Trying Tryouts

I’ve held off writing this one so as not to jinx the Boy who spent the past couple of weeks (minus a few days) in Midget rep tryouts.  While some kids his age have given up hockey in favour of jobs, girls, etc. and not necessarily in that order; the Boy’s still got the competitive itch.  Though he didn’t say it I believe he was still hopeful of moving up a level to AA this year. He’s been an A player on the cusp of playing AA for the last six years.  Or maybe that’s just a hockey dad talking. Perhaps all he really wants to do is have fun playing with his buddies, which is really just as, if not more important, in the grand scheme of things.

Putting bias as far off to the side as I can, I believe he looked good relative to all the others trying out starting with the preliminary tryouts/mini-camp back in the Fall.   But the AA tryouts presented two challenges – lots of players/competition and players from two different age groups; 16 and 17 year olds with the Boy in the former, younger group. The first set of evaluations were broken down into two scrimmages of about 30 players per skate including a whopping 13 goalies competing for five goalie spots on three rep teams.  The Boy could at least count himself lucky for not being a keeper. The first skate went well with only a few standouts from my perspective.  The Boy held his own as he generally does.  In a scrimmage situation, there are few who will question his determination.

For the next evaluation, the younger hopefuls were off to an exhibition game against a nearby town running tryouts of their own.  It seemed the coach was trying to see which of the younger players might step to the fore in a game situation.  Because it was a game, mom decided to accompany me for her first glimpse at the process.  Of course, only a few minutes into this game, on the Boy’s fourth or fifth shift, he was pushed from behind in open ice and fell awkwardly on his left shoulder.  He was able to get up and skate to the bench, but you could tell some damage had been done – the left arm hung low.  The old adage, the bigger they are the harder they fell rang true.  At the end of the period he was ushered off the ice with mom, the certified trainer, in close pursuit. He laboured to take off his gear while we wondered if his collar bone or some other part of that general area was broken.  He was definitely in some discomfort.   4 1/2 hours and an x-ray later an ER doc was able to report that in fact nothing was broken.  However a sprain of the acromioclavicular (AC) joint would put a damper on tryouts for the next 5-7 days. The Boy’s chances of making the AA team were certainly compromised and the A evaluations were slotted to start in only four days leaving little time for a full recovery.  A quick conversation with the AA coach revealed that he would be hard pressed to crack the AA lineup, which would likely be dominated by older players, in any case.

Now hopeful to make the A team, we took the Boy to a sports medicine clinic for an evaluation and opinion on when he may be ok to go back on the ice.  His first skate was to be only six days after the night of the injury. The physio exam revealed a loss of strength and some lingering tenderness, however some treatment and mandated exercises showed promise. It was decided after a conversation with the A coach that he would miss his first skate, but make every effort to make an appearance for the last two tryouts. While the A coach would take his past performance into account, optics still required him to compete for a position.

As luck would have it, the third skate would not include any contact with more of a focus being placed on skills and goalies. And yet the Boy found a way, during a three on one drill, to fall and land on his wonky left shoulder.  I may have chuckled out loud at the irony of the situation, which raised the ire of some hockey moms sitting in front of me. The Boy took a quick rest at the direction of the coach. I was happy to see him return to the ice shortly thereafter.  The moms still let me have it for my momentary indiscretion.

The fourth and final session for those competing for spots on the A squad was to be a full-contact scrimmage. I told the Boy to play smart; keep your head up. As the Boy and his scrimmage side hit the ice, it appeared he was with the stronger and perhaps already chosen group; meaning the other was comprised of players battling for a couple of final spots. This situation was not lost on the players who’ve been trying out like this for several years. The Boy said after the tryout that one player who inadvertently walked into the wrong dressing room with the “chosen players” quickly looked around and quipped “Uh oh, we’re f%$#ed!”  The Boy, for his part, played smart and was decidedly cautious with good reason. On one particular occasion he had an opportunity to deliver a hit – he thought better of it; later claiming he would have “crushed that kid.”

And so, in the end, the lad returns for a seventh consecutive season of A hockey. He’s pleased that a few of his teammates from last year and other friends he hasn’t played on a team with for a while will be teammates this season. In all he figures they have a pretty strong squad with a mix of younger and a few older players.  The first practice is tomorrow night…the first game a few days later.  We hope the shoulder will be close to 100 percent for that opening tilt.  The already completed schedule shows several familiar late night games both at home and away.  With me on the Devil’s bench, mom is fretting some of the games she will no doubt have drive to after the snow falls.  We’ll split the duties whenever we can.  I will want to get to as many games as possible, knowing his minor hockey days are fleeting.

That being said, I can tell you that none of us will miss the stress of tryouts any time soon.


Tests and Turmoil

The Sharks competed in a tournament over the last three days, which provided a pretty wide range of experience, learning and positive signs for the future; although it certainly didn’t start that way.

In game one, the girls faced a formidable foe from the Far North – Sault Ste. Marie.  I told our team before the game that a strong effort would keep them in it as it had in our first game.  However, from the start, we could tell this team had been together for a while.  They were a skilled, familiar group.  Their ability to pass the puck and generate scoring chances was admittedly at another level.  We were able to keep the game close at 1-0 after the first period, but we were all searching for ways to slow them down while also creating some offence of our own. Answers unfortunately wouldn’t come and Sault Ste. Marie wouldn’t not be abated.   After the sixth goal our unrelenting opponent would score I looked to our goaltender with thoughts of relieving her, but she gave me a knowing nod signalling that she would stick it out for better or worse.  One more puck would find its way behind her.  Definitely not the start we had hoped for.  Yet, we took some solace in the fact that our charges did not give up. While discouraged, they were not beaten.

