Well, I don’t know if it had anything to do with the constant pleading by the coaching staff for a full three-period effort, but our young ladies did that with a vengeance this weekend, thereby dislodging their hockey albatross.
Their first of two victories came yesterday when they toppled the third place team in their own rink after skating to a 1-1 deadlock after two periods. We did our best to convince them that they were more than holding their own despite not getting a lot of shots on the opposing net. We reiterated our belief in them as winners, but only they could affect a positive outcome. We hoped, as my one assistant coach mused, that they hadn’t simply become used to losing. Our defence and goaltender were keeping their scoring opportunities to a minimum. In the final frame, with an earful of encouragement, our charges came out with a determination we had not seen since our tournament victory so many games ago. The Devil, bless her soul, started the albatross eviction with a pretty highlight reel goal of the top-shelf variety after a deliberate charge to the net. Another marker would be put past the enemy keeper a couple of minutes later, which forced her from her goaltending duties. The slumping body language of the other team was eerily similar to what we’d seen from our own side over the past few weeks. A few questionable penalties down the stretch made things interesting, however our bending did not lead to breaking this time around. The final score read 4-1. We all agreed the post-win feeling was much better than what we’d become accustomed to. A fine TEAM win indeed.
As with most games there is always a story within the story. This one involved my first disciplinary player benching of the season; brought on to some extent by the recent feedback from team parents. One of our defencemen took what we’ll call a “lazy, ill-timed” penalty with about six minutes left in the second period. Her father, in particular, suggested it would be ok to use benching as a consequence — to send a message. When she returned to the bench after her penalty I reminded her of my previously announced commitment to ensuring discipline from this point forward. I then told her to have a seat on the bench, intimating she would miss a shift for her unwanted foul, which would essentially mean she would miss the rest of the period. A fair punishment from which I trusted she would learn a lesson. The third period started after a flood of the ice. As noted above, this frame saw frantic action. I was certainly caught up in the game as we pulled ahead on the scoreboard. Then with about five minutes left in the match I looked down where I noticed the penalized player standing next to our back-up goalie. It was obvious she had been standing there a while so I asked “Have you not been back on the ice?” to which she replied “No, I assumed I was still benched. I was waiting for permission.” My heart sank as I realized my single-shift message had been misinterpreted. I’d been too involved in the game to notice one player had effectively sat for 10+ minutes (plus the four she sat in the previous period). Another rookie coach mistake. Hopefully one I won’t make again.
Before today’s game I told the recent victors this was an opportunity to start building momentum for the playoffs. A string of three wins to close out the season may not move us up in the standings, however, it would bode well for round one no matter who we are set to face; after all, we’ve competed with, if not defeated, every team in the league. I may have also mentioned to the group I was superstitiously wearing the same shoes, socks, pants and shirt as I did the victorious day before. One player naturally quipped, “I hope you changed your underwear.” “Everything’s the same except that” I assured her.
As the game started, so did the momentum building I asked for. In the first two periods the girls won pretty much every battle against a short-handed home team. They outshot the competition 24-4 and outscored them 4-0; a good start indeed. Yet I reminded them to keep the pressure on in the final frame. The third period started well but our opponents would net a goal of their own by deflection a puck off of our defenceman’s knee only a couple of minutes in; the clock could not tick fast enough. However, the game would take a dramatic shift as a player from each team collided and slid somewhat harmlessly into their net. But the rival player stayed face-down on the ice following the mishap complaining of not being able to feel her toes. This unfortunately would be the final action of the game as the trainer decided to put caution first as she should by summoning an ambulance. The player reportedly said the feeling had returned to her toes and we all hope she’s ok. I’ve asked for a update as our player involved in the incident was pretty shaken up in having to watch the events unfold, though it was clearly an accident. Ultimately, we recorded a 4-1 victory on an understandably sour note. I was also a little disappointed in our side not being able to finish the game on their own.
All said, I believe the mental barrier, our biggest foe the past couple of weeks, has been broken down. There is still plenty to do in terms of playing one final strong game against the team just above us in the standings and then having to take on either the first or second place team in round one of the playoffs. But the team has leaped over an important hurdle in re-establishing their ability to play full games and win them. I sincerely hope we never encounter that oh so maniacal back-riding monkey again cuz he was sure tough to remove the first time around.