I told the my players before this past weekend’s early bird tourney we were there after only a couple of practices to get a quick sense of what we have to work with; to get an early barometer on the strength of our team relative to other teams presumably at the same level. That was the on-ice hockey goal. What I didn’t tell them, but believe we all realized, is it was also about building a team culture and hopefully watching the players bond on and off the ice. And, of course, all of this was to be guided by our newly adopted principles with Focus and Hard Work front and centre. I was pleased to note after two days and four games we had accomplished our preliminary goals and then some as the team competed increasingly well in each contest
The first game of the round robin format pitted us against a team we thought would be one of our tougher rivals and a potential regular season foe. Indeed they proved to be a strong side, but ours was equal to the task through two periods in skating to a 2-2 deadlock. Then unfortunately, early season jitters, rust or simple unpreparedness kicked in as the score clock announced a 5-2 scored for the bad guys. The hard work was there, but the focus fell off a little.
Game two was against one of the two tournament home teams. As a coaching staff we identified a few things from the first match we wanted the girls to work on. Throughout this game we watched them work extremely hard and follow the direction we were giving them. Though dominant, the only thing they were not able to do was score at least one more goal than the competition, settling for a 1-1 tie.
This second game also provided one of the odd highlights of the weekend. After what appeared to be a simple fall by an opponent near our team’s bench, several of our players broke out in hysterics. Now I probably shouldn’t condone such behaviour, but the immediate reaction by the object of their derision was priceless. It was one of the best “If looks could kill moments” I’ve ever witnessed. The player skated off with catcalls in her wake. I did my best to remind my players not to disrespect another player through the tears in my eyes.
On to game three and coincidentally the other tournament home team; yup, two teams from the same centre…just imagine what games between those squads must be like. Having seen them play in an earlier game, I thought we were up for a bigger challenge, but again our charges proved to be the stronger side, holding the balance of play in the opposing zone. Yet again we fell short of registering a W with a 2-2 draw.
Regardless the scores in their first three games, the team entered would enter the quarterfinals armed with the knowledge they could compete with anyone in the tourney, having arguably won eight out of nine periods of hockey to that point. However, having finished third in their division, they would have to face the number one team; a challenge to be sure. Our pre-game message was simple…keep doing what you’ve been doing – playing hard and listening. The ladies would proceed to take a 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but would enter the third period knotted at two. Unfortunately a defensive misstep would keep our side from advancing to the semi-finals. Yet, the players we encountered in the dressing room after the game were hardly ones who had just felt defeat. They, like us, knew how well they had competed, how hard they worked and how much promise these first four games have given for all those to follow.
So I don’t have a post-tourney victory pic to post here, but I’ve a pretty good feeling their will be flashes going off in front of this group before too long provided we guide them in the right direction.
Speaking of pics, last night was team picture night, which is generally not a highlight of anyone’s season. Little did I know this would provide yet another bonding opportunity for the team as I watched and heard 15 girls shriek as each stood up to pose for their personal portrait. If I hear as much laughter at the end of the season as I’ve heard over the past five days, one important pillar of team success will have been accomplished.