The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy for the Boy, the Devil, Momma Hockey and yours truly between practices, regular season games and two out-of-town tournaments in back-to-back weekends. Add in the rigours of putting food on the table 9 to 5 (or 8 to 6 in the case of some) and you simply don’t have much left in the way of free time – not even to record a few thoughts online as I’m here typing beyond the midnight hour. What free time we’ve been afforded has been better spent face down on a mattress. All of that being said, the last 14+ days has provided a ton of entertaining hockey; certainly a lot more than a bunch of, what some would call, greedy professionals have been able to see their way fit to offer their starving fans. As such, I easily declared to someone who asked my opinion recently, “I don’t really care if we don’t see any NHL hockey this year.” Hell, I don’t know where I’d fit it in anyway.
So flash back a weekend to the Boy’s tourney/early season test down in the Big Smoke.
Momma and I were able to play a little hooky for hockey on Friday to catch the first mid-afternoon contest. The squad opened the festivities on a high note with a 6-3 victory over a depleted home side. A good start, but you really should be able to beat a team with only 8 players when you dress 15. Such is Midget hockey where suspensions, injuries, school and jobs can get in the way. Game two, a full 8 hours later at 9:45 (again typical of Midget hockey, but much preferred to 6:45am games) the Colts were faced with a stiffer test against a strong skating team from just outside of Buffalo. They would go into day two with a 1-1 record after falling 4-3. In a relatively small schedule tournament a 1-2 record would severely limit playoff hopes so game three the following afternoon would become a must-win. With the Devil having a game back home on Saturday, I would have to miss their positive effort in game three, which resulted in a 5-2 score against a representative from the nation’s capital.
However, the Devil’s first of two weekend games was also not to be missed as it was her team’s best undertaking to date; stomping on their visiting foe 4-1. This game was reportedly a marked improvement over a match the night before, their first game of the regular season, which they dropped by the same 4-1 mark. I say reportedly because I, of course, was down in the city with the Boy.
I must add here that the Devil was noticeably missing from game one also as her chosen priority lay in a rock concert for which she’d received tickets from an unnamed source on her birthday back in August. Yes…I took a shot at her not having a game on that particular Friday night in October and lost my misguided wager miserably. You’re probably noting a repeating Midget hockey theme creeping in.
Sunday provided one more game each for my progeny, which meant Momma and I would again go our separate ways. In looking at our packed schedule ahead there are surprisingly few game conflicts.
The Boys had another must-win on their hands with another team in their division (the one they’d lost to) sporting an identical record of two wins and one loss. Unfortunately, the “must” part of the equation was apparently lost on more than a couple of them as they closed the door on this tourney with a 5-3 loss.
Meanwhile, back at home, the Sharks would play their third regular season game in three days; certainly a grueling start to a season and not necessarily a recipe for success. They would be playing a team they had dominated in a tournament a few weeks prior. Pleasantly and perhaps a litte surprisingly this trend would continue. The girls would storm out to a 3-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game. It looked like a rout was in order. While their pressure on the visitors did not discernibly change, the final score would only read 4-1. Two wins in three games to start the season is a more than respectable start. I need only reflect on my troops from last season who were only able to muster three wins over a 30 game regular season schedule. But enough of ancient history. The Devil’s current team would have another chance to establish their competition level at a tournament this past weekend.
The weekend challenge in question, creatively named the Hocktoberfest International Female Hockey Festival, found the team traveling just under five hours to play a minimum of four games with a stretch goal of playing six in three days. A 6:00am Friday departure would have us arriving with plenty of time for the girls’ first game just past noon against a team from Rochester – hence the International. Momma Hockey was unable to get this Friday off work so it was just the Devil and I hitching a ride down and splitting gas costs with another father/daughter duo.
It’s worth noting there is an important adult social aspect to an away tournament; something I was less able or willing to engage in during my stint as head coach a year ago. Arriving at a foreign arena upwards of an hour before game time allows some enthusiastic parents (the majority of which are admittedly fathers) to exercise their social rights, which from time-to-time manifest themselves in the minor hockey version of tailgating. Suffice it to say, this past weekend saw its fair share of pre and post-game exercising. During the very first post-game workout, which is naturally deemed mandatory to celebrate a victory or mourn a loss, one father was noted to jokingly mention to a player/daughter, “These tournaments are really all about us parents having fun you know.” I can confidently say we had a lot of fun in and out of the rink.
