As a diehard patriot the Canadian men’s and women’s teams’ Gold medal victories at the Sochi Olympics this past week were both fantastic events proving we remain the preeminent hockey nation. The Devil, the Boy, Momma and I were all up before the crack of dawn on Sunday morning to join others at a raucous early morning viewing/cheering party, complete with Canadian beer and bacon. The game itself was a little anti-climatic as we all had a sense of the outcome after having seen our side systematically dispense of what was supposed to be a powerhouse American squad in a 1-0 semi-final game.
And the systematic nature of the victories has been my focus in recent practices and will be highlighted in upcoming pre-game speeches with my own team. These Olympic contests with all of their pre-tournament hype naturally grabbed our collective attention, like no other games in recent memory and were also chock full of excellent coaching opportunities. I recently said Hard Work and Team Work are core elements of hockey and its great to be able to reference how it’s done at the highest level. Here are some of the specific points I noted from the Games and have relayed to my troops, who quickly recognized and affirmed the lessons learned.
Keep Your Stick on the Ice
Goals for the Canadian men were few and far between as they took a decidedly defensive tack against the Olympic field. However, two of the prettiest goals of the tournament were scored by Jamie Benn in the semi-final against the US and Jonathan Toews in the Gold medal game because of sound fundamental hockey plays.
Jamie Benn with the Deflection against the US to get Canada to the Gold medal game.
Jonathan Toews tips in all the goals Canada needed to take the Gold.
Pucks were simply shot at the net where both players were able to deftly redirect them behind the opposing goalies because their sticks were ready and on the ice. On our team, this small detail is often the difference between a goal or at least a shot on net and more often just another errant pass. The night after the semi-final game I quizzed a few of our players at practice on what they remembered of the goal and they all chirped back “his stick was on the ice.” Lesson learned.
The dominance of the women throughout the tournament was likewise buoyed by their sound offensive play, including their commitment to keeping their sticks in shooting positions and at the ready resulting in the goals and wins they needed to reach the final. They too set a great example for us to share with our students of the game.
In the first couple of Canadian women’s matches, the amply experienced analyst Cassie Campbell was quick to point out several of the girls were taking shifts upwards of 50 seconds long. This behaviour did not hurt them on the scoreboard in their early games, but would need to be corrected if they expected to compete against their arch rivals from the U.S. who would play with increased ability and pace. Fresh legs would be required from one shift to the next.
The men, on the other hand, were lauded by other reputable commentators time and again for keeping their shifts under 30 seconds, in keeping with the game plan laid out by their coaching staff. Many of these superstars, who are used to playing 15-20 minutes per game, as the primary skaters on the ice, were being limited to under 10 minutes in order to make the “system” work.
In minor hockey, and for some on my team, shifts can get long, even eclipsing 60 seconds. Too long for a seasoned pro, much less a teenager. I ask for 30-45 seconds of all out effort, which should leave players out of breath and wanting to take a rest. Having Olympic examples to point to can certainly help to drive the point home.
Though they were not being “paid” to compete in these games, the men on all of these Olympic teams certainly played with purpose and determination; no doubt taking pride in defending the crests on the fronts of their jerseys. Now, hockey players, by their very nature are a tough bunch who generally leave it all on the ice. However on this global stage, time and again there were clear displays of heart and courage. One that sticks out in my mind was US player and perennial shot blocker Ryan Callahan dropping to block three in one shift against Russia and stumbling to get back to his feet after the second.
The Canadian men for their part played a nearly flawless game of cycling the puck low in their foes’ ends game after game. This keep away strategy demands hard work by definition and Canada’s physically bigger forwards simply outworked all comers.
Just tonight we’ve learned Carey Price, Canada’s #1 goaltender aggravated an injury at some point during the Games, but battled through whatever pain or discomfort he felt right up until the final buzzer. I’m sure adrenalin had something to do with it.
While both victorious Canadian squads arguably contained the best players in the world; neither could have reached their Golden goals without unselfish commitments to team play. I’ve already mentioned the men who logged uncharacteristically short ice-times, but perhaps the best example of the importance of teamwork came via the line shuffling done by the Canadian coaching staff. They knew they need to find the right combinations of superstars in order for their plan to work. All of these primarily offensive-minded players would need to adjust their games to suit the defensive approach; which most agree in the end was the key to victory. This group of players limited their opponents to only 3 goals in 6 games and none in either of their final two matches. In the third period of the Championship game Team Sweden, with its own bevy of offensive weapons, was only able to muster 4 shots. Kinda tough to come back from a three-goal deficit at that rate. And then by comparison…
The Game Ain’t Over Till….
