Back to Future Hockey Beginnings

Last weekend, in a partial effort to remember/recapture some of the Boy’s youth and perhaps a bit of our own in the process, Momma, the Boy and I got up relatively early (ok, it was only 8:30, but that’s pretty early for most 17-year-olds on a Sunday) to go watch one of Momma’s co-worker’s kids play hockey. The Boy was also brought along because he’s considered something of a hockey inspiration to the new young player.  The other family had been to a few of the Boy’s recent tournament games and we were returning the favour.

down on the iceNow, we’d been to the young fella’s house league evaluation skate (his first official hockey skate) earlier in the year and we, or at least I, was intrigued to see what progress he’d made in a couple of months. At the evaluation skate, we spent a fair bit of time assuring the kid’s nervous new hockey Momma he’d be fine and to just give him time to figure the whole balance thing out.

Slight progress could even be seen in his first 90 minutes of ice time. I could remember the first few practices I had with first-year players. I can recall patience being a critical part of any successful practice.  Let the kids skate, um walk, a few strides, pick them up and repeat. Once they realize the falling down on ice part doesn’t hurt when you’re covered in pads they’re typically good to go.  We’d been told the young lad had scored his first goal a couple of weeks earlier and had definitely caught the hockey bug in a major way. That too sounded familiar from previous experience with both the Boy and Devil.

hockey face offSure enough we watched as a confident new skater lined up for the opening faceoff. He looked up to send a knowing nod signaling his growing hockey competence. He received the old Don Cherryesque thumbs-up from the Boy and I in return.  As the puck dropped he darted from his left wing perch towards the loose puck in his sights.  A fairy tale storyline would have him continue across the blue line, splitting the D, faking to his forehand and then putting a back-hander top shelf over a bewildered six-year old goaltender. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, the wayward rubber disk eluded his reach and he continued headlong down to the ice. A mere moment later he popped back up in pursuit of the puck with the rest of his teammates.  And that, my friends, is indeed progress.

hockey goalAt the end of the second period, we watched as this same kid, who only a few weeks early was struggling with staying upright, was literally streaking (ok, streaking may be a little strong) down the right wing and pushing the puck towards the goal. The end result was one of two assists he would be credited with in the game. There were, of course, a few stronger players on the ice, but he certainly didn’t look out of place. You could tell he was determined to skate with them all. And that, my friends, is likewise progress.

For many hockey players I’ve encountered over the last 12+ years, which is a pretty good sample size methinks, the main thing holding them back is between their ears. Many players, regardless their skill level, only play as well as they really want to play. I believe there are plenty of success stories, including those of the professional variety, which hinge on determination and will.

The young lad is off to a good start in the spirit and desire department…the skating (including backwards), stick-handling, passing and shooting will follow. With the right encouragement the spirit will no doubt carry him a long way. If when he’s 17 he still likes the game half as much as the Boy and the Devil, regardless the level he reaches they’ll have done a great job (he says typing with one hand and patting himself on the back with the other).

By the way, the game itself was an awesome back and forth high-scoring affair with a game winning goal scored following an end-to-end rush by one of the stronger skaters in the last 30 seconds to break a 7-7 tie. The focus on goaltending skills generally doesn’t start until year two.


With Regular Season Hockey Done…Cue a Playoff Run and Flow

This week we marked the end of the regular season schedules for both the Boy and the Devil.  The Boy it should be noted, despite Hockey Momma and I making a decidedly concerted effort to forget, played his final regular season minor hockey game ever….EVER?…NEVER EVER??..and the liver spots literally exploded on our hands.  Coincidentally, the Boy’s final game would be versus a team from the town we used to live in and against one of his best friends. I realized it was his last game just before he pulled his gear from the back of the van to head into the arena. I noted there was little fanfare despite the fact that an at least 13-year tradition was entering its last chapter. I didn’t expect fireworks or a ice cream cake, but it seemed to me there should be at least a moment of silence or something, so I sat and reflected by myself after I parked.  The Boy’s minor hockey career is fleeting as is the Devil’s for that matter.  All efforts to date to freeze time have fallen short so we need to savour all the moments we can. In short order, we will only have one minor hockey player left to transport from rink-to-rink. Feel free to colour me nostalgic if you must, but a pretty significant chapter in our family experience is drawing to a close.