In between the tailgating, the Sharks went to work demonstrating their ever-improving individual and team skills posting impressive scores of 3-1, 6-2, 7-0 and 4-0. For those keeping score, they dominated and outnumbered their opponents by a combined tally of 20-3, including back-to-back shutouts for the goaltenders. With Momma back home, my texting fingers got a major workout of their own as I tried, feverishly at times, to keep her abreast of the action. Five goals per game in girls hockey is nothing short of astonishing. For most teams this would equal a month or, in some cases, two-month’s worth of goals. I’ve personally witnessed more 0-0, 1-0 and 2-1 games than you can shake a stick at.
The team would literally breeze into the semi-finals on Sunday morning, which after two nights in a hotel with not easily enforceable curfews, represented a dangerous proposition. Add to this recipe the fact they would have a rematch against their game one opponents who had thus far provided the stiffest competition. We all hoped their strong showing would continue, but watched a much different team play the first two periods of their semi-final leading to an unfamiliar one goal deficit after two periods. However, a fortuitous delay of game penalty by the other side led to a momentum-changing powerplay goal. A minute later the Sharks would ride their new found momentum to a 2-1 lead, which they would maintain to earn a berth in the championship game; the sixth game in three days.
Momma Hockey actually made me call her so she could listen in on the last 30 seconds of the tense semi – texting would not be sufficient. She has actually, on more than one occasion, suggested a business model which includes closed circuit TVs streaming kids hockey games online for parents who are unable to attend. I believe something similar is being done in large centres like Toronto for games at slightly higher levels, but I’m not sure sufficient demand exists for Bantam BB action. I shouldn’t even mention it, but perhaps this is an application for Facetime on an iPad. Yup, I’ll be the Dad up in the corner of the arena doing play-by-play at a future game a la Danny Gallivan.
Back to the Championship game where physical, if not mental, fatigue would presumably be a factor for both sides. The championship opponent took a similar path through the tournament’s other division with convincing wins in the round robin followed by a close call 2-0 last minute victory in their semi. If either side was tired they didn’t show it. Both teams came out with their guns blazing. Good scoring opportunities were had and turned away at both ends of the ice. Tension mounted as a scoreless first period gave way to a carbon copy second. Nerves were severely frayed as time wound down to end regulation time with nary a puck finding the back of either net; both keepers making their share of game-preserving saves. Overtime would be a five-minute 4 on 4 affair. With more ice available to skate on, the expected signs of tired legs and battered spirits started to show. A couple of end-to-end rushes were noticeably laboured; ending in faint scoring opportunities. Fans on both sides hoped for a break, but none would come; leaving the determination of the winner to a dreaded shootout, which in many minds is no way to decide a Champion. Unfortunately, the Sharks who had battled so hard through six games succumbed to a couple of shootout goals while not answering with markers of their own. Shooters and our goalie were naturally disappointed in the end result, but should have been buoyed by the knowledge of what they’d accomplished to arrive at the shootout situation. The coaching staff is no doubt pleased with the effort and teamwork displayed at Hocktoberfest.
The reward for finishing in second place after six games in three days was a 4 1/2 hour ride home. Now as chance, or more so probability, would have it, the Boy happened to have an away game on the Sunday night of our return. Almost absurdly I was trying to calculate the possibility of my arriving home and then leaving again to drive over an hour to watch him. Had it just been the Devil and I, we may have very well found ourselves going out of our way to watch a seventh game in six days; a decision my exhausted little warrior would probably not have been a big fan of. When we arrived home this was confirmed by her immediate immersion in a hot bathtub. It had been a long weekend to say the least. The Boys won their game, which I kept tabs on via texts from Momma Hockey. If only she had a damned iPad.
Two days removed from the weekend I’ve already attended a practice for her and a game for him with one more practice for each tomorrow night, though he’ll be able to do his own driving to and from the rink, much to my relief.
The Boys are actually on a bit of a roll bringing their current record to 4-2-3 including the salvaging of last minute ties against two of the strongest teams in their division. Seems with this squad we are getting hot and cold with a splash of fortuitous, which can be a little frustrating to watch at times, but still much better than the alternative of not watching hockey.
Following a couple of practices and games for each kid over the next few days, the Boy and I will prepare to embark on yet another hockey adventure; this time involving a 15 hour bus ride to Music City, USA. Something of a swan song for this team of players in their final year of minor hockey. I can’t imagine there will be much exercising of social rights on that trip (he says with tongue firmly planted in cheek). And yes, we’ll hopefully get to watch plenty of hockey as well. I may just end up with a story or two to tell.
NHL Lockout PSA – Only You Can Help!
