17 girls who were having a lot of fun. I and the coaching staff hoped this bode well for the final frame. The third period continued to be a tight affair with each side exchanging its share of chances. Then with just under 4:30 left the good guys struck paydirt first as a rebound was banged home from in close. The stands erupted behind us and I may have given the trainer aka Hockey Momma a double high five or two. Our jubilation was short-lived as other side fought back to square the score at ones only two minutes later. With a tie not really being an option if we wanted to advance, I would need to pull our goalie for a second straight game, hoping against hope for a better result. And the better result (the desperately desired result) occurred with only 46 seconds left on the clock as another garbage goal was notched in our favour, thereby cueing renewed jubilation. The final 46 seemed much longer, but expired and signalled what we thought was a berth in the next day’s festivities.
As it turned out, we would have to wait nearly another full hour to hear the verdict we were waiting for. The girls did indeed earn a berth in the semi-finals and a rematch with the team they lost 5-1 to in their 8am match. An opportunity to get to the championship game by exacting some measure of revenge and proving the earlier lopsided score was unfounded. Though we all knew this would be a difficult proposition at best.
I kept the pre-game banter short and simple again. Through a dozen games now, I believe the players have come to recognize what they need to do in order to compete and give themselves the best chance to win. Skate, commit to an aggressive forecheck, unselfishly pass the puck and crash the net (or get into the kitchen as one assistant has become fond of saying) looking for rebounds and dirty goals. To their credit and as they’d done in the two previous games, the girls came out skating and battling. Unfortunately, one such battle resulted in a 4 minute penalty about 5 minutes in. The opponents were able to capitalize on their man advantage and took a 1-0 lead into the second period. Over the next 15 minutes, the Sharks would register several good scoring chances, all of which were turned away by an able goaltender. Before the second period ended the bad guys would find the back of our net again. During the intermission, I reminded the girls they had scored two goals in the 3rd period of the previous game and they could do so again. However, a relentless opponent scoring 2 minutes into the 3rd was a likely death knell to our hopes of reaching the final stage of the tourney. We tried to buoy the team’s spirits and implored them to not give up. And while they did not, their team game effectively went away as desperation kicked in. One final goal would be scored (not by us I’m afraid) ending our tournament on a somewhat sour note. Perhaps a small consolation lies in having worn down our semi-final foes who went on to lose the championship game to the host team who we defeated to reach the semis. Again proving hockey is an unpredictable game (like we need more evidence).
At the risk of sounding cliched, this tourney was a great learning experience for the team. I admitted to them the team we lost to twice is, at this early point in the season, a better team. However, I hope they also realize the level at which they were and are able to compete. Overall on the weekend, they played more good than bad hockey – did more positive than negative things. Furthermore, they secured two previously unattained Ws. We can and should use this realization as inspiration to get more Ws. Of course, it partially rests on me and us to ensure “can and should” becomes “will and do”; all the while striving for the same level of fun I saw on and off the ice in Game 3. I’m open to any and all suggestions on that front.
A little over a month into the Devil’s hockey season and our new team has yet to notch a victory through nine games. Our record stands at 0-5-4 with six of the nine games being settled by one goal or less. In the regular season, into which we have only waded two games deep, the squad has skated to a 2-1 loss and a 1-1 tie; both of which they could have/should have won save for a bounce here or there. Regardless the record on the league website shouts 0-1-1.
The girls have played some very good hockey and have deserved a better fate in most of these early games, which could obviously have gone either way based on the close margins I’ve mentioned. In a few, we’ve entered the third period either tied or with the lead and were unable to seal the deal; a situation I am all too familiar with from my first head coaching stint two years ago. That team, I shudder to recall, only picked up three victories in the regular season primarily due to a lack of finish. The third period was their nemesis. At one point, I considered lobbying to have the second and third periods combined into one in order to avoid a final frame letdown. Two years later, I’m hoping to not have to invoke this plea again.
Lots of people believe wins and losses are just stats, while others considered them the be all and end all with understandably no better point of reference to measure the success of a team. However, I have to concur with the former when it comes to this team or teams like them. I have to reckon back to how success is defined in our coaching certification courses; not by wins, but by the overall improvement of the team and individuals on the team over time. My own measure of success has always also included making sure the players have a positive experience (not that wins can’t go a long way in ensuring such an experience). To that end, I am most encouraged by this group’s attitude and spirit so far. Again, it is early and perhaps the current winless streak has not yet sunk in with them (as much as it has with me, the coaching staff and I’m sure the odd parent watching from the stands), but they are a pretty loose and positive bunch. Prior to the last game, our trainer aka Hockey Momma had me peer into the dressing room to watch them perform a pre-game huddle, shoulder-to-shoulder with beats blasting from an amplified iPod. On the bench, the mood has been relatively positive as well with players encouraging each other to soldier on. They too may realize how well they have competed thus far and recognize they will be rewarded for their efforts in due course. Something I likely need to remind myself here again.
That being said, here I am at 5:30am (five hours prior to game one of a guaranteed four-game and hopefully six-game tournament), having already been up for well over an hour, deliberating how I can get the girls to commit to our 2-1-2 forecheck and rehearsing my pre-game pep talk. Because while a bit of me wants to placate the fans in the stands, a bigger part sees the promise of a group of players who have shown the potential to be a really good TEAM who can capture a bunch of those elusive Ws when all of the stars align.
So wish us/them luck. I sincerely hope by the end of the season, if not much sooner, I will look back at this as the mere early season ramblings of another uptight coach. In the meantime, I’m headed back to the drawing board.
