Lights, Camera, Go Sharks Go!

The Devil and her Sharks teammates were in the spotlight this week following their big hometown tourney victory. Check out their local 6pm sportscast appearance at the 55:00 minute mark below. Warning – there is some awfully high-pitched screaming at the end of this clip, which may harm the listener and/or small dogs within earshot.



A Tale of Two Teams or So It Seems

Meahwhile, the Boy’s team is on an enigmatic carnival ride of its own.  Dating back to a 6-2 loss  little over a week ago against a team they certainly should be beating. In their defence they were coming off a one-week layoff.  The squad appears to have developed a somewhat troubling rhythm of late which sounds eerily like good games/bad games/good games/bad games.  I sympathize with the Boy’s coach who must be roundly befuddled at the Jeckyll and Hyde bunch he watches take to the ice from one game to the next. There has been some paint peeling from what we’ve heard; with good reason in my humble opinion.  Generally speaking I think a team of under-performing 16 and 17 year old boys can benefit and perhaps will respond positively to a strongly delivered wake up call.

They followed up their 6-2 loss with a 10-2 victory, albeit against the 10th place team in their 12-team league.  That game was, in turn, followed by what was described as an inspiring effort on the right side of a 6-2 score against a team ahead of them in the standings. After a somewhat slow start the Colts need to put together a winning streak in order to avoid entering the playoffs as a constant visitor against teams above them in the standings. Another line of thought is for them to finish low and catch the others off guard when the games really matter. But I’m sure we’d all like to see a little more consistency before that time comes.

After a scheduling SNAFU, which saw them miss and forfeit the first game of a nearby tourney on the weekend, the Boys turned in what I am told was one of their most lackluster performances of the year, falling 3-2 to a presumably mismatched opponent who only iced nine of the standard 15 players.  The Boys took the game for granted, letting it slip away in the third period.  In their third and final tournament game, which unfortunately was moot from an advancement perspective based on two previous losses, Team Hyde showed up to dominate in a 3-0 victory.

To round out the week, they would meet their 10-2 victims again, but this time the Jekylls surfaced to squander an obvious opportunity to win with an underwhelming 2-2 tie.  Lots of shots in the other goalie’s chest; plenty of passes poorly delivered and received.

In looking at the rest of the regular season schedule, it would appear to favour more wins than losses against “weaker” opponents, but they must play the games for a reason; particularly with this lot, who are making every contest interesting.

Mom and the Boy are also off on a trip to the Near North for a tourney the weekend after next with an opportunity for the lads to gain a berth in the annual International Silver Stick competition.  Here’s hoping they correct their tune in time to play a few of those “good games” in a row to secure their spot and some momentum for the home stretch.


More Highs and Lows

I’m finding out quickly that being a minor hockey coach, in addition to being a hockey dad, is akin to riding roller coasters to borrow an oft-used, and in this case, highly appropriate metaphor.  In the last week alone, my young Sharks team has hit some fantastic high notes and some equally amplified lows.

Early in the week our team’s home-town tournament victory was heralded on the front sports page of the local newspapers complete with colour photos Barrie  The articles were no doubt clipped and magnetically attached to the fridges in several players’ homes, while others passed links along to distant friends and relatives.  To push our notoriety a step further, a local TV sports journalist, having seen the positive press, decided to reach out to offer an “Athlete of the Week” honour to one of our shining athletes.  On a team who’s success has been primarily driven by their ability to play as a unit, it was truly difficult to single out one member, but I did so judiciously I believe. Our next practice became the focus of pre-skate interviews and a post-practice presentation of the coveted award amidst the high-pitched cheers of the honourees comrades. Of course, The Athlete of the Week segment airs tomorrow night when we’ll all be on the road or on our way back from an away game, so the PVRs and YouTube will have to come to the rescue.

The aforementioned practice itself left something to be desired as the distraction of the television camera appeared to have a distinct affect on the girls’ abilities to pass, receive and/or shoot the puck.  The coaching staff and I hoped this was merely distraction and not a full-blown victory hangover with a critical game against a bitter rival scheduled only a couple of days away.

The match against the bitter rival actually went quite well, though we had to settle for a 1-1 tie, which was only secured in the final five minutes of the contest. As usual, the ladies out-hustled and out-played their counterparts for a majority of the game, yet were only able to put one lone shot beyond their able keeper.  That said, a tie in enemy territory is obviously preferable to a loss.