NHL Lockout PSA – Only You Can Help!
It seems like the tryouts for the Boy’s team just ended, but here we are two weeks and five games into the regular season already with a game and a minimum four-game tournament on the sked this week.
One problem with Fall tryouts is little time remains for the newly picked team to get its combined legs and to get re-acquainted with each other. In this team’s case they have something of an advantage with many of them having played together last year. However, post-tryouts they only got one team practice in before having to play their first match. Or at least most of them played their first match. The Boy had to sit game one out due to a one-game suspension left over from his over-zealous defence of a teammate in the last game of last season. One of his teammates was in a similar albeit slight larger boat with a four-gamer of his own. So the Boy and mom drove a bit over an hour to watch his new teammates skate to a 3-3 tie in what was reportedly a chippy season intro with a whole whack of penalties – par for the course in many testosterone-filled Midget games. The Devil and I stayed behind to get her to a practice; a fairly common occurrence.
I did get to witness game two, in which the Boy would make his 2012-13 season debut; at least until his skate blade snapped in half. Yup, a few shifts into the contest he went hard into the end boards with a foe. He rose awkwardly and had noticeable difficulty getting back to the bench. He appeared to have injured his foot/knee/leg as he wasn’t able to put any weight on the other. But then I saw mom/trainer waiving something frantically in the air. Turns out it was half his blade. Seemed like his first game would be a short one. But then his suspended teammate came to his rescue, pulling a pair of newly sharpened skates from the back seat of his car. Now they were a little small and a little narrow, leaving the Boy with pretty sore post-game feet, but he did get the final two periods of the game in. Unfortunately, the team would end up on the wrong end of a 4-2 score in a hard fought game.
A few days later the Boys would find themselves winless in three on the road as they came out a little flat and fell by two again in a 3-1 game. They all seemed a little tired and in need of a regroup. The coaching staff would no doubt welcome the second practice of the year. 0-2-1 is no need to panic, but in a relatively short season you don’t want to have too many lulls; and particularly not right off the hop. You’d no doubt prefer to set a winning tone.
Game four saw the team return to the scene of game one with most expecting another raucous affair. And raucous it was, b0th on the ice and in the stands. Before the game began, the rink was inundated by several (upwards of 50) boisterous teenagers. Apparently the Midget AA game is a big attraction in this particular town on a Wednesday (yup Wednesday) night. The visiting Colts would prevail for their first victory through what was a rough and quite poorly officiated meeting with catcalls and even a water bottle being hurled by one of the teen onlookers in the stands. As the game neared its end, one of our team’s parents verbally expressed his frustration with what he witnessed on the ice. A suspended player from the opposing team who happened to be within earshot took exception to the remarks, approached and shoved the parent. Tensions rose. Local parents actually needed to intervene; stepping between the large, advancing group of teens and our parent group. The crowd young crowd dispersed, but didn’t leave the arena; prompting a call to the authorities. We found out shortly thereafter that much the same drama had ensued at this team’s last home game. Police had likewise been dispatched. We’re all pretty happy there isn’t likely going to be another trip to that rink this season.
However, the next game, the first home game, would be a third meeting with the very same opponent against whom the Boys should have by now developed some confidence. Some fireworks were anticipated following the last penalty-fest. Only this time, the game was played on a much larger ice surface where our guys would have much more room to move. Our quicker side, having worked in another practice to gel a little more, were too much for the visitors. Win number two on the season would come via a 5-1 count.
Winless in three has given way to undefeated in two. The team can carry some all important momentum into their next tilt against what will certainly be a tougher opponent; one the Boy is particularly fond of facing as it includes one of his best friends – a game where bragging rights in addition to positions in the season standings are up for grabs.
The regular season begins for the Devil in four sleeps with three games in three days; though she will be favouring a previously booked Mariana’s Trench concert over Game One. Such are the priorities of a teenage girl and a certain Dad who bought the tickets for her birthday on the off chance there wouldn’t be a conflict (off chance indeed).
Only a few weeks in and like every other year, the stories just keep telling themselves. There’s rarely a dull moment on or off the ice.
Great article from Ken Campbell at The Hockey News espousing the virtues of house league hockey and its importance in keeping the game alive. My kids have both played competitive hockey all their hockey lives, but we’ve always said it doesn’t matter what level you play at as long as you’re playing…and having fun! Competitive/rep hockey should really just be about having kids of like abilities play against each other and be challenged to keep them interested in the game. For some players, house league simply doesn’t provide that, but for others it’s plenty. Just get them playing and keep it fun!