Been a while since I jotted anything here, what with it being summer and all. The Devil’s fully recovered from her broken limb and methinks chomping at the bit to get back on the ice for her final minor hockey season. Yup, final…the end…nuttin’ left for this ole hockey dad to do, but reminisce. As Father’s Day falls tomorrow, I thought it may be appropriate to construct a little ditty for me and my fellow Dads. For those who wish to sing along, this has been roughly written to the tune of Mrs. Robinson (I know not why, but it was the first ballad to pop into my head). With gratitude and forgiveness to Simon & Garfunkel for the butchered lyrics.
We’d like to say a few words about the job that you have done
All the rinks you’ve been to through the years
We know you did it all cuz ya luv the Devil and yer son
And how they looked up when you cheered
So here’s to you Mr. Hockey Dad
We appreciate you more than you can know
Whoa Whoa Whoa
Hockey Gods bless you please Mr. Hockey Dad
Heaven holds a place for those who play
Hey Hey Hey
Hey Hey Hey
Pucks shot in the top shelf where they say only Grandma goes
You beamed with pride on every goal
A fancy pass, a thunderous check, a win when all seemed lost
You’ll still remember when you’re old
Koo-koo-ka-choo, Mr. Hockey Dad
They appreciate you more than you can know
Whoa Whoa Whoa
Puck Gods bless you please Mr. Hockey Dad
Heaven hold a place for those who skate
Hey Hey Hey
Hey Hey Hey
Freezing in the stands on another Sunday afternoon
Where else would you expect to find him
With one year left he thinks it’s simply ending all too soon
But then again there’s always grandkids you remind him
Where have you gone Anze Kopitar
Dads will turn their hockey eyes on you
What’s that you say Mr. Hockey Dad
Anze’s Kings just won the cup and skate away
Hey Hey Hey
Hey Hey Hey
A little self-serving and a whole lotta corny yes, but what the hell….it’s Daddy’s Day, so I’m taking my poetic license and skating with it. Cheers to all you other Hockey Dads out there wherever you are. See ya at a rink in the Fall, if not sooner.
Or even Dads for that matter
Without Hockey Moms
Them is just the biological facts folks.
So we have this Day
Though a single 24-hour period in May hardly seems fitting
For all they do
To put moms on pedestals
And here I contend, Hockey Moms in particular
With which I’m most familiar and appreciative.
Like that’s not enough all on its own (from what I hear).
In the dead of February at 15 below
To get a Boy or Devil to practice.
Putting up with high strung Hockey Dads (guilty as charged)
Chattering at all hours of the night about…
The next game, tourney or season.
Buying a stick, or gloves or a helmet
Instead of a purse, or shoes or earrings.
Spending birthdays, anniversaries and even Mother’s Days
In those same cold, dark arenas.
In Windsor or Sudbury
Cuz New York and Paris are overrated.
Learning when it’s appropriate to scream “Back Door”
From the stands or at the TV.
Painstakingly removing name panels from jerseys
At season’s end for 12+ seasons.
Selfless…to a fault.
That’s what these Mommas do.
So raise a Cup (pun fully intended)
Of Timmies or Canadian
To Your Hockey Mom and Mine and His and Hers.
And not just, but especially, Today.
Happy Hockey Mom’s Day y’all.
We, that is I, certainly couldn’t do it without ya.
Hockey Mom courtesty Addicted Hockey Fans United on Facebook
A few days after my new team’s tryouts concluded I am still sorting through exactly what went down. I thought having gone through it a couple of times previously as a coach and a few times more as a parent that I’d seen it all, but I should know there’s always room in minor hockey to be surprised. I think the Hockey Gods were bound and determined to make my last go round a memorable one. Minor hockey politics drama might bore the tears outta most, but this coach needs his catharsis so bear with me if you will.
A couple of years ago at my first rep tryouts as a rookie head coach, the surprise came when two players I’d chosen and whom I’d thought had accepted positions with my team decided less than 24 hours later they wanted to play elsewhere; leaving me in a bit of a predicament. No fun having to tell a player you just released she is no longer released because you need her.