Fast forward a couple of days to a game versus one of the apparent top teams in the league.  It’s taken me a few days just to digest, though not quite fully or comfortably absorb, the events of last Saturday afternoon, which is really just one lost game in the grand scheme of things.  Before the game, I was sure to instill the notion that we were up against a formidable opponent.  I knew from previewing the standings that this side had put up some big scores against other teams in the league to date.  I also reminded everyone we need to start winning some regular season games if we hope to rise from our current cellar-dweller status.  These messages seemed to be heard loud and clear as the Sharks went on the offensive from the get-go.  Constant pressure seem to stun the visitors who were slow and relatively weak to respond. The first period ended with our side ahead 1-0, a lead which was then doubled by the end of the second.  At our level of hockey a not-necessarily-wanted break to flood the ice is taken between the second and third frames. We retired to the dressing room, hoping to maintain the focus which produced the results to this point.

Now they say a two-goal lead is the worst thing to have in hockey.  A single goal in response cuts the lead in half. Then a tying goal brings the panic of a decided momentum shift.  Knowing this, I tried to say all the “right” things in the dressing room.  “Play smart, aggressive, but defensive hockey.”  “Don’t let your goalie down now.”  “Keep the pedal to the metal.”  “The other team is going to come out with a vengeance so be prepared.”  A mere 15 minutes later I was staring a the scoreboard in disbelief as the clock struck 0:00. The board read Home 2 — Visitors 3.  It felt like there was nothing I could have done to stop it – try as I may with pleas seemingly falling on deaf, or at least, muzzled ears.  Added to the drama was a failed penalty shot with 30 seconds left, which would have knotted the score at two.  While less so, at that point, even a tie would have stung following the terrific two-period start.  Opportunity lost indeed.

I’m sure there were some who hoped I would go back into the dressing room to proverbially peel the paint off the walls.  But as I walked in to address the beleaguered throng, I could see most players were as stunned as I. To be sure, the gravity of the situation was not lost on anyone.  I said, “I don’t get mad often, but I’m a little mad right now. More so, I’m disappointed.”  I could sense hearing I was disappointed hit a sharper chord versus simple, assumed anger.

Of course, all we can do is learn from our mistakes; take lessons from our failures.  We’ll see what, if any, effect this loss has on our team’s growth and development. Halfway through our regular season, we have only one win, five losses and three ties, which places us firmly at the bottom of the standings, though not out of reach of those above us. The frustrating part to date has been the competitiveness of our team in every game but one. We’ll focus on this positive to buoy their efforts.  Perhaps this latest loss will leave an indelible mark only to be removed with renewed vigor in future contests.  I guess we’ll see tomorrow night when the Sharks brace as they reach the next crest of the wave.

As for the Athlete of the Week, her segment airs tomorrow night at 6:15 and 11:20 when we’ll all be on the road or on our way back from an away game, so the PVRs and YouTube will have to come to the rescue.


10 Telltale Signs of a Hockey Dad

If you’ve begrudgingly or otherwise experienced any of the items in the list below…….you may be a Hockey Dad.  For the record, I have either performed or witnessed all of these in the past three months.  We Hockey Dads are a special, beautifully flawed breed.

1. Broke land speed records and at least three Highway Traffic Act laws to get from one rink to another to see the last five minutes of your other kid’s game.


2. Rushed to the local Emergency Room to deal with a hockey-related injury including, but not limited, to:

  • a sprained shoulder sustained in an ice-crashing, thud during an exhibition/tryout game
  • a potentially fractured nose, the result of an errant slap shot launched at your own unprotected and obviously unsuspecting face during extra practice on the driveway
  • a leg lacerated by a misguided, skate blade requiring three inner and eight outer stitches
  • a badly bruised elbow coupled with a well-struck funny bone that certainly wasn’t all that funny


3. Arrived home after work on a night you didn’t have a hockey game, hockey practice or hockey-related meeting and proceeded to plop yourself on the coach to watch….hockey.


4. Turned around and drove 20 minutes back to your house to retrieve the pucks, stick, jersey, helmet, skates or other necessary piece of equipment “YOU” forgot to pack in the car on the way out the door.


5. Arrived at the rink over three hours early to scout the teams you may be playing later that day.



6. Woke up on a weekend morning, well before the sun, and far earlier than you would during the week to go to work to venture off to a rink for a game or practice.



7. Driven around in near-zero temperatures with all of the minivan windows rolled down and several strategically positioned air fresheners dangling from the roof to combat the stench of particularly malodorous equipment.



8. Lay awake in bed till past 1am reviewing the last game or next practice in your overactive brain.



9. Heard your voice crack like that of a prepubescent school boy as you implore the Boy or the Devil to track down that loose puck or bury the opportunity in the high slot.



