Sometimes the Hockey is Pleasantly Secondary

This past weekend was a great example of how hockey can be an excellent backdrop and excuse to simply get away to have some fun.  Our family spent the weekend in Niagara Falls where the Boy took part in a Summer tournament. Where else would you expect me to spend Father’s Day?  You naturally go into any tournament wanting to win, but the emphasis in this case, as it should be in the majority of situations, was on having fun – both for the Boys and their families in tow.

Upon dropping our Boy off at the front door of the first arena on Friday afternoon, we made our way to the back of the parking lot to join several other hockey moms and dads in some Summer hockey tail-gating.  As I scanned the parking lot I could see pop-up trailers, RVs, bbq-flavoured smoke rising from well-prepared grills and multi-colored, ice-filled coolers.  The general rule is to arrive one-hour before game-time, which leaves plenty of time to pop open the back door of the van, turn on some music, sit back in a lawn chair, sip a cold beverage and wonder what the unfortunate working people are doing.  It was almost difficult to rise up and head to the rink to watch the game as puck-drop drew near.  And such would be the case over the next few days as the temperatures rose and the beverages seemingly got colder or at least certainly more refreshing.

The rest of the weekend included a surprisingly efficient and affordable team dinner, a customary trip to see one of the Wonders of the World, a pre-game round for a few fathers including yours truly on a phenomenal golf course, purposely missed late-night curfews and two white-knuckled walks for me and the Devil thru a couple of Niagara Falls’ finest haunted houses. I’m confident the feeling should come back to my over-gripped hand any day now.

And oh yeah, there was a little hockey mixed in there too.  The hockey portion of the weekend saw the Boys play to a 1-1-1 round robin record putting them firmly in 5th place entering the playoff round.  All of the games were close and they could have just as easily been 3-0.  They would fall 3-1 in their first playoff game, which relegated them to battle it out for 7th, which they were able to secure with a 4-0 victory to end on a high note. It may have just been me, but it seemed the fun had outside the rink found its way onto the ice – win or lose.

The original plan in putting this team together was to enter two tournaments, with Niagara being the second. But at the end of day two Boys and parents alike were talking about looking for a third opportunity to hang out and maybe play/watch some hockey.  And to be clear, a few more wins than losses will certainly be welcomed. For some this will perhaps become more of a priority as the real season draws near.  I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in hoping the fun stays the primary focus.


Team Building Plus

One of my team building goals for the Devil’s team this season was to get the players involved in some sort of community or charity-based event.  The Boy’s teams have always seemed to do something like this, but the same has been lacking on the girls side.  I had mentioned this to the Devil herself before our first official team meeting. She suggested that we find a charity walk to participate in; which seemed appropriate for a sports team.  In fact, she even did a little research and identified a couple of  local walks including one in support of Juvenile Diabetes – again I thought an appropriate choice. I kept that notion in my back pocket as an option, but wanted to present the entire concept to my parent group to see if they had any other ideas.  Other possibilities that popped to my mind were a Christmas toy drive, which the Boy had done in previous years or a charity hockey game where we would charge an admission fee for one of home regular season matches then invite friends and relatives to attend with the cause in mind and their wallets in hand.

Having proposed the idea to the team, it took only one day to identify a clear and quite coincidental winner.  Unbeknownst to me, one of my chosen goalies with whom I’d had no previous history because she is from out of town, was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes at the age of three.  Her mother asked if we would be interested in participating in the aforementioned walk, which was decided on without hesitation. This walk would serve the multiple purposes of team building, sponsoring a very worthy cause, educating our young ladies about the disease and ultimately supporting a teammate. The importance of the latter was not lost on me or several others, who stepped up in numbers to raise funds and awareness. I was pleased to have all 17 members of the team and several parents make themselves available pretty early on a less-than-sunny, Summer Sunday morning. Only a last minute flu bug got in the way of us having a full squad.  Even our injured player showed up with a wheelchair in tow to be pushed around the relatively short, though occasionally bumpy, 5k course.  There was no shortage of volunteer drivers – a couple of whom thought wheelchair wheelies would be a grand idea. The helpless passenger’s shrieks would indicate otherwise.  Though the shrieks would, of course, only prompt more wheelies.

I was able to procure some jerseys from our hockey association for the walk. We looked great as a group in red, white, blue and yellow with trademark Sharks on our chests if I do say so.  Even an event organizer commented that it was awesome to see a full  team taking part and thanked us for attending. We made our way through the walk without incident, though there were some nervous moments when the entire team decided to jump up and down on a floating dock out on the lake prior to an ideal photo op.

On the team building front, I thought the girls started to gel…at least a little…and as expected.  There are still a few who have or haven’t played together before who tended to either stick together or keep to themselves. In all, it feels like we have a good group.  I think it was a solid start with an excellent cause as a backdrop. The girls did a good thing. They should all be proud of their efforts.  Some smiles and giggles around hot dogs and watermelon at the end proved that they had some fun to boot. For some, like the Devil, that fun included a jumping castle and inflatable slide.  Yup, my kid is 13 going on 7 and I’m just fine with that…thank you very much.