This one is the simplest and most dramatic of all lessons as our Canadian women found themselves on the wrong end of a 2-0 score with less than three and a half minutes left in their Gold medal tilt against those aforementioned (and somewhat disliked) Americans. American who, no doubt, had already started clock-watching in anticipation standing teary-eyed atop the podium as the Star Spangled Banner echoed through the Bolshoy Arena. Post-game several Canadian players claimed they never felt they were down and out. To say they never gave up is a severe understatement. To say they worked hard (see above) till the end would be spot on. The two-goal lead would be erased by Marie-Philip Poulin with a tying goal coming at the 54 second mark of the third period. Poulin and her mates would then complete the comeback with a heart-stopping overtime winner leaving the US side dumbstruck.
Don’t Forget to Say Your Prayers
Ok, just to make sure we tell the whole story of the Canadian Women’s victory and pay proper homage to the ever-present Hockey Gods, we would be remiss if we did not give some credit to a certain goal post, which allowed the game to go into overtime.
So thank you Teams Canada (and the all-knowing Hockey Gods) for setting the standards by which we can work to groom our own Champions. I’m always looking for ammunition to inform, encourage and rally the troops and you provided the same in spades. Over the next week I hope we’re able to glean inspiration and execution from the example you’ve set to secure a berth in our own Provincial Championships. I’ll just be happy if they never give up; a lesson I’m fairly confident they’ve already learned based on recent events.
Team Canada Olympic photos from the Hockey Canada Facebook Page
The Devil and her Sharks teammates had a pretty good run in our first round playoff run though it was stopped short and abruptly much to our dismay. We went in as underdogs being the 7th seed facing the 2nd, but were pretty confident in having played our opponents tough during the regular season with a loss, a tie and a win…in that order.
The second place finisher would naturally get home ice advantage, so we started last weekend with a game in “enemy” territory. In games past against this team we’d had some challenges with fair and equitable refereeing and I went into this series with some trepidation on this front. Before we played a single minute in this foreign rink, one of the officials commented to me,”I just want to let you know I like to call a fair game.” I thought it an odd statement at the time, but little did I know how it would foreshadow events to come. All I wanted for our playoffs was fairly officiated games decided by the two teams and I like to think I’m able to stay fairly objective when it comes to the conduct of my players.
In game one our side came out flying; taking it to the opponents buoyed by the knowledge they had a good chance to advance if they put in the work. We had far more scoring chances through the first half of the game and took a 1-0 lead halfway through the second period. Unfortunately, the home side scored with less than 10 seconds left in the second frame and the game would be decided in the third. The last period would see a trend of our goalie being poked at after the referee’s whistle was blown, which I disputed vehemently; disputes which fell on deaf ears. Instead, we found ourselves on the wrong end of penalty calls and shorthanded for a good part of the period. Admittedly, our side also let their combined foot off the gas. Long story short; the scoreboard read Home 3 – Visitors 1. Opportunity missed and game two quickly became a must win.
Game two would be in our barn and I did my best to convince the girls they had won two of the first three frames of the series. They agreed and were quietly determined to force a third game. Their steely determination was required as they would score the first and only goal of the game just 7 minutes into the first period. Two and a half periods is a painfully long time to have to hold on to a single goal lead. Partway through the second one of our players did have a glorious opportunity to extend out lead to two goals, but she didn’t realize how much time she had to convert a wraparound attempt and placed the puck under a sprawling goalie rather than in the more desirable empty net. Once the game was over and we were comfortable in our victory, we were able to poke a little fun at her miscue.
The series winner would need to be decided six days later (the night before last) back in “their” building. Again, our side got off to a roaring start with several scoring chances and the first goal of the game. A couple of bounces could have given us a two or three goal lead going into the 2nd period, but we’d settle for one and battle on; a struggle made tougher by inconsistent calls by my favourite man in stripes. I hate to sound like a whiner or sore loser, but it wasn’t the calls against us; rather the calls which weren’t made against our opponents for obvious infractions getting under our skin. Or one of our players getting reprimanded for “snowing” the opposing goalie when she clearly didn’t from anyone but the referee’s perspective. I could feel our side getting increasingly frustrated. Shortly thereafter the home team would erase their deficit then take the lead and we would enter the final frame behind by one on the scoreboard.