10. Spent an inordinate amount of time chronicling your experiences in and out of arenas as a means of virtually commiserating with vast leagues of other parents just like you.



Feel free to add to this list, which is far from definitive, but a good start with which I am certain many Dads who walk in similar shoes to mine can relate.




A Banner Weekend

The Devil and her Shark teammates turned a corner at their home tournament this past weekend treating we, the coaching staff, and their biggest fans, their parents, to four of the best hockey games they’ve played all year culminating in an all-important victory in the Championship game.


2011 Sharkfest Champions

They started the tourney by shattering their scoring woes with a five-goal performance. Which they desperately needed because as quickly as they scored a goal they would turn around and give one up – except for after the last one. The odd thing is we seem to have found a favorite venue as this five net-bulging outburst occurred on the same ice where they last scored a full handful of goals.

Game two presented its own challenges in that our teenage, beauty-sleep craving girls were presented with the first pre-8am ice time they’d seen in a couple of years.  Early morning games are generally reserved for the younger kids, but in tournaments you never know what schedule you might get.  On the way to the rink, the Devil complained, “I feel like a Timbit,” referring to the four and five year old minor hockey players across Canada who are graciously sponsored by the country’s largest coffee shop chain.  In the pre-game warm up our troops looked anything but ready to play.  I implored them to get focused when they gathered at the bench for final instructions.  And then, at the drop of the puck to start the game it was like a switch was turned on. They would only win game two by a score of 1-0, but they were full measure for the effort. For a second game in a row, they played as a solid collective rather than a loosely connected group of individuals.  They looked for and called for passes.  They supported each other at both ends of the ice. Our manager helping out of the bench commented, “We’re starting to see a real team come together.”

Going into game three we were pretty confident we had a playoff spot secured, however a decisive win could propel the team directly into the Final.  I certainly let them all know that in case there should be any question as to the level of effort required.  And so, in the third game they did not disappoint, in a dominant 3-1 win, which could have easily been more lopsided with a few more accurate shots. With the victory we did gain direct entry to the Championship game; awaiting an opponent from a semi-final match between the second and third place squads.

As it turned out we would play our game two opponent again. From my perpective this was not a preferred scenario as it’s generally difficult to beat a team twice in a row.  I knew we had only beaten them 1-0 in our first meeting and they would come out looking for revenge.  Before the final match I reminded our charges how they felt after finishing second in a tournament only a couple of weekends previous.  In trying to raise their emotion level in the dressing room before the game, I was surprised by a muted reaction. They were either quietly focused or unsure of the task at hand.  My bench staff also felt an uneasiness at the mood in the room.  We all hoped for the former mindset. As in game two, we were pleased to watch as the initial puck drop acted as a virtual ON switch.  The Sharks came out hard; dominating the play for the first half of the game. The first goal of the contest came on a breakaway capped by a pretty, patient deke move past a helpless, flailing goalie.

The slim one-goal lead would stand until about five minutes left in the third period when our opponents buried a rebound to make it 1-1.  We did fall back on our heels for the back half of the second and a good part of the third period.  Many teams would have folded up their tents at that point with momentum potentially headed in the other direction. Yet, our girls re-focused their efforts and re-dominated play; finding a way to take a 2-1 lead with just over a minute left in the game.  Of course the story couldn’t just end there as the slim 2-1 lead was put in peril by a tripping penalty taken in our defensive zone with only 50 seconds left.  A quick timeout was taken to again refocus the troops; to remind them to play smart and get the puck out of our end at all costs. With the opposing goaltender on the bench, we faced a shorthanded four on six situation.  Continuing to battle, our four were able to clear the zone as requested, ultimately depositing the puck in the empty net at the other end of the ice. To put icing on the proverbial cake, the ensuing face-off saw our winger streak forward with the puck and fire a laser shot top shelf where Grandma keeps the peanut butter. The final 4-1 score did not do the much closer game justice.

Our jubilant girls streamed onto the ice for the traditional mauling of the goalie followed by a quick presentation to our Captain and Assistants and then finally a series of photos of the victors.

Now we’ll look to carry the momentum of this victory into our next string of regular season games as we look to make our way out of the league’s basement.  This weekend again proved that when we play aggressive, smart hockey as a team we can compete with any team at our level.  A good part of the battle in any sport is gaining the confidence in yourself and your teammates to do whatever is required to win.  It feels like our ladies took some big steps in that direction with some shiny gold medals and a much deserved Championship banner to show for it.