This year’s version of Silly Season started at the tryouts for the team above mine, where I knew a couple of my players from the season just passed would be competing for spots. Long story short, I would not have a couple of players I expected trying out for my team. However, the reasons were quite different. One, to her credit, cracked the next level with a great audition and one simply decided she did not want to play on my team, which is her prerogative. The admittedly troubling part about the latter was finding out this player claimed to not have “fun” last season, which made me feel as though I’d personally failed this player. Yeah, it bothered me a little. Anyone who knows me, knows “fun” is a key verse in my hockey mantra. At the same time, I’m reminded some players and parents put more weight on winning in their definition of fun. And don’t get me wrong…winning is definitely more fun than not. Though in all due respect to Mr. Lombardi…it is not the only thing.
Fast forward a couple of days and roughly an hour or so before my first tryout to when the next shocker arrived and the floodgates opened. A second of my players from last season let me know via email that she wouldn’t be attending my tryouts. Instead she would opt to play one level down. I’d realize in short order a plan for a mass exodus had apparently been hatched. The Devil, for her part, seethed in her room as she realized what was happening. She also started texting other players/friends, one of whom decided to yank her chain by saying she was not showing up, only to text “gotcha” a few minutes later. The Devil was not impressed. Momma and I chuckled at her expense and appreciated the levity in light of everything else.
On the face of it, the underlying goal (no pun intended) would appear to be building a stronger lower team with players who shouldn’t really be there. For the uninitiated, this reveals a general flaw in girls hockey in our jurisdiction where, at the competitive level, players are effectively able to pick and choose where they want to play. This would not be a problem and I believe the intention is well meaning in not wanting to restrict player’s choices or ability to play at the highest level possible. However, in this case the opposite is occurring and having a ripple effect for other teams and players. Hours before my final skate the defection was complete as a player who had been skating at my tryouts suddenly remembered a previous commitment which conflicted with our last ice time. Not surprisingly, she would pop up at the next team’s tryouts one day later.
So back to the players who did actually want to play on our team. Prior to my first skate, I asked my first typical question “Who else is nervous?”, which elicited a show of about 10 out of a possible 20 hands. My evaluators and I had a limited number of players to choose from making final decisions on a few both a little easier and a little more difficult. On the heels of losing players left, right and centre before my skates even started, I chose to go against a personal policy and lock up a few team members I knew would end up at the top of my list. I don’t like doing this because I feel every player should have to skate and earn their spot, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So I had 4 players officially after skate one and 10 after two. As chance would have it, the same silly season rule which saw me lose a goalie also found me gaining one as a late arrival who was released from another team in another centre made her way onto mine after only showing up for one skate. Not particularly fair to another competitor who’d show up to all three tryout sessions, yet again the system kinda sucks sometimes. In the end, I was pleased to have what I believe will be a great group of 15 skaters (with exact positions of said skaters yet to be determined) and two goalies, all of whom want to play and compete on this team.
Now I’ve left the best of Silly Season for last cuz it doesn’t have to be all drama and hard feelings. The story here centres around the Devil’s pre-tryout prankster pal whose boyfriend was looking for a unique way to invite her to an upcoming prom; what with “promposals” being all the Instagram rage of late, or so I’m told. The plan, devised by this young lad, was to fashion the promposal around my player release process. In our system, final selections and releases are done via sealed letters. Each player receives either a “Welcome to the Team” or “Sorry You’ve Been Released” letter. The promposee’s letter would be something along the lines of “Sorry You’ve Been Released…Unless…You Agree to Go To The Prom with Your Mr. Wonderful.” In order for this to all work, yours truly had to take on the role of the bad guy. I actually had to start the fibbing early as this player was one I had already “signed”. Before the last skate I grimmly told her the guaranteed spot I’d offered earlier was in jeopardy because she just hadn’t proven herself yet. Her bleak countenance told me she swallowed my ruse hook, line and sinker, which meant she would sweat for the next hour and a half thinking she might in fact be cut. As all the players filtered out I, along with several others who were now aware of the practical joke/invite, stood out in the lobby waiting for the still unknowing victim. The boyfriend stood around a corner with flowers in hand. The dupe was, of course, the last player out of the locker room. I blankly handed her “The Letter” and softly said “I’m sorry.” She slowly walked around the corner with her parents and I literally heard her say twice “I’m gonna kill him.” Luckily, her misguided hatred for me was short-lived as she read the fake out letter and Mr. Wonderful arrived with his bouquet. When next I saw her I offered a simple, sincere “Bazinga!“.
