Hockey Dad Gives Thanks

Thanksgiving hockey turkey

I meant to put together a list of hockey-related people, places and things for which I’m thankful when we were expressing our appreciation for such things here in the northern hockey homeland a little over a month ago, but never quite got around to it.  So I’ll conveniently use the forthcoming US Thanksgiving Day holiday as the backdrop for my belated acknowledgments, when in fact I’m grateful for many of these things 24x7x365.  In no particular order (though number one is admittedly placed there for a reason), I hereby submit that I must give thanks for:

  • A Hockey Momma who not only puts up with, but supports and enjoys our sometimes crazy schedule, has developed an affection for standing behind the bench, considers wings and beer at a sports bar a night on the town and probably knows the rules of hockey better than most referees.
  • and GPS systems. My thanks here are actually on behalf of my directionally challenged spouse.  I’m still perplexed as to how you can drive to a location as a passenger more than once and not necessarily know how to get home from said location on your own should the need arise.  Yup, I realize you gotta take the bad with the good.
  • The fact that this is the first year the Boy has developed the physical capacity to break over-priced hockey sticks with a degree of regularity.
  • The Devil, who despite being given opportunities to try dance, gymnastics, soccer and various other activities, just kept getting drawn back by the ice, the sticks and the pucks.
  • Hockey equipment hand-me-downs from the Boy to the Devil.
  • Employment and employers who’ve afforded me the ability to attend pretty much every significant hockey-related event that’s come up over the past 10+ years.
  • The end of 6am practices (leftover thanks from about three years ago).
  • The coaches, trainers, managers, referees, league officials and admin staff who have tirelessly volunteered their time in support of my kids and minor hockey in general.
  • The opportunities I have had to be involved with both the Devil’s and the Boy’s teams in various capacities over the years. These experiences have generally benefited me at least as much as they have them.
  • Having witnessed at least one short-handed goal in sudden-death overtime in one of my kid’s games that I can recall.
  • Positive role models like Joe Sakic, Cassie Campbell, Sidney Crosby, Hayley Wickenheiser and Wayne Gretzky to name a few.
  • A freshly cleaned sheet of ice before a practice or game.  Better yet, a fresh, clear pond after the first spring thaw and freeze.  Haven’t actually had a chance to appreciate the latter in a while, but I can remember skating on it like it was yesterday.
  • Tim Hortons, McDonald’s and Wendy’s drive-thrus.  Thankful for; though not particularly proud of and semi guilt-ridden about at times.  You’re all welcome for the convenient links to store locators so you can join me in my guilt.
  • The return of the Winnipeg Jets to their rightful place in the NHL.  Not the first or likely the last time I’ll pledge my allegiance to the team I grew up with.
  • The smell of hard work that is an open hockey bag or recently occupied dressing room.  Yes, I realize I have few cohorts for this one and likely none who are female or more specifically mothers.
  • The tradition of shaking hands and saying “Good game!” or “Good Luck!” after a hard-fought game or series.
  • Grandparents, friends and neighbours who’ve showed up at games announced or otherwise to provide an extra bit of incentive for the kids to shine, who have always darted quick, but noticeable glances up into the stands.
  • The literally thousands of smiles I’ve witnessed on hundreds of faces, in hundreds of games and practices over 12+ years because of goals scored, passes made, jokes told or simply experiences shared. Each one enough reason for gratitude on its own.
  • A few lasting friendships Momma and I have made and kept through the game; which may not have happened otherwise.
  • The multitude of memories this great game and my kids have given me; most of which I’ve tried to recall here over the past couple of years.
  • Back to the Boy and the Devil who’ve both developed a respect for the game, their coaches and their teammates.  I suppose Momma and I can take at least partial credit for this one.

This is far from a definitive list but I hear the orchestra reminding me my time is up and I think I see Kanye West running up the driveway, so I welcome anyone to chime in with their own thankful thoughts before or after you’re stuffed with stuffing. Who or what in this great game has provided a positive influence or exemplary experience for which you are sincerely grateful?


