Getting to Know Hockey Refs on a First-Name Basis

Hockey Ref

I’ve pondered whether or not I should share this for a while, not wanting to come off as another whiny hockey coach questioning a referee’s judgment and spewing sour grapes after a loss. However, upon reflection and after having retold the tale to several empathetic friends and family, I decided it was well worth relating, if only to illustrate the oddity for your enjoyment and my own catharsis.

The story begins with a second rematch on the road with a league rival against whom we’d lost by a goal and tied 1-1 in our two previous meetings. We on the coaching staff were enthusiastic about our chances to even up the series with a victory of our own and some momentum built on the team’s play from the past week. Unfortunately, our momentum was squashed a few minutes into the first period when a turnover in the neutral zone was followed by a bouncing puck finding its way through our goaltender. A second goal for the bad guys just before the end of the first resulted in some droopy shoulders on the part of our skaters. With two periods to go the deficit was certainly not insurmountable and I urged the team to keep battling as they had in recent games. Battle they did until halfway through the second period when when our foes found the back of the net again. Shoulders would continue to shrug on and off the ice resulting in yet two more goals against and a 5-0 hole with a period to play.

Between periods I had one simple message for the team, “Let’s just go out and win the next period.” I told them to get back to playing smart, aggressive hockey as we knew they could. You could sense the frustration in the room mounting. Back on the ice I was happy to see a different team. We were holding our own. We were getting a few scoring opportunities. Early in the period, there were what I thought were a couple of missed calls by the referee as our girls were either interfered with or, in one instance, hauled down. With Momma in my ear of late regarding the chirping of refs, I held my opinions to myself. Momma has warned me our oft penalized team may be getting a reputation, which may have been a factor in my impending dilemma. As the game wore on one of our players took her frustration out with an indisputable body check and served a 2 minute penalty as a result. When she returned to the bench she was reprimanded, however, on her next shift she made her way to the sin bin again after being called for an apparent head contact infraction, which I did not see. Regardless, when she was done with this second penalty I let her know she would not be playing in the final couple of minutes of the game; which I think she already realized.

CoachingAbout a minute later, with only 46 seconds remaining in regulation time, the real crux of this saga arrived. As an oncoming player tried to enter our defensive zone one of our bigger defenders stood straight up to greet her. The smaller player crumpled to the ice. About four or five healthy steamboats later, the head referee raised his hand to call a body contact penalty. I am certain no call would have been made had the greetee bounced to her feet. As the referee escorted my player to the penalty box I may have calmly suggested he note the presence of two teams sharing the ice. Without hesitation he turned and shouted, “Jeff, do you have a problem with me?” (Yeah, how the hell did he know my name? Guess he spent some time reading the game sheet.) Then he skated over to address me and I stepped down from the bench to meet him. I was so taken aback by his initial use of my first name, I can only paraphrase what he said next…”Jeff (he did it again) do you not see what’s happening out here? Are you seriously questioning my calls? In all my years of reffing I have not seen such an aggressive team. Maybe you should go back and learn how to coach.” Our team Captain staining to my right argued, “He can’t say that!”, with which I concurred, but returned to my spot on the bench bewildered by the ref’s verbal attack. Before he left to speak with the other coach he shouted, “Jeff, if I see one player leave this bench you are outta here!” I wasn’t sure what he actually meant by leaving the bench and waited for him to return to resume play. After a 30 second conversation with the other team’s coach he skated towards the faceoff circle, first stopping to issue one more warning, “Jeff, did you hear me? One more player and yor’re gone.” Despite my best efforts I could control my tongue no longer and shouted back, “Ohhhh, I hear you LOUD and CLEAR!” George Costanza, for all you Seinfeld fans, woulda been proud. I coulda used a little “Serenity Now!” I did not, however, at any point utter a single cuss word, which in retrospect may have better justified my fate. As you can imagine, a mere moments later I stepped down from my bench, stepped out onto the ice, slid over to and then thru the opposing team’s bench, which stood between me and the lobby, where I would watch the last 46 seconds of the game in disbelief. To add insult to injury, the home team would register one more goal for good measure. I, for my egregious indiscretion, would earn an extra game suspension. To my captain’s credit, she attempted to reason with the referee post-game and was told he may have missed a call or two, but we were still too aggressive.

