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
Fatherhood is hard. Yeah, there, I said it. Trumped only marginally by motherhood because of a nine-month gestation period and several agonizing hours of labour pain, we admittedly ill-equipped male halves of the species are charged by the Universe with helping procreate, nurture, protect and raise complex bundles of life from conception through the terrible twos, the teen years and ultimately into adulthood.
So where, we plead, is the operating manual for this Herculean task? Where might we find the cosmic instruction sheet or YouTube video on how to do all of this correctly; if there even is such a thing? If these paternal tomes exist, I certainly haven’t been privy to them, nor have I spoken with anyone who has. Rather, each of us is left to our own devices, our often questionable masculine intuition and what we can pick up from our own fathers, forefathers, friends, peers and otherwise experienced dads. For instance, my dad instilled an appreciation for all things sport in me. He’s also, no doubt, largely responsible for my competitive nature. He drove me to countless arenas both near and far for hockey practices and games when I was but a wee lad (insert short joke of your choice here for comic relief.) I’ve obviously followed quite closely in his footsteps.
However, the Dad Gods have also blessed me with a superb role model whose fatherly instincts are beyond reproach. You see, I have this friend who I can confidently say qualifies as a bona fide Super Dad. A man whose devotion, commitment and pride in his Boys is, in my estimation, equaled by few (present company excluded). And yes, I know lots of dads go above and beyond for their kids (present company now included), but this guy has consistently set the bar ridiculously high for the rest of us. From the moment each of his sons were born, he has sacrificed time and time again to bring his kids up properly, to steadfastly teach them right from wrong, to ensure they grew up to be fine upstanding young men. In this he has succeeded in spades and his pride shines through whenever he speaks about them or their personal accomplishments to date.
If you look up “dedication” in the dictionary, I’m positive you’ll find my buddy’s smiling mug. Some sports parents feverishly throw together pre or post-game snacks for their kids as they head out the door to the next field or arena. This guy literally spends hours filling coolers to the brim with homemade epicurean wonders; like 48 char-broiled, chicken souvlakis, a few dozen individually prepared spinach and pepper frittatas or mangos slices pared just so in order to maximize their tropical sweetness. His Boys, along with their no doubt salivating teammates, needed to eat and eat well they did.
Lots of dads take a little time off work to cheer at most of their kids’ games. My buddy has been known to drive five hours in one direction then back again to make sure he didn’t miss a minute of either Boy’s competition. All, of course, regardless the cost of food, gas, his time or anything else which might otherwise be a deterrent. On more than one occasion, I’ve tried to see if he slipped up, so I could catch a glimpse of the red cape I suspect he’s been tucking under his collar.
And never mind his own kids, this dude is everyone’s favourite uncle. Each child naturally drawn in by his larger-than-life spirit and genuine caring nature. Or perhaps it was the sincerely appreciated, albeit unnecessary Christmas presents he delivered every year without fail or the $5 he’d leave under their pillows for the gracious loans of their beds to save him a late-night drive home. On several occasions he’d show up at a rink to watch the Boy or Devil play as he’d also done more than once for other friends’ kids. Post game he was their biggest fan (present company excluded for a second time.) Unca Poobs is quite simply the best!
The only real blemish on this gentleman’s sparkling resume is the time he ruined the Holidays by tackling a certain family’s Christmas tree and in so doing crushing several cherished ornaments. In his defence, the Scotch Pine had been needling him the entire evening and the host of the yuletide event was eggnogging him on. This transgression was quickly forgotten.
In the fatherly helper category, he’s also come in handy. For instance, on one occasion he deftly suggested the Devil consider substituting her somewhat provocative teenage apparel choice for a burlap bag and some binder twine, so an not to attract any pre-pubescent admirers. What father wouldn’t appreciate this kind of sensible fashion advice?
Right now, my dear friend is going though a pretty rough time (#fuckcancer), yet even in this, his ability to inspire only grows. His current circumstances are hardly keeping him from cheering on the sidelines of blustery November rugby matches. Whatever he’s feeling on the inside is tucked bravely away as he stoically roots his lads and their teams on. An opportunity to teach lesson in courage and perseverance is not lost on him
Overall, I think I’ve been a pretty decent dad, an accomplishment I owe in no small part to the example set by my fellow father. Thanks for helping me figure out how to do a fair chunk of this Brother. Methinks we done did good.
p.s. A GoFundMe campaign has been established here https://www.gofundme.com/eh96uwz8 for my friend to help cover some of his medical expenses. Please check it out and consider donating if you’re so inclined.
p.s.s. On a broader, related note, if you have another extra sec and can spare an extra shekel or two, bounce over to my #Movember page at https://mobro.co/imahockeydad to me help kick cancer’s ass and support men’s health. All us men-folk would be ever so grateful.