On the heels of my minor hockey politics rant, I thought I should get back to a more positive tone and spend some time giving thanks to those who have helped coach, raise and nurture our two players over the last 15 years or so. Feel free to break out the turkey and fixings if you’re so inclined. They say it takes a village to raise a child. This certainly applies when it comes to hockey and our family. Here are some of the folks who deserve to be recognized for their contribution in ways, both large and small, to our children’s development as athletes and well-rounded members of society.
Coaches – Our kids have had the very good fortune of being mentored by many fine coaches who Momma and I, to this day, hold in high regard and to whom we owe a sincere debt of gratitude for teaching our kids important sport and life lessons. For instance, the Boy was directed by an excellent coach early in his development as a player to always strive to make those he played with better. We continued to reinforce this message to both he and the Devil as they progressed through their hockey careers and what better lesson could a person ask for when working in any team environment? Teachings like these about teamwork, competition, resilience, perseverance, winning gracefully and losing respectfully were professed and picked up all along the way to the credit of the instructors.
I also need to specifically thank a few people who’ve selflessly donated their non-hockey parent time to help with my own coaching efforts over the last few years. I highly recommend having non-hockey parents as part of a coaching staff if you can beg/plead/convince someone to do it as it serves to cut back, albeit not eliminate, griping from parents who feel coach’s kids get preferential treatment. Between practices, games and travelling to and fro we are talking upwards of 300 hours of time spent over a 7-8 month season. I am certain these hockey helpers also benefit from giving back to the game and interacting with the players, but the commitment of their time cannot be easily repaid.
Other Hockey Dads and Moms – Transportation is a key component of living in a minor hockey village. We’ve driven each others’ kids to and from rinks near and far for practices and games (though Momma and I can count on one hand how many times one of us was not present at a game, in fear of it being THE ONE GAME where our kid got hurt). Anyone who waited for the Boy to get out of a dressing room after a practice or game (speedy departures are not his strong suit) is truly appreciated.
One particular memory worth sharing here involved the Devil begin given a ride by another family back to a hotel our team was checking into for a weekend tournament. For some reason, Momma and I were trailing behind so the Devil and one other teammate would be hanging out in a third teammates’ room for a short while. After being allowed to check in at the front desk earlier than the hotel had anticipated, the three young (I believe 10 year oldish) girls ran up to check out the hotel room. When they arrived they found the door curiously ajar, but ran in all the same. Inside they happened upon two hotel employees who also had not anticipated early guests and we’re apparently pre-emptively testing the strength of the bed springs. Suffice it to say, the girls and hockey parents were mortified. One quipped later, “All I could see were the sheets going up and down.” The room was upgraded by the hotel, complete with a fruit basket and champagne, but no one is quite sure what happened to the less than opportunistic bed testers. As usual, I have no recollection of how the girls fared in their hockey tournament on this particular weekend.
Momma and I are lucky to have made some great hockey parent friends for which we owe thanks to the game. Friends with whom we can now recollect the good times and commiserate with when we miss the rink (and not the politics).
Family and Friends – We all appreciate the friends and family who’ve taken time to come to rinks to cheer on the Devil or the Boy in their games. Those who’ve likewise provided the transportation to arenas when needed or have even put our family up for the night to save a hotel charge or two during a tournament on the road. I’m fairly certain both kids got a little extra boost in their stride or snap in their shot when grandparents, uncles, aunts or friends were in the stands cheering them on. We’d like to think our extra hockey fans had as much fun as we did. I’m pleased to report both kids graciously and without fail said “Thanks for coming!” post-game to any and all who attended, regardless the outcome of the contests.
Teammates – Both the Boy and the Devil have made a bunch of friends over the years through the game and will no doubt continue to do so in their respective intramural and beer leagues down the road. Social interaction and friendship are at the heart of why we’ve encouraged them to play from the beginning. Some will be lifelong friends, while others will no doubt simply be remembered as hockey buddies. The Devil, via some unfortunate circumstances, lost a hockey friend this season, but I’ve chosen not to dwell on negatives here so that is all I have to say about that.
I played minor hockey over 30 years ago and can still recall a few of those same sorts of buddies along with the stories revolving around them. Important memories methinks and ones the Devil and Boy should hold close if they don’t already.
