"Not So" Baby Boy

The Boy’s hockey association decided to try something a little different this off-season. They held a two day Midget mini hockey camp last week to try to gauge the level of interest for next year, to keep more players interested and to do a pre-assessment. The real tryouts are in the Fall.  The turnout exceeded expectations as there were over 60 skaters and 12 goalies registered.  There was an initial thought of only forming two teams (A and AA) next year, but the number of attendees may indicate the opportunity for a third.  Of course, the number that show up for a mini camp in the Spring and the number that actually show up to try-out in August may tell a different story. There are a lot of other priorities for young men from cars and jobs to school and girls – and not necessarily in that order.

For some, like a certain hockey mom who shall remain nameless, the mini camp brought with it a realization that the Boy is now playing with men. At Midget, the age range is 16-18, which equals a noticeable difference in size and stature. The “boys” coming out of the dressing room who would be sharing the ice with the boy during the camp were by no means “boys”.  Full beards, six-packs, other well-defined muscle mass and more than a few tattoos revealed grown men.  After tryout one, the Boy himself quipped, “A few of us younger guys were thinking that maybe we should show up a the next skate with fake moustaches, just so we can fit in.”  He likewise noticed the disparity.  The Boy, with mild alarm, also said he had a pretty good idea where he could go if he needed to score (and not in the hockey sense). Another facet of growing up that’s even more front and centre at school among other places.

All that being said, we were heartened to see that the difference in size, strength and apparent maturity did not translate into a significant gap once everyone hit the ice.  At this age, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge who’s playing to their full potential, however not too many stood out above the pack. The Boy, for his part and to my somewhat objective, if no ever-so-slightly biased eye, held his own over the two days. Hell, he is nearly six feet tall and pushing 170 lbs. so we shouldn’t really be surprised.

We will no doubt just always see him as the Boy with the emphasis placed on the youth that word connotes. And we also know he’s out there playing with a bunch of other parents’ Boys who, with resistance, have watched the same physiological changes, but beneath the surface will always love watching their little kids playing a little kid’s game.



Getting Organized

The roster for the Devil’s team has been finalized. No other immediate signs of defections or mutinies on the horizon. With the stress of tryouts somewhat behind us, but never totally forgotten, it is time to get down to the business of organizing and running the team.

The season won’t officially begin and no ice will be touched until sometime in late August or more likely early September, but there is plenty to do. And so, last week I got together with my newly appointed manager (a critical and often thankless role on a minor hockey team) to begin building the checklist of things we have and want to do with and for this team. A checklist which includes creating a budget, opening a bank account, completing an official roster, building a contact list, organizing fundraising activities to offset the cost to each player’s family, finding and registering in tournaments, scheduling team building and pre-season training, etc….and finding parents on the team who are willing and able to help with all of these tasks.  I’m quickly realizing that running a minor hockey team is a lot like running a small business. I actually heard a speaker at a business function today refer to running his business as a “do-ocracy”, which is a concept I would like to adopt in that if something needs to get done then we find someone to do it. The more helpers; the merrier the team; and certainly the merrier the manager.  I promised my manager, who was hesitant at first because of past experiences where he had little to no help, that I would ensure he had all the help he needed.

My second immediate course of business was to select my coaching staff.  After careful consideration, including an assessment of my new team’s political landscape, I approached a few individuals who I felt would be able to help me on the ice during practice, on the bench during games and at the rink in general. 

My first choice was an unaffiliated personal friend who has a great deal of hockey experience, having actually coached the Boy a few moons ago.  I am very fortunate that he agreed to give up a fair bit of his personal time to help me out. I will gladly pay him back in spades because I’m confident he will be an invaluable resource in terms of providing objective opinions and feedback on player and team performance.  I believe the parent group will also be pleased with this choice as there can be no concern regarding bias for one player over another as can often be the case when a parent/coach is involved.  My other assistant and alternate assistant (required to fill in during inevitable scheduling conflicts) will be parents who I know have previous coaching experience; in one case with me on the Devil’s team a couple of years back.  I trust they will follow my lead where fair play, ice time and a primary focus on individual player development are concerned.