Next up, a little optional dry land training, scheduled for once a week throughout the Summer, where they can commiserate as a group in their expected muscle and mental fatigue.

#imahockeydad #imahockeycoach

We Battled to the Bitter End

Last weekend went pretty much as expected for yours truly and my STICK U teammates at our ball hockey tourney. Actually we got off to an unexpected start as the skies opened and lightning flashed on the morning of the 5th Walter Gretzky event – delaying our first game by a half hour or so.  When we finally got started with our thrown together squad against a crew called the Sausage Chasers we were only able to get in half a 20 minute game before the flashes from above returned to further postpone what, for us, was a pretty good start.  We actually led 1-0 and would come out of the rain delayed in a 1-1 tie. Not bad considering our mixed bag of talent, including a basketball/rugby phenom turned hockey rookie, a goaltender with little to no competitive experience and a few of us 40-somethings.  I think we all felt buoyed by the possibility of chasing the Sausage Chasers into a game one defeat.  However, we’ll use the rain delay as an excuse to explain the final 4-1 tally, which wasn’t in our favour.  Our opponents scored a questionable second goal, which we all thought should have been whistled down, with our goalie scrambling to secure a loose puck. This goal to take the lead served to shake our concentration/confidence just enough to allow a third and then fourth marker.  Post rain, the playing surface also got pretty slick.  The Boy earned a giant raspberry on his knee. A fellow hockey dad showed off a nicely scraped elbow of his own.  A text message to the Boy’s mom following the game had her wondering if a trip to the ER was required.  The Boy didn’t even want to clean it, but was convinced or coerced otherwise by a saner teammate/father.

Ball Hockey Induced Raspberry

Beleaguered, but not beaten, we retired to tailgates and lawn chairs to “rest up” for game two. And by rest up I mean eat a couple of burgers, down a few pops (of the wobbly variety – for the dads at least) and complain a little more about game one.  4+ hours gave us plenty of time to contemplate the good and the bad of our first contest. The good took the form of stellar goaltending by our relative emergency replacement keeper aka my brother-in-law. For a kid (he’s 26) who has never really played hockey outside of the driveway variety, he stood on his head. On one particular save even the ref standing beside me temporary fence/makeshift boards exclaimed, “How did he get to that one?”  The lads performance throughout the tournament would be an impressive surprise.

Ball Hockey Goalie

In game two against a squad called the Iceholes, we came out sticks a-blazing and quickly took a two goal lead, which we held carrying a 3-1 margin into the second half of the game.  Then, I think it is safe to say the proverbial wheels came off or maybe our relative lack of subs vs. our competitors took its toll.  When our opponents tied the game at three I think we could all feel it slipping away, but we weren’t able to do anything about it.  On the sidelines, I pleaded with one of my teammates to back-check, but that was much easier to say than physically do.  The final nail in the comback coffin was placed with under two minutes left in the match. STICK U would fall to 0-2.

While any playoff aspirations had been dashed by the second loss, we were still hopeful for our last game the next morning, slated to be played against a team called the Boozehounds. Surely that would bode well for us if the team stayed true to their monicker the night before an early Sunday morning contest. And yet, we also knew the challenge would increase as three of our nine players would not be available for the final test of the weekend.

We six brave remaining soldiers re-energized with food and drink at a local watering hole while we watched game two of the Stanley Cup Finals. What else would you expect a bunch of wannabe jocks to do when their not playing.  We decided one period of cheering (for opposite teams I might add) in the bar was enough in light of our 8:30am wake up call.  Most of us watched the Canucks defeat the Bruins, while one weary teammate sawed logs.  Personally speaking, forty-year-old calves and hamstrings were already starting to feel the effects of running around on the tarmac a few hours previous.

In less than 12 hours, those effects would be ever more exaggerated. Running for another 20 minutes wouldn’t seem like a smart thing to do.  But, to steal line from Henry V, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” soldiered on and into game three.  The other team, 13 strong, sympathized with our numbers and chuckled when I asked if any of them cared to slip on a red STICK U jersey.  Their sympathy would soon turn to cautious respect as we were able to keep the score knotted at ones and then twos through the first half of the game.  Unfortunately, we started to hear a familiar tune as our depleted charges slowly gave way to fresher opposition legs. The game ended in a similar fashion to its predecessors with us on the wrong end of 5-3.

We battled hard from our four runners and single sub to our still over-achieving backstop.  We felt no shame. There was more annoyance as we felt that with a couple more players we could have taken any of the three teams we faced.  We also reflected on our nearly opposite 2-1 record in the same tourney last year. While we’ve no illusions about our level of play (we are in the Adult Rec Division after all), we still think we can, nay should, win every game – the competitive fires still burn bright. That same flame was evident in the Boy who questioned the refs and recalled missed opportunities that could have turned the tide in our favour in each match. Even rec ball hockey losses sting.  It’s become readily obvious that he’s his father’s son.

We’ve already plans to go back to defend our honour with ample reinforcements in tow. The invites are going out today.  STICK U will return.