At the risk of sounding bitter, I’ll contend this particular striped fellow’s perception was clouded. I did not, nor would I ever, condone overly aggressive play. We admittedly have a couple of players who have self-discipline challenges we have and likely will continue to struggle with. But at the top of my list of team rules is Respect for opponents, teammates and yes, even refs. Without knowing what may have brought his outburst on, I’ll suggest this particular ref could stand to take a peek at my list.

At practice three days later, I made my first order of business an apology to my players, for losing my composure as I’ve asked them to maintain theirs in the heat of battle. With no recourse, I took my league prescribed medicine in the next game, sitting with my parents up in the stands and wringing my hands through a 1-0 loss.

This weekend I’ll return to the bench for our home tourney with my lips firmly pursed. I have no plans on leaving again any time soon, but sometimes you never know what this game will throw at you. A good story or two at the very least.


Caution Hockey Parents – Silly Season Is Fast Approaching

Yeah, so in an extended moment of weakness a couple of months back I decided to apply for one more tour of hockey coaching duty. I guess I just can’t get enough of the all the time it takes to prep, spending 140+ hours in rinks between practices and games along with the ever present parent scrutiny and expectations raining down from the stands. But in truth, I applied again because I was fortunate this past season to have had the opportunity to work with a fantastic group of players. A true “team” with little to no infighting or divisions. The parent stuff is part of the job and at this point is mostly easy to simply let go in one ear and out the other. So I went through the interview process again; though mine was condensed being the incumbent for the position I sought. I had my answers ready ahead of time for the questions I thought I would be asked and sure enough was. A couple of weeks later the title of Head Coach was bequeathed upon me again.

Silly Season
My first important and least enjoyable coaching task, as always, will be to try to select another good group by going through tryouts. Any one who has been a hockey coach surely feels this is the worst part of the job. Having to evaluate 50 odd players and pare down to a group of 17, with there being often very little difference between the abilities of the last 5-10 players on your list. I personally rely fairly heavily on my group of evaluators to help make the best technical choices based on the quality of each player’s tryout. A three-day tryout is hardly enough time to measure the true relative strengths of all of these players and plenty of factors come into play with teenage girls. But the process is what it is and we do our best to work within it.  The difference with the last few players may be based your previous personal history with them; particularly at the Midget level where you’ve been on teams with the same players on and off for the last 5+ years. And sometimes you just have to go with your gut and hope for the best. One little twist to my tryout sessions this year is that they will be missing one notable participant, namely the Devil, who is still recovering from her broken fibula, sustained in a game in the closing weeks of last season. As Coach and Dad, I’d love to see her skate to justify her spot on the team, but she’s definitely not ready and I’m fairly certain no one will question her qualification based on her previous performance.

tryoutsAll of the tryout fun has already technically started as the team above mine started their selection process a couple of days ago. I’m attending their sessions to see what players I will have to choose from assuming they will attend my tryout once they’ve been released from the higher squad. Even though it’s only second tier Midget girls hockey (not to diminish it) the customary rumour mill has also already started.  Who’s going to try out for which team, who’s already committed or been promised a spot or who wants to play with who. Minor hockey is simply never free from politics. I do my best to keep an open mind by remembering my end goal is to simply keep the game fun for the players; particularly at this end stage of the minor hockey careers. This will be the Devil’s last year. I want to ensure she and her teammates have a positive experience; encouraging them to continue playing the game, regardless the level, or giving back to the game as coaches.

Of course, one of the other unavoidable challenges, is dealing with the ever-present hockey parents. While less so at this age, there are still a few out there who take the “game” too seriously for my liking. Others, as parents are wont to do, don particularly rose-coloured glasses this time of year. Their son or daughter is quite obviously the best player on the ice. And I get it, I’ve been there. Parent’s get pissed when their kids are rejected by a coach/team; a natural defence mechanism kicks in. Momma bear claws as our Momma likes to call them. But we’ve always told the Boy and the Devil they’d be fortunate if this was the worst rejection they ever received in life. Some parents are less objective as I hearken back to being accosted by an irate parent during last season’s tryout proceedings. So my open mind is paired with a solid set of blinders as I enter and exit the rink.  In an effort to quell parental tirades one of the Provincial governing bodies has sent an email to its hockey parents reminding them to behave providing a list of tryout tips. Perhaps I’ll include this link in my introductory letter to the parents of my prospective players. Or maybe I’ll simply ask here if anyone reading this can pass it along to their hockey parent friends. I’d rather not I, nor my coaching comrades, have to worry about dealing with extra difficult situations. For most of us, having to release players is tough enough on us already.