On the ice, the Colts closed their season on a  relatively unceremonious note with a couple of losses, thereby backing into the playoff round. In their Major Midget division only the top four out of eight teams in the league qualify for a shot at the provincial championship. The squad was  fortunate to have made some hockey hay in the middle of the season to compensate for a slow second half, brought on mostly by a bunch of injuries; which unfortunately come with the territory in the Midget game. It took until the very last game of the season, a 0-0 tie between two rival opponents to lock the Colts into the fourth and final playoff position; which in turn signals a first round matchup against the first place squad. As chance and the hockey gods would have it, first place went to the same squad the Boys closed the year against and a team they have yet to beat.  No time like the playoffs to start a new trend.

Heading into the second season, the team is pretty happy to see a couple of those on medical leave coming back to help boost the team moving forward. The Boy, in particular, welcomes back a couple of former line-mates (one from concussion and the other from a broken collar bone) who can hopefully provide some scoring punch in support of a long and prosperous playoff run.  The team, when on their game, has certainly shown its ability to compete with the toughest of opponents, but have rarely won a game lacking some level of drama. In the interest of my heart-health, here’s to a few games with less anxious moments; though I doubt this is a wish to be readily fulfilled.

The Devil and her mates likewise finished on a bit of a rocky note, if the word rocky can honestly be attributed to a dazzling 16-3-2 regular season record and second place overall in the standings. The only real blemish being 2 of the 3 in the L column occurred in the last week; one to the first place team who went undefeated on the year and the second to Sharks closest geographic competitor and perhaps biggest nemesis. This second second loss of the week was the most troublesome as the girls will need to find a way to beat this team, who stand in the way of a berth in the provincial championships. In two games this year, the Sharks have yet to defeat their nemesis after clawing back for a 3-3 tie and the aforementioned loss (3-0 in a game they dominated early on, but couldn’t find the wherewithal to score). Despite the temporary setbacks, which put them in 2nd instead of 1st, they did conclude with a 5-0 triumph over the 9th place squad. This capper on the year included a unusual three short-handed goals; one of which left the Devil’s stick and quickly found its way to the top corner where grandma keeps the peanut butter.  I suggested this one was delivered specifically for her brother’s benefit as he and a buddy were onlookers while manning the score clock.

And so, the second season is set to start in a week or so; once ice is redistributed and new schedules are defined. 52 games down and maybe another 20 or 30 to go, depending on level of effort and the ever-important moods of the hockey gods.

In keeping with post hockey season tradition, the Boy and a few of his cohorts have adopted fancy new playoff hockey flows; a startling combo of bleach blond and a few inches of blue to hang out the back of their on-ice buckets or off-ice caps. hockey hair
The jury’s still out on whether or not the more image-conscious female players will don hockey hair-dos of their own. We certainly wouldn’t expect anything quite so dramatic as what the Boys are doing. For that matter, it has yet to be seen whether even every lad will take the plunge as the Boy was among the first. What the hair tells me is two things; the Boy’s fashion sense is questionable at best and he is still having fun as a kid playing a game, which I sincerely hope never stops even if the “minor” is dropped.

So let’s get these playoffs underway already. I’m just itching to have my heart skip a few beats.


No Place in Hockey for Disrespect

I am self-admittedly not the most politically correct person.  I’ve been known to do my fair share of chirping when engaged in sports battle. I do understand trash talk is part of many sports and I realize my 17  year-old Boy and yes, even the Devil at 15, have probably said some nasty, not-for-prime-time things on the ice in the heat of the moment. I’ve seen them both draw penalties based on what appears to be something they said. Over the last several years we’ve seen and heard about plenty of cases of objectionable conduct in hockey, among other sports.  However, this weekend the Boy’s team, and specifically a teammate, experienced something in a tournament game, which can simply be described as line crossing. Gladly they weren’t the ones doing the crossing and presumably wouldn’t be . I will clearly state I was not in attendance either on the ice or even in the building, so this is being relayed from a third-person perspective.  The incident, or incidents, apparently occurred during the third and must-win game against a group of American boys during the team’s participation in the International Silver Stick tourney; a 54-year old institution who’s self-stated motto is “Citizenship and International Goodwill through Silver Stick® Hockey”. During this game, one of the Boy’s teammates, whose skin is dark-coloured was repeatedly berated with racial epithets; along the lines of “f*#%ing Arab” or something thereabouts. This is not the first time he’s been a target as he’s been the Boy’s teammate for several years.  He’s actually been called a “dirty Mexican” as well, which he quickly answered with a goal followed by an emphatic celebration in front of the opposing bench. A little funny in that he’s neither of Arab or Mexican descent; still not funny in its objectionable intent.