The other roles already filled include the trainer/backup trainer, the fundraising committee of three and the social coordinator. Yes, a team does need a social coordinator to figure out accommodations, team meals and extracurricular activities during the 4 or 5 out-of-town tournaments that the team may attend during the season. At our first team meeting last night, one of the parents quipped that a social coordinator should also be charged with ensuring the parents’ social activities during tournaments are in order. However, I’m fairly certain our hockey dads and moms will have no difficulty entertaining themselves, if my observances from the past 10+ years are any indication.

Last night’s first team meeting was arranged to introduce the preliminary staff and to ask for volunteers for a few other positions (timekeepers, statisticians, dressing room moms (as we male coaches understandably aren’t allowed in until about 10 mins before a game) and someone to maintain a team Web site).  I also wanted to communicate some of the more immediate scheduling/tasks we have on our plate.  Fundraising, for instance, can never start too early as the team does have some early expenses to cover.  We do already have a pre-season September tournament we can and should register for right away in order to secure a spot.  Registration = Downpayment. So we’ll all be soliciting friends, neighbors and others shortly with a fine selection of frozen meats and seafood just in time for BBQ season and all in support of a wonderful cause indeed.

Our initial meeting, cut short by a cold Spring drizzle down by the lake, also provided an opportunity for the players to really meet; in some cases, for the first time.  This is very much a team of new faces from different places.  I had each introduce themselves and their parents, where present. I am still working on putting names to a couple of faces, but that of course will come with time.

The final course of business last night was the final determination of jersey numbers. Each year there are inevitably conflicts between players who would like the same number. The Devil, for instance, has had a conflict each of the last three years – she apparently favours very popular numbers. Her only problem, in this regard, is that she is not what you would call “lucky” when it comes to the use of tie-breaking measures. As such, she has not had her number of choice (#8) in any of the past three seasons. Instead, she has been #18, #6 and most recently #4, which are at least even numbers, but admittedly poor consolations from her perspective.  Her brother, by comparison, has donned the #3 (just like yours truly I might proudly add) since he started playing the game.

Last night, it was decided between the Devil and her new rival for #8 (one of her teammates from last year) would partake in a best 2 out of 3 rock-paper-scissors competition.  She would naturally come out on the wrong end, though she did force a third and deciding face-off. This coming season the Devil will be #7; which I was quick to point out has quite often been referred to as a “lucky” number.  We will see what luck it brings this year I’m sure.

Perhaps more by good fortune or planning than luck, I do have a very good feeling about this group – of players and parents combined. Both, of course, are necessary to ensure a successful and enjoyable season for all. I am committed to doing all I can to facilitate a positive, fun and open environment. Early indications are that I won’t be alone in his endeavour; which I was sincerely hoping would be the case. I am not so naive to think the coming season will not have its challenges, but I’m hopeful that we’ve set a course on a fairly bump-free journey.

And if nothing else, I will definitely come out of this exercise with a new appreciation for organization, collaboration and a few other -tions we’ll need to implement in order to survive a full season of minor hockey.

#imahockeydad #imahockeycoach

Trial by Fire for a Rookie

I knew I would have a hectic and most likely nerve-wracking rookie coach tryout week. It was all that and then some as the past couple of days threw me a couple of curves I definitely wasn’t expecting.  As anticipated, my tryouts started with a healthy group of 45 skaters and four goalies, that would have to be pared down to 15 and 2.  Three sessions immediately did not seem like enough, but that is what we were given and that is what we would use to the best of our abilities.

With only the three skates, it would be necessary to release a fairly large number of hopefuls right after the first 90 minute review.  So my evaluators and I endeavoured to identify 15 players who we felt just weren’t presently at the appropriate level. I put implicit trust in the five individuals I asked to help me evaluate prospects.  Two others would complement these initial five as the process went on. I wanted to be sure I had a good variety of experienced-based opinion as I held the fate of these 12 and 13 year olds in my hands.

Before each skate I ventured in to the dressing room to provide my version of a pre-tryout pep talk.  I started each by asking, “Who’s nervous?”, which prompted a few hands to slowly rise.  I follow that with “Oh good, I’m not the only one.” There was no falsehood in that statement. Then I said some other stuff about skating hard and shooting harder, which I am sure fell on deaf ears for most. The Devil couldn’t recount much when I asked her what I said.

I was very pleased following the first skate to find out that my evaluators and I were pretty much bang on in our independent assessments of the talent on the ice.  45 was reduced to 30 for tryout #2.