In a few days, my evaluations and a few sleepless nights will begin. Kindly wish me, the players and the parents safe passage through this thankfully short but certainly silly season, after which we’ll all take a Summer rest and no doubt quickly start pining for the smell of the rink again. Or feel free to commiserate here and let me know how you handle the stress of the tryouts whether your a player, parent or fellow coach.


Olympic Hockey Coaching Cues


As a diehard patriot the Canadian men’s and women’s teams’ Gold medal victories at the Sochi Olympics this past week were both fantastic events  proving we remain the preeminent hockey nation. The Devil, the Boy, Momma and I were all up before the crack of dawn on Sunday morning to join others at a raucous early morning viewing/cheering party, complete with Canadian beer and bacon. The game itself was a little anti-climatic as we all had a sense of the outcome after having seen our side systematically dispense of what was supposed to be a powerhouse American squad in a 1-0 semi-final game.


And the systematic nature of the victories has been my focus in recent practices and will be highlighted in upcoming pre-game speeches with my own team. These Olympic contests with all of their pre-tournament hype naturally grabbed our collective attention, like no other games in recent memory and were also chock full of excellent coaching opportunities. I recently said Hard Work and Team Work are core elements of hockey and its great to be able to reference how it’s done at the highest level. Here are some of the specific points I noted from the Games and have relayed to my troops, who quickly recognized and affirmed the lessons learned.

Keep Your Stick on the Ice

Goals for the Canadian men were few and far between as they took a decidedly defensive tack against the Olympic field. However, two of the prettiest goals of the tournament were scored by Jamie Benn in the semi-final against the US and Jonathan Toews in the Gold medal game because of sound fundamental hockey plays.

Jamie Benn with the Deflection against the US to get Canada to the Gold medal game.

Jonathan Toews tips in all the goals Canada needed to take the Gold.

Pucks were simply shot at the net where both players were able to deftly redirect them behind the opposing goalies because their sticks were ready and on the ice. On our team, this small detail is often the difference between a goal or at least a shot on net and more often just another errant pass. The night after the semi-final game I quizzed a few of our players at practice on what they remembered of the goal and they all chirped back “his stick was on the ice.” Lesson learned.

The dominance of the women throughout the tournament was likewise buoyed by their sound offensive play, including their commitment to keeping their sticks in shooting positions and at the ready resulting in the goals and wins they needed to reach the final. They too set a great example for us to share with our students of the game.

Quick Shifts

In the first couple of Canadian women’s matches, the amply experienced analyst Cassie Campbell was quick to point out several of the girls were taking shifts upwards of 50 seconds long. This behaviour did not hurt them on the scoreboard in their early games, but would need to be corrected if they expected to compete against their arch rivals from the U.S. who would play with increased ability and pace. Fresh legs would be required from one shift to the next.

The men, on the other hand, were lauded by other reputable commentators time and again for keeping their shifts under 30 seconds, in keeping with the game plan laid out by their coaching staff. Many of these superstars, who are used to playing 15-20 minutes per game, as the primary skaters on the ice, were being limited to under 10 minutes in order to make the “system” work.

In minor hockey, and for some on my team, shifts can get long, even eclipsing 60 seconds. Too long for a seasoned pro, much less a teenager. I ask for 30-45 seconds of all out effort, which should leave players out of breath and wanting to take a rest. Having Olympic examples to point to can certainly help to drive the point home.