A Whole Bunch of Volunteers – Despite the tone of my last post on hockey politics, there are still many virtuous volunteers who devote several hours of their time to the game and its participants for all the right reasons. People who’s dedication to hockey should not be tarnished by the intentions and actions of a few. Just as hockey parents in general are all too often painted with a brush tainted by a couple of stereotypical (i.e. idiotic) incidents. We should and must have faith in the game prevailing regardless and it will in age-old arenas, on frozen ponds and outdoor rinks everywhere.
Rink Rats – While they are usually paid, as they should be, by a town or city to provide a service, I’ve noted a few arena staff over the years who have gone above and beyond monotonously driving the Zamboni around in circles to enhance the hockey experience if even in some small fashion.
For instance, there is one Zamboni driver at a nearby rink whom I’ve noted maintains a very well-groomed waxed moustache ala Yukon Cornelius and who has his own relatively unique method for flooding the ice. Instead of the typically driving around in circles, he takes the time to cut two swaths through the middle of the offensive zones in each end of the rink. I am not certain and I’ve been remiss in not asking, but I assume this is because he wants to ensure those prime shooting areas are fully frozen when the puck is dropped to start the game. This attention to detail for a peewee or younger girls’ hockey game must be commended.
Props also have to be given to those who’ve let us step on or off the ice well before or after we were supposed to so enthusiastic young players could get in a few more laps or practice their burgeoning slap shots. There are always a few willing participants who would like nothing better than to suck every second they can from their frozen playground.
Referees – These men and women are certainly owed a debt of gratitude for all the crap they take (admittedly including mine on occasion) from parents, coaches and players. Hockey is quite often a passionate game, played and watched by passionate people. If it wasn’t there would probably be far less participants. Referees willingly put themselves right in the middle of it all.
From my experience, the best referees have been the ones who’ve taken extra time after whistles and before puck drops to help teach the game. Those who’ve dropped to a knee to explain to unaware novice players exactly why they blew the whistle signalling some sort of infraction; with offside being the most confounding concept for many young participants who will wander aimlessly around in an offensive zone while parents and coaches implore them to “CLEAR” at the top of their lungs.
I recall one older gentleman in particular who refereed both the Boy and the Devil when they were much younger. I would guess him to be around 70 and could tell skating was no longer as effortless as it may have once been for him meaning he likely could not keep up with older players, which is a shame. He would, before or sometimes during each contest, take time to chat with coaches on the bench, sincerely wishing each a good game or commenting on a particular play. You could tell he loved being on the ice with the kids. And he would, more often than not, take a young player aside to explain a call he’d made or simply provide encouragement. I don’t know if he still refs as I haven’t seen him at a rink or watched any younger players’ games lately, but thanks to him and many of his fraternity for what they add to hockey.
Opposing Players, Coaches and Parents – Competition is also at the core of hockey, as it is with any game. Here too passion interjects and provides opportunity, or more so fuel, for less than saner heads to prevail. However, for the most part, when the final whistle blows there are obligatory handshakes, “Good Game”s and wishes of good luck. Most coaches and parents have taught their players to put respect at the forefront. I think one of the most heartening things to hear as a coach is “You have a classy team” and we’ve had the good fortune of playing against several who fit this description.
Our Very Own Hockey Momma – My life mate and I have shared a common and undeniable bond when it comes to the pride and joy we’ve received from experiencing hockey with our kids; often in opposite directions and different physical locations. We became, out of necessity, quite adept at texting play-by-play to ensure the other did not miss out on a special pass, hit, g0al or victory.
Our Momma got way involved in the game as a manager, trainer, association executive and even briefly as a player. But, first and foremost she’s been a devoted hockey momma, screaming “Heeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyy!” when somebody took what she thought was a cheap shot at her Boy or “Atta Girl!” when the Devil managed to dipsy-do around a defender or bewildered keeper.
Momma’s exchanged a few sun-filled vacations and nights on the town for eight-month’s worth of registration fees and evenings at the arena. Traded glasses of Pinot Grigio paired with Surf and Turf from The Keg for Extra-Large Cream Only’s and Everything Bagels with Herb n’ Garlic Cream Cheese from Timmies. And if you ask she’ll tell you she wouldn’t have changed a thing; nor would I.