However, the end of the first evaluation provided my first real challenge as I identified an out-of-town goaltender as a leading candidate for one of the two spots I had available at that position. Being out-of-town and possibly considering other options, I decided to approach this player and ask if I could offer her a spot on my team immediately.  I and my evaluators had seen enough in one session to know she was the #1 or 2 keeper on the ice.  Unfortunately, my offer of a position was turned down as this player was indeed exploring other options in other hockey centres.  I would find out two days later that these options would pan out for her. I was now evaluating only three goaltenders to fill two positions.

The evaluation process became a little simpler with only 30 players to look at, but the level of difficulty from a decision perspective grew exponentially.  The differences between players in this smaller sample size were likewise smaller.  At the end of the second 60 minutes I looked to my evaluators for their assessments. This time we were not at the same level of agreement. They had identified a couple of surprise contenders for positions, who I had not previously considered. They also tagged a couple of players for release who I had hoped would shine a little brighter. It was time to consider releasing players I, and more importantly the Devil, had closer ties to. We spent a fair bit of time post-skate discussing the pros and cons of each player in question.  In the end, I again ultimately went with the objective advice of my selection team.  These were the first set of releases I knew I would dread.  In the first two rounds, releases simply take the form of players’ numbers not appearing on a posted list of returning players.  I double checked my list, pasted it to the rink glass and hustled out of the arena so as not to have to witness the veritable carnage I was about to create. Cue the first of a few sleepless nights in a row.

I decided to take to the ice with the players for the third and final skate in order to get a sense of their on-ice personalities in addition to their hockey skills; particularly of those with whom I’d had no previous experience. A much different, if not more valuable, perspective than what you get up in the stands. By the last skate, we were down to only having to release a few at forward and defence along with one goalie. Another real tough set of releases were waiting on the horizon. The final selections and releases are handled via letters given to each player in sealed envelopes with explicit instructions to not read them until they have reached their vehicles; away from each others’ curious eyes. The goal is to lessen, as much as possible, any sort of public humiliation for those being released. But, of course, the brutal truth forces itself out in relatively short order; if not in the parking lot against instructions then on Facebook within the hour.

My post-tryout plan included a brief team meeting to provide congratulations to those who’s efforts were rewarded with a position on the team, to relate some of my immediate plans and to cover a few administrative details. For most of those in attendance, yours truly excluded, the nervousness of the past week subsided. I was surrounded by a group of visibly relieved players and parents.

I, on the other hand, still harboured some jitters fueled by the fact that I had made some difficult releases. I received news from a father that one such release did not make it beyond the parking lot. She had, in fact, broken down upon learning her fate, prompting two of the players I’d chosen sto forego my team meeting in favour of to consoling her. In fairness, she had played at this level last season with these two players, but I was unable to grant her the same in light of the evaluations of others on the ice over the past three sessions.  I and my team felt there were other more appropriate choices based on our honest assessment.

After the team meeting, which did not conclude until well after 10pm on a Thursday evening, I did finally exhale, confident in my selections; at peace with my decisions, tough as some may have been.

Fast forward less than 24 hours to a bizarre turn of events.  I received a call on my mobile phone from the previous evening’s news-bearing father who was now calling to tell me that his daughter, who I offered a position on my team, had somehow managed to be counter-offered and accepted a position on another team in another centre. I was flabbergasted.  How had his daughter even auditioned for this other team as I understood that their tryouts had concluded over a week before. I was driving a the time so I pulled over to process what had just occurred. The phone rang again. The call display announced that the father of the other consoler from the night before was on the line.  I simply answered “Let me guess? Your daughter has accepted an offer to play in another centre?”  He confirmed this to be the case. I had apparently chosen two players who auditioned with no real desire to play on my team.  I don’t think I’m out of line to ask aloud — Who does that?

I was suddenly, quite inexplicably, short two players. I immediately called my association rep for advice, though I knew what had to be done. I would need to scramble as the tryouts for the team directly below me were scheduled to start in three hours.  I had to decide on and locate two players who I had released. I must then find these players before they stepped on the ice for the next round. I also had to inform the coach of that team that I would be taking back two of the players he thought would be vying for positions on his squad – players he was no doubt looking forward to securing as they were among my last releases.