Hard Work

Though they were not being “paid” to compete in these games, the men  on all of these Olympic teams certainly played with purpose and determination; no doubt taking pride in defending the crests on the fronts of their jerseys. Now, hockey players, by their very nature are a tough bunch who generally leave it all on the ice. However on this global stage, time and again there were clear displays of heart and courage. One that sticks out in my mind was US player and perennial shot blocker Ryan Callahan dropping to block three in one shift against Russia and stumbling to get back to his feet after the second.

The Canadian men for their part played a nearly flawless game of cycling the puck low in their foes’ ends game after game. This keep away strategy demands hard work by definition and Canada’s physically bigger forwards simply outworked all comers.

Just tonight we’ve learned Carey Price, Canada’s #1 goaltender aggravated an injury at some point during the Games, but battled through whatever pain or discomfort he felt right up until the final buzzer. I’m sure adrenalin had something to do with it.

Team Work

While both victorious Canadian squads arguably contained the best players in the world; neither could have reached their Golden goals without unselfish commitments to team play. I’ve already mentioned the men who logged uncharacteristically short ice-times, but perhaps the best example of the importance of teamwork came via the line shuffling done by the Canadian coaching staff. They knew they need to find the right combinations of superstars in order for their plan to work. All of these primarily offensive-minded players would need to adjust their games to suit the defensive approach; which most agree in the end was the key to victory. This group of players limited their opponents to only 3 goals in 6 games and none in either of their final two matches. In the third period of the Championship game Team Sweden, with its own bevy of offensive weapons, was only able to muster 4 shots.  Kinda tough to come back from a three-goal deficit at that rate. And then by comparison…

The Game Ain’t Over Till….

This one is the simplest and most dramatic of all lessons as our Canadian women found themselves on the wrong end of a 2-0 score with less than three and a half minutes left in their Gold medal tilt against those aforementioned (and somewhat disliked) Americans. American who, no doubt, had already started clock-watching in anticipation standing teary-eyed atop the podium as the Star Spangled Banner echoed through the Bolshoy Arena. Post-game several Canadian players claimed they never felt they were down and out. To say they never gave up is a severe understatement. To say they worked hard (see above) till the end would be spot on. The two-goal lead would be erased by Marie-Philip Poulin with a tying goal coming at the 54 second mark of the third period. Poulin and her mates would then complete the comeback with a heart-stopping overtime winner leaving the US side dumbstruck.

Don’t Forget to Say Your Prayers

Ok, just to make sure we tell the whole story of the Canadian Women’s victory and pay proper homage to the ever-present Hockey Gods, we would be remiss if we did not give some credit to a certain goal post, which allowed the game to go into overtime.

So thank you Teams Canada (and the all-knowing Hockey Gods) for setting the standards by which we can work to groom our own Champions. I’m always looking for ammunition to inform, encourage and rally the troops and you provided the same in spades. Over the next week I hope we’re able to glean inspiration and execution from the example you’ve set to secure a berth in our own Provincial Championships. I’ll just be happy if they never give up; a lesson I’m fairly confident they’ve already learned based on recent events.


Team Canada Olympic photos from the Hockey Canada Facebook Page

Don’€™t Be That Guy: 7 Attributes of Bad Minor Hockey Coaches


Don’€™t Be That Guy: 7 Attributes of Bad Minor Hockey Coaches

Don’€™t Be That Guy: 7 Attributes of Bad Minor Hockey Coaches


Don’€™t Be That Guy: 7 Attributes of Bad Minor Hockey Coaches

Riding the Ebbs and Flows of a Hockey Season

Ebbs and Flows of Hockey quote

One can easily argue the most wonderful and frustrating thing about sports is its unpredictability. This unpredictability is what lends addictive drama to each an every game. In this province, a popular sports lottery campaign is predicated on the notion “Anything can happen, anyone can win!” and more often than not this is the case no matter the sport. In football we hear the phrase “On any given Sunday” and in all sports we’re oft reminded, “That’s why you still have to play the games”, even when the outcome seems certain. Hockey from my experience and no matter the level  is not immune, and perhaps is even more susceptible, to chance. Maybe it’s because the game is played on ice thereby adding another level of complexity to each play. Or maybe the oft-mentioned, and in some cases fanatically revered  Hockey Gods have something to do with it.  Seasons, games, periods and even shifts in hockey rarely, if ever, go exactly to plan. I need only hearken back to a little girls’ hockey team that could from two years ago, who made it to the championship round of their division after finishing dead last during the regular season.