Shortly thereafter, the new group assembled for the first time, for quick congrats, a brief intro and to share some basic contact stuff so we can organize the next time. I looked around at few faces I knew, but a lot I didn’t recognize. And so, the new challenge began. Bring together a group of 17 teenage athletes and turn them into a team. Win, lose or draw I’m sticking to my mantra, will do my best to provide a positive atmosphere and I sincerely hope the majority of those I’ve chosen have fun.
For now we’ll take a little break from minor hockey and retire to watch some Stanley Cup playoffs of course. I’m cheering for the Hawks if anyone is asking.
So how were your tryouts? Any stories, bad or good to share? I’d love to hear em and commiserate.
Girls hockey image courtesy http://www.zazzle.ca
Yeah, so in an extended moment of weakness a couple of months back I decided to apply for one more tour of hockey coaching duty. I guess I just can’t get enough of the all the time it takes to prep, spending 140+ hours in rinks between practices and games along with the ever present parent scrutiny and expectations raining down from the stands. But in truth, I applied again because I was fortunate this past season to have had the opportunity to work with a fantastic group of players. A true “team” with little to no infighting or divisions. The parent stuff is part of the job and at this point is mostly easy to simply let go in one ear and out the other. So I went through the interview process again; though mine was condensed being the incumbent for the position I sought. I had my answers ready ahead of time for the questions I thought I would be asked and sure enough was. A couple of weeks later the title of Head Coach was bequeathed upon me again.
My first important and least enjoyable coaching task, as always, will be to try to select another good group by going through tryouts. Any one who has been a hockey coach surely feels this is the worst part of the job. Having to evaluate 50 odd players and pare down to a group of 17, with there being often very little difference between the abilities of the last 5-10 players on your list. I personally rely fairly heavily on my group of evaluators to help make the best technical choices based on the quality of each player’s tryout. A three-day tryout is hardly enough time to measure the true relative strengths of all of these players and plenty of factors come into play with teenage girls. But the process is what it is and we do our best to work within it. The difference with the last few players may be based your previous personal history with them; particularly at the Midget level where you’ve been on teams with the same players on and off for the last 5+ years. And sometimes you just have to go with your gut and hope for the best. One little twist to my tryout sessions this year is that they will be missing one notable participant, namely the Devil, who is still recovering from her broken fibula, sustained in a game in the closing weeks of last season. As Coach and Dad, I’d love to see her skate to justify her spot on the team, but she’s definitely not ready and I’m fairly certain no one will question her qualification based on her previous performance.
All of the tryout fun has already technically started as the team above mine started their selection process a couple of days ago. I’m attending their sessions to see what players I will have to choose from assuming they will attend my tryout once they’ve been released from the higher squad. Even though it’s only second tier Midget girls hockey (not to diminish it) the customary rumour mill has also already started. Who’s going to try out for which team, who’s already committed or been promised a spot or who wants to play with who. Minor hockey is simply never free from politics. I do my best to keep an open mind by remembering my end goal is to simply keep the game fun for the players; particularly at this end stage of the minor hockey careers. This will be the Devil’s last year. I want to ensure she and her teammates have a positive experience; encouraging them to continue playing the game, regardless the level, or giving back to the game as coaches.
Of course, one of the other unavoidable challenges, is dealing with the ever-present hockey parents. While less so at this age, there are still a few out there who take the “game” too seriously for my liking. Others, as parents are wont to do, don particularly rose-coloured glasses this time of year. Their son or daughter is quite obviously the best player on the ice. And I get it, I’ve been there. Parent’s get pissed when their kids are rejected by a coach/team; a natural defence mechanism kicks in. Momma bear claws as our Momma likes to call them. But we’ve always told the Boy and the Devil they’d be fortunate if this was the worst rejection they ever received in life. Some parents are less objective as I hearken back to being accosted by an irate parent during last season’s tryout proceedings. So my open mind is paired with a solid set of blinders as I enter and exit the rink. In an effort to quell parental tirades one of the Provincial governing bodies has sent an email to its hockey parents reminding them to behave providing a list of tryout tips. Perhaps I’ll include this link in my introductory letter to the parents of my prospective players. Or maybe I’ll simply ask here if anyone reading this can pass it along to their hockey parent friends. I’d rather not I, nor my coaching comrades, have to worry about dealing with extra difficult situations. For most of us, having to release players is tough enough on us already.