About a year ago, as another new hockey season was about to begin, I decided to lean on my years of experience and observation in rinks across this fine land to put together a quick guide for parents considering joining the ranks of hockey moms and dads as something of a public service. A brief list of what to expect and a few do’s and don’ts for the yet to be initiated.
Many young parents come into this game all starry-eyed with visions of their little Johnny or wee Susie propelling themselves through minor hockey, into the OHL or a US college scholarship and onto fame and fortune as the next “Kid.” However, as we all should, but don’t apparently all know, Susie and Johnny are just little kids wanting to bomb around on the ice and have fun with their friends Billy and Lisa. They are not vessels through which dad will relive his misspent hockey youth.
With all of this in mind and with a new season either started or just around the corner for many families, below is a another quick list of things I’d recommend to all parents who want to maximize the enjoyment of the game for themselves, their children and those of us around them at the rink.
I suppose the first and primary Don’t is to not forget they are just kids who should be having fun playing a kid’s game. But here are a few more off the top of my aging hockey dad head for you to read and perhaps heed.
- Do let your child carry his or her own hockey bag as soon as he or she is physically able. This will most certainly save you on physiotherapy and chiropractic bills down the road. Do also let them tie their own skates when they hit Peewee…same reason.
- Don’t drop your Atom or Peewee aged kid off at the rink like it’s some glorified babysitting service. Once they reach Bantam age and they are somewhat able to fend for themselves, sitting through a 60 or 90 minute practice can be a little tedious. Until that time you should sit in the stands or lobby and pay attention to what’s happening on the ice. Practices for the younger players, still trying to get their “ice” legs, like so many little Bambi’s splayed out on all fours, can be quite entertaining. Weebles wobble and they do fall down.
- Do let your kids swim in the hotel pool between games at that away tournament. It’s not going to make a lick of difference to how they play or the outcome of the tournament. In most cases, this is the highlight of the weekend and the most enduring memory they will have from their minor hockey career.
- Don’t (or at least try not to) forget your kid at home, at the rink or at the hotel at 6:30am on a February morning at a tournament in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, I speak from experience on the last one, which had an upside as it became one of the best minor hockey stories I have to tell entitled “No One Gets Left Behind”. It’s worth a read if ya like a good chuckle at someone else’s expense.
- Do spend the extra $ on upgraded equipment and particularly on a good helmet; even if your kid is playing in a non-contact league. Early on they’re going to run into each other, trip over the blue line or otherwise battle the forces of physics. When they land head or tail first on the rock hard ice both you and they will appreciate the additional protection.
- Don’t get caught looking down at your mobile phone and then missing the perfect saucer pass, the bardown snipe or the killer kicksave. The work email can wait until after the final buzzer has gone.
- Do yell “Nice Pass”, “Atta Girl/Boy” and other such words of encouragement as loudly and as many times as you want or feel the need to. Pay no attention to the guy on your left who looks up at you from his Blackberry like you’ve disturbed his train of thought. In fact, move closer to him and start cheering louder.
- Don’t put jersey #99, #66 or #87 on your kid. That’s just not right. Even #4 and #9 are pushing it for those who appreciate the history of the game, but hockey association issued jersey numbers generally range from 2-18 plus 1, 30 or 34 for the goalies so we’ll let those two slide. With my previously stated bias, I’d also recommend keeping them out of a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey if you expect to instil any sort of a winning attitude or basic hope in them, but on this I will defer to ill-advised and misplaced allegiances your parents likely inflicted on you.
- Do strap on undersized road hockey goalie pads in the middle of February and let your kid fire a frozen orange hockey ball at you out on the driveway or at the local outdoor rink if you’re lucky enough to have one in close proximity.
- Don’t pay your kids for goals and don’t let Grandma, Grandpa or Uncle Jack from out East do it either. If you’re going to incentivize them (in a non-monetary way) to do anything, make it passing rather than scoring and focus on team rather than individual play. They, and their teams, will be better off for it in the long run. And this is not to say they shouldn’t also work on individual skills like stick-handling and shooting on the driveway, in the basement or when the coaches ask them to in practice.
- Do help out with your kids team either as a coach, manager, on-ice helper, trainer, fundraiser, timekeeper…. A team cannot run without volunteers and I guarantee you will be richer for the experience of interacting with the kids. Many of my favourite stories through the years are via those interactions with kids other than my own. Like the time 4 year old Little Johnny (yup, that was really his name) told me he “sucked at hockey and didn’t want to play anymore.” After a little cajoling, I convinced him to try another shift upon which he decided to grab the puck with his gloved hand and threw it into the net. He came back to the bench quite pleased with his accomplishment and new-found skill.
- Don’t spend 45 minutes of the 60 minute ride home from an away game analyzing your kid’s play shift-by-shift. A few more “nice passes”, “sweet goals” or “atta girls” will suffice. Remember to focus on the positives and the fun if you really want to see them play better next game.
- Do take 24 hours to chill out, sleep on it and/or otherwise consider tearing a strip off a member of your child’s coaching staff when they’ve short-shifted or misplayed your kid. I’m not saying you shouldn’t defend your child if you feel he or she has been wronged, but just make sure you’ve thought it through logically and in the context of the team situation and dynamic keeping in mind the coach also has 16 other players and their parents to consider.
- Don’t be that hockey parent – the one who’s rink ranting actions show up in the local paper, on the 6 o’clock news or in a YouTube video. Nuff said. Just don’t.
- Do savour every moment you have inside a rink watching your kid(s) play because tempus fugit and before you know it you’ll be wondering where it all went.
This is by no means a complete list of Do’s or Don’ts so I do welcome the wisdom of other seasoned hockey moms and dads who’ve likewise woken pre-dawn countless times to go watch their kids on-ice escapades with their best interests in mind.