Now here I will contend, speaking from personal experience, that midget girls’ hockey (the operative words being midget (i.e. aged 15-18 year old) and girls’ (i.e. the female side of the species) takes this confounding unpredictability to a whole nother level for the coach. While I’m no expert, I am fairly certain the combination of ice, competition and teenage female hormones is a potentially explosive one. Exasperating as it might be from time to time, this is probably also part of the reason I deep down enjoy the challenge of coaching at this level. Case in point in my current team’s last two week stretch of six regular season games, which they completed with a 2-2-2 record. Having the perfectly split record illustrates part of my thesis, however, the nature and circumstances surrounding these games hammers the point home.

The first of our six games came only two days after the semi-final exit from our home tournament against the other team who found themselves in the final against our semi-final foes. One of my assistant coaches and I wondered before the game started who might have a hockey hangover from having played 4 and 5 games over the previous weekend. We would unfortunately get a resounding answer from our squad as they barely skated to an 8-2 thumping against a team they’d tied 1-1 in two previous contests. My post-game comments to a very quiet room were short and to the point; we call knew they could do better.

To make matters worse we ended the game with an increasingly tenuous goaltending situation on our hands. For the past month and a half we were in an unenviable position of having a single goaltender, borrowing backups from other teams where we could, while the other nursed an injured knee. As chance would have it, our “healthy” keeper sprained her ACL at the end of the second period  (putting her season on hold for at least a month); forcing the backup to face a third-period onslaught and potentially leaving us no backstop for our next game four games later. Our injured keeper was actually scheduled to come back in time for the next game, but with only one practice on her rehabilitated knee. Not to mention two additional games would follow over the following two days – three games in three days for a netminder coming back from a knee injury (did I mention this wasn’t the first time she’d injured the same knee).

Game two would pit us against a team just ahead of us in the standings and one we’d already lost to in our first tourney of the year. Oh and our goalie was just coming back off of injury, in case I haven’t already mentioned.   In keeping with my theme, in the pre-game I pointed out to the team on the same night as our blowout loss two teams in the NHL were likewise blown out as were three teams on the wrong side of 9-6,  9-4 and 9-3 scores in major junior hockey. Damned Hockey Gods were obviously in a mood on that particular night. I chalked up our own debacle to “Shit Happens”, paraphrased the quote noted off the top and told the girls I had supreme confidence in their ability to compete with anyone and to bounce back – to go with the flow if you will. And bounce back they did securing a 3-1 victory on the strength of a much better team effort and a stellar goaltending performance, which had yours truly wincing with every kick save hoping it would not be the last.

We’d ride the wave of this win into a match against the league’s second-place squad; or so we hoped. Indeed the girls did carry good momentum into this next contest, battling hard through a scoreless first period against a tough opponent. Unfortunately, the same compete level was not carried through to the second period as a few lacklustre shifts resulted in goals against. Before we knew it the period was over and our side was down 4-0. It honestly didn’t feel like a  4-0 game, but this was the score, our keeper was frustrated and I decided to have her watch the final frame from the bench in favour of our borrowed backup. The game would end with the same score as good pressure in the last 15 minutes did not result in any goals for the good guys. This game would have been a whole lot different with a few bounces…yeah, I’m talking to you again, Hockey Gods.

losing is essential to winning

The last game of three in a row would provide another test against a team just ahead of us in the standings. I told our side there had an opportunity to change the order of things as we had played fewer games than most of our rivals; particularly those above us. We would dominate the play for the first two periods of the game, but like our opponents, would not find the back of the net. Our keeper, now playing her third game in a row, looking no worse for wear, continued to her solid play between the pipes. In the third period, still knotted at zeros, one of our players took off on a breakaway and according to the fans in the stands sent a wrist shot into the net which bounced immediately back out. Neither the referee, nor I to be honest, saw the phantom goal. In fact, when she returned to the bench I told the player to make sure she followed her shot in the future to collect any errant rebounds. I found out later she also saw the puck go in, but didn’t celebrate or protest enough to draw the officials’ attention – a lesson learned for another day. The Hockey Gods struck again and we were left with a draw.