Yes, Hockey Can Be A Dangerous Game

A freak accident claimed the life of a AA Midget hockey player in Alberta last weekend reminding us again that hockey can be dangerous.  But so can football, baseball, lacrosse and walking down the street for that matter. There will, of course, be an investigation, as well there should be to ensure all required equipment was being used. It certainly appears from early indications that it was.  It has already been pointed out that neck guards are mandatory in minor hockey though they are intended to provide protection from sticks and skates, not pucks shot at high velocity. This young man threw himself down to block a shot as he had so many other times before. By all accounts he loved to play hockey. He put his body at risk on several occasions before.   The important thing here is to recognize this was an accident – a horrible tragedy no parent, coach or teammate would ever want or expect to have to endure.

While not nearly as severe, over the last several years I’ve witnessed my fair share of players taken from the ice on a stretcher after having broken legs, arms or having suspected neck or back injuries. The game moves quickly on a slick surface prone to missteps and head-on crashes.

I am sure there are those who will be quick to condemn the sport, saying it is too dangerous for kids to play with its reckless body checking,  hitting from behind and recent epidemic of head shots.

At least some of the blame has to be placed on new equipment which, while indeed more protective also gives players an air of invincibility.  Some claim harder, lighter equipment has come to be used as a weapon in some instances.

More partial blame can certainly be placed on professional hockey from where the younger players draw their cues.  You need only watch a nightly sports reel to see examples of hits from behind, dangerous stick work and typically senseless fights. I am certain the fights we are seeing with some regularity in the Boy’s games are partly fueled by new-found testosterone and partly by the example set by hockey at higher levels.

Steps are being taken to try to make the game safer at the grass roots level – from stop signs on the backs of helmets to new, stringent rules against head contact.  I know the Devil and the Boy have been in games where these new rules have been vigorously enforced; perhaps even to the detriment of the flow of the game, but this will presumably work itself out over time.  Body contact is even increasingly being taken out of minor hockey leagues, though many traditionalists argue against this.  Major junior hockey has been coming down hard on dangerous play with severe suspensions where intent to injure is determined – a trend the NHL could be forced to follow as the careers of their stars like Sidney Crosby are threatened.  Making the game safer at the top should trickle down as its bad habits have to this point.

But any of these changes would not have prevented last weekend’s accident, an unfortunate result of a kid playing the game the way he loved to – trying to help his team by blocking a puck with his mostly-protected body.  Little consolation we know to those he left behind. The next shot to be blocked by his former comrades will no doubt be met with a distinct level of fear and trepidation.  We can only hope they don’t stop loving hockey, which will remain their everlasting tie to their fallen teammate.  I have and will continue to watch my kids play simply assuming they’ll play smart, play safe, stay fortunate and avoid injury.


A Goal Drought Thankfully Ends

The Sharks struggled through a rough last week in going three full games without scoring a goal starting with their 3-0 loss in the tourney championship game last weekend. And it wasn’t like they were playing particularly poorly in two losses and a tie.

In fact, in their first game after the tourney last Tuesday they managed to outplay and out-shoot the over-matched opposition 35-14.  In taking 35 shots, their inability to put one behind the goalie was nearly inexplicable.  At one point about halfway through the game I grasped at my already thinning hair in desperation as I watched a point-blank shot somehow get foiled by a flailing keeper.  That particular shot of course came off the stick of the Devil herself.  We did face some strong goalies and the girls, out of their own apparent desperation, did try to get too close in to take their shots, thereby limiting their angles of opportunity.  Or maybe they gripped their sticks at little too tightly,which is an oft heard hockey malady. But surely 1 out of 35 attempts should be able to weasel its way through. No such luck and yes I would have taken and/or prayed to the hockey gods for a little of that too.

In the next game the girls needed more than luck as they came out of the gate terribly flat. They were challenged by a team who pressured them the way we have been instructing them to pressure others….and they did not respond well.  In what was probably their poorest effort of the season the girls continued to not score while allowing four goals against.

We entered our fourth game in search of a single marker to break through the drought with nary a regular season win to boot.  A record of 0-3-2 positioned us firmly in the basement of our eight-team league. Perhaps the only heartening fact was a quick look at the standings revealed that no squad was particularly dominant or scoring at any type of record pace.  Two goals per game, or more often less, appears to be the norm.  I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that one of our goalies was herself on a three-game shutout streak.  Our rivals haven’t been scoring on us either. But we still encourage our players to get out on their driveways and fire shots at nets, or more specifically the corners of those nets where enemy goalies are less likely to be. Sometimes it certainly feels like the crests on opposing keepers sweaters are mistaken for puck-intended bulls-eyes.