Not long into the third I can, with little to no bias say, all hell broke loose. Time both stood still and flew by from moment to moment. First our opponents dealt a crippling blow when a seemingly harmless shot from just inside the blue line found its way past our keeper. Then only moments later another rush ended with the puck in our net, our defeated goalie sprinted to the bench for refuge and just like that we faced relatively insurmountable odds. Yet, with 11 minutes still left to play I implored our side to not give up and they did not. That being said, our striped nemesis called a 4 minute penalty against one of ours for a phantom check to the head.
On the ensuing penalty kill, the Devil barrelled down the ice with an opposing defender who had at least 10 inches in height and 60 pounds in weight on her in hot pursuit of a puck shot into the corner. Arriving simultaneously, the larger player used her size to knock her diminutive foe to the ice. Relentless, the Devil flailed and grabbed the puck with her gloved hand. Two players from either team arrived in support and at some point the Devil’s original counterpart toppled onto the little Shark lying on the ice. Moments later we all noted the Devil to be in some distress as she hailed for a couple of teammates to help her get up off the ice on what appeared to be a wonky leg. She was half-laughing and half-sobbing as she reached the bench and emphatically described what had just happened (her exact words are censored here to protect the innocent, but suffice it to say the air was blue). Hockey momma immediately ushered her injured daughter and her injured leg off the ice for closer examination knowing she rarely in 12 years of hockey has gone down without good reason.
The game continued and not moments later on another pursuit, this time into our corner, one of our defenders was dangerously tripped just before she reached the boards, crashing feet first. Another of our players rushed in to avenge her and whistles blew frantically. Our defender was barely able to rise, but made her way back to our bench where she immediately slumped down crying inconsolably. The next several moments were a blur as I was informed my newly injured player was being given a penalty. My frustration admittedly reached a fever pitch and I blew up letting my striped nemesis know what I thought of his judgment. I was livid. To be clear, I refrained from cursing, but my imploration was countered by instruction to leave the bench immediately. I received first official ejection from a game. Even now, I feel I was justified in defending my player who I felt then and still feel now was wrongly accused.
As I left the bench, I turned to remind my remaining players to hold their emotions better than I had mine. At that point, with approximately 7 mins left in the game and a series victory out of reach I just wanted the game to end quickly and without further incident. I would restlessly watch the rest of the game from just outside the arena. My wish was unfortunately not granted by the Hockey Gods. Minutes after my exit, our now least favourite official continued with his antics in deciding to accuse another of our players of phantom “snowing” of the goalie, only this time going a step further and assessing a penalty. What happened next I in no way condone, but can almost understand. The accused player in the heat of the moment swung her stick at the ref, striking him in the leg. She was naturally tossed from the game and now faces a severe sanction for her actions. Again, she made an egregious error and will have to face the consequences, however, I firmly believe the referee had some culpability in how the events of this period unfolded. This is the only platform I have to dispute so I’m doing so at the risk of this coming across as another disillusioned hockey parent. One more goal would be scored by the home side before the game mercifully came to an end. It was hard to believe you could pack so much drama and misfortune into a single period – a bitter loss after the effort put forth by our side throughout the series.
Post game the bulk of our players had to stand and wait outside our dressing room as the Devil’s injured leg had been assessed just inside the door and an ambulance had been called. The whole situation was a little surreal. I was still seeing red, but held my tongue as I wished the victorious coach and his team good luck in the next round. I did my best to console and prop up the spirits of my players who only an hour earlier were full of energy and high hopes. I think we all felt more than a little robbed. Players were eventually allowed in to change out of their gear one by one; each leaving in decidedly sombre moods. The Devil was eventually wheeled out on a stretcher to the waiting ambulance and our next stop was the hospital for x-rays on her wounded limb. Trainer Momma was pretty sure it was broken. A few hours later her unofficial diagnosis was confirmed. The Devil’s hockey season would end prematurely and the team would be down at least three players moving forward (oh, did I not mention our backup goalie came limping off the ice from this game with a re-injured knee). The defender who I had been ejected for would be touch and go with a foot she had trouble putting weight on. And, of course, the story does not end there as our now depleted team would need to bounce back a mere 24 hours later to face the top team in our league to start a round robin series to decide qualifiers for our provincial championships; a daunting task with a full and confident squad.
