The challenges for my young girls’ team continue as we entered a pre-xmas match against the last place team; last place by no more than a single point on our squad. Having suffered a painful loss in our previous game and sporting a not-so-flattering 1-7-6 record overall, I decided to declare this a “must-win” game. “Must-win” to buoy the spirits of both the team and the befuddled coaching staff, who have seen this same team compete at high level against some stiff competition who sit at the top of the standings in our league, if only for periods at a time. One of my assistants suggested the team give us an early Christmas present with a victory. A win against last place would put a few points between us and them; perhaps providing some momentum for the final few games of the season. What happened next was the opposite of what we had hoped or expected.
Adding to our on-ice challenges are some ongoing clashes threatening the overall balance of the team as a team. I’m beginning to realize how difficult it can be to meld the personalities of 17 relatively young female teenagers. I’d jokingly questioned my sanity in wanting to take on a whole group like this, but I now know it was an even bigger deal than I imagined it might be. I believe some of our issues have been exacerbated by our poor record (there are generally far fewer complaints from players or parents when you’re winning), but regardless our team temperature will need to be monitored closely as this we move forward through the rest of the season.
Back to the game, where the first few shifts went pretty well. Within a few minutes of the opening puck drop we had a 1-0 lead. However, the rest of the contest could only best be described as woefully forgettable; marking a low point in our season to date. The girls went from hot to flat for no apparent reason. Over the last few games I think the entire coaching staff has felt this team’s focus slowly slipping. We have certainly tried to exhort the players to dig deeper; to show the kind of effort we’ve seen flashes of. I’m pretty sure we’ve used nearly every sports catchphrase in the book short of “You have to give 110%”.
Several people have suggested to me that it may be time to start “sitting” players to send a message to the rest of the team. Generally speaking I am against such tactics. I’m not sure this type of measure will have the desired effect. I also feel at this level we are involved in developmental hockey so every player should be granted equal and fair ice time. Lastly, I would be hard pressed to single out just one player deserving of being benched. When our team has failed, it has done so in a holistic fashion. After this most recent disappointing loss I again took the route of letting the girls know I was more disappointed with the effort than the loss itself. I also told them that perhaps having players sit out would be an option moving forward more as a psychological threat than anything else. Though desperate times may call for desperate measures, to steal one more cliché.
When we hit the ice for our next game (which I actually won’t be present for as the fam and I will be watching my beloved Winnipeg Jets beat down the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second time in six days) we’ll see if a mini holiday break from hockey will enable this team to refocus; to finish our last few games of the regular season in a positive manner. Despite our lacklustre persformances of late, the team does still have an opportunity to win a few games a rise a few points in the standings in preparation for the playoffs. I will still contend, as will others I’m sure, that this team’s record belies its potential. There have really been few games where we’ve been over-matched. Any team in our league should have some trepidation at having to face us, knowing we’ve been competitive with them all. And so, the final item on the wish list is to fulfill the promise, to turn the corner, to finish strong and at the very least to have fun simply playing the game.