A few minutes into “game four” the seemingly impenetrable seal was broken.  A scramble in front of the other team’s goal mouth ended with our girls disproving the existence of an invisible goal blocking force field. The proverbial monkey was off their communal back. As in the game before the previous less-than-stellar effort, my charges out-hustled their counterparts, controlling the bulk of the play in both ends.

As an aside, I unwittingly did the team a disservice by simply saying to our hot netminder “Let’s keep it up.”  A presumably harmless quip of encouragement that she immediately took to be a potential shutout jinx.  I should know not to tempt the hockey gods with such talk, particularly where goalies are concerned; though a hex was definitely not my intention. But, of course, the first post-comment shot against us would end our backstop’s shutout ride with a resounding thud.  From now on I will keep such pre-game comments to myself so as to avoid the harsh brush of blame.

We would flirt with a 1-1 tie all the way down to five minutes left in the third period when our Captain would release a slap shot from the slot heard round the rink.  To that point, the same Captain had played her best game of the season thus far; something the coaching staff has been looking for. In almost prescient fashion, I had noted similar slap shots in pre-game warmups and said, “If she ever gets one of those off in a game, it’s gonna go in.”  Feel free to call me Swami if you will.  Captains, in my estimation, need to lead by example. She certainly did in this important match. Her teammates took the cue and the Sharks held on for win to vault themselves up into sixth place, only two points out of third quite early in the season.

We hope our scoring woes are behind us with continued hard work leading to more second-chance opportunities – the most effective recipe for success in girls’ hockey. If history is any indication, there is plenty more hair pulling to come.  I may need to don my coach’s fedora before too long.


The Dream Continues for a Slightly Misplaced Jets Fan

My mom, who’s been down in Florida for the past couple of weeks at the front end of an annual six-months of snowbirding, told me last week to keep an eye out for a parcel coming in the mail.  I was naturally curious and pleased to find the special parcel key in my post box this evening.  I grabbed the relatively light, pliable package from its secure lodging with plans to conduct an immediate investigation upon entering the front door of my house.  As I tore open the plastic courier envelope, I saw blue fabric and caught a quick flash of a familiar grey/silver jet fighter superimposed on a red maple leaf on the front of an official NHL jersey. I unfolded my early birthday present with the glee of a 12 year old kid – my enthusiasm heightened by the knowledge that new Winnipeg Jets jerseys are not yet even available in this province. I frantically donned the new threads, which I plan to wear to work tomorrow, to capture a quick pic for posterity.

Winnipeg Jets Jersey

However, the premature, pre-birthday spoiling of a humble 40-something Jets fan did not end there.  Upon viewing my beaming mug wrapped in this new found glory, my better half could not contain a secret she was trying to bottle up for the next few weeks.  A second, equally exciting, early birthday present was delivered into my unsuspecting mitts in the form of two tickets to see my beloved Jets play (and presumably beat, if not pummel) the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on January 5th. For those who aren’t familiar, Leafs tickets are something of a rare commodity round these parts and so I’m extremely grateful for the thought and effort that went into securing these two particular passes.  Not being a Leaf fan, I haven’t been to a game in several years, but this is certainly an opportunity like no other.

Winnipege Jets Hockey Tickets

And so, I am incredibly fortunate to have family and friends who recognize my love of the game and are helping me celebrate the reemergence of this bit of my youth.

The Devil was one of the first to pick up some Jets memorabilia for me in the form of a classic car flag she purchased on her trip to Manitoba with her grandparents in the Summer; a memento which unfortunately found its way onto the highway one afternoon when her brother unwittingly opened the rear window that was holding it in place.  It took us a long while to reveal its absence, along with the circumstances surrounding its abrupt disappearance. It looked pretty good for the week or so it flew proudly above my vehicle. Another may replace it at some point during the season at which point the car windows will be locked shut.

My aunt back in Manitoba, who procured the spectacular jersey modeled above, also sent along a limited edition commemorative crest, which I have already earmarked for framing along with my Leafs tickets following their use in the New Year.

I’ve even a close buddy who reported last week that he saw a cool Jets hat that he decided I should have, so he bought it and will be bringing it to me when next we get together.

Finally,  the Boy is paying homage to Dad’s team with a fine new Jets cap of his own that he purchased and wears to school, the rink and elsewhere on a daily basis.

All that’s really left to say is a heartfelt thank you to everyone who’s thought of me and one of my passions over the last several weeks.  That and, of course, GO JETS GO!