I was able to find one of the players in time, but not the other.  My only course of action was to physically attend the next tryout – to go to a rink where a whole group of players whom I’d just released, and their parents, would no doubt be thrilled to see me.  My other chosen player was at the rink. In fact, she was in the dressing room getting ready for her next tryout. I spoke with her father to see if he thought she might be willing to accept my decision – my necessity – to revoke her release. I was pleased, and I believe fortunate, that both players I re-approached were thrilled to have been given another opportunity to play with and for me.

Quite a turn of events to arrive at a team of 17 players who I now believe all do want to play together on this team. And that will be key to the success of this group as with any team.  I told the girls who did attend my first team meeting that, I have, at this point, only selected a bunch of talented individual players.  Our combined job now is to become a team in the true sense of the word. That’s what we’ll begin working on when we get together in a couple of weeks; after all of the stress and turmoil of tryouts has fully subsided.

I sure did find out why some coaches say this is the worst week of the year; though I submit that mine was a little more difficult than it needed to be. The story of the players who decided to jump ship in the final hour has yet to play out in full. There are rules that appear to have been circumvented.  I will leave that for authorities to sort out. 

However, on the face of it, I don’t believe the hockey gods will approve of the way the whole scenario unfolded. I, as a hockey dad, certainly wouldn’t set an example for my kids based on deception and dishonour.  Hockey after all is supposed to be a game based on honour and respect. That’s what I want to convey to my players and my kids.  In that regard, I was proud of the Devil who competed hard throughout the evaluations to make sure no one questioned the fact that I was given the privilege of coaching a team. She made sure she belonged there.  In doing so, she at least made that part of my rookie experience this week a little easier.


Time to Make Some Friends and Possibly Some Enemies

The top (AA) team’s tryouts have concluded. And so, tomorrow night I begin the unenviable task of selecting a team of my own. I anticipate having to whittle a starting group of 50+ players down to 17 over three skates encompassing a combined period of 2 1/2 hours – hardly seems like enough time, but it is what it is.  I need to build a team of deserving athletes who I feel I and my to-be-chosen staff will be able to work with and develop both individually and as a team over a six-plus month hockey season.

I know already this will not be an easy or enjoyable task, particularly when it comes to deciding the final few players who will no doubt only differ by the slimmest of margins in my gut. I will rely heavily on the combined observations and opinions of six people I trust to help me make informed and objective decisions. I’ve chosen six unaffiliated evaluators to ensure bias is eliminated from the selections. I will also leverage the copious notes I obtained through attending the previous team’s whittling process as many of those players will filter down to my tryouts. But no matter which way I slice it, emotion will come into play – the players’ and mine. Some feelings will be hurt. I know, because as a hockey dad, I’ve been on the other side many times.  I’ve felt my kid was “unjustly” cut from a team from an undoubtedly biased perspective.  I’ve stood next to my kid as they received their news; felt their dejection.  I may have to release a player or two that I know personally.  In fact, after five plus years of the Devil playing hockey in this town, it’s pretty much a certainty.

Someone asked me the other day if I’m nervous yet. I replied “If I’m not nervous, it doesn’t matter enough to me” which has generally been my approach going into presentations at work.  So I’ll spend the next week resisting the urge to re-adopt my nail biting habit.  I will no doubt have a couple of sleepless nights. In the end, we all know it’s just a game; we all get that someone has to be chosen and someone else will be released, but that doesn’t make it any easier – on either of us.  Other coaches I’ve talked to say this is the worst week of the year and I guess I’m about to find out.  I just hope I’m able to make fair cuts that leave minimal scars. 

#imahockeycoach and #imahockeydad

Riding the Waves

The hockey dad life ebbs and flows like the ocean. We’re in a small ebb now, but a killer wave is rising in the near distance. You go from spending an inordinate amount of time in rinks watching your two kids and their teams play here, there and everywhere to having time to scrub the deck, scrape the barnacles and watch The Masters. Don’t get me wrong; the break is welcomed.  I’m sure the Boy and Devil, who put in way more physical, if not psychological, effort than we do, will concur. They no doubt become a little weary of their lengthy time at sea.

The end of the kids’ hockey seasons actually coincides nicely with the start of the NHL hockey playoffs and the Major League Baseball season.  I’m a self-admitted big sports fan.  Hell, I’ll even watch darts or billiards in a pinch. But its never quite the same as watching your own. Rooting for them. Urging them on.  Reveling in their wins. Agonizing over their losses. The legions of hockey parents who, like us, usher their kids to rinks across the nation no doubt get the same rush from participating in the game.