Fast forward roughly 20 hours to a new rink and our new opponents, a strong team against which we’d yet to register a win in four tries at 0-3-1. I with a game suspension and three of our players (including the Devil sporting a fancy new air cast) would watch from the stands while one other was away on a humanitarian trip. Our remaining eight forwards, four defenders and lone goalie would need to put forth a monumental effort to pull off the upset. We (or at least I) cheered emphatically as they were able to get halfway through the first and partway through the second period before giving up the first goal of the game. Undeterred, our side countered just over a minute later with a goal of their own. The final period was intense with our foes getting multiple scoring chances which were turned away one after the other by a stalwart goaler who’d obviously erased the previous game from her conscience. The match ended in a 1-1 tie, but felt much more like a victory in light of the circumstances.
One game had left our players bruised, but certainly not beaten. There are three more games in our double round robin playoff which resumes tomorrow night. I will be doing my best to remind this resilient, scrappy group just how well they have played in the face of adversity. And as always, I welcome a little support and some icy justice from the Hockey Gods who were surely resting or focused elsewhere the day before last. Excuse me if I sound bitter. It’s only cuz I am. I won’t lie…that one is probably gonna sting for a while.
Amassing a regular season record of 5-9-8 and a league leading 248 minutes in penalties, the Sharks enter the league playoffs as the 7th seed. Only the top 8 of 10 teams in the division were eligible to play in the next round, so we were pleased to simply earn the spot to begin with. The 7th place finish means we draw the 2nd place squad, against which, as it turns out, we have a quite favourable record of 1-1-1 including a win in our most recent contest just a couple of weeks ago. I’ve told our players I think part of their motivation comes from being haters of my beloved Winnipeg Jets as our competitors wear similarly designed jerseys. I’m all good with using whatever we need, including a little sporting irony.
Adding to the playoff challenge is a second, provincial playdown, series which starts next weekend. This will be a four game, double round robin format against the 1st and 6th place teams in our loop, which are also our closest geographic rivals with plenty of familiar faces to stir our players’ emotions. Some players from both teams even go to school together; an odd juxtaposition created by the lack of territorial restrictions in girls’ competitive hockey in our province. Players I’ve released are on one of these other teams and vice versa. Lots of motivation on all three benches to use and worry about.
Last weekend, we left the country for a little pre-playoff, team building tourney and some cross-border shopping (which may have been the highlight for some of our teen-aged competitors). The team fared well against some admittedly weaker competition winning the first two matches 7-1 and 5-0 respectively. However, we were still faced with a must win in game three against the apparent strongest team in the eight team tourney as only two clubs would advance to a single championship game, knowing one other team had a perfect record as well. A close 2-1 defeat in our third and unfortunately final game meant no fourth or chance to take home a tourney win. But the entire weekend experience was a success on a whole from a team building perspective and served to show the girls their goal scoring potential when they play as a team.
In a few hours, we hit the ice in the first tilt of a best 2 out of 3 series, with game two coming less than 24 hours later. Getting off to a quick start in such a short format is a must. To me, the difference-maker will be motivation and hard work; something our team’s success has hinged on in pretty much every game we’ve played this year. The girls have shown their ability to skate and play with every team we’ve faced to this point. And so, my/our challenge as a coaching staff will be to bring the best out of our players; to get them all on the same page and firing on all cylinders to lean on a couple of oft-used, but oh so appropriate clichés. I think I’ll lean on my previous playoff habit of creating a motivational sign to give our players something to focus on. The pre-game messages will be short and to the point.
If you’ve any last minute advice, I’m all ears.
Shortly before the worst winter in recent memory decided to befall this part of the world, I decided to build a little rink in the backyard. And when I say little, I mean little.
What I decided to do, in fact, was simply take our four-year old 18-foot diameter Intex steel-frame pool, which had decidedly reached the end of its useful summer life (though I received some resistance to this fact from the Devil) and reduce its height from 4 ft to about 6 inches all around. Then I would simply refill it with water and wait. At 18 feet in diameter (about the same as a faceoff circle), the most “hockey” one could realistically play would be some fancy stickhandling ala Patrick Kane or perpetual crossovers, which could quickly lead to dizziness, vomiting and perhaps even blackouts. I know because I sometimes have my players skate around a circle between drills at the Devil’s hockey practices and it’s never well received. Back at the rink to be, for those who follow regularly, you realize I am the father of two now mature teenagers aged 18 and 16 years respectively, the former of whom, doesn’t even reside in the family home anymore. I am sure Momma and the Devil were asking themselves why I was even bothering with this whimsical project. But it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. If I built it, surely someone would come and skate on it.
