We’re told minor hockey registration in Canada has been falling over the past several years for a bunch of reasons; but the two primary I’ve heard are cost of hockey and player safety. The cost of playing hockey is not going to go down any time soon, though there are several initiatives out there to try to offer low cost options for those just discovering the game. But hell, what sport or activity for kids isn’t getting more expensive; particularly if your children are getting involved in competitive sports? I can attest to the unweildy cost of the game having raised two competitive players for 15+ years. $200+ composite sticks and $600 skates certainly didn’t help. Still, I have friends competitive soccer players, gymnasts and dancers who likely spent as much or in some cases more to support their kids’ passions. So there’s likely not much we can really do about the cost of the game.
However, there are ways the game can be made safer, keeping in mind it is still a fast sport played on a slick surface with sharp blades attached to player’s feet, stiff formerly wooden, but still solid, sticks and hard rubber pucks shot at each other on purpose. There are lots of people and companies out there looking for innovative solutions to keep kids relatively safe and thereby ease the fears of parents considering letting their children play Canada’s favourite winter sport.
One such company I’ve recently come across is Oneiric Hockey founded by Emily Rudow, a Waterloo grad and hockey lover in her own right. She and her team have developed an innovative pair of protective hockey pants designed to make it easier for kids to dress themselves (which every parent of a young player can appreciate) and to provide extra protection to vulnerable areas of players’ bodies (parent benefit number two). The cool Under Armour-like pants have pockets in front to slip in and hold shin pads in place, enabling kids to put on their own shin pads and negating the need for rolls and rolls to disposable hockey tape. One year, the Devil accumulated and carried around a giant ball of used clear hockey tape at least the size of my head. Correction, quite often it was me carrying around said ball. Score three goals for player self-sufficiency, lighter hockey gear and saving a little money on tape.
The next two equipment innovations are the addition of a cut resistant material around the ankle area and some extra padding on the back of the thighs where hockey pants often fall short. You need only ask Erik Karlsson how important protecting this area is after he suffered an achilles injury a couple of years back.
Emily at Oneiric sent me a pair to “try out.” As a “retired” hockey dad, I unfortunately no longer have my own players to provide feedback and I certainly wasn’t going to fit this old body into a pair for a rec league game, so I passed them along to a friend of Momma’s who has an 11 year old playing competitively. To say she is a fan of her new pants would be a blatant understatement. Her mom says they are so “comfy,” she’s been wearing them around the house like pajamas (not something she’s likely to keep doing after having played in them a few times and building up the old familiar hockey smell). Mom and dad are happy about their young player being able to get dressed and undressed quicker, along with the peace of mind the added protection provides. She is only playing Atom now, but accidents can happen at any age when skates, sticks and ice are involved. As an interested bystander with a hockey dad history, I can appreciate the benefits this important piece of equipment bring and wonder why its taken so long for someone to come up with this type of innovation. Oneiric has been getting some positive press of late and with good reason; they are trying to help save our beloved game by making it a little bit safer for our young players who a key to its long-term stability and growth. I’m a big fan of anyone who’s focus is on protecting kids and encouraging them to play hockey safely. So thanks to Emily and her team for their vision and commitment. I encourage hockey dads and moms to check out Oneiric at http://www.oneiric.ca/.
Disclaimer: I did receive one pair of Oneiric Hockey pants at no cost, but have received no other compensation to publish this post.
I hesitate to scribe anything here for fear of upsetting the Hockey Gods, but the improbable little David and Goaliath (yes, I’ve spelled it wrong intentionally) story the Boy’s Junior C hockey team is authoring right now is well worth sharing. You see the Shamrock’s (or Shammies to their closest fans) regular season performance at 14-23-3 would best be described as lacklustre. I believe they suffered from common Jr C afflictions including injuries, absences and intermittent apathy. The squad limped into the playoffs with a come from behind tie in their final contest of the year vs. the team who owned the inauspicious last place in the standings. Expectations were not high heading into the first round against the #2 team in the league who bested their point tally by 13. The only saving grace was they avoided having to play the number one team who were the undoubted cream of the crop. All this said, the Shammies did show flashes of brilliance in the 14 victories there were able to secure and we hockey veterans all know the playoffs are an entirely different season. A little luck of the Irish couldn’t hurt either.
Round 1 would open nearly three hours away from home in enemy territory where the Shamrocks had previously fallen by scores of 8-1 and 5-0. Not exactly trending in a positive direction. However, the few devoted fan who made the trip to witness the inaugural playoff match (present company and Momma included) saw a completely different team take to the ice and dominate their opponents in an impressive 6-4 victory, which at one point included a 5-1 lead. Did I mention how playoffs are an entirely different season?