In a couple of weeks, I get to begin participating at yet another level as a head coach – Captain of me own ship if you will. My rooting, urging, reveling, agonizing will have to be tempered with delegating, mentoring, leading – coaching. I will have a group of players, coaches, parents looking to me for guidance – measuring my ability to affect team and individual successes – the criteria for which will differ with nearly every player and parent.

As a new coach/pirate, I will unashamedly beg, borrow and steal ideas, insights and techniques from sea-farers and salty dogs I’ve worked with in the past or those who wish to provide assistance as the season progresses. I’ve already begun compiling a library of evaluation forms, drills, season plans, preliminary schedules and budget documents – all necessary tools in running a tight ship.

Beyond the selection of the team, which deserves a full examination of its own, one of my first priorities will be identifying my support group of manager, assistant coaches, trainers and others. The emphasis will most certainly be on teamwork.  I will rely on these crew members to help steer the ship – keep it on a somewhat even keel. Opinions will be welcomed and measured. Suggestions will be applied within the context of a course we’ve charted for the season.  We will surely encounter our share of unsettled waters as all ships inevitably do.  The full measure of a crew is one who works hard through to a see journey’s successful end.

I guess this has all been a prelude to saying I’m nearly ready to set sail on my maiden voyage.  All aboard who’s comin’ aboard!


End of Another Season….Next

The Devil’s season mostly ended, or at least we had the farewell party, this past weekend.

The team was treated to an opportunity to take in the final game of the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup.  The girls, in their dark jerseys, lined the glass at one end of the rink with inflated beater bats in hand to cheer on Montreal vs. Toronto.  As Montreal took most of the play to Toronto in a lopsided 5-0 victory, our young ladies appeared to be cheering for the visiting side as they flashed up and down the ice in their familiar red, white and blue Montreal colours. The game action was impressive, despite the uneven score. There were some strong power moves, some very good saves and one beautiful top-shelf goal. The game no doubt gave our still-fresh athletes something to aspire to.

Post-game, we headed to a local rink for food, our own turn on the ice and some time to reflect on the season past.

After putting a pretty good dent in 11 pizzas, a veggie tray and a few 2L bottles of soda, the head coach took the stage to thank his many supporters and reward the kids with a medal for their efforts and a custom lithograph of the team he commissioned a local artist to produce – some lasting memories for our players who had worked hard and certainly improved throughout the year. The medals were a consolation for having narrowly missed the league finals and a spot in the provincial championships. They had certainly come as close as they could have, thus ensuring a successful season no matter the final result.  In short, medals were well deserved.

Hockey mom and I, who have a standing tradition of turning the hundreds of candid action photos we take into year-end, sound-tracked video montages, shared our latest compilation. It’s always good to hear the kids and parents alike laughing at shared memories. DVD copies for nearly the whole team have been requested and will be delivered.

With full bellies, coaches and players took to the ice for a skills competition, complete with prizes for some added incentive, and a quick game of 3-on-3.  The pressure of the last month’s games has long-since faded.  The girls just had fun. More laughing as they rushed after loose pucks or issued fake body checks along the boards. The game had about 20 penalty shots which had some girls cursing their assistant coach turned ref. I will admit I’ve never seen two penalty shots called on one infraction, but we do know it never pays to argue with a ref.

The day was capped fittingly with cupcakes and well wishes.  Some of these players will be on teams together again, while others may not.  Overall, this will be a fine season full of positive experiences for them to recall.  I believe the Devil would say the same.

The team actually still has some practice ice left over despite the end-of-the-year celebration. This season surplus will be used as tune-up ice for next season’s tryouts, which begin in a little over a month’s time.  Just enough time to take a deep breath before starting all over again.  Only this time it will all be a little different for yours truly – a hockey dad and a head coach.  Perhaps a couple of deep breaths are in order.