The Boy and the Devil – Simply put…the singular reason we’ve driven all over Hell’s Frozen Half Acre for 15+ years to stand in bone-chilling barns watching practices or games. I thank my kids for their commitment, perseverance and dedication to hockey played in those very same conditions.They haven’t just played hockey…they’ve lived it. Of course, none of this would have happened without them having developed a keen, shared love for the sport.
Two years out of minor hockey the Boy occasionally hints at how much he misses the regularity of playing competitively. As recently as yesterday, he fervently told the story of a university intramural game he just played against a “really good” team. In this match, he personally managed to garner two assists and he excitedly recalled watching his goalie “stand on his head” in a 3-0 victory. Yeah, he definitely still loves and has passion for the game.
As noted previously, the Devil’s had a pretty rough hockey year in returning from a broken leg to play on a challenging team. Yet, she’s continued to follow me out to the rink for late night practices over the last month despite a lack of any meaningful competition or a real need to practice. I get the feeling this is more to placate her dear old hockey coach/dad as her lack of effort is obvious and understandable. I’m hoping her passion for the game is re-ignited when she enters the next phase of her life at university and beyond; otherwise I will have failed in my quest to make sure none of the players I’ve coached ever lost the flame.
With one official minor hockey practice/scrimmage left for the Devil, I can faintly hear organ music signalling the end of an era or maybe it’s just my own melodramatic nostalgia kicking in again. Regardless, I’m gonna miss this. Sincere thanks again to all who’ve made it a grand, memorable life experience.
I’ve had my fair share of experiences with all three inevitabilities lately and I can confidently say none have been of the particularly positive variety. I have time now and have earned the license from 15 years in the game to rant one last time on the third of the evil triumvirate, Hockey Politics, before I leave the ranks of hockey fatherdom. I would have hoped after all this time things would have improved to some degree, but it seems each week we read about another minor hockey controversy and here in my own hockey life, I’ve witnessed more bullshit (yup, I said it now the season’s all but over) than I have in recent memory. Behind the scenes, self-serving, back-stabbing behaviour revolving around kids playing what is supposed to be a fun game, or at least I still like to believe this should be the main focus. Yet, all indications point to this more often than not being a minority view. There is a great deal of lip-service paid by those in power and/or those who wish to be in power around the importance of keeping the game fun. However, once those same people have the reins they invariably revert to their true selves. Perhaps this is unavoidable the moment you add human nature to this or any process. Many people, bless their souls, have their own personal agendas tied to “winning”, see their children through proverbial “rose-coloured” glasses or are simply blind to situations, which do not suit their purpose.
The game is certainly not immune to the politics we see all around us in other facets of our lives and I suppose this should come as no surprise to anyone. Momma and I have found politics rears its ugly head in several spots during a hockey year, during coach selection, player tryouts and mid-season emergency call-ups.
Coaches, while generally qualified (which, from my perspective, has gotten a bit better in girl’s hockey of late), are quite often chosen to suit the needs of a particular parent group or association. To be clear, I have been part of a selection committee myself where I did find the process to be fair and equitable with limited politics brought to bear. However, Momma and I have also seen quite the opposite where heads are left shaking at choices made. Where ulterior motives are glaringly obvious.
Meanwhile, the politics can run even deeper when players are chosen with coach’s collaborating to make sure certain balances and dynamics are maintained. I don’t want to sound greater than thou, but I like to think I chose my teams with more of an objective, critical eye; caring less about the politics and more about the players. Here again, as both parent and coach in nearly every year I’ve seen obvious head scratchers where the process has been found wanting. For that matter, I am sure there are parents out there who have tickled their own craniums at choices I have made as a coach. I can confidently say those choices were never made for political reasons, which in their case could have been part of the problem.
Emergency call-ups, particularly at older ages, are a must as players miss games and practices for injury, work or a variety other personal reasons. Teams are allowed to have players fill in from teams below them and quite often the top 1/3 of players from the lower team could quite easily compete on the team above. From my perspective, this process should be used as a reward to players on the lower teams who have shown they deserve an opportunity to play up a level. The result is a chance to play the game at a little quicker pace, at a slightly higher level and generally provides a boost to the confidence of the chosen player if and when they find they are able to fit in, as most do. I strongly believe these opportunities should be given to as many players as possible. This would have the resulting effect of benefiting both players and teams alike. However, some coaches choose to simply use call-ups as a means to improving their team’s chances to win and limit their choices to only one or two skaters (like a single player or two from a lower team could make such a difference). And make no mistake, all of the players from the lower team, who have inexplicably not been called up, are acutely aware of what’s happening. Quite often this can cause rifts as the lucky call-ups are perceived as receiving preferential treatment. The call-ups themselves, depending on the player, can exacerbate the situation by calling attention to their good fortune. What should be a positive organization and player building process actually becomes quite the opposite.