In a few days, my evaluations and a few sleepless nights will begin. Kindly wish me, the players and the parents safe passage through this thankfully short but certainly silly season, after which we’ll all take a Summer rest and no doubt quickly start pining for the smell of the rink again. Or feel free to commiserate here and let me know how you handle the stress of the tryouts whether your a player, parent or fellow coach.
It’s been a little over a year since we watched the Boy’s last minor hockey game and I gotta tell ya, it’s kinda tough to suddenly just stop doing something you’ve been doing 5-6 times a week 8 out of 12 months of the year for over 12 years. I’m sure any respectable addict, regardless the drug, will tell you the same. And yes, my kids’ hockey has been my drug of choice. That being said, we’ve still been plenty busy with the Devil and her schedule to which posts over the last six months or so will attest. However, in a coupla months she too will be entering her swan song season and then what? I’m just not going to worry about it for now and focus on enjoying each and every opportunity I get to see her play. I recently shared emails with the father of a another girl on the Devil’s three-age Midget team who is/was in her final year, which we are in the process of wrapping up (with just a couple of relatively meaningless “practices” and a year-end team party left). He was all but begging me, as the head coach, to consider putting our squad into one more tournament because it as he emphatically emailed, “Freekin breaks my heart – I really wanted to see her wear the Shark one more time.” Another addict, among many others I know (a few of which are no doubt reading and nodding), since we tend to travel in packs.
Speaking of travelling, the point of this recollection is a little road trip Momma, the Devil and I decided to take the earlier this week to quell our hockey jonesing. Ok, not so much for the Devil, but she came along as a show of support for her big brother and perhaps out of curiosity. You see the Boy has been playing intramural rec hockey in University with a bunch of his residence mates, many of whom are coincidentally former minor hockey foes, on a team called The Sturdy Wings (an homage to the Youth Help org from the movie Role Models). Being rec and University hockey, in that order, most of his games start sometime after 11pm. We generally receive next day reports of his squad’s progress and his personal exploits via text – hardly an ample fix for a hardcore addict. The last couple of texts and then follow up calls told tales of quarter and semi-final victories. To add salt to already slightly festering wounds, the Boy detailed a last minute come from behind tying goal, which sent their quarter-final game intto overtime. In four-on-four overtime hockey, as he told it, his side gained a man advantage, during which he sent a slap shot from the point over the flailing glove of the opposing goaltender for the win. At the height of his excitement, the Boy reported performing a Teemu Selanne-esque goal celebration (which I had selfishly requested repeatedly during his last minor hockey season to no avail).
Apparently, the gravity of the Intramural Recreational Championship Game prompted a semi-respectable 9:30pm start time, which led us to consider making the roughly 90 minute trek after work to get a taste. We rationalized the somewhat spontaneous journey by likening it to any other away game the Boy or the Devil have played in recent years where the return home arrival time is somewhere around midnight. Never mind that we had made the same trip only a week earlier to celebrate the Boy’s 19th birthday with a lunch and ceremonial alcoholic beverage (surely the first he’d had over his last five months at school #roflqtm). We also followed the Boy’s lead who was all for having us come down to see the Sturdy Wings go for recreational hockey Gold. We arrived at the rink where both the Boy and the Devil had played in tournaments past, flashing a few memories through my head. The arena bar would be the site of our pre-game meal and we were granted a brief audience with the lad before he and the Sturdy Wings took to the ice. Having grown up as respectable rep hockey players and taking cues from the pros, the Boys showed up at the rink in nappy attire. As the team arrived at their bench, we took note of the three-man coaching staff, likewise dressed to the nines (suits, ties, etc.) and fully equipped with clip boards and water bottles. Momma and I were curious to know what sort of detailed hockey strategy was scrolled on the clip board during a recreational university game. The Boy would later report it’s mostly gibberish and gobbledygook. For instance, during one critical break in play the coach shared a picture of dog he had drawn. A lovely dog to be sure, but little help where the game was concerned. Then again, from this point forward, I’m going to imagine professional coaches doing the same and might even pull something like this out when I’m on the bench next year. A lot of times players likely aren’t really listening anyway. One other obvious pre-game note was the disparity in players between the Sturdy Wings (9) and their recreational