It’s Mostly Over…for Now

The Devil’s season ended with a thud a couple of nights ago as game four of what should have been a three-game series found them on the wrong side of a 5-2 score. Before the game, there were some nervous parents, including yours truly, pacing around and trying to decide where to stand for the game in order to satisfy their superstition. One parent even decided to stay home so as not to jinx the team. He was away for their last win and then present for their last loss so he chose to stay away.  I actually remembered just in time that the team manager had asked if I would handle the timekeeping/scoring for this critical game.  In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t agreed to perform these duties.

As the game started, the girls appeared to be nervous too, letting an opponent walk in from the corner with the puck to score the first goal only a minute and a half in.  I think we all knew that getting behind by a goal was not preferred.  Goals had been at a premium for the Devil’s team throughout the playoffs.  Prospects for a win got even bleaker a few minutes later as the visiting side deposited another puck in behind our goalie.  A one-goal deficit was not good; coming back from two goals down was nearly insurmountable.  The Devil would bang home a rebound to cut the lead to 2-1, but the bad guys would restore their two-goal advantage.  The girls would spend an awful lot of the game in the penalty box. For whatever reason, they simply did not play their typical game.  Many of the penalties were for hooking, which meant they were getting beat to the puck.  Once you’re beat, the natural reaction is to reach out with your stick to try to slow your opponent down.

With around three minutes left in the game, the Devil and her mates would cut the lead to 4-2.  The visitors would take a couple of penalties around the two-minute mark. After pulling their goalie, the home side had a rare six on three advantage for about 3-0 seconds. However, in that time they were not able to cut into the lead.  An empty net goal would seal the deal; sending the bad guys on to the provincial playdowns and leaving our girls with countenances that hollered out their dejection.  Just like that the season was over.

We do still have a few practices left. The first was yesterday.  Only four players showed up for what became a disjointed game of shinny. Not surprising with the season over and March break just beginning.

The remaining optional practices will be primarily used to keep the girls’ legs loose for next season’s tryouts, which start in about a month’s time. Yup, we all get but a wee rest before the cycle of a season begins anew.  Particularly your truly who has to start thinking about evaluators, on-ice helpers and drills to help select my own team.  New teammates, parents, coaches, friends and stories will follow in short order. I’m just hoping I can find time to keep telling them.


I’mGonnaBeAHockeyCoach Now Too

Time for the rubber to hit the road as they say.  I was notified over the weekend that my quest to become the head coach of the Devil’s hockey team next season has been successful.  Presumably after careful consideration of my application and interview in relation to other applicants for the position, it was determined by the selection committee that I am indeed well suited to take on this important role as teacher, mentor and influencer to a team of 13 and 14 year old young women.  I’d like to think I was able to convey to the committee that I will do my best to uphold the position to the best of my ability through a successful season.

I am both excited and nervous about the challenges that lie ahead.  My focus will be on developing the individual and team skills of each player in a positive environment.  In fact, I believe my ability to accomplish the former is contingent on my ability to ensure the latter. Effective learning can only happen when the pupils enjoy working for their benefit and towards a common goal.  Success for me will be measured in terms of the growth of the players as individuals and athletes; emotionally and technically.

In my first head coaching role in a few years and my first at the rep level, I realize I have a lot to learn as well.  I expect my fair share of growing too.  I will definitely draw on the past experiences I have had in coaching clinics as well as strategies, drills, etc. that I have gleaned from coaches I have worked with before.  I will also rely on my staff, who have yet to be selected, resources the league will make available and many of my friends who have hockey knowledge. Last, but certainly not least, I will look to my team for learning cues. They will ultimately provide my validation.

The first big challenge I will face is the selection of the players who will make up the team. Here again, I will lean on a team of trusted friends/evaluators to help me arrive at a group of players we feel will work well together towards the aforementioned common goal.  A group of players who will respect, trust and play together as a team. This first part of the job might also be the hardest as selecting players for a team also involves not selecting players for a team – there’s no way to remove history, relationships, opinions or emotions from the equation.  I hope to be able to handle this process with objectivity and respect. I will do my best to communicate clearly while providing every opportunity for feedback.

The Devil will also have her challenges, as she’s now the coach’s daughter, which brings with it an automatic spotlight. I would not have applied for the position if I thought this would be a problem for her. So I expect she will embrace the challenge. I will help as admittedly I’m a hockey dad before I’m a hockey coach.  More learning for the two of us to work through.

Lots to process, lots to learn – it’s gonna be a fun ride as any coach of any team can surely attest! Wish me luck.