Before game two I asked my charges to wipe the first contest from their memories. Wipe they did as the second game would mark a reversal of fortune. This time our players were unrelenting in skating to a 4-0 victory. A victory which left many of us wondering which game was more representative of the level of competition.  How would our game two opponent fare against the northern squad who had their way with us?

At the end of day one, I would come to learn that one of our next opponents lost their game against Sault Ste. Marie 8-1.  It wasn’t a stretch to say one team appeared to have entered the wrong level tournament.  Every other team in our tournament was within a couple of goals in their weekend games.  It quite often happens that northern teams are strong in pulling the cream of the crop players from a large geographic area and having to play primarily against male competition.  A team like this may get re-qualified at a higher level before the season begins if they continue to dominate by a wide margin.

Game three for the Sharks would bring a whole different set of challenges. The first came in the form of a dearth of players.  We were missing one due to injury, another due to illness, a third to a semi-final league soccer game and the last to a last minute commitment.  All had legitimate reasons for missing the game, but it put the team in a bit of a bind in terms of reserves. Quick shifts were rule #1 in an effort to preserve energy.  The second, compounding challenge was an arguably over-zealous referee.  I am not one to blame referees for unfavourable game results, but in this case he was certainly a factor.  From the beginning of the game, our squad dominated the play. We had several scoring chances, one of which was converted. Then a one-sided penalty parade of epic proportions began. Our team was assessed seven consecutive penalties, we spent much of the contest playing three vs. five and would end up with 27 minutes in penalties vs. 6 minutes for the other team.  Even shorthanded the team was able to generate scoring chances with their determined, if not exhausted effort.  However, our opponents would even the score on a five on three opportunity.

The game would remain tied until a couple of minutes left in the third when our now favourite referee would assess a body contact penalty coupled with a game suuspension to one of our defenders.  While a penalty had admittedly occured, the infraction was not worthy of a game suspension.  In arguing the call, our team was assessed a further two minute bench minor penalty and our depleted squad would be forced to finish down five players to three again.  As chance would have it, a shot launched from the point by the other team struck the Devil’s skate in front of the net and scooted by our goalie.  Post game, the Devil tried to take full responsibility for the loss, but she was hardly to blame as her teammates were quick to point out.  Our point of victory in such a loss was the level of effort our limited squad put forth in the face of adversity.

In the fourth and final game this morning, we would again be down three players, but perhaps more troubling for some was the appearance of the aforementioned official.  We hoped game three was an anomaly, but really knew better.  Without getting into brutal detail, our penalty count from the game before was eclipsed by 9 minutes with two players being tagged with game misconducts for again questionable hits from behind.  Only this time the other team joined in the fun, with their own deluxe passes to the sin bin. We again dominated play for the most part, only to skate away with a 1-1 tie. Any game flow was quashed by the unending whistle blowing.

At the end of the weekend, the tournament from my perspective served it purpose. The players played hard, spirited hockey throughout, dealt with some adversity and I believe grew a little closer together as a team as a result.  Our coaching staff was also able to identify areas where we need some work.  That’s what these early season tournaments are for.  To measure your side against a variety of competition and to prepare for the season to come.  I remain quite pleased as I was following our first exhibition game.   We’ve a good group of players who are showing a desire to compete.  That’s at least half the battle.


One down and many to go

A little over a week has passed for the Sharks and I.  We now have three practices and a game under our combined belt. Things have progressed well following our first questionable on-ice experience.  There’s lots of work to do as there always is, but early indications are quite positive.  In fact, game one was a very pleasant surprise.

You never really know what level your team is at until you face some competition against which to compare yourself. This is why we have exhibition games; as live measuring sticks if you will.  Our first game on the weekend was on the road against a town that perennially ices strong sides.  There was a little trepidation on my part with it being the “first” game,  not knowing exactly what to expect from my collection of players from different backgrounds or the likewise relatively unknown opposition.  I did wishfully note that players entering the home team’s dressing were comparably small in relation to our competitors. The opposite would have been duly and more severely noted as a harbinger of a tougher challenge.  My pre-game speech to my charges was pretty straightforward.  This is our first game. Our first opportunity to play together and familiarize ourselves with one another.  My primary request in this game as a pre-cursor to the season in general was a full and honest effort.  Mistakes would undoubtedly be made, which were expected…which were actually welcomed as a learning/teaching opportunity.  I told them everyone makes mistakes. The best teams are the one who learn from them.  So again, the key message was effort.  Set a tone for the season against a team we are likely to face several times during the regular season and beyond.  Let them know a game against the Sharks will always be a hard fought one.

I’m happy to report that my message seemed to resonate from the very first puck drop.  Our first line of forwards pushed ahead into the offensive zone and stayed there for nearly a full minute. The next line picked up where they left off, pinning our backpedalling opponents in their own end.  Much of the first period was spent there as line after line fore-checked with vigour as they’d been instructed.  Perhaps more surprising was how well the girls played together…looking for each other and making some passes. A fine tic-tac-toe passing play from defence to forward to forward at the beginning of the second period resulted in our first goal. Many more scoring opportunities would present themselves, which would in turn reveal one of the only negatives from our side of the contest as none would be converted.  There would also be a defensive zone lapse in the middle of the second period, which would be addressed at the end.   As we entered the third of three 15 minute periods we all noticed some decidedly sluggish skating; no doubt a product the Summer break.  The tenacity did not leave, just the breath behind it. As unluck would have it, the home team would pick up an equalizer with about 4 1/2 minutes left on a scramble in front of our net.  The game would end 1-1, but was a decided victory in my mind.

I told the team post-game that they set their bar pretty high in their first contest.  Now the coaching staff knows how hard they can play and will expect the same from here on in.  I also told them similar efforts would ensure the opportunity to win each and every game. Time will, of course and as always, tell the full story in that regard.