Hockey Turkey image courtesy of

Sometimes Ya Gotta Lose to Win

The Sharks continued their strong league play as they faced one of their toughest foes to date a few days ago. Their opponent came into their match undefeated and trailing them in the standings only by virtue of having played fewer games. A quick look at the standings revealed only two goals against in their first five games….a test for our ladies to be sure.  Our side was thankfully up to the challenge turning in probably their best performance to date in a rough and tumble affair.  The referee for this particular game was someone I had not seen before and I was told he had only just started officiating girls hockey after having spent 10+ years reffing Jr. A boys games. It seemed as the game went on that he may have thought he was still reffing those older lads as his whistle never parted his lips to flag down what were a couple of the biggest hits I’ve seen all year. The girls’ game, of course, does not allow body checking, but this referee was letting pretty much everything go. In facing a slightly larger team, it would not have been surprising to see the Sharks back down. Instead they fought through to a 5-2 win – more than doubling their surprised opponents’ goals against on the year. And so they solidified their early season hold on the number one position in the league with a couple of teams on their tail with games in hand.

The success they had in the league game bode well for an anticipated strong showing in their home tourney, Sharkfest, this weekend. A quick check of their schedule revealed three teams ranked in the middle of their respective divisions; three teams you’d our side would presumably be able to excel against.

However, game one, though closely fought, ended with the Sharks on the short end of a 1-0 loss with the winning goal being scored on a late powerplay; the result of a retaliatory penalty. As is too often the case, one of the Devil’s teammates responded to a punch in the head with a shot of her own. The referee apparently only saw the latter.

In game two the next morning, the girls struck quickly, apparently sensing the need for a victory in a three-game round robin format. They dominated play for the first half of the game, scored two quick goals and carried the two-point cushion into the final frame. Unfortunately, their killer instinct seemed to give way to some lackadaisical play half-way through the second. A goal partway into the third cut the lead to one, which then evaporated to nil when an errant pass in the defensive zone found an opponents stick and the back of the good guys’ goal shortly thereafter. A 2-2 tie would demand a victory in the final match.

Between games two and three, Devil would require a visit to a clinic to check on a wonky, swelled-up knee, which had her hobbling around pretty good. Prospects for her participation in game three, only a few hours later, did not look good. The doc decided there was no major damage; prescribing ice and rest.  Three hours later she would wrap it up and suck it up for an hour to help her mates.  We’d have been fine had she decided to heed the good physician’s advice, but we followed her lead. Must get her toughness from her Momma.

Unfortunately, the girls would find out just before taking to the ice for their third challenge that even a win would not be enough to advance to the playoff round.  The goal for the last skate of the weekend would be to simply salvage a winning record at 1-1-1. But this game would go much the same as the ones before it and end the same way game one did, with a 1-0 score in the wrong direction.  This was not the team’s weekend; leaving the coaching staff and a few other onlookers a little bedeviled after having witnessed such an impressive showing only a few days prior.  In the squad’s defence, they were two players short; one lost to concussion and the other to a wonky wrist. Further, though they have demonstrated a higher level of play, they did compete in three one-goal games. The goaltenders, as all three scores attest, played very well; more than giving their teammates the opportunity to compete and win.

The team now has four practices to work out some apparent kinks before their next league game. In the grand scheme of things, if you are going to have some stinker games, as the girls collaborated on this weekend, a tournament is the best time to have them.  Would have been nice not to do it in the home tournament, but no matter. These games will presumably allow the coaches to reinforce the need to give full effort in each and every game; to not underestimate any opponent. A few hard skating practices are likely in order as well.

I and I think many believe in order to win the big games, you have to lose a few along the way. Champions across all sports have proved this time and time again. Of course last year, my own team took a whole regular season of losing and turned it into a successful playoff run; not that I would necessarily recommend this as a preferred approach.

In a week’s time and thereafter, we’ll see how the Sharks respond to this bit of adversity. Good teams, which this group feels like early on, generally come back with renewed focus and determination. Get focused, get better ladies.



Back to Reality and Full Steam Ahead

The Nashville hangover is nearly gone…I think. The Boy’s team got little to no rest with a practice the night after their return and a game the night after that.  For most of the trip I kept saying, “Glad I just have to watch and not play hockey”. That’s what young legs, lungs and hearts are for.  I even bailed on my men’s team, the mighty mighty Iceholes, who had a game at 10pm the night we returned. This old dog just wasn’t up for the hunt that night.  I’m sad to report the Iceholes dropped that contest 4-0 (not that my feeble contribution following a 15 hour haul on a bus would have likely made much difference).  But we’re certainly not here to talk about me and my faint grasp at youth.

The Boys were fortunate to re-enter their regular season with a match against weaker team because they too showed signs of a Tennessee hangover.  They were only up 1-0 going into the third period of a game which thankfully ended 4-0 and saw its share of fireworks down the stretch. Fireworks that even found their way up into the stands as there was some post-game quibbling amongst parents.