But before any of that happens, the Devil and her team are still battling to extend this season with a berth in the Provincial Playdowns next month. To that end, their three-game (actually 4-point) series with their biggest rival (as previously documented ad nauseum) was extended to game four because of a 1-1 ties last night.  The girls had a 1-0 lead going into the third period after dominating the game to that point.  But they surrendered the slim margin on what can only be described as a goddamn fluky, bouncing shot with eyes. Such is women’s hockey where garbage goals abound; we’ve had our share. And so, the deciding game four will go tomorrow night on home turf.  One more 32-minute round of heart-clutching torture mixed with delight; which we all hope will lead to yet more of the same on a slightly bigger stage to put a fitting cap on an already successful season.


And Then There Was One

Just two days and technically 45 minutes after an epic win to salvage their series, the Boy’s team’s season came to less than dramatic halt on the backside of a 4-2 loss. Momentum from the previous game certainly carried the visiting team through the first two and a half periods of the game. A tied series felt like a real possibility as the boys opened a 2-0 lead with some very dominant play.  A two-nil lead could have just as easily been four-nil as the visiting side was firing on all cylinders.

Then the middle of the came turned out to be a virtual crest in the road. Aggressive play tuned into timid play; particularly in the defensive zone. The entire team seemed to collapse back into their goaltender. The home team became the aggressor after scoring their first goal. While the Boy and his teammates never gave up, they certainly seemed to back down (or at least back up).  The home team, already up four points to two in the six point series, finished the second period with a 3-2 lead. The boys had 15 minutes to square the score, which would have kept their season dimly alive. But another goal by the home side, quickly deflated already fragile spirits.  Play in the rest of the period was noticeably desperate and panicked. The crowd got quiet as we too could feel the game, series and season slipping away.

An opposing penalty and resulting power play opportunity in the last two minutes of the game provided one last ray of hope. The goalie would be pulled to create a six on four player advantage, which would in turn provide a couple of scoring chances. However, the soon-to-be victors keeper held strong to preserve the win. 

The game/series, which had its fair share of animosity, unfortunately ended on a sour note with a late penalty then a game ending skirmish. The refs, to their credit, were quick to dissipate the situation. At the end of any series, good or bad, a time-honoured tradition has the combatants shake hands in a show of good sportsmanship. In a show of poor sportsmanship, one of the victorious coaches chose to not shake hands with his counterparts – not the right message to be sending to a group of 15 and 16 year old boys. 

In quick retrospect, our group of boys had a pretty good yet that provided a lot of unique tests of individual and team character.  While they didn’t achieve all of their goals, I think some of them learned and grew – most of them enjoyed their time with this team. They and we all have a substantial store of good and bad memories.

Now the focus turns back to the Devil, who is still wrapped tightly in two exciting series – the first of which resumes in a couple of days. Just enough time to take a breath and ease some shaky nerves. With all the talk of two long seasons, I’m still not ready to see them both end.


Must Win Thrillers

The last three games, in the last three nights, all must-wins for the Devil and the Boy, have provided as much drama for the players, coaches and especially we spectators in the stands as nearly the whole year combined.  Ya just gotta love playoff hockey.

Two nights ago the Devil and her mates played their latest game against their closest rivals, having already lost the first game in a best-out-of three series which will determine who gets to go on to play in the provincial championships.  The girls played what could best be described as a bend-but-don’t-break game that saw them score the first and only goal half-way through the second period. Our goalie, not unlike other games this year, “stood on her head”; pushing away several good scoring chances from the other side.  On one shot in particular that had its sights on the bottom stick side of the net, she instinctively threw out her right leg, just barely getting her toe in the way of the oncoming puck. On the bench for this game, I watched a great deal of it behind splayed fingers, as did many of the onlookers in the stands I’m sure. But in the end the girls prevailed, sending the series to a game three back at the same foreign rink in exactly one week’s time.

Cut to last night, where the Boy’s team turned the drama up a few notches. I almost don’t know where to start describing this third game of a six point series, which had our team facing elimination with a loss.  To start, the team would be dressing only ten out of 15 skaters as they dealt with two season-ending injuries, one two-game suspension from earlier in the series, one player on a family vacation in Florida and one competing in the provincial high school cross-country skiing championships. One of the ten dressed skaters had injured his wrist lifting weights in gym class earlier in the day and the other had injured his shoulder in the previous match.  The player with the injured shoulder would only sit on the bench as an emergency backup should someone be needed to serve a ten minute misconduct penalty (crafty little coaching move, indeed). The team was shorthanded to say the least.

