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Sometimes You Need a Short Hockey Memory

October 1, 2014
by JRiddall

What's Hockey?As you venture through a hockey season, particularly early on, there are shifts and games you want to remember and those you’d rather forget. In the Sharks’ first tournament and few exhibition games of the young season, we had a our share of both. Before the first tourney puck drop, I stressed the importance of using this event and these initial games as learning opportunities. All the coaching staff was looking for was a full and honest effort; similar to what we had refreshingly seen in our other exhibition games leading up to the round robin event. We would work on some specific tactical things as we went and get as much benefit from playing a minimum of four games in two days as we could. If we picked up a couple of wins along the way it would be awesome, but certainly would not be the sole measure of the team’s success.

Our first match would be our most useful and telling as we would be playing a team we are expected to be facing in our regular league play. I was admittedly a little nervous for this one as I expected this to be one of the stronger teams in our loop and therefore a real test for our new, relatively young squad. Indeed our opponents came out aggressively and we were pleased to see our troops rise to the challenge. The other side pushed and we pushed back. A decidedly evenly matched affair unfortunately saw us on the wrong side of a 3-2 final score. However, the score could have just as easily been reversed in our favour if not for a bounce in the other direction. We exited game one very pleased with the outcome and hopeful about those which lay ahead.

Several hours later we would engage our next foe with buoyed expectations based on our first semi-positive result. One wild card would be the time between games, which can always be a challenge in tournaments like these. As this game began, I felt we maintained an advantage in terms of our speed and numbers as the other side had a short bench. We would, of course, still need to use the perceived edge and execute or in other words skate, pass, shoot and score. As the game progressed, the players were able to fully accomplish only three of the four. A second, albeit admirable and full effort, did not translate into pucks in nets (an all too familiar scenario in girls hockey). As the game wore on, it appeared we were destined to play to a 0-0 tie, with our goaltender making some key saves to keep us knotted. Then, with less than 5 minutes remaining, one of our first-year right wingers unleashed a surprising semi-slap shot from just inside the right face-off circle, which found its way over the shoulder of the opposing goalie and under the crossbar behind her. Our first victory of the year raised spirits higher. We all looked forward to making even more progress on day two.

Back at the rink just over 12 hours later, we knew our next challenger would likely be our toughest as we noted their 2-0 record. Suffice it to say, this was the first game to be stricken from our combined memories. I especially had to remind the starting goalie of the short memory lesson as I removed her from the game at the end of the second period in a veritable heap of tears. To prove my point and stick to my post-game promise, I won’t even share the score here. Rather I and the coaching staff encouraged our players to embrace another important adage “Shit Happens” and looked ahead to game four for redemption. This message appeared to ring true for most, but some, like the Devil in particular, took this loss hard; even harder than I would have anticipated. Though it seems there were other factors at play where she was concerned. Something else sticking in her craw, which Momma and I will need to work on as the season progresses and we build this team on and off the ice. I did and will continue to tell her along with anyone else who asks that a new young team needs time to grow, learn and gel. She as well as anyone should know how sometimes even a last place team can come back and defeat a highly touted first place Goliath.

Despite our implorations to put game three behind us, it undoubtedly left a mark and sewed a dangerous seed of doubt in some as we entered game four. A fourth game in two days only a couple of weeks into the season is challenging enough. As in game two, after a quick review of players on the ice, I felt we had better overall talent, but then watched our girls lose battles, shifts and ultimately the contest by a 2-1 score; after falling behind 1-0 in the first minute. In typical hockey fashion, an excellent stifled opportunity for our side was immediately answered by a 2 on 1 goal for the bad guys – a goal from which the girls never fully recovered.

There would be no advancing to a playoff round for our side, yet overall we had to be pleased with three one-goal games including our first victory (notice how I didn’t even mention the other item we are never to mention again). I’m reminded of last year when our first win took nearly a month to arrive and last season was a relatively successful one in the end (if you don’t count the Devil’s broken leg incident).

We’ve played two more games since the tournament with less than stellar results on the score sheet. Sort of a one step forward, two steps back scenario. However, these again are just exhibition matches (or so I keep telling them) and meant to provide ample opportunities to fail and learn.