I believe this particular boy will readily admit he is a fine trash talker in his own right. However, this group of opponents were reportedly relentless in their taunts, which could be heard on the bench. Unfortunately, the barbs went unchecked by on-ice officials who were made aware on more than one occasion by the team’s coaching staff. The same staff were advised to stop complaining.  The slurs continued unabated.  As the final buzzer rang, the understandably frustrated target found himself trapped in the opponents end after the coach did not hold his bench as per standard post-game protocol. The boy, now outnumbered, decided to take matters into his own hands by applying a cross-check to the head of an oncoming taunter; an action which did not escape the attention of the refs who quickly awarded him a major penalty and three-game suspension. Anyone who watches hockey knows refs are always able to catch the retaliator. After the game, the coaching staff pleaded with the tournament officials to consider the circumstances surrounding the boy’s actions. Their objections to the suspension fell on deaf ears in stark contrast to the verse following the same officials’ motto on “We believe those words, and with the help of our Board of Directors, Tournament Directors and volunteers, we diligently work to bring those words to life with each of our Tournaments.” Again, I wasn’t there, but it seems diligence fell a bit short.

The Boy’s team, by the way, lost the game and were eliminated from playoff contention, which I realize will paint much of what I’ve written here as sour grapes. My intention however, rather than simply bemoaning a loss, is to illuminate a decidedly negative situation and hopefully encourage the Boy, the Devil, their respective teammates and anyone else willing to listen to stay far clear of lines not meant to be crossed. To hopefully reinforce the importance of showing respect on and off the ice; a notion at the heart of all sports and life in general. A more important lesson than winning or losing methinks.

I’m not naive enough to think something like this won’t happen again or that my admonitions will have any sort of lasting effect, but I figured it was enough of a story worth telling. Trust me, I would much rather be spinning stories about the game of hockey and not  a bunch of negative stuff better kept on the periphery.


Hockey and Its Unrelenting Grip on the Nation’s Soul


Hockey and Its Unrelenting Grip on the Nation’s Soul

Hockey and Its Unrelenting Grip on the Nation’s Soul


Hockey and Its Unrelenting Grip on the Nation’s Soul

Welcoming Back NHL Hockey…#SortOf

NHL is not hockeyOn the almost-eve of the return of NHL hockey, I promise to not belabour the point (for too long), but I do wish to take the league to task for their decision to use the phrase and online hashtag #hockeyisback to promote the “triumphant” and long overdue return of the professional game. Perhaps for less educated NHL-only fans beyond Canadian borders the NHL is synonymous with hockey. Though I did meet and several hockey parents and players in places like Nashville back in November who I’m sure would argue otherwise.

What I’d like to state here and maybe even start a mini online revolt over is #hockeyneverleft.  Yes, while the NHL was off sorting out its finances, hockey continued on ponds, in local arenas, on the world stage for major junior and national teams and in the hearts and minds of players from mini mites to beer leaguers everywhere. As I write this the hometown OHL team’s 39th game is on the tube. A great exhibition of hockey by young men fighting and dreaming of a chance to play in The Show. The NHL and its players, particularly with their recent greedy shenanigans, cannot just show up five months late and lay claim to the game we love. If anyone asked me I would have quickly offered snappy alternative catchphrases like #theNHLisbackinbusiness or #showmedahockeymoney. We heard a lot about how the players just wanted to get back on the ice, but then found out that was only true if they could ensure multi-million dollar pensions were protected. And to again be clear, I place blame equally on the league and the players; both handling the labour situation in a business-like manner because after all that’s exactly what it is – a business first. So don’t come back a few days later with a soppy, melodramatic marketing video claiming to be protectors of the beautiful game you’ve held as a pawn in your litte side game these so many weeks.