At the time, I regarded myself something of a genius, a veritable ice making MacGyver (who knew such rare footage existed) as I deftly made my way around the pool-turned-giant-ice-cube tray with my handy Exacto knife. I wondered if I should make a YouTube video to share my ingenious invention with other space-restricted hockey dads or perhaps even erstwhile used steel-frame pool salesmen. Having set the trap, all I needed to do now was wait for Mr. Freeze to arrive so I could begin the process of refilling the converted leisure vessel one last time. The aforementioned Freeze and his cousin Jack (Frost that is) showed up about a week before Christmas much to my delight. However, I was immediately presented with a dilemma as I hadn’t yet considered, which water source would be best suited to supply the critical ingredient. My first ill-conceived plan was to attach a garden hose to the outside faucet, which surely wouldn’t freeze that quick at barely sub-zero temperatures. After struggling mightily just to turn the metal tap the faucet produced barely a trickle of my much needed ice juice and so a secondary source would need to be procured. Momma was none too pleased to see me stretching the now snow-covered hose through our kitchen, down the main hall and into the laundry room where I determined the next best solution resided. A couple of minutes later I was in business, hastily filling what I began to realize was a less than level container. I soldiered on and put the base layer down knowing the frosty cousins were forecast to be in town for a few days. Sure enough, just before Christmas and in sync with da Boy’s arrival home for a three week rest from Uni, I had fully constructed a nice “little” rink. Delight returned via social media a couple of days later when I saw da Boy announce that he and the Devil were actually on the ice working on their stickhandling. This was quickly tempered by the report of a broken fence board courtesy of a puck having been shot at it. Ahhh, fence boards are easy enough to replace. Collateral damage from being a hockey dad.
I arrived home to see the rink littered with pucks, sticks and even pylons. A bottle of gatorade was half buried in the snow next to a small lawn chair. It might not be big, but this is how I like to see hockey I said to myself. Over the next few days, da Boy was back out on the wee rink doing his best Patrick Kane impression with bits of Brian Bollig’s not so mad stick skills mixed in.
Even the poochie liked the new backyard addition, though she felt the snow had been cleared especially for her so she could do her business right in the middle of my personal shrine to the game. Damned dog.
Here we are a few weeks later. Da Boy’s headed back to school. The Devil has school, a full slate of her own hockey and a buncha other teenage-type priorities. So the wee rink hasn’t really been used much of late and probably won’t be anytime soon. And yet, after each snowfall, of which there have been several, I find myself drawn out with a shovel to uncover the slick surface beneath. I’ve even peered out our 2nd floor bathroom window to see the frozen circle bathed in moonlight just before I hit the hay and thought about grabbing my skates to go do a couple of “laps”. Then, as I look down I can vaguely see da Boy frantically holding onto a chair for dear life, but suddenly, steadily, victoriously, making his way across the ice. Beside him I see a miniature Devil lying on her back doing snow angels in her hockey gear and grinning ear-to-ear in behind her cage as her small, pink, round glasses fog up again. Hell, I can almost see myself shooting a puck across an ice-covered farmers field next to our house in Manitoba and then chasing it for what seemed at the time like forever, only to turn around and shoot it back in the other direction. Maybe that’s why I built the little rink…so I could glance back to these moments frozen in my mind. Cue the scene from the movie…”Hey Dad, wanna go for a skate?” These little figments are welcome to drop by and skate in my backyard any time they like. Nope, it’s not much…just enough to draw out a few fond memories, making it all worth the effort. Next year’s version might even be bigger and better. Keep an eye out for the DIY YouTube video.
In our town, like so many others across Canada, minor hockey is a pretty big deal. Countless people are involved in making the game happen; from arena workers, to association representatives (one of which to whom I am happily betrothed), to officials and we hockey dads and moms who shuttle kids to and from rinks day after day. As they say, “It takes a village to raise a child” and hockey is simply a microcosm of the phrase. The game provides hours of enjoyment for its participants and in my view helps us parents raise better rounded individuals. With the greater community providing so much, it’s important for those of us on the hockey side to give back where we can; presenting an opportunity to further contribute to our kids’ social development. The Boy’s teams over the years took part in Christmas toy drives, wore pink skate laces and used pink tape in support of Breast Cancer Research and helped organize hockey practices for special needs children. Paying it forward has likewise been a focus of mine for both of the rep team’s I’ve had the pleasure of coaching with great team-building results.