In the technology world, of which I am intimately familiar, many pundits say it’s important to fail faster in order to learn and ultimately succeed faster. I believe this likewise applies to sports teams, be they young or old, though the lesson is much tougher to explain to young adult female athletes I assure you. Cue another oft-heard cliche which states “You’re never as bad as your worst lost nor as good as your best win.” Methinks the same again holds true for this squad, who’ve shown signs of brilliance, while lacking consistency. I take some solace in knowing we’ve yet to play even one game with a full roster as injuries, suspensions and jobs have already gotten in the way; an all too familiar midget-aged circumstance. The risk we run with a young team is the potential for them to lose confidence as they lose games. We need to build on the successes of our one-goal games; accentuate the positive strides we’ve made. We can and have skated with quality teams. Only once have I seen the team stop skating and with semi-good reason (of which we will never speak). I am hopeful our veterans, including the Devil and her 2nd and 3rd year mates, take a leadership role on our cues to bolster the spirits of their younger cohorts. To their credit, I have been impressed with the level of maturity exhibited by players I’ve known or coached for a while now and some of the new players I’m still getting familiar with. I should not be surprised as I am struck by the fact they are all becoming independent young women. Yes, I do still need to be reminded from time-to-time. On another positive note, we have an abundance of practice time over the coming weeks, which we will use to work on skating, shooting, passing and gelling; before the games start to matter just a little more.

Three years into this coaching gig and I’m still learning every week, game, practice because when you’re dealing with people, be they young or old, everything is dynamic. I expect this won’t change any time soon. If any of you have any suggestions on how to carefully and successfully fail faster in this game or life in general I’m all ears. In the meantime, we’ll all try to forget most of the bad and stay focused on the good.

#imahockeydad

Image courtesy of http://www.memecrunch.com

Encouraging Start To A New Hockey Season

September 9, 2014
by JRiddall

Let's-Go-SharksWe’re just a few practices into a new season of girls midget hockey and my initial trepidation at having to work with a group of relatively unknown players has surprisingly turned to cautious optimism. My concern at having a young team with half of the players in their rookie midget year has been replaced by enthusiasm driven by their enthusiasm. Last year I was lucky to have two girls ready to go on the ice when the Zamboni was done making its rounds, while so far the entire squad has been standing by expectantly as the big doors close signalling their permission to begin their skate. In seasons prior, it was not uncommon to be asked at least four times during a practice when it would be over. Through four practices thus far, the topic has only been raised once.

Further fuel for my fire is the positive work ethic I’ve noted from the team early on. As with players starting any new season, there are certainly signs of rust and a need for hockey conditioning. No matter what you do in the off-season, it’s just not the same as skating full-speed up, down and around the rink a few times. Hell, at my age, taking a couple weeks off from men’s rec hockey damn near kills me upon my return. As these girls get older and find other things to occupy their time in the Summer, it no doubt gets a little tougher for them as well. Of course, the Devil for her part is coming back from a broken leg, which is another physical and mental challenge altogether. To her credit, she’s sucking it up through some reported pain (though a precautionary trip to the fracture clinic has been scheduled in two weeks time for her piece of mind). In fact, the Devil and all of her mates have been giving full and honest efforts from start to finish of each practice much to my satisfaction.

Of course, this is not to say there aren’t still plenty of challenges ahead. One such conundrum is our lack of six natural defencemen. When I chose the team I did not have the luxury of a large stable of capable defence candidates to choose from, so I decided to go with the 15 best skaters and worry about who would play where later. Later is nearly here. My staff and I will need to decide on which forward is best suited to fill the vacancy, as I do want to go with the traditional 9 forward and six defender configuration. Part of this equation is adding a player to the backside, while not subtracting too much from the front. Fortunately, we will have a few practices (including 4 in the first five days concluding tonight), exhibition games and an early bird tournament to start to figure it out. As with any other season I’ve been part of…nothing is ever set in stone, there are always a couple of player projects. Always room for players and the team as a whole to improve.

Keys to Hockey SuccessPerennial challenge number two; just make sure everyone gets along, which can be a task in and of itself when you’re talking about 17 teen-aged girls. Again, in early days and from what I can tell, the group is already getting along. I’m sure there will be a few who take extra time to get into the fold, but all seem willing. I was pleased to see and hear several agree with my annual rundown of “Keys To Success” emblazoned on a bright yellow bristol board, which has come to be something of a calling card for me. I told them I like signs because they provide good, quick reminders of what we want to do as a team and why. This particular sign will be posted in our dressing room for the next couple of weeks to help reinforce the tone. Maybe some girls think it’s all a little contrived and hokey, but if I can get the key messages across to a few then mission accomplished.

So with a group of players at least buying in and willing to work, the third, but certainly not final, challenge, is teaching, nay encouraging, them to play as a team. This is not the first rodeo for any of them and for some there is really not much left to be taught. Rather, the task is more about reminding and stressing consistent execution of individual and team tactics. Help them focus as I often say, “Shift by shift.”