Starvation of the media, who are naturally fuelled by pro hockey news and have had nothing “hockey-related” to talk about since back in September, is painfully obvious as I’ve heard and seen intense in-depth coverage of every aspect of the Maple Leafs’ abbreviated training camp; an unfortunate hazard of living so close to Toronto as a non-Leafs fan.  And online from Twitter to Facebook to each and every sports-related website, should you care, you can readily find the minutiae that is pre-season NHL hockey in every city the game is played; and particularly the Canadian cities. Not sure the same enthusiasm is felt in Phoenix, Tampa, Miami or the home of the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Pretty sure they, who are the primary target of the marketing spin, care whether or not #hockeyisback.

As for me, I can honestly say I didn’t and still don’t really miss the NHL as we’re generally so busy with our kids hockey, which usually occupies 5-7 days a week. I don’t get a chance to watch many regular season games anyway. I’m guessing the parents of most competitive hockey players are in the same boat.   When we are home there are so many other things to draw our attention like work, the Internet and a myriad of other sports.  Given the choice the Boy himself will head to the basement to play Call of Duty or NHL13 online with mostly his hockey buddies. They love to play, but aren’t necessarily compelled to watch the pro version of their favourite game.  If I did have time to actually go to a game, the closest team is the Leafs and very few families of four can afford the price of a hockey night in Toronto.

Add to this what has become an inexorably long NHL regular season where most early and mid-season games feel like they don’t even really matter. I said a few weeks ago, as the lockout dragged on, I wouldn’t mind if every season was condensed to 50 games or so, provided they still started in September and were done by April or May. Every year in recent memory, as the playoffs are heading into the third week of June, I and most people I’ve talked to have lost interest in staying indoors to watch a Winter sport. There are, of course, a few diehards or the fans who’s teams are still contending for the Cup who continue to watch and cheer. In the upcoming shortened season, by comparison, pretty much every game will matter. Getting off to a slow start could dramatically affect a team’s ability to make the playoffs.

Maybe this was all part of a sinister plan by the NHL and NHLPA to make their game more exciting at the risk of losing a whole bunch of erstwhile followers. As a fine Canadian writer, Dave Bidini, aptly pointed out in a recent National Post article, the NHL better hope they haven’t created too much apathy and/or outright anger in former die-hards with four work stoppages since 1992. He writes of what he sees and hears in men’s league hockey change rooms, “It’s a stink of ennui and dissatisfaction and anger (and maybe a little boredom) caused by the way NHL hockey has turned since the Gary Bettmans of the world got a hold of it; or rather, since the Bettmans began to ride it, for old hockey codgers with caterpillar scars will tell you that it got this way once they started wearing helmets and moving teams out of Canada.”

Don’t get me wrong. I will no doubt watch a game or two when I can find the time and I’m likely all in once the playoffs start depending on its participants. After all, the NHL concocted a devious plan specifically aimed at me when they brought back my beloved Winnipeg Jets after so many years in exile. Rory Boylen of The Hockey News rightly points out NHL fans will flock back with open arms because it still is the highest level of hockey being played and every team has its loyal following.  A conversation with a friend/colleague in Montreal this afternoon further confirmed this as he noted and likewise complained about lineups outside the Bell Centre for tonight’s Habs intra-squad game. He pointed out how teams in American cities are trying to lure fans back with free tickets and bargain basement prices on paraphernalia while in Montreal and Toronto there are no such deals to be had.

Plenty of fans, bar and restaurant owners, league employees and reporters, as noted, have been anxiously waiting for the NHL’s return and I am pleased for them.  The NHL’s hockey business still does matter to this increasingly exclusive group.

I said I wouldn’t go on too long, so here endeth the rant. However, based on recent history of this league and management of their “hockey” business, look for another to follow in 8-10 years.  Hope someone still cares enough to listen where the NHL is concerned, but fairly confident I’ll still be able to heartily say #hockeyneverleft.

Please do chime in if you agree, disagree or could not care either way (in keeping with the theme).


Backyard Hockey Rink Timelapse Video


Backyard Hockey Rink Timelapse Video