championship final opponents (15) whose name we were not aware of. The Boy would be one of only three Sturdy Wings defenders, a decided challenge knowing he’s likely lost a some of his conditioning while living the university student life. Where the good guys did have an advantage was in the cheering section as their fan base dwarfed that of the other side. And not surprisingly, there did not appear to be any other overly-devoted families in the stands. The game began and in relatively short order we noted the pace was not quite the same as the competitive hockey we were formerly used to; not that we should have expected it would be. The Devil, for her part, surmised she and her teammates could give these crews a run for their money; a stretch, but ya never know. In only his third shift, the Boy filled a familiar role, driving an opponent into the boards. Shortly thereafter he took his place in another familiar place as he was assessed a penalty. Penalties, in addition to being short benched, would prove to be the Sturdy Wings undoing as they fell behind by a goal. After a couple more shifts the Boy made a return to the sin bin after having words with an opponent in front of his net. Momma said he better not get another after we drove all this way to watch him play. The bad guys would score two more goals and despite some pressure with a few good scoring opportunities, the Sturdy Wings would come up short of their quest for university recreational intramural hockey supremacy. What the game certainly did not lack was passion as one of the frustrated Wings smashed his stick against a stanchion busting it into a few useless pieces as the clock ticked down under the 2 minute mark and the outcome was obvious. As I know from my own rec hockey experience, there is no taking the competitive drive out of most hockey players, regardless the level at which they are playing. The game ended and “We Are The Champions” rang out through the arena speakers; alas for the other side to bask in.
Post-game we retired to the lobby to wait for the Boy and his teammates, who would no doubt be dejected after the loss. I was a little concerned we would be partially blamed for the defeat after hearing of the squad’s prior exploits. We were assured by members of the waiting entourage the team had played much better in games leading up to this one, which didn’t much help to assuage my fears. But when he arrived, the Boy didn’t seem too disappointed in not having pulled out the victory as he said this we the first time they had played a team with so many players (a common function of rec hockey) and one of their key members had been in bed all day with a fever but played anyway; further testament to my thought above on persistent competitive drive. We couriered the Boy’s and some of the players’ gear back to their residence, then left them to lick their wounds and/or drown their sorrows as university students are wont to do. We’ll be back to pick him up for the Summer break in a couple more weeks. And so, our little adventure which encompassed driving three hours to watch a 50-minute game did not have the storybook finish. Yet, from my perspective, the night was successful as the little bit of hockey sated the appetite and should hold me over until the Devil’s or Boy’s next game. More so, the true value of the endeavour was echoed in a Tweet posted by the Boy as we made our way home, “And one last thanks to my awesome fam for driving down from Barrie to watch the game !! #luvya”. He was happy to have us there and we were likewise happy to be there. Mission accomplished.
p.s. Momma points out in hindsight she wished she brought her real camera to snap a few more pics (which has been her deal through 12+ years of hockey), but she was a little worried about da Boy being embarrassed. Go figure, one of his first questions was “Where’s the camera?” More, high quality action photos promised next time round seeing as there are three more years worth of intramural recreational hockey games for us to choose from, whenever the addiction strikes particularly hard.
Every hockey season inevitably has to come to an end; far too early for most hockey dads including yours truly. However, this is an important time for all to rest, relax, reflect and maybe even pursue other interests or attend to certain neglected commitments. Young hockey players, as I’ve firmly stated previously, should be encouraged to try alternative sports or hobbies, in order to become better rounded athletes and people. That being said, dads, particularly those who pull double-duty as their kids’ coaches, can and no doubt do, keep one eye on the next campaign. With this in mind, here’s a brief list of suggestions for father’s looking to pass the time between puck drops in semi-constructive ways.
♠ Catch up on all those heart-wrenching episodes of The Bachelor you missed cuz you were always at a rink on Mondays at 8pm Eastern, 6pm Central and 5pm in the West. Spoiler alert: Juan Pablo and his Spanish accent are to die for #justsayin.
♣ Brew your own beer. You’ll need it to cry in after the last devastating loss when all you needed to do was beat a team you had already defeated by four goals once to advance to the next round.