Momma and I were begrudgingly unable to attend the next three games as we embarked on an uber-Canadian trip to an Ice Hotel, but we intently followed the Shammies online as they took a 3-1 series lead following a 4-0 thumping on home ice, a slim 2-1 loss back in their opponents’ barn and then a 4-1 dagger to the heart in their friendly confines.
Game 5 day arrived and brought with it a good ol’ fashioned Canadian snowstorm. I’m not usually one to let a little snow get in the way of watching a crucial, potentially series ending match, but local law enforcement was advising against non-essential travel and in fact the road to the game was closed in both directions for over two hours. However, the game was inconceivably not cancelled so the team made the perilous trip and showed up 10 minutes after the game was supposed to begin. We would reserve ourselves to again following online, not expecting much from the boys who had been stuck on their bus for over 5 hours, which is not particularly conducive to high athletic performance. And yet, we followed from afar as the Shamrocks quickly opened with a one and then two-goal lead. The Boy would later recall how the second goal was the proverbial nail in their foes’ coffins. The final score in the fifth and final game of Round One was 5-0. The upstart Shammies more than pulled off the upset to advance. Up next, the aforementioned cream of the crop who blew threw their first round opponents, outscoring them 26-9. To say David had his work cut out for him was an unmitigated understatement.
Game one of the second round would see the underdog Shamrocks travel to play Number One in the rink where they had only lost one game in their previous 40. Slim odds to be sure. Goaliath’s strength would be evident early on as they would spend an inordinate time in the offensive zone. The Shamrock’s goaltender (who is sporting the league’s best GAA and Save Percentage in the playoffs) had to be on his game to keep the puck from getting behind him. Despite the league leaders’ dominant play, the Shamrocks would weather the initial storm and trail only by one goal heading into the third period. The score would remain the same until about 4 minutes left when the visitor’s would take advantage of a miscue and throw up a match-tying marker. Then, with only 29 seconds left and on their second powerplay in 2 minutes, the seventh place squad would shock their foes with a go ahead goal. Undaunted and in dramatic fashion, the home team would find a way to force a 20 minute sudden-death overtime with on only 6 tics left on the clock….and exxxxhaaaale. The Shamrocks would take a penalty a few minutes into OT and their game one road fate appeared to be sealed. But Lady Luck smiled again as a D-to-D pass was intercepted and turned into a game winning breakaway goal. In all honesty, it was the first breakaway goal I’ve witnessed them score this entire season. Maybe there were others, but this one came with pretty good timing if you ask me. David cast the first stone.
The series moved to Erin last night, where the Shamrocks knew they’d most likely woken up Goaliath and the Boy said the pre-game chatter was all about bracing for an expected onslaught. And while the visitors came on full-force, the home team more than held it’s own and counted the first two goals to the delight of the largest contingent of Shammies fans in the stands to date. The worst score in hockey (2-0 for the uninitiated) was erased by the series favourites a few minutes into the third period thanks to a 5 on 3 powerplay. Just a few minutes later, following another defensive miscue, a Shamrocks forward was able to poke the puck over the opposing keeper to push the score to 3-2 causing the stands and the Home team bench to erupt in unison. A no doubt shocked coaching staff was forced to pull their goalie in favour of an extra attacker with a couple of minutes left in the game. The undesired result was an empty net goal for the good guys who cast the second unlikely stone.
Which brings us to Game Three tonight back on unfriendly turf where the Shamrocks will look to take a stranglehold on the best of seven series. This battle is far from over as the favourites will no doubt come out guns-a-blazin’ and the visitors still have their work cut out for them. The Boy, for his part, is feeling the effects of two hard-fought series and an ill-timed head cold, but winning has a way of easing bumps, bruises and sniffles.
Regardless the outcome this evening or in the series, the boys in Irish green have certainly represented themselves well and turned the tables on an otherwise underwhelming season. Kinda reminds me of another team who not so long ago beat the odds and nearly went all the way. In the process, the Shammies turned back the clock for at least one hockey dad and mom who are relishing every nail-biting moment.