On all counts, I became immune to the crap early on, but have honestly struggled with how it’s affected the players I’ve interacted with; especially the Boy and the Devil. Luckily, the Boy’s last couple of season’s were among his best thanks to a good parent and coaching group who rightly traded the politics for a strong does of minor hockey reality. The Devil, on the other hand, had what can only be described as a rough final year and I’m sorry for that. Not because our team lost a bunch of games, but more so because of all of the underlying reasons behind it. Momma’s had some off-ice hockey battles of her own this year, which have likewise left a bad taste.
In retrospect, I guess it’s naive to think things will ever significantly change if the needle’s not moved in nearly two decades. I’ve heard it from other parents in other leagues so I know we are not alone in this. Please don’t get me wrong, I still love the game, warts and all. It’s nearly time for Momma and I to take a break from competitive minor hockey. I’m hopeful it’s just the “competitive” part we’ve grown tired of; the part which brings the less attractive side of human nature to bear. I’m also not suggesting for a moment we can or should take the human aspect out of the game; just try to smarten it up a little.
Here endeth the rant.
A friend and I have talked about coming back to coach “little kids” somewhere down the line; you know….Just for Fun. Yeah, that’ll be the ticket…a couple of non-parents who’ve been through the wars, altruistically tasked with showing young hockey prospects the ropes. Surely there will be no rose-coloured wearing, next-Gretzky-growing fanatics among that parent group to worry about. We’ll have to wait and see how those plans sound after we’ve had a chance to decompress away from the game for a bit. Ahhh, we’ll always have Death and Taxes……
Quotes courtesy of http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_politics.html
Image “Skating Away” by Karol Livote courtesy of http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large-5/skating-away-karol-livote.jpg
Hey folks, the weather round this part of the world has been on the downright frigid side for the last few weeks. Fortunately, with the Devil’s minor hockey career coming to a somewhat premature end (more on this topic later), we have not had to endure too many cold rinks. However, I know there are legions of hockey parents who are braving the elements to stand in sub-arctic temperatures to cheer on their progeny in arenas across th. With it being the Season of Love, I’ve decided to run a small contest with much thanks to a fellow devoted hockey parent (see @kimi8 on Twitter) who has generously donated the hand-crafted wool infinity scarf you see wrapped around yours truly. I am going to randomly draw a single name one week from today from those who can use the Comment box below to share a short story about the coldest they’ve ever been at a hockey practice or game.
To get you started and perhaps prime painful memories you’d rather leave locked away, I have two frosty recollections of my own to share; one from my youth and one from my days as a hockey dad.
The first frozen tale is set around a game played on an outdoor rink on an Indian Reservation somewhere in Northeastern Manitoba (where I’m fairly certain Winter was invented) on a February afternoon. The thermometer stopped recording accurately after it hit -45º Celcius. I think the mercury may have actually frozen. A wee lad of 10, lacking in much-needed body fat, was wrapped from head-to-toe in equipment, extra socks, extra gloves, a balaclava and I believe even a scarf around the whole lot (albeit not nearly the fashion-statement of a scarf pictured above); all of which were decidedly insufficient based on the depths to which the temperatures had fallen. About halfway through the game, our hero battled for the puck against a much larger competitor (who may have even grown a full beard as an evolutionary barrier against the harshness of nature) and was swiftly dumped on the hard, frozen sheet of ice. A few moments passed as he lay there, not really feeling anything as the weather had an understandably numbing effect. A few more seconds ticked by as he weighed his options of getting back on his feet to continue playing in these frigid conditions or simply faking an injury in order to retreat to a warm sanctuary. Said sanctuary was merely a plywood shack with a wood-burning, pot belly stove, but it was a whole helluva lot warmer than where he currently lay. When the trainer arrived in the corner to check on our beleaguered protagonist, the little fella started laughing hysterically, but was able to relate to the onlooker he was too friggin’ cold to move. He was eventually helped back up to his feet and stalwartly finished the game against his better 10-year old judgment. The ride home saw our tiny trooper bawling in the front seat of his dad’s car as his frozen feet slowly, painfully thawed with the stabs of a thousand sharp needles. I’m also fairly certain his dad showed little to no sympathy as he himself stood stoically outside for over an hour watching his kid play a game. Hockey dad’s are like that.