We won’t know exactly what we have until we measure ourselves against a few competitors, which is what the next few weeks are all about. However, after just a few days with the new proteges, I am more anxious to draw comparisons and gauge potential than I was at the end of my tryout process or even a couple of week ago. Bring it all on and let’s just see what we really got. I’ll do what I can to convince the lot of them, we’ve got what it takes to be successful.

#imahockeydad

So You Wanna Be a Hockey Parent – Take 3

August 31, 2014
by JRiddall

Hockey Parent Rage CartoonLeaning on my vast experience and sage wisdom as a now relatively elder hockey dad, I am digging deep again to give back to the game by laying down some ground rules for would-be hockey dads and moms out there. This guide (as a follow on to my previous rants “So You Wanna Sign Your Kid Up for Hockey, Eh?” and “New Hockey Parent Do’s and Don’ts“) is intended to not-so-subtlely inform and suggest ways to prevent yourself from becoming “That Hockey Parent.” With all the negative hockey parent news bouncing around of late, one would think it wouldn’t be necessary to come up with such an obvious list, but I’m sure we’ll all bounce into one or more of those less than savoury progenitors who cannot help displaying their buffoonery in the face of what should otherwise be junior’s simple, happy pursuit of pucks and fun. So here, for those who need to be told or reminded is another list I welcome anyone to add to from their own hockey dad or mom experience:

  • DO not only let, but actively encourage, Johnny or Susie to play soccer, lacrosse, karate, basketball, Xbox, chess, piano or whatever else catches their fancy and gives them a break from what can be six hectic months of hockey depending on which level they play at. And they don’t need to get back on the ice a couple of weeks early to “get their hockey legs.” Don’t worry, they won’t have forgotten how to skate or lose their stride. Rather, come September, they’ll be chomping at the bit to get back on the ice with renewed enthusiasm, picking up where they left off. Or if they don’t, then maybe hockey just ain’t their thing and that’s ok too.The Devil, for example, tried gymnastics, dance and soccer, while her semi-foolish Dad enrolled her in an Introduction to Mandarin course when she was 8 (from which she would no doubt benefit when she entered the work force several years later). The soccer may have stuck as she was pretty good at it, but we did say only one competitive sport was allowed. She just kept going back to hockey and now in her final year is as eager as ever to get back to it after an unusually long delay thanks to a past season-ending broken fibula. She didn’t make it past one Mandarin class in case you were wondering.
  • If you’re not on the coaching staff, DO NOT try to be another all-knowing coach when transporting your impressionable young player to or from the rink. Positive reinforcement and encouragement is always welcomed…hockey instruction, which may contradict what the actual coaches are saying,  is not.
  • I probably don’t really need to say this one as true hockey parents already get it, but if you’ve played the game, DO get on the ice with the kids as a helper or coach. Especially with younger players, there is no such thing as too much help and we all need to pitch in to keep this great game going. I have been very fortunate the past few years to have a friend and two young adults who want to give back help me with my teams. They and so many others like them are to be commended for their efforts. I’m not sure if I’ll continue coaching beyond this year, but I may after I take a little minor hockey sabbatical.
  • If you coach your own kid, DO NOT hold him or her to a higher or lower standard. Coaching your own can be tough (I know all too well) because if you’re an honest coach you don’t want to be seen favouring your kid. Of course, we also know coaches who seemingly don’t care and put their kid on the ice every second shift. DON’T be that coach. The Devil and I have bumped heads a coupla times before because I know other players look to her for cues as to how hard they have to work in practice or a game. Even this Summer in dry land I’ve had to remind her if she doesn’t put in a full effort, no one else will. Bottom line on this topic – BE FAIR – and treat your kid like any other player on the team.
  • DO let your children watch as much hockey on TV or the Internet as they like on non-school nights. And if they ask for popcorn, make them popcorn.
  • DO allow your kid to miss that early morning or late night practice if they really just don’t feel like it. If it happens more than once, it’s time to find out why, take a break or find another pastime. Making a kid do something they really don’t want to serves no purpose.
  • DO NOT offer to play goal in a ball hockey game with 9 year olds in the dead of winter unless adequate…nay AMPLE…protection is readily available. A frozen tennis ball, or even worse orange hockey ball, is a deadly object, which you should not, under any circumstances, put any part of your insufficiently padded body in front of.
  • DO occasionally boast to your friends about how well your kid or your kid’s hockey team is doing. We’re all allowed to be proud parents. However, DO NOT recite stats including your offspring’s CORSI rating, GAA or current goal scoring streak, re-enact your kid’s recent scoring plays complete with colour commentary or share junior’s 3-hour highlight reel on DVD at friendly get-togethers.
  • During games, cheer loudly for, not at, your kid and the team. To be quite honest, neither really hears you anyway, unless you are “that parent”, who goes over the top and not in a good way.For a couple of years, I developed something of a schtick (appropriately termed under the circumstance thought I) whereby I would scream C-O-L-T, COLTS, COLTS, COLTS prior to the drop of the puck before each period of the Boy’s games ala Fireman Ed in New York. My voice paid the price on more than one occasion following multi-game tournaments. However, I believe the gesture was appreciated, or at least noticed, as I often caught both teams looking up at me. I’m sure the other squad and at least some of our own boys just thought I was nuts. Simple validation came in the form of the Boy saying some of the guys loved it.