ability motivation and attitude

Fast forward six days, following a mid-week practice where we would try to address some weaknesses noted over the past couple of weeks, to our next date with the league’s last place team. To me, at this or any point, Last Place Team = Danger so I made sure to make no mention of this to any player. I also knew in a recent game between 1st Place and this same Last Place the former was only able to eke out a 2-1 victory (That’s why you still have to play the games!). And play we did, dominating the first two periods. Yet again we only took a 2-1 tie into the 3rd; far too close for comfort. The girls’ domination continued in the third as I don’t think the other side even managed to get a shot on our keeper, but the score remained the same. We likewise eked out a win in what could have just as easily been a five goal differential.

The sixth and final game of our set would pit us against the 2nd Last Place team in the division and one with which several of our players are particularly familiar being from the same town as many of the opposing players. This fact would naturally provide both motivation and heightened emotion to the affair; like we need more emotion in our games. And just as we’d experienced in at least 24 of the previous 26 games, we were in a battle from start to finish. Much like the previous game, we controlled a lot of the play and had several chances to score…chances foiled by the opposing goalie. Before the start of the final period in a 1-1 game, my exhortation to the five players taking the opening face-off was to simply go and grab the lead. Instead, they proceeded to give up a goal, quite the opposite of what I’d instructed, and we were forced to come from behind to secure a draw and another single point in the standings.

To reiterate, the line after six games read 2-2-2 or metaphorically flow-ebb-flow. More positively that’s two flows to one ebb.  Up and down we went and will no doubt continue to go as we strive for more highs than lows in the second half. Regardless, if the opening quote is true, and I believe it to be, a well structured, managed and cohesive team will navigate its way through the uneven tide. To their credit, this group has already shown an ability to bounce back from adversity. I wasn’t lying in game two last week when I said I have confidence in their ability to compete with anyone. Now it’s up to yours truly to properly motivate the crew, to not unduly anger the Hockey Gods and to navigate the ship safely to shore.  Cuz in this as in so many other leagues, anything can happen and anyone can win.


Quote images courtesy

It’s Just Exhibition Hockey…Right?

Last week saw the Devil’s team play two exhibition games against what will be nearby regular season rivals. While these early season games are scheduled and played to gauge where each team is at relative to the competition, there is also an opportunity to set a tone for the season to come so ideally you’d like to be able to put your best skate forward. Of course, some might argue it’s better to play your cards close to the vest; saving your A game for later in the year when it really matters…presumably the team will improve with time to practice and “gel”…and sure the other teams will only get better as well depending on coaching, personalities and a whole slew of other factors.

In these two particular games, with the teams being as geographically close as they are and the lack of boundaries in girls hockey, we end up playing against very familiar players who have been previous foes or in some cases even teammates. So there is some added emotion to contend with, which can be a good or bad thing. Pre-game I tried to spin the emotion in the right direction, pointing out the importance of setting a tone and trying to use the competitive relationships as positive motivation.

Game one would present the first such challenge as my starting goaltender would be facing the hometown team who released her in their tryouts a few months back. We welcomed her to our team; readying ourselves to circle these head-to-head matches on our calendar. We were hopeful of a good showing based on our opening tournament results and a few good practices since. Indeed, the girls did start with a flurry in the first period, taking a quick 1-0 lead. However, this would be the only goal they would score while the visitors would tally three of their own in the second frame. For whatever reason, we became a bunch of individuals rather than a team of passers, which did not serve us well. Plays we designed were neglected or forgotten.  At the break for a flood between the 2nd and 3rd, I would exhort my charges to pick up the pace in the final stanza, which they would. However, the teamwork we saw the weekend prior did not return; thereby meaning a return to the drawing board would be required in the practices leading up to Game Two.

Following a couple of aforementioned practices, where passing and teamwork were the focal points we entered game two against an even bigger rival; both for the girls and yours truly. Again, for the girls because of close geographic proximity and prior run-ins. I had at least one of my players tell me she was feeling physically ill at the prospect of playing against a couple of the girls on the other team. This game would even have some extra meaning for me because this particular squad includes one player I unfortunately had to release (a move which was not taken well by her parents) and a couple of other players who would not even try out for my team (in their own home town) based on experiences from seasons’ past, which have been detailed here previously and do not need to be rehashed. Suffice it to say, personalities, perceptions and perplexity came into play, as they so often do in minor hockey.