Fast forward nearly 30 years to another February and a little, old-fashioned, rural rink with barn doors and icy player benches, where in a weak moment, a hockey dad turned assistant coach made the fatal flaw of choosing paper-thin Chuck Taylor high tops as footwear covering a single layer of sport socks. It was a very cold day (not Northeastern Manitoba cold, but cold enuff) and the parking lot of the rink was a slushy mess following a snowfall the night before. Undaunted our devoted, if not fanatical, puck father trudged through the slush in his inadequate attire to dutifully take his place behind the players’ bench, where he would stand for the next 60+ minutes on ice-covered concrete; all for the love of the game and his little Devil on skates. If challenged, he’d have no idea what happened in the game or the final score. His sole focus (pun fully and ingeniously intended) was on the cold-induced, near hypothermic pain emanating from his lower extremities. He could not recollect ever having been quite so bone-chilled. Then, on the ride home, it hit him, like the stabs of a thousand needles from days gone by in the passenger seat of his dad’s car. Once again he received little to no sympathy from his little Devil or her better equipped Momma as a 30-something-year-old father simply oughta make better winter attire choices.
So here I am giving you the choice and special opportunity to both shield yourself from the elements and make an unparalleled fashion statement in exchange for a few of your own chilly child or parenthood memories. Be the hot envy of all the other hockey dads and moms in their passé store bought accoutrements.
Keep warm y’all!
CCM Hockey Gear image courtesy http://www.honeymoonprojects.com/ccm-hockey-gear-embrace-the-cold-print/
Time is ticking down on the Devil’s season, her minor hockey career and a major focus of our family’s life over the past 14 years or so. While this season has been a challenge on and off the ice for the Devil and I, there is still no substitute or equal to going to the rink and watching my kid play. And whether I like it or not, those chances are fleeting. While I coach the entire team, I also root for her to do well…for her to have fun in these last few weeks; regardless goals, assists, wins or losses; just fun playing hockey like she did when she was 4. I know, what say we just roll time back a while?
This past weekend the Devil and her teammates played their final regular season game, in which they needed to a secure a victory in order to advance on to the playoffs; albeit in the last spot, which would in turn mean a date with the number one squad and their 20-1-1 record. I told the players before our last game all I wanted for them was a playoff chance, having been part of an upstart Cinderalla team a few years back. Unfortunately, the somewhat anemic offence, which put them in their must-win predicament, would once again be their downfall. The team played hard from the start, but found themselves in a 1-0 hole after the first period. They out-played and out-chanced their opponents throughout the second period and the first half to the third and yet the scoreboard read 2-0 bad guys with 7 minutes left in the match. Our side was even the beneficiary of a couple of powerplays, including a 5 on 3 advantage, yet could not find the back of the net. As the clock rolled down around the 5 minute range I decided I would go for broke at the next opportunity and pull our goaltender in favour of an extra skater. The opportunity would not present itself for another couple of minutes and I saw the season winding down along with the chronograph. My last ditch attempt only served to make the final score 3-0 as their side found its way behind our defence with an open net before them.
So now all we have left to hang our hopes on is a best-out-of-3 series with the aforementioned 20-1-1 side as they also happen to not so conveniently be our regional provincial playdown foes. Did I mention in three games this year our aggregate score against this team is 21-3 and we’re on the wrong side of the equation? Realistically, we need a monumental effort if we wish to advance. Cue the pre-game speech from “Miracle” or some other such call to arms. My all-time favourite movie is Henry V and maybe it’s time for a pre-series viewing of the St. Crispin’s Day speech, as our early odds of victory are somewhat similar to those of Henry’s overmatched charges preparing to take on the French.