As I enter the final year of the Devil’s minor hockey career, the last sentimentally-driven, recommendation I will make for new hockey parents is to cherish the family time you have together with your kids in the car, at the rink or out on the pond. For me anyways, even shivering through the coldest 6am practices top nearly anything else I could have been doing at the time. Watching the Boy and the Devil joyfully skate, pass, check, shoot, score is at a whole nother satisfaction level. #imhockeydad

Cartoon courtesy – 13 Simple Rules for Hockey Parents Everywhere http://www.hsehockeyclub.com/page/show/540055-13-simple-rules-for-hockey-parents-everywhere

#ALSIceBucketChallenge

August 15, 2014
by JRiddall

It was bound to happen eventually. The Boy and the Devil helped me put on a show, take a pretty cold shower and support a good cause.

Please click here to donate to the ALS Society of Canada.

#imahockeydad

I’m a Hockey Dad Warrior

July 25, 2014
by JRiddall

After having successful completed, that is to say survived, the Warrior Dash with Momma last year, I thought it would be a good idea and parent/child bonding opportunity to have another go at it with the Boy and the Devil.

Merry Christmas Warriors

Can’t you just sense the Devil’s excitement?

And so, just before Christmas, last year I signed the three of us up and turned the kids’ registrations into what the Devil quickly described as “the worst present she’d ever received.” Despite my cross country running passion and self-professed success as a young lad, this family is admittedly and decidedly a bunch of non-runners. Perhaps this lack of running prowess as been inherited from Momma’s genes as I can honestly say in over 25 years I can literally count the number of times I’ve seen her in a dead run on the fingers of one hand (and yes, I am excluding my thumb). So when, the Devil opened her gift, of which I was so gosh-darned proud, she exclaimed “I don’t want to do this!” And this was well before she decided to go and let a large hockey opponent break her leg to end her hockey season prematurely. A circumstance which would make her race experience all that much more enjoyable.

And so, last weekend, just five months after her injury, a couple of months after she’d been cleared to begin full-impact activities and with limited “training” we embarked on our little adventure. Training by Boy and I likewise fell under the category of “Limited” despite the best of intentions. I don’t know about you, but I find work, other priorities and general laziness always have a way of messing with intentions. The Devil had participated in a few dryland training sessions I’ve been running once a week for since the end of June for next season’t hockey team. The sessions do include some light impact work and the Devil has noted tenderness around her mended limb, which did not bode well for completing a 5k race up and down hills and over and under obstacles.

The potential for pain and suffering aside, our spirits, including her’s, were high as we prepared our costumes Pre-Warrior Dashthe night before. The Warrior Dash brings out all kinds of characters from dudes dressed in full gladiator regalia to coordinated teams with all manner of themes. Last year’s highlight was a foursome dressed up as a bridal party complete with tuxes, dresses and flowers to boot. This year’s had to be a couple of fellows who strapped blow up sex dolls to their backs as their running companions (now why didn’t I think of that?) Our “look” evolved from simply colour coordinating in white (cuz what else would you wear to run around in the mud) to a retro Osmond Three Warriors Pre-Dashfamily meets 80s Hair Band kinda feel. Homemade white headbands bearing our personal monikers (#imahockeydad, The Boy and The Devil) were complemented by flowing white arm bands fashioned from the same recycled bedsheet. The Boy decided he would be running in simple black compression shorts as a special treat for all the female spectators, while I retrospectively made a tactical error with the decision to wear white longjohns under my red soccer shorts.  The longjohns would prove to hold in heat very well, as they were intended, while also providing an excellent mud-sponge. I am sure some will contend my  choice of a see-through white “wife beater” (yes, I know the use of this pejorative term will likely gain me some disfavour with my female audience) was likewise misguided. However, I know what I was wearing would not be see-through for very long.