We did expect a tougher challenge going into this game and expressed the same to the team before they hit the ice. Our foes quickly proved to be a well-coached bunch (with an ex-NHLer at the helm) moving the puck well in our zone. They would take an early 2-0 lead though our side skated and passed the puck much better than they had in their previous match. We would get one goal back, which seemed to shift momentum back in our favour.

Penalty-ShotThen the hockey gods provided a little extra drama as the Devil was hauled down by a defender following an excellent backhand pass which had set her off on a breakaway. We all watched as the head referee crossed her arms above her head signalling a penalty shot. The Devil would need to get the puck past a former teammate who now tended goal for the other side. She came down the ice with speed, looped to the left and then back to the right stretching the goalie from one post to the other. The Devil valiantly tried to lift a backhand shot up over the keeper’s padded left leg to no avail.

A couple of minutes later a little more drama ensued as a scrum broke out in front of the rival net. A few misguided punches would banish one of ours and one of theirs to the penalty box with our side getting and extra two minutes for the indiscretion.  We would retire to the dressing room still down 2-1 with the 3rd period and a brief penalty kill situation ahead of us. Unfortunately, a well designed three-pass play on the opening face off in the third would end with the puck being deposited neatly behind our netminder; a crushing blow to be sure. We had done very well to compete with this team for two periods, but penalties and frustration would lead to a 5-1 final deficit…not indicative of the overall effort.  The game ended with one of our forwards hammering a foe into the boards; a move met with unwelcome cheers from our bench. Post game, I did my best to downplay the score, assured the girls the effort was to be applauded and reminded them Respect is to be one of our Guiding Principles; thereby discouraging their cheers for the late game body check.

We’ve a couple more practices and an exhibition game this weekend before we start the season for real. While these three games don’t “count”, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in or around our team or I’m sure those we’re playing who thinks they don’t matter.


Penalty shot image courtesy Wikipedia

A Promising Start to the Hockey Season

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.


Gearing Up for Next Hockey Season

There’s just a couple of weeks left in summer and as head coach of the Devil’s team I’m in the process of finalizing the September hockey schedule. As usual, the most apt adjective I can use to describe said schedule is jam-packed. What I have so far includes 7 practices, 3 development ice times, 4 dryland training sessions, 3 exhibition games, a minimum 3-game and hopefully 5-game tournament to kick off the season and the all-important team picture night. For those keeping score, that’s at least 20 ice/training times over a 30 day period. I’ve been asked by rival coaches and have opportunities to add in a couple of other games, but want to be careful not to over do it with the hustle and bustle of kids heading back to school added into the mix. Outside of her schedule we also have the Boy leaving the roost for university, which will likely require a planned visit to be lodged in somewhere and I, selfishly have a 19th annual boy’s weekend on the docket. Oh yeah, I do have a full time job as well to occupy what’s left of my semi-conscious time. So as I write here I am feverishly searching for a reputable cloning machine manufacturer. Any recommendations are welcomed. With one no longer playing minor hockey you’d think the grind would ease and I suppose it actually has, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.

hockey schedule

Likewise typical for me, and others I’m sure, is pre-season hockey drama. Neither skates nor sticks have touched the ice and my team has already lost one of its top defenders for the entirety of next season. I was advised by her father a couple of weeks ago she was offered a scholarship to go to school and play hockey at a nearby private hockey school. An opportunity I certainly cannot begrudge this young athlete, however, one which puts our team in something of a bind. Our choices are to try to fill the spot with another player from a lower level team or try to proceed with only five defenders. The problem with option one is the team directly below us is likewise missing a player in addition to the coach of that team not being my biggest fan. He may share, but methinks he certainly wouldn’t be happy about it. The second option is likewise not preferred as midget-aged girls’ teams tend to run into either suspension or injury-related issues as a season unfolds. And so, we are in semi-scramble mode looking for a way to make our handicapped team whole.