I do, as always, hold out hope for our band of underdogs. Hope they can rise to the occasion and pull off an upset. Hope we get to watch a few more games. Cuz I, for one, am still not quite ready for it all to be over. We do have a whole buncha practices between now and the end of March, but those just ain’t the same when there are no actual games to prepare for and no tryouts for next season on the horizon. Then again it’s time on the ice, which is better than the alternative and we’ll make the best of it…try to get a few chuckles in along the way. Tick, tock…
One more high-strung idiot doing his best to give the rest of us hockey dads a bad name. I mean, really dude? Way to go Paul!
Been a little while since I wrote anything here and there’s a whole bunch of reasons/excuses I want to convince myself are responsible as work, life and hockey have collided on multiple fronts of late; the good, the bad and sometimes ugly as they say. This is by no means meant to be a pity party, however, there’s been a bit more of the latter two conditions than the former for my liking. In years past, hockey has always been the escape mechanism. Hitting the ice for practice, watching either the Boy or the Devil kids play games and just having fun playing those games has provided welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of everything else. Unfortunately, the last month or so has seen the hockey and everything else getting all mixed up in one big blurry mess. To the point, where I can honestly say for a bit there I wasn’t really looking forward to visiting the rink. Rather, I was welcoming a short Christmas break from the everything. Aaand, as luck would have it, my stocking was filled with a nasty case of the flu rendering me virtually immobile for a week (insert sympathetic gasps or groans here). So bad, in fact, I missed three of my own rec hockey games, though the last may have had something to do with the dramatic final game of the the World Junior Hockey Championships between Canada and Russia. I was schedule to make my return to the ice at 10:30pm last Monday night. At 9:15pm, the score was 5-1 Canada and I had my hockey bag at the door and was ready to return to rec league action. A mere 10 minutes later, Russia cut the lead to 5-4 at which point the Devil asked, “You’re not really going to miss the rest of this game are you Dad?” Nuff said and I remained couch bound until I heard the Canadian anthem denoting a triumph for the home side after a nervous final frame.
On the other personal hockey front, I knew before we started there would be on-ice challenges with our team this season, but I was hopeful and optimistic of an overall successful campaign on the strength of having a good group of girls; who I and my staff would work on getting on the same page. To date, and particularly lately, there have been more challenges than successes. Anyone who knows me, or has read my ramblings over the last few years, knows hockey success for me is not synonymous with winning. Rather, I just want to make sure I’m keeping the team on an even keel, providing a positive influence and seeing to it the majority of players are having fun. The last couple of weeks haven’t been much fun. Of course, winning a few games here or there or at least competing has a way of making things a whole lot more enjoyable. In the last 14 games we’ve only managed one of those ever-elusive Ws, combined with a whole bunch of less attractive Ls; many of which are have been of the lopsided variety. Losing has become a bit contagious. Once behind, momentum quickly becomes our greatest foe. An antidote is admittedly becoming increasingly difficult to concoct. The optimal place to work on a cure is practice, however, those have been sporadically attended, perhaps likewise due to the lack of on-ice success. Losing breeds apathy, particularly in older teens who have a bunch of other ways to occupy their time (see school, jobs, boys and families).
A few weeks ago, I and one of my assistants decided to lighten the mood by staging a shaving-protest who’s end is contingent on two consecutive wins for our side. Much to Momma’s ongoing chagrin, by Decembeard continues to flourish well into Januhairy. I do continue to hope to become reacquainted with a razor sooner rather than later. Perhaps a little help from the Hockey Gods is in order.
One of the primary frustrations with this team has been the promise and flashes of brilliance they’ve shown from time-to-time. Our biggest enemy has been consistency; which is to say, three full periods of hockey played by the entire group at a level these girls have proven they are capable. As a coach, I can’t help but feel at least part of the answer hinges on motivation; meaning my/our ability to motivate consistent effort, at the heart of which is positivity. I can and have hearkened back to a previous team who went from worst to first in a relatively short period of time.
Back in real life, the first weeks of the New Year has dealt a couple of sobering shots across my mortal bow, reminding me of the importance of making hockey fun the priority; for me and my players, particularly the one wearing #8. The Devil remains the primary reason I want to go to the rink, regardless the Ls or Ws. Hockey, he says to himself knowingly, is and must be held high as pure fun balanced against sometimes harsh work/life realities.