Games two and three of the week would not allow for any extended latency on behalf of the Boys as they’d face the two teams ahead of them in the standings.

Unfortunately, they didn’t get the memo in time for game two, which saw them come out terribly flat and give up a two-goal lead in a matter of minutes. And memo or not, they weren’t able to recover as the deficit mounted to 3, 4 and finally 5-0.  Not a pretty game to watch as my friend who came out to see the Boy play could easily attest.  Let’s just strike that one from our combined memory shall we?

And in game three of the week, the squad indeed seemed to have quickly stricken the memory as they came out a decidedly different team taking a 3-0 lead into the first intermission including one by the Boy (who’s been on a bit of an uncharacteristic goal-scoring tear since our visit down south) and two short-handed markers.  Unfortunately, despite several powerplay opportunities and good scoring chances, they were unable to extend their lead, and in fact, a couple of mistakes led to their advantage being whittled down to one. It was still 3-2 heading into the 3rd period, but that difference too would evaporate around some shaky backchecking/defending.  What started out promising ended in frustration as the home team would climb all the way back to take a 4-3 lead with just over two minutes remaining on a shorty of their own.  Said frustration would mount when with four seconds left on the clock and our goaltender on the bench, the Boy would tap a loose puck into the opposing goal only to have an out-of-position referee waive the tying goal off after claiming to have lost sight of the black biscuit. Don’t get me started on the quality of refereeing in this particular game, lest it should sound like sour grapes. At the end of the game, the team let this one slip away.  A little more memory striking required and/or a few more paddles in the water at the same time all the time moving forward. It’s still relatively early in the season, but these are the teams our charges need to impress against and defeat.

The Boys have what could be another fireworks-filled match tomorrow on the road followed by a game against an opponent they already have a 2-0-1 record against this year.  Two winnable games to be sure, but not games to be overlooked by any means.

Meanwhile, the Devil and her Shark crew have become something of a hockey Juggernaut with a 7-1 record in league play. So as not to risk perturbing the hockey Gods I will simply report 7-1 and 8-0 victories in their last two contests against weaker and somewhat depleted opponents. In the most recent match, they faced a team with only two lines vs. their full complement of three. This game could have actually been more lopsided had it not been for the heroics of an embattled goaltender in the opposite net.  The Sharks will have a better test tomorrow night against a team as yet undefeated in league play. From what we’ve seen so far, our ladies will hopefully be up to the task. They need only show up in a confident frame of mind and play to their potential.

Lots more hockey to watch as always. What’s that you say? “The NHL and NHLPA have been making some progress this week.”  Who cares…I got all the hockey drama I need.


Music City Midget Major Hockey Marathon

The Boy and I, along with 17 teammates, sundry parents, siblings and even a couple of grandparents in tow, embarked on what was sure to be a memorable journey to the hotbed of country music for the Nashville Fall Classic.  Our enthusiasm tempered only by the absence of our Hockey Momma who had to stay behind with work and the Devil’s hockey commitments.

We met a slightly bleary-eyed crew for a midnight Tuesday departure.  Most, if not all, were fuelled by the excitement of the trip ahead as we jammed suitcases, hockey bags, pillows, blankets, bags o’ snacks and refreshment-laden coolers into a waiting bus.  A 15 hour bus ride pretty much mandates the inclusion of the final item on the list and more than a couple of us would make sure we took full advantage of their presence.  As has been stated here previously, a significant portion of all tournaments should be focused on parental enjoyment. There would be plenty more opportunity for the same over the next five days.

With the tourney starting on Friday, the coaching staff’s well-constructed plan was to arrive in Nashville (or more specifically the suburb of Franklin, Tennessee) early to give the team a chance to experience the Music City and get acclimated to their new surroundings well in advance of their first game. We would all have the better part of two days to take in the sites, sounds and eats of Kentucky.  Much of this, you will note, has little to do with hockey, but the experiences this hockey tournament afforded our Boys will last them a lifetime, as away tournaments have so often been wont to do.

After the night-long journey, which for most included little, if any, sleep we were free to check in to our hotel, grab a snooze, some dinner and whatever else we wanted to do with our evening.  Most of the Boys retired to rooms while several of us gravitated towards the hotel lobby bar.  A coincidental, Canadian song singing lounge act and a few local brews kept us entertained beyond the midnight hour.

Our itinerary for day two took us into Nashville on the same days as the Country Music Awards for two spectacular meals, self-guided tours of the local country bars, shopping and even some line-dancing lessons.