Two years ago, my team participated in a pre-season walk to raise funds and awareness for Juvenile Diabetes. As it turned out, we had a teammate who happened to be afflicted by the disease and it was great to be able to support a cause so close to home, which our players could easily relate to through their new friend.
This season we chose to take part in a Holiday Food Drive for the local Food Bank. An added incentive was a chance for the team collecting the most food (by weight) to win a practice coached by coaches from the local OHL team (a slight upgrade from the current coaching staff). A bin was decorated and made available for donations at our games for three weeks in December. I let the visiting teams know about our campaign and was pleased to see visitors arriving with bags of food in tow. In three weeks we were able to collect roughly 450 lbs of food and a couple hundred dollars in cash donations, which we were told would feed approximately 20 families for a month. A fine local charitable endeavour for the holidays indeed.
Now with Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada coming up on Saturday, January 18th, Scotiabank would like to hear about how your team has paid-it-forward in your community. By sharing your community events as statements, photos or videos on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and including the hashtag #scotiahockey, you will be entered into a contest with a chance to win:
- an NHL Alumni Tour visit to your community between January 21st 2014 and September, 6, 2014 or
- one of three (3) custom 10-20 second video responses from an NHL Alumni highlighting a community post submission and celebrating how they give back to their community. The videos will be posted on the Scotia Hockey Club’s Facebook page.
Entries can be submitted until 4pm on January 18th. The contest is open only to legal residents of Canada who are age of majority.
So get to sharing your pay-it-forward stories and encourage others in your hockey community to do the same to improve your town’s chance of winning the NHL Alumni Tour visit. Everyone in the community, hockey or otherwise, wins from good deeds done.
Thought I’d wait for the New Year frenzy to settle down before I put together this list or I’m just lazy and procrastinatorial (to coin a word), which is something I should likely add to the ledger? Another reasonable excuse is my need to thaw out following a trip to the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor with Momma and friends, which was an unforgettable way to start 2014.
Regardless, I decided to jot down some resolutions I believe will resonate with my hockey dad/coach brethren, or at least those who are of reasonably sound mind and in tune with their true feelings; which I realize discounts a few out there — you know who you are…
1. I will endeavour to bite my tongue and control my digits when the men in stripes make what I feel are egregious errors in judgment. Thought I’d start with one of the most difficult resolutions and work my way down. I may have already blown this one up prior to publication, but ya had to be there to see the calls this dude was making (he says with total confidence and utter objectivity).
2. I will make every effort to heed the advice of the dazzling and admittedly oft correct Hockey Momma and lighten the weight of my right foot on the gas pedal when traversing snow covered highways on route to matches at rinks situated in the coldest of climes. Damn, number two ain’t gonna be easy either.
3. I will attempt to not make my 16 year old Devil child cry on the bench during a game. Ok, so yes, this happened once in the last month due to extenuating circumstances I assure you. And based on those same hormonally-driven reasons I’m not even sure if this can or should be my resolution, but I’ll include it here for posterity.
4. I will not lie awake in bed till all hours of the night rewinding games or deliberating line combinations in my head. This one will no doubt be harder and harder to fulfill as the season winds down and playoffs ensue.
5. I will make healthy choices for me and my finely tuned hockey progeny. I will not stop at Five Guys Burgers and Fries at 10:00pm after an away game for Double Cheeseburger Combos for the Devil and I. Any resolution list worth its weight (pun fully intended) includes something about healthy eating. I am, however, completely aware of the fact I do not maintain the mental fortitude to make this one last more than 30 days tops. I mean…have you ever been to a Five Guys with all its beefy, cheesy deliciousness?
6. I will not wish ill will on other hockey parents, coaches or beer league counterparts during the course of a game or otherwise. Again, a toughie to adhere to when engaged in the heat of high stakes midget girls’ competitive or even incredibly low stakes recreational mens’ hockey battle. The warrior spirit is hard to dash.
7. I will refrain from cheering against the Toronto Maple Leafs. ROFLMAO, I was just checking to see if you were paying attention. While I have my Winnipeg Jets to cheer for (which has been exceedingly hard to do based on their performance or lack thereof of late), I will remain a staunch anti-Leafs fan, if only to grate on the nerves of some of my nearest and dearest.
