The Boy just finished the final tryout process of his minor hockey career a few days ago, a component of the game I won’t miss once the Devil reaches the end of her playing days, which are likely still a couple of years off. In his final year (2nd year Midget), the Boy was hoping to make an AA team, a step up from the A level he has been at for the last eight years. Actually, a little interesting as his first rep hockey stint was with an AA team when he was 8. AA minor hockey bookends if you will. I was fairly confident he had the game and knew he had the desire to make this team (listen to me sounding all high and mighty), but the process is the process for a reason. Every player has to compete against roughly 50 other hopefuls to earn their spot over the course of four or five tryout sessions.
One aspect of the process immediately in the Boy’s favour was the format of the tryouts. In the years leading up to Midget hockey tryouts consisted of mostly of technical drills primarily designed to enable a team of presumably unbiased evaluators to compare players’ skating and shooting skills. This is a good and necessary system at younger ages where coaches who may have limited familiarity with players want to quickly determine who belongs at a particular level from a pure skills perspective. Strong skaters and hard shooters naturally stand out. This process, however, does not necessarily determine “hockey” skills per se. The softer, or harder, skills depending on your perspective. These hockey abilities include positioning, timing and aggressiveness, which are measured most effectively in game-like situations – scrimmages and small-sided games.
So as you can imagine, the Boy’s strengths lie in his ability to read the ice, make smart passes and battle in the corners – yup, soft hockey skills. I, and he I believe, will readily admit skating, while not necessarily a weakness, is not his strong suit. He may not have yet perfected his skating form and it’s probably safe to say at this point he likely never will. In fact, a couple of years ago he had an Assistant Coach who dubbed him “Spiderman” in reference to the way he swung his arms when he skated. And yes, Spiderman still fits; particularly when he’s tired at the end of a shift or game. And don’t even get me started on backwards skating – suffice it to says this is always good for a chuckle. Hey, I’m dad, and I’m allowed. He gets plenty of opportunity to chuckle at me on the ice.
So we skip back to tryout skate number one, which found all of those who registered divided into four teams. These tryouts would be all scrimmage all the time, which suited the Boy (and me) just fine.
Now another relatively strong part of the Boy’s game is physical; specifically his ability to use his body and throw a hit. He announced plans to “light up” some unsuspecting 1st year Midget player. And he thought he had found a victim with his head down about 15 minutes into the 50 minute session. However, he picked the wrong kid who outweighed him by anywhere from 20-30 pounds and who, in fact, did not have his head down. The Boy was greeted unceremoniously and dumped on his own unsuspecting ass. The rest of tryout skate number one was noticeably quieter where the Boy was concerned. From my vantage point, he would need to pick it up the following skate on the following night. After night one, his first course of action would be putting ice for an aching shoulder from his open-ice meeting with the wrong kid.
The Boy would come out with renewed conviction on night two and then likewise on night three. He wasn’t shying away from the physical; winning most battles in the corners and along the boards. He was even, somewhat uncharacteristically, putting the puck in the net. He was presumably making up for the slow start two nights prior.
Tryout four was scheduled to be an exhibition game against a nearby rival team; however, the Boy was told he wouldn’t need to skate along with a few others who were all presumably “on the team”. Congrats to the Boy and those who had made it. Still some nervous moments left for players looking to fill a couple of positions yet to be filled. The Boy would get a call the day of the exhibition game to sub in for someone who got hurt and his mom would be on the bench as the trainer; a position she will happily be filling during the upcoming season. While the Boy was at the game, his participation was limited; particularly in the third period. Normally that would be concerning, but knowing his fate was already positively sealed, it was fine just watching him sit on the bench.
The next night there was a fifth and final tryout, which looked more like a regular practice to me, though there were apparently still a couple of decisions to be made player-wise. This year’s squad will have a lot of familiar faces, including the coaching staff who were likewise at the A level last year – another possible factor in the final selection process.
Post skate I had a strange new revelation as the Boy had driven himself to the rink and I showed up in my own car after work. When the tryout/practice ended, I lingered out in the lobby with a few other parents as I would normally do in my role as the Boy’s chauffeur. But then I realized I had no real reason to wait and gladly left him to drive himself home – an odd, but certainly pleasant realization and one I will no doubt appreciate more and more as the season drags on; particularly after those late night practices.
So, tryouts have concluded for another year and game one is already scheduled for tomorrow night (though the Boy won’t be participating as he needs to serve a one-game suspension following an indiscretionary hitting from behind penalty to end his season last April) with game two coming the night after. Hockey season is revving up. Did someone say something about the NHL because I don’t have time to pay attention?
I suppose there will be plenty of tryouts (sporting or otherwise) as the lad enters the next stage of his life. We hope some lessons learned over the last 10 years of tryouts will serve him well, if even in some small way. For now, I’ll plan to enjoy as much of his last year of minor hockey as I can; or at least as much as the Devil’s scheduling conflicts will allow. It’s 5-6 nights per week at a rink somewhere if you’re trying to find me.
One v One Thrasher drill image courtesy passhockey.com.