Colts Team Pic with The Bro

Team Pic with The Bro – Darrell Breaux

Our first stop, Bro’s Cajun Cuisine, (featured on FoodTV’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) was one of the highlights of the trip for me, though others to come would certainly rival it.  My only disappointment was being limited to one appetizer (Spicy Catfish Bites), one entrée (a mouth-watering Crawfish PoBoy) and a few libations (served in a tin bucket – “Ohhh those bad buckets” as one father was oft heard saying) only due to the capacity of my stomach. Had the opportunity presented itself, I would have gladly stayed and tried each menu item in due course.  Prior to leaving this temple of exceptional eats, the team presented the proprietor, Darrell Breaux, with a jersey signed by each player for which he was visibly grateful.

After lunch, we headed downtown.  Most everyone, including the players, went off in all directions to see what they could see and do.  A couple of hours and a few bars in my bar-hopping partner and I bumped into the Boy who had already acquired a cowboy hat and was raving about all of the live music he’d encountered.  His relatively sheltered suburban life to this point had not exposed him to live musicians, taking requests and playing for tips or, more importantly, exposure. He had quickly developed an appreciation for the whole scene.  Now, I’m not what you’d call a Country music fan, though I readily admit listening to a lot of Western, Folk and Blues inspired bands.  I likewise found myself gladly immersed in the atmosphere and spirit of the city.

Line Dancing

Some should stick to hockey….

Next stop, the Wild Horse Saloon for a Bronco Buster Buffet, the aforementioned line-dancing lessons and more general merriment.  We were scheduled to leave at 10pm, but after two large meals and full day’s worth of bar…I mean…sight seeing, it was decided that a 9:30 departure made sense for some revelers and the players who would be hitting the ice for their first game on Friday. Of course, back at the hotel, a few more late-night parental hijinks would ensue.

The next morning appeared to come early for some as we gathered in the lobby to head out for the last of our planned team meals.  Puckett’s Grocery in eclectic downtown Franklin provided an opportunity to try more traditional southern fare including pulled pork, fried catfish or chicken, sides of fries, beans, onion rings or mashed potatoes with a lemonade or sweet tea.  Maybe not the best pre-game meal, but what the hell.  Our finely tuned athletes would just have to work it off.

Following our couple of touristy days, it was time for the team to get down to business against a highly touted local high school team. By all accounts, they had been at the top of their division for the last three years running and generally manhandled all of their opponents. From previous experience over the years, you never know what level of competition you will run into when you venture into the US or play a team from there.  What our boys initially encountered was an aggressive, hitting team. To their credit, the players took the body checks (some of which were of the elevated variety) in stride. They stuck instead to a speed and puck-control oriented game to eventually wear down their opponents in a 6-1 win.  Another mom and I competed to keep Hockey Momma informed and somewhat part of the experience with rapid-fire texts.  The host team was noticeably shaken, shocked or disappointed by this unfamiliar situation.  Our guys left the ice with decided Canadian hockey swagger, which bode well for them moving into two more round robin games on Saturday.

Bucket of BeerBefore we could get to Saturday, we had to have a Friday night post-game celebration.  Well, maybe we didn’t have to, but we were certainly going to.  Many of us landed in a raucous wing joint, which in time featured one of the best live 80s bands any of us had ever encountered.  The Boys, who followed along for the wings,  chose to disagree with our assessment of the on-stage talent and left us to enjoy the retro tunes.  Suffice it to say, some (yours truly included) took full advantage of the Boys’ absence to let their hair down on the dance floor. Ohhh, those bad buckets!

Saturday would find the squad returning to the ice against teams from Atlanta and Kentucky.  The Atlanta team was said to be a AAA team with players a year older than ours, while the Kentucky group apparently represented the entire neighbouring state; facts which again could be taken as good or bad. Regardless the opponents, the team came out with all cylinders firing. They brought a combination of speed, patience and teamwork to both games, thereby securing 3-0 and 4-0  back-to-back shutout wins for a first place round robin finish and a rematch in the semi-finals against their game one opponent from Ravenwood. Watching the two Saturday games somewhat anonymously from the sidelines, I could overhear reverent comments from American onlookers like “That’s the team from Canada.”  There was some buzz in the air about how the team was playing.  Our final round robin game started at 10:00pm on Saturday so post-game was pretty tame for Boys and parents alike.  Semis and a Championship game were calling on Sunday.

The on and off-ice events of our final day in Tennessee probably deserve a post of their own, but I’ll do my best to summarize here.