Not sure how I only just found this…pure YouTube genius don’t ya think?
8. I will try to not laugh (out loud) when I witness one of my kids make a particularly bone-headed play during a game or practice. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “If you can’t laugh at your own, who can you laugh at.”
You know damn right they’d be laughin’ at dear old Dad if the skate were on the other foot. Case in point was a practice earlier this week when yours truly caught a rut during a pre-practice pivot to fire a shot on net and found myself suspended in mid-air with enough time to realize how much landing was gonna hurt. My back met the frozen floor first, yanking pretty much all the breath from my unsuspecting lungs, followed shortly thereafter by my thankfully helmeted head. My back, head and neck would all suffer over the next two days. I scrambled to my hands and knees, gasping for whatever air I could find and hoping my foible went unnoticed, only to be met by the Devil’s grinning mug asking if I was ok? “Umm…no, give me a sec or two (to fill the virtual vacuum that is my chest cavity). Had I been a bystander witnessing me going ass over tea kettle, I can assure you it would have been met with something closer to gut-grabbing laughter. So, while at the time I sneered at her enjoyment of my misfortune, I shortly thereafter appreciated her simply being my kid.
9. I will pay all due reverence and humbled icy homage to the all-knowing, all-seeing Hockey Gods. Of course, in return I would like to receive the occasional lucky bounce, ricochet or outright victory at the Puck Deities’ discretion of course.
10. In line with it’s mystic predecessor, I will make an effort to not kowtow to silly superstitions. No habitually nervous pre-game bowel movements. No special t-shirts worn under my dress shirt. No counting the number of times the tape wraps around the stick blade or the shin guard. And yet again, who am I kidding. These are not trivial things one can simply resolve to stop doing at the risk of changing the course of history.
So there’s 10 to chew on. I likely cannot successfully accomplish a single one, but the first step is recognizing and admitting the need to change. I think I have at least a fighting chance with numero trois (pardon my French) and lucky number 9, since I can beg and grovel with the best of them.
Have any personal promises on a hockey list or otherwise you want to try to keep in 2014? I’d love to hear em and whether or not you think you can stick to em any better than I can. Good luck!
Hockey Gods image courtesy The Hockey Gods on Twitter https://twitter.com/HockeyGods
The Devil’s and my team is at a bit of a crossroads heading into the final third of our regular season. The team has played really well, really not so well and has been consistently inconsistent as our 3-6-6 record and 7th place standing in a 10-team league clearly indicate. A contributing factor has been a rash of injuries and absences at nearly every position, though we all know neither can be used as an excuse. Every midget-aged squad has to deal with the bumps, bruises and competing teenage priorities like work and school; though being touch and go to have even one healthy goalie for a few of our games and having only eight out of 17 players showing up for practice is pushing it. All the while, this group has been getting along marvelously and certainly appear to be having a lot of fun; some I’m sure would say too much fun at the expense of focus and discipline. As usual, my guess is those off the ice are more concerned about wins and losses than those on it. Those on the ice surely know winning is fun too, but most aren’t going to let it dominate their experience. These young ladies enjoy playing and simply being together; regardless the result. Their raucous pre-game warm up rituals are proof positive. We’ve even seen them dancing between periods in the closest of games. Good to be loose, but not at the expense of focus some would say. A definite conundrum for coaches who, at least to some degree, must equate winning with success – or do they? Altruistically, we should all try to de-emphasize winning, but golly it gets tougher to do when you’re headlong into a competitive hockey season with “competitive” being the operative word.
The team’s inconsistency was no more apparent than in our last game before a Christmas holiday break against the league leaders; who we’d yet to beat in three previous tries with one tie. Perhaps visions of sugarplums were already dancing in their heads as tThe first two periods saw us clearly outmatched by our counterparts who were a visibly more organized crew. Our side had no answer to four goals, two of which were scored as our players virtually stood still in our defensive zone. I pleaded for a better effort during the break between the second and third periods. I reminded our players how well they’ve played at times against this particular team and other strong opponents. I tried to appeal to their deeper sense of pride; their desire to fight back. My simple, final request was to win the third period. I was somewhat heartened to see them respond with renewed vigour and a 1-0 “victory” in the final frame.