♥ Focus on your job. Yeah, you know…that thing you do between 9am and 5pm most Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and occasional Saturdays.
♦ Calm the hell down. Yeah, you know who you are hockey dad. How bout yoga, a little zen meditation or maybe a stiff dose o’ Xanax?
♠ Perfect your mastery of the Oomphalapompatronium.
♣ Write a somewhat contrived, but mildly amusing blog post about what hockey dads should do when their kids’ season is prematurely over.
♥ Spend hours scouring the Internet for overly-complicated drills to impress parents who never come to watch their kids practice and thoroughly baffle your attention-challenged players who do.
♦ Play Scrabble in bed with your Hockey Momma or otherwise better half; occasionally allowing her to win if you know what’s good for you.
♠ Catch a game or two or 17 from the NHL, KHL, OHL, CWHL, ECHL, QMJHL or IDIDNTEVENKNOWTHEREWASHOCKEYINFIJIHL if you need a fix…..and you will undoubtedly need a fix about a day or two into your unwelcomed hiatus. There is no shortage of entertaining hockey out there if you want take the time to find it.
♣ Tackle the over-flowing Honey Do Jar that’s been staring down at you from on top of the fridge for the last 6+ months.
♥ Two words: Bikini Wax.
♦ Get yerself a ball o’ yarn, a coupla needles and take up knitting. Maybe knit a nice sweater.
♠ Find a missing Boeing 777 last seen somewhere over the Indian Ocean. While you’re at it, say hello to Amelia Earhart, Jim Morrison, D.B. Cooper and Bill Barilko (yes, I know his body was recovered, but I just couldn’t resist the aviation/hockey parallel, even if he was a Toronto Maple Leaf).
♣ Expand your sports horizons and check out other exciting pastimes. Like figure skating. Now there’s another ice sport you can really sink your teeth into and probably learn a thing or two from. So elegant, so graceful.
♥ Three more words: Extreme Navel Gazing
♦ Start a band, write a song, rent a Winnebago, go on the road, sleep with some groupies, get arrested, enter rehab, find Jesus, write a tell-all book, go on Oprah. That oughta kill a solid month.
♠ Go back over each period of every game from the season just past to figure out how you could have done things differently. Yeah, now there’s a constructive use of your time.
♣ Memorize all 118 elements in the Periodic Table. Cuz ya never know when you might be tested on that shit.
♥ Call up Dennis Rodman. Collaborate on a solid plan to quickly and peacefully end hostilities in the Ukraine.
♦ Lie motionless on a chaise lounge in the backyard with one of your homemade beers in one hand and whatever ya like in your other and stare up into the sky until you find the cloud which most resembles #4 Bobby Orr flying through the air after tucking the fourth goal behind St. Louis netminder Glenn Hall in the fourth period of the fourth game of 1970 Stanley Cup Finals.
Look Dad, we’re sorry, but hockey is not a 12 months of the year thing – nor should it be. How’s about ya just cool your jets and enjoy the Summer off with your family. The kid will be back on the ice and you’ll be back in your familiar spot down by the glass or behind the bench before ya know it. Now breathe, say four Hail Mary’s to the Hockey Gods and get back to the Indian Ocean cuz that plane sure as hell ain’t gonna find itself.
p.s. As always, I’m open to any other suggestions to help this restless dad pass the time.
Hockey Drill image courtesy of http://www.puckmasters.com
Jersey image courtesy of http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/multimedia/pov/POV-The-NHL-is-back–131433453.html
“The Goal” image courtesty of http://bobbyorr.net/goal/goal.php
The Sharks put up a heroic effort and battled hard down the stretch with a skeleton crew in an attempt to advance to our Provincial Championships. After the last game of our first round league playoff series we were reduced to 12 skaters, 1 goalie and no coach as I was resigned to catch the first game of our double round-robin competition from up in the stands.
The first two games would pit us against the number one team in our regular league, though they apparently had some challenges of their own icing only 13 skaters and likewise a lone goalie. Game one was a tight affair which saw the two teams battle to a 1-1 tie through two periods. I didn’t particularly enjoy my banished viewpoint, but did what I could to urge the team on as a mere spectator. I was pleased to have one of my players say all she could hear during the match was me yelling down at them; though I’m not sure whether that was a good or bad thing. In this particular game I shouted our embattled keepers name quite a few times as she turned in several saves to the spectacular variety – a much-needed boost for our undermanned bunch. The game remained close through the final frame and ended knotted at 1, which was something of a victory for we, the underdogs.