Been a while since I cyber-scrawled anything here, but being the Dad of a 20-year-old Junior C player is quite a bit different than cabbing a minor hockey player around from rink to rink. I am sure fellow parents who I see at the games Momma and I go to will attest to fact the game and most of the things around it have changed. I got to thinking about this after a recent trip to watch the Boy play and in seeing parents in the stands at the World Junior Championships or NHL games. We are all still parents, of course, but our relationships with our kids and the game are naturally dissimilar from when they were just kids. At the same time, there are flashes of the former experiences from time-to-time. Here are a few examples of both sides of the coin and I welcome my fellow hockey dads n’ moms to chime in with their own recollections.
Every game now is an away game for us as the Boy attends University about 90 minutes away and his squad plays out of a small town near his school. And so, Momma and I find ourselves driving at least 45 minutes to see him play anywhere, while he arrives at most “away” games on a coach bus, with a buddy or in his overly-accommodating girlfriend’s car. Just last night, we followed his bus for a while on our way to his latest match; an odd sensation to be sure. One bonus difference now is we don’t have to actually be at the rink until puck drop, while in contrast, during his minor hockey days we’d stand around for an over an hour twiddling our thumbs or joining fellow parents on “parking lot patrol” (i.e. tailgating). Instead we now anxiously seek out local establishments for a pre-game appies and a libation. Game nights have become mini date nights. In this, different is good.
Because it’s Junior C, even the pre-game is a little different as we all stand and remove our caps for the playing, and in some hoity-toity arenas the singing, of the National Anthem. Silly pre-game rules have seen teams start with a player in the penalty box when they failed to have five skaters on the ice for the traditional on-ice ceremony. Another interesting rule is a 10-minute misconduct issued to any player who crosses the red-line into enemy territory during warm-ups; a reminder of how this level of hockey can get a little chippy and overly antagonistic. After all, they are still relatively young lads with testosterone coursing through their veins. In considering some of my own “non-contact/non-competitve” beer league games, this is something which will likely never change; regardless of age.
Once a game has started, the experience is both different and the same…for most of us hockey parents. My ability to cheer and/or “exhort” the officials to make the “right” call is somewhat compromised by both Momma and the Devil, who has attended a few games. “Don’t go yelling at the refs” they say. “You’re embarrassing us,” they plead. I (among others) admittedly need to be reminded this is “Junior C” hockey and quell my competitive instincts to vigorously voice my opinion. Inside this hockey dad (and I’m sure others like me), paternal instincts and feelings are very much the same as they ever were. I still beam with pride when the Boy makes a good pass, scores a goal (though these have been limited by his defensive role) or lays a good hit on an unsuspecting foe. My simple advice before every game has been consistent since he’s been old enough to body check, “Hit somebody!”, which I offer in selfish sincerity. And the Boy generally continues to oblige his dear ol’ dad. After the Boy has a good or bad shift, I will catch myself occasionally glancing at the bench to see what praise or criticism he’s received; sitting as a self-appointed, albeit biased judge and jury. I’ll mutter silent condemnations of my own where I feel their deserved, of which I’m allowed, cuz I’m the dad.
Post-game is a bit different too as previously we’d have an opportunity to discuss game high and low lights in some detail on the drive home, whereas now our drives are typically in our own vehicles and in opposite directions. So we settle for a few sound bites in the arena lobby or texts back and forth once we’ve reached home. Definitely not the same, but it’ll do.
As it nears its close, this season has been interesting for the Boy and his Shamrock mates. As an aside, I absolutely love the fact he plays for a team called the Shamrocks based in a little mock-Irish village plopped in the middle of south central Ontario. However, the Shams, as they are affectionately called, are not the luckiest bunch with a win-loss record placing them at the bottom of the Georgian Bay Mid-Ontario Junior C Hockey League (GBMJCHL) standings. Though in their case this fact has less to do with luck than commitment and talent. In some mid-season games the bench for some away games was fortunate to include much more than two full lines, while the home team iced nearly double the bodies. When they have a full squad, the Shams can compete with nearly any team in their league. The Boy, for his part, has had some of his own objections to on and off-ice decisions, which is his prerogative and which he has reportedly voiced. Something about not seeing the ice in OT after scoring an OT winner against the same team only a couple of weeks prior. Yeah, Dad pondered the irony too. And so the Shams will nudge their way into the playoffs with the hopes of pulling an upset against one of the league leaders. Kindly bow your heads and we’ll all say a wee Irish prayer to the @HockeyGods for them.
Regardless how different this season may be, I (we’re) thankful for the opportunity to watch him play again, when we thought it had all abruptly ended a couple of years ago. We’ve only a single regular season and hopefully a few more playoff date nights left, so we’ll be sure to cherish them and I’ll try to keep my disapproving mutterings to a minimum. #GoShamrocks