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.