Game two was only two days later and we again took to the ice down three players and an injured goaltender. It would take another big effort from those players who remained to give us a chance to stick with our competitor. This time I would regain my spot back behind the bench where I could feel a little more in control; though I may or may not have been. This match would again be closely fought, with our side being the first to find the back of the net. Meanwhile, the front of their net was something of a battlefield as their goalie (previously known to be somewhat erratic) made like a lumberjack with our players’ legs being her trees. I implored the referee to pay attention, but my exhortations were met with disdain as he suggested he would keep an eye on my players as well. With this game also deadlock at ones, my pleading finally paid off as the ref whistled down one of her whacks with less than two minutes left. Those last couple of minutes saw us get out chances to pull out a win with the puck narrowly skipping past the post on at least two occasions. While the W would have served us better, we were pleased with back-to-back pushes against the tough competition.
We’d have to wait a week to finish the back half of our double dip qualifier, during which time our task would be set for us. Our first foe would mount two victories against our next by a combined difference of 4 goals meaning we would have to also secure two of our own with a five-goal differential in order to advance. A relatively tall order for a short-handed squad for which scoring during the season had been at a premium, which also happened to be missing 3 of its top 4 scorers to aforementioned injuries or suspensions.
The game three direction to our 12 skaters was simple, “Shoot the puck early and often.” The message was heeded and our girls jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead, which ballooned to 2, then 3, then four before the final buzzer rung. In our end, few if any shots found their way to our net. Almost surprisingly, the four goal deficit we were up against was erased in just one game. That being said, moving on would require another dominant effort; one which would be complicated by the loss of yet two more skaters to a pre-planned trip to the tropics and yet one more injury (a dislocated shoulder suffered, but not succumbed to, by one tough young player in the second period).
The last match of the double round robin would pit our 10 skaters and a goalie against the same from the other side. We all knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I felt a little more comfortable than I had the game prior on the strength and quality of the win there. I quipped to my assistant coach that the Hockey Gods were really gonna make us earn this one. And so they did as we fell behind early on a good shot fired from just inside the face off circle to the right of our keeper, which found its way under the crossbar. We’d even the score before the end of the 2nd period, however would fall behind again 2-1 heading into the third and possibly final frame….of the season. Before our girls headed back onto the ice I asked them to give it their all for three of their teammates in particular who were on the verge of the end of their minor hockey careers…and a memory of the Boy’s last game flashed through my mind’s eye.
Our depleted troops were sucking serious wind, but were still game and giving everything they had to try to even the score. Unfortunately, time and again their shots were blocked or simply did not find their target. Our net was emptied in a last ditch effort with less than two minutes left on the clock and subsequently….in the season. Their keeper continued to turn our advances away until the buzzer sounded causing 10 skaters, 2 goalies, 4 unwilling non-participants, 4 bench staff and a bunch of disappointed parents/fans to simultaneously lower their heads in some disbelief. We only needed a one-goal victory to reach our provincial championship tourney aspirations; just a little more than our exhausted group could muster…and certainly not for a lack of guts or hard work. Kudos to our foils who took and fulfilled their no doubt coveted role as spoiler.
Post game was somewhat uncomfortable as no one, including yours truly, could quite come to grips with the loss and the suddenness of THE END.
We do still have a bunch of practice ice left, half of which is scheduled during March Break, so attendance by a bunch of teenage girls is expected to be thin at best (I can already report having only 5 and 4 skaters in the first two post-season sessions which have both turned into a lot of shooting practice). I’ve been asked if we can schedule a couple of exhibition games, but I’m not sure we have enough healthy or willing players to ice a proper squad.
And so, we will play out the next couple weeks, take a month’s break, then head right back into tryouts for next season – the final of the Devil’s career. Of course, the Devil herself may actually forego her final tryouts if the two bits of her fibula do not find their way back together in time. Guess she can consider herself lucky as the coach of her desired team is not “likely” to cut her sight unseen. Then again, ya never know, I hear he can be heartless.
Image courtesy http://www.someecards.com/
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.