We headed to the starting position where the Devil’s anxiety mounted. The exhortations of a Warrior Dash appointed cheerleader with a mic on the sidelines were doing little to buoy her confidence in the task ahead. I was actually pleased to note the Dash would not begin with a climb directly up the ski hill, as it had the year previous, claiming several early victims who likely didn’t bargain on having to run up a freaking mountain. Ok, not really a mountain in the classic sense, but a steep, ominous hill all the same for those in questionable physical condition. The Boy and I promised the Devil no Warrior would be left behind. Within about a kilometre of the starting the race and after having successfully navigated through the first of a few mud pits, we realized we would be honouring our pledge even earlier than we may have expected as the Devil announced unabashedly “I’m dying…”. Shortly thereafter we entered hilly wooded trails complete with some treacherous footing. I looked back occasionally in hopes of not seeing the Devil tumbling down a hill. To her credit, she soldiered on only blurting out the odd “Who’s dumb idea was this?” Her mood lightened up as we approached the first obstacle and she bounded over it like the proverbial spider monkey she’s been her whole life. She’s always had good upper body strength and balance in spades, so grappling with climbing walls, cargo nets and  2×6 beams were relatively welcome relief from all the damned running we were having to do. It seemed to me there was actually quite a bit more straight hilly running than there was last year. Towards the end of the course, I found some strength to bound up to the top of a fairly long grassy hill where I promptly turned to offer support by shouting “Cmon kids, Daddy loves you,” which had he desired effect of eliciting a few chuckles from those within earshot who were still able to muster a sense of humour.

Warrior Dash Fire Leap

 

The final 1/2 kilometre of the course included a welcomed jog down the “mountain”, a quick climb up and over a cargo rope wall, a quasi-dramatic leap over a WALL OF FIRE and a leisurely crawl through a couple of feet of barb-wire covered mud.

Post Warrior Dash

After roughly 50 minutes our rag tag trio victoriously scrambled across the finish line and I think I may have noted a brief flash of satisfaction (or maybe it was just overwhelming relief) in the Devil’s eyes. As much as she feigned disdain before, during and after the experience, I’m fairly certain deep down she enjoyed it. In fact, Momma intercepted a collage the Devil shared on Instagram with the caption “Warrior Dash with these awesome guys.” Therein the family bonding moment was deemed a success by yours truly.

Of course, the following two mornings thereafter as I struggled to drag my aching, aging body out of bed I would, with a heaping pile of self-deprecation, ask “Who’s dumb idea was this?”

Now with just over a month before the Devil’s next and final minor hockey season starts, we/she needs to get down to business and get her leg back to where she’s comfortable with the impact. We’ve a few more dryland sessions to go along with work she’s doing at home on her own. I won’t push her, but I will strongly suggest she pushes herself to ensure there’s little to no trepidation when she steps back on the ice.  And she’s showing signs of itching to get back at it asking if we can rent ice some time soon. At least part of the Devil’s nickname was borne of her fearlessness, which I’m sure will find her back in the corners grinding for loose pucks in no time. After all, she’s a Warrior!

2014 Warrior Dash Survivor

#imahockeydad

An Ode to Me and Other Aging Hockey Dads

June 14, 2014
by JRiddall

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.

Boy in GoalYoung Hockey DevilWe’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

Hockey Gods

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.

hockey dads watching a game

#imahockeydad

Hockey Mom’s the Word

May 11, 2014
by JRiddall

Hockey MomTo overstate the obvious, we wouldn’t be Hockey Dads

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.

Childbirth withstanding

Like that’s not enough all on its own (from what I hear).

Canadian Hockey FamilyHockey FamilyOften up at the break of dawn

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.

Boy and the DevilVacationing at the Best Western

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.

Thumbs Up Hockey MomNary a complaint.

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.

#imahockeydad

Hockey Mom courtesty Addicted Hockey Fans United on Facebook

The Bad and Good of Minor Hockey’s Silly Season?

May 9, 2014
by JRiddall

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.

hockey is for girlsThis 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.

Silly Season PromposalNow 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.

#imahockeydad

Girls hockey image courtesy http://www.zazzle.ca

Caution Hockey Parents – Silly Season Is Fast Approaching

April 25, 2014
by JRiddall

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.

Silly Season
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.

tryoutsAll 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.

#imahockeydad

Road Trip for a Hockey Fix

April 3, 2014
by JRiddall

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 Sturdy Wingsis 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 Boy's 19th BDay Beertaste. 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. Boy Pre-GameWe 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 Momma and the Deviloverly-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.

Boy in da Bin
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.

#imahockeydad

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.

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