But it gets worse. The hockey gods seemed to be frowning.  One on the nine players who was capable of skating realized just before the game started that he had a broken skate. He was lucky to be able to borrow a pair from a team coming off the ice from a previous game.  So we started the game with a hodge podge of forwards and defencemen.  The opponents, with a full bench, no doubt salivated at their prospects for a win.

The Boy and his rag-tag side had other ideas. They came out aggressive right off the hop. The Boy was able to split the D on a rush in the first couple of minutes. He was hauled down, crashing into the net with the puck in tow. At first, we in the crowd thought we witnessed a quick goal, but instead the ref called a tripping penalty; giving the Boys their first powerplay opportunity. They would not score early, but would dominate play for much of the game.  As the other team scrambled, their goalie and defence were forced to knock the net off its moorings on at least four occasions. On the last of these, the Boy threw the puck into a dislodged net – another goal disallowed, but the Boy and his mates mock-celebrated to let the visitors know they were going to keep coming.

Then the break came as the home team was fighting off a penalty. The Boy pressured an opposing defenceman into turning over the puck.  He scooted in behind him and broke towards the goalie with the startled defenceman in hot pursuit.  He was able to throw the puck up an over the goalie’s left shoulder to establish a one-goal lead.  Now the challenge would be squarely on the nine, exhausted skaters for the remainder of the second and the entire third period. Hockey mom did her part, by ordering in a round of energy drinks to boost the psychological, if not, the physical spirits of the young warriors.

With all the adversity they’d faced to this point, what else could possibly go wrong? How about another broken skate at the start of the third period; this time on the foot of a different defenceman.  The only option, it seemed, was on the foot of the tenth penalty emergency player. His skate was subsequently transferred to where is was needed more. The newly equipped defencemen was able to rejoin the team after a quick “pit stop”.

The final event in this multi-act play was a collision between the Boy and an opposing player in the corner of the rink. The Boy went down in a heap. The trainer was summoned to do a quick assessment; before calling on a couple of other players to pick the Boy up and escort him back to the bench, reportedly with a fair stream of drool running out of his cage. All the while, the crowd looked on as both teams got something of a rest prior to finishing the last half of the final frame. The Boy would shake off the hit and return a couple of shifts later.

Scoring chances would be exchanged in the dying minutes. The Boy’s goaltender came up big on more than one occasion. The good guys held on to their painfully slim margin for the victory. Victorious, nine players and a backup goalie poured onto the ice to celebrate.  Another must-win game four is tomorrow night;  back in the bad guys’ playground.

Finally, cut to tonight and the last of three consecutive critical games. This time the Devil’s team was taking on the first-place squad from the regular season who had already won game one 2-0 at home. A first-place squad who only lost 4 out of 22 regular season games. The home side certainly had their work cut out for them.  But they’ve proven in the past that they can play against strong opponents.  And play they did. They battled hard the entire contest. Without looking at the stats, I would guess that they were outshot; our goalie shone again in behind her embattled crew.

As in the past two evenings, the game would be decided by a single goal coming on a seemingly harmless shot by the Devil towards the end of the second period, followed by a scramble for the puck in front of the goalie.  One of the Devil’s line-mates was able to poke the puck past, through, over and/or under the sprawling goalie. It was difficult to determine how exactly the puck found its way into the net, but that’s where it ended up; delivering an early death knell to the visitors. Once again, the home team would fight tooth and nail to preserve a win and to play another day. Another victory huddle would form around the winning tender.  This series will end, one way or another, this coming weekend. Both teams now know it’s anybody’s game.

There you have it. Three identical 1-0 decisions in three nights have sprouted a few more gray hairs on my aging noggin. These kids and their teams may have very well knocked a couple of days off my life expectancy. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. The post-game jubilation I’ve witnessed on the ice is worth every chewed fingernail. The high-fives and fist-bumps I see other parents exchanging tells the same story.  We’re all proud of the efforts our players are putting in; particularly when their backs have been against the wall.  Keep it up all ye young hockey soldiers.  We’re gonna keep cheering you on as best we can.