Game day started like any other with breakfast in the hotel lobby. The team would then load up and make their way to the rink an hour early as they had for previous games. The bus would then come back to the hotel where we would be checking out and loading up for the eventual 15-hour drive back to the homeland (which no one was looking forward to).  However, shortly after the bus departed we received a message saying the bus had broken down….on a Sunday morning….in Tennessee. Prospects for fixing a bus….on a Sunday morning…in Tennessee…were not the brightest.  Moods were understandably shaken.

In the short term, without wheels, parents and siblings were forced to march 20 minutes to the rink; arriving just in time for the puck drop in the semi-final game.

walking to the hockey rink

Who needs a bus?

Within four minutes of the game starting, moods were buoyed by a 3-0 lead for the good guys.  The Colts had definitely come to play.  Their determination to win and send a message to their championship opponent resulted in a 9-0 final.   We’d find out shortly thereafter the last opponent of the tournament would be the “other team from Canada” who snuck out a 3-2 win over Atlanta.

Almost miraculously…on a Sunday morning…in Tennessee, our driver was able to get the bus back up and running cueing a giant, combined sigh of relief.  The players were virtually unaffected by the whole bus drama.

The few hours of waiting for the gold medal match were spent between a mall food court and the bus where many of the players snoozed or otherwise bided their time in quiet anticipation.

Entering the last match of the weekend, we were all aware of the fact we would be playing a relatively local Canadian, albeit lower level, opponent.  The coaching staff no doubt told their charges to take nothing for granted.  The good guys would open the scoring to set the tone for the game.  Yet it would be a back and forth affair for much of the first two periods with our side getting the balance of scoring opportunities. The game was still relatively close at 3-1 entering the third period.

Then events took another fateful turn as an opposing player launched a puck up over the boards at our bench.  The puck ricocheted up off the back wall then found its way to the top of the head of one of the assistant coaches. The trainer, along with several others, rushed the coach and his now blood-gushing cranium to the dressing room.  After the application of pressure and several towels, it was quickly decided that medical attention was required. A local gentleman, with whom I had just been chatting and who had too coincidentally been instructing his young son who was manning the penalty box to beware of flying pucks, was good enough to drive our unlucky brother to the nearest Emergency Room. You can probably sense where this is going.

Back on the ice, the team took care of business in the third, capturing the Championship trophy with a 7-2 victory. Medals were presented, the trophy/plaque was handed over, onlookers applauded and many pictures were snapped to preserve the moment in time. This group of young men had represented themselves, their hometown and in a small way good old Canadian hockey very admirably.  In fact, we’ve since heard from tournament officials this team was indeed considered the “toast” of the tourney for their classy, sportsmanlike play. This is really something you hope and love to hear as a parent; no matter the age of your kids, though particularly as they enter adulthood. Some validation of proper parenting methinks.

Barrie Colts win Nashville Fall Classic

Nashville Fall Classic Champions (including the Spirit of Coach Clayton….Far Left)

Now we, of course, had one last piece of unfinished business to take care of before we could hit the road for home.  It involved hanging in and out of the local ER as we waited for our fallen comrade.  As with any ER, the wait was longer than anyone wanted it to be, though we all wanted to be sure coach was fit for travel. About four hours and eight stitches later, the coach boarded the coach with a fully-bandaged noggin.  Once everyone knew he was okay, concern turned to playful ribbing.  If only he’d paid more attention to the game and less to his blackberry.  While my trip home was pretty uncomfortable, I’m sure his was even more so.

On the road home, some of us were a little concerned about our driver’s ability to stay awake and alert having been up since Sunday morning… Tennessee and having to still be up…in the middle of the night…through Tennessee, Ohio and a wee bit o’ Michigan.  He held on with the help of some conversation from the front seats.  After a driver change just across the US border, we were delivered safely back home with a bucket full of stories to tell share with those who had not been as fortunate as us to have had the experience.  Hockey Momma was surely left owed with an upcoming trip to Sudbury a pale consolation.

I’ve likely missed a fair share of stories or personal memories others took away via their own perspective.  I welcome your comments should you happen upon my faint and biased recollections here.

For me, the full value of the weekend bore itself out when the Boy remarked to me when we were alone on Friday night, before he’d played a single game “Thanks Dad. This is the best hockey trip we’ve ever been on.”  I believe there were 17 other grateful young men who owe a debt of gratitude to those who organized an unforgettable hockey adventure.


Colts Win in Music City

Just a coupla pics for now….more to come from our Tennessee hockey, food and frivolous adventures to come!

Right now I must sleep off the effects of a 15 hour bus ride.