Post game I tried to deliver a similar message for them to carry into the next couple of practices and the new year. They’ve set a precedent of inspired play from time-to-time or, seemingly, when they really want to. This team can play with anyone when they put in the work and are all rowing in the same direction. I told them the onus will be on them to “really want to” from here on in if they hope to finish in the top 8 and thereby qualify for the league playoffs. It would be a real shame if they didn’t based on the promise they’ve shown. Time for the coach to earn his worth and figure out a way to motivate this group to reach their potential before it’s too late. The challenge has been issued. Let’s hope we’re all up for it.
And so, over the next eight games my focus will be on getting back to basics. Getting the girls to work hard one shift at a time, having fun and winning in that order; with the former hopefully feeding the latter. We’ve done a pretty good job thus far of building and nurturing a p0sitive team culture. The infirmary is finally starting to clear out a little (he says with fingers firmly crossed). Now it’s time for the team to band together and build momentum down the stretch, cuz that’s what good teams do. I have every confidence this is a good team. In the end, I’ll be pleased if the effort to win is there; regardless the final tally. Probably not content, but pleased.
As always, I’m open to suggestions from any other learned hockey dads, moms, coaches, sports psychologists, priests….
Keep Calm and Play Hockey image courtesy http://www.hockeygods.com (yeah, I’ll try anything to appease them)
I know it’s gettin’ a little late, but here’s some last minute help if you are still trying to decide what to get the hockey dad who has everything. What to put in the ol’ hockey stocking hung by the chimney with care?
A Tim’s card (which you can now even buy online) is always nice and for some (like those of us who serve double duty as hockey coach) a Liquor Store card is even nicer. But gift cards can be somewhat impersonal. Overworked, underpaid hockey dads should really be rewarded for the countless hours they spend bent over tying skates, out on the driveway blocking rock hard rubber discs with paper thin road hockey equipment or feverishly scraping windshields with half-frozen digits at 5:30am in the middle of January to get junior to a practice he or she isn’t really all that thrilled about going to. I’m mostly beyond having to perform these terribly terrific tasks and have been able to strike most of them from my memory. Yet, I think it’s important to lobby for my younger fellow hockey dads who are dutifully towing the parental line to raise better, more well adjusted children and for my older hockey dad colleagues or perhaps even hockey grandpas who have likewise put in the time and are deserving of some small token of appreciation.
- An industrial-sized box of Hot Shots hand warmers (though upon investigation you can apparently also purchase foot, toe and body warmers)…cuz Dad’s hands and feet get cold too after standing in an old-style rink in the middle of nowhere for hours on end.
- Along the same line, though supporting an ulterior motive, get yer dad a nice pair of noise-cancelling ear muffs to naturally keep his ears warm, but also to block out the often incessant drone of over-zealous hockey moms, over-bearing hockey dads or over-used cowbells. Hockey doesn’t necessarily need more cowbell.
- A certain hockey coach Dad will take a few bounces and a little luck here or there realizing this is something the Hockey Gods rather than Santa will have to deliver. Do ya think them Gods have Naughty and Nice list. I think I should be on the latter for the most part. Have only lost my cool with the refs a couple of times so far this season and never to the point where I took a penalty.
- One of these new fangled unbreakable hockey sticks, which may cost a bunch up front, but could save a bundle in the long run
- A coupla beers, a fews bags of microwave popcorn and the hockey film holy trinity — Slapshot, Miracle and Goon (though I might get some flack for this one, I thought it was hilarious). Feel free to follow these up with The Mighty Ducks, Mystery Alaska and The Rocket. Please, under no circumstances, accidentally buy or give Slapshot 3 as a present for anyone.
- How bout a coupla tickets to a Major Junior or NHL game (Oh yes, Barrie Colts or Winnipeg Jets tickets if anyone is asking bout yours truly), cuz what else would a hockey dad want to do when he’s not at a rink watching hockey, but go to a rink and watch hockey.
- An unexpiring coupon, the bearer of which, is entitled to a few solid hours of couch time on any given Sunday afternoon in the off-season.
- A time machine to occasionally go back and watch the kids first strides on the ice, their tyke hockey games, their first goals and to recatch their celebrations complete with ear-to-ear grins.
- A frozen pond, a net, skates, a stick and a bottomless bag o’ pucks – simple perfection.
See, we hockey dads don’t ask for too much.
Merry Ho Ho and Happy Shopping!
Hockey Santa image courtesty http://www.onemillionskates.com
Penalty Box Photo – Two For Roughing courtesy http://www.johnnewby.ca/hockey/twoforroughing.html
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.