Otherwise, I feel very positive about our team’s prospects for the upcoming season, as well I should, based on its current construction. We’ve been running optional dry land training sessions since the middle of June, which have been relatively well attended, particularly the last few as summer schedules have wound down for many players and their families. You get the sense many are raring to get back on the ice. The interactions I’ve noted between the players who’ve attended have been very good; a key consideration when creating a “team” and a positive environment; core messaging delivered a couple of weeks ago at a coach’s refresher clinic I attended. Hockey Canada, quite rightly I believe, is actively endorsing the notion of a Long Term Development Model, which includes making sure having fun is a central theme in an effort to stem the tide of dropping registration; albeit more so in boys’ than girls’ hockey. One of my primary coaching philosophies has always been to promote a positive atmosphere and to hopefully cultivate a group of players who want to keep playing the game well beyond their minor hockey years. Winning, of course, generally makes creating such an atmosphere a much easier proposition, however, a successful season cannot simply be measured in stats. I feel like this season’s team has a good base for success and now it will be up to me and my coaching staff to build upon it. It’s time to set the wheels in motion, build up speed, try to avoid the occasional pot holes and hopefully cross the finish line ahead of the pack in one piece.


Back Behind A Girls Hockey Bench

Da Boy has reached the end of his minor hockey career, but the Devil is still going strong with four-day trip to the Provincial Championships coming up next week in the Nation’s capital.  A couple of  nights ago we we drove an hour for a warm-up exhibition game against a team the ladies are schedule to be facing in the round-robin portion of those same championships. And the Devil had a pretty good showing with two markers, one of which was a particularly dirty little shot off the glove-side post after she froze the keeper on a 2 on 1 rush. She unmodestly patted herself on the back for that one as we climbed into the van for the ride home. Then she trumpeted about it again to her brother when we arrived home. So there’s still some hockey to be played and watched.

However, my focus is already slightly beyond next weekend as I found out a few weeks ago my application for coaching next season’s Midget 2 girls team was accepted and approved. The process involved the submission of an application/coaching resume followed by a 1/2 hour interview with the selection committee; a semi-grilling I had gone through on a few other occasions in the past. I was hopeful of being selected as I’ve come to miss the behind the scenes experience and player interaction I gained a fond appreciation for as the head coach two years ago. Watching and cheering in the stands is great, but being on the bench really puts you into the game.  But before any of the fun practice, game and interaction stuff can start, there will be a week or so worth of hell called the tryout process. Yup, there is little to no rest from one team or season to the next as the tryouts start literally days after the provincial end. And any coach would or should tell you tryouts, or more specifically cuts, are the worst part of the job. Having followed the Devil’s team all year and having a pretty good sense already of who will be competing to play on next year’s squad, I know there will be several tough decisions and a few feelings hurt….there’s really no way around it when you’re talking about rejecting a 15, 16, 17 or 18 year old girl – some of which will be current teammates and/or friends of your own kid.  I know all too well from having to be the hatchet man two seasons ago.  The last few cuts are always the toughest as there is generally very little to differentiate between the skills of one player or another. Rather it might come down to character, the need to fill a particular role on the team or simply gut instinct. Regardless, you almost always find yourself second-guessing and over-analyzing to make sure you’ve made the “right” choices. Luckily, I will have some qualified friends to guide me as non-invested, unbiased evaluators.  So while I’m looking forward to coaching again, I’d be fine to just have a team chosen for me and forego the whole selection process.  Then, of course, I’d hardly be able to take on the responsibility of calling it “my” team so I’ll just have to suffer through.

I suppose one of the only silver linings is this will be the first year in many Momma and I don’t have to go through the whole ordeal from the other side of the glass. No more tryouts for da Boy, of course, and I can fairly confidently say the Devil should be safe to make my team. That’s not to say she doesn’t have to give it her all on the tryout ice, cuz  she does need to help me prove she and I deserve to be at the level and on the team I’ve been given the opportunity to coach.

I’ll definitely take time to enjoy the championship hockey this coming weekend (my last as just a hockey dad for a while) with an eye in the back of my mind on the nerve-wracking and most likely sleepless week to follow.