Early Bird Gets the Puck

The Devil’s team played in an early bird tournament last weekend as a warm up for the regular season and to get a sense of what level they are at in relation to other teams.  Her coach has said he has high expectations for this group. They had already competed well in two exhibition tilts which ended in a 2-1 loss and a 4-4 tie.  There’s always plenty to work on in the pre-season; like simply getting to know each other, a challenge on a Midget girls team exacerbated by a three year age difference.  For instance, our first year girls were struck by the fact one of their teammates is finished high school.  Now, she apparently completed her schooling in the UK over the Summer, but regarless….she is no longer in high school.  Alarming to those who still have three years left. Though, from afar, this team does seem to have a bunch of players who are getting along.

Game one of the tournament was at 7:30 on a Friday night, not ideal after a full school day (which for some reason the Devil was able to weasel her way out of with the excuse of having to rest up for her game – mom’s decision, not mine) and an hour long car ride. But the visitors (i.e. the Devil’s squad) came out like gangbusters. They held the balance of play for most of the contest.  A 3-1 final could have just as easily been 7-1 if not for some good goaltending at the other end.  A pretty good start to say the least.  After leaving the rink around 9:30, grabbing a couple of Harvey’s chicken strip combos at the Drive-Thru and dropping off a teammate, the Devil hit the hay around 11:30 with a 7am wake up call to head back down for games 2 and 3.

7am came early, as anticipated, but a 9:30 game requires being at the rink by 8:30 and the drive was just over an hour. The next opponent looked to be a bigger team.  Once the game got going this proved to be the case. The Devil found that out all too well when she was met in the crease by a punch to the head towards the middle of the third period.  The girls were also up against some bad fortune as a puck found its way under our goalie early in the game. The referee, who wasn’t well positioned back near the red line (i.e. centre ice) blew the play dead. But when he and the linesmen arrived at the net they found the puck in it and decided to declare a goal for the opponents.  A little later on in the game, following a scramble in front of the other team’s net, one of the Devil’s teammates was able to jam a puck in, but this time the same referee was not so accommodating in ruling No Goal. Long story short, the game ended with the Sharks on the wrong end of a 2-0 score.

With a big tournament and several divisions, the scheduling can be a little uneven and such was the case this weekend as our next game was at 5:30pm meaning we had five hours to kill before the girls needed to be back at the rink. Going home was not really an option as that would involve two and a half hours in the car. And so we started with an extended two hour lunch. Some girls then decided to go shopping while some fathers, yours truly included, decided to simply hang back in the the next arenas parking lot; enjoying the nice end of Summer weather and a couple of beverages. Having no regular coaching duties this season, I look forward to some of the friendly tailgating I missed last year.

The Sharks 1-1 record meant they would need to win game three in order to advance to the playoff round of the tournament. Game three was a back and forth affair, which saw our side take a 4-3 lead in the third period. Also needing a win, the opposing coach opted to pull his goalie with a minute and half left in the game.  At about the 30 second mark, one of our players broke out of the defensive zone with the puck and looked up to see the empty net. The heat of the moment grabbed her and she shot the puck towards the net before hitting the red line. The puck sailed wide which led to a whistle for icing; creating a face-off to the right of our goaltender with 23 seconds to go.  That fateful faceoff was the Sharks undoing as a quick draw led to a quick shot, which found its way past our unsuspecting keeper. We would find out shortly thereafter a tie was not quite good enough to advance (in fact the girls missed in a tiebreaker by a single goal to the team they had just tied).  The upside was we would not have to come back tomorrow.  The downside was a meaningless consolation game at 9:30pm, a full 12 hours after their first game of the day – not a great recipe for success.

More than half the team decided to try what looked to be a nice new steak joint; while the Devil, Hockey Momma and I were gracefully treated to dinner at another local restaurant by momma’s uncle and aunt who lived relatively close by and came to see game three.  It turned out we made the better choice as the rest of the team waited for over two hours and didn’t actually get to eat. Seems the steak joint was not prepared for the onslaught of a girls hockey tournament…seriously?

So, you can likely guess the type of game that transpired after 12 hours, no dinner for most and nothing to really play for.  The girls didn’t give up by any means, but had little left in the tank in a 5-2 loss against a team they’d compete much better against with fresher legs and spirits. Everyone was pretty much ready to call it a day before the game even started.

An early bird tourney holding some initial promise from game one took a decided turn for the worse.  Yet, it was not without purpose or meaning as the girls on the still relatively new team got to know each other a little better through some trying circumstances and the coaching staff no doubt picked up on some stuff they need to work on.  This is why you enter these tournaments. A hard day’s worth of games and some adversity will no doubt pay dividends down the road.  The girls have a few more pre-season games and a handful of practices to prepare for a regular season just around the corner.  There was lots of good stuff mixed in with the bad last weekend; plenty to look forward to with the right guidance and, as always, a bit o’ help from the hockey gods.




One down and many to go

A little over a week has passed for the Sharks and I.  We now have three practices and a game under our combined belt. Things have progressed well following our first questionable on-ice experience.  There’s lots of work to do as there always is, but early indications are quite positive.  In fact, game one was a very pleasant surprise.

You never really know what level your team is at until you face some competition against which to compare yourself. This is why we have exhibition games; as live measuring sticks if you will.  Our first game on the weekend was on the road against a town that perennially ices strong sides.  There was a little trepidation on my part with it being the “first” game,  not knowing exactly what to expect from my collection of players from different backgrounds or the likewise relatively unknown opposition.  I did wishfully note that players entering the home team’s dressing were comparably small in relation to our competitors. The opposite would have been duly and more severely noted as a harbinger of a tougher challenge.  My pre-game speech to my charges was pretty straightforward.  This is our first game. Our first opportunity to play together and familiarize ourselves with one another.  My primary request in this game as a pre-cursor to the season in general was a full and honest effort.  Mistakes would undoubtedly be made, which were expected…which were actually welcomed as a learning/teaching opportunity.  I told them everyone makes mistakes. The best teams are the one who learn from them.  So again, the key message was effort.  Set a tone for the season against a team we are likely to face several times during the regular season and beyond.  Let them know a game against the Sharks will always be a hard fought one.

I’m happy to report that my message seemed to resonate from the very first puck drop.  Our first line of forwards pushed ahead into the offensive zone and stayed there for nearly a full minute. The next line picked up where they left off, pinning our backpedalling opponents in their own end.  Much of the first period was spent there as line after line fore-checked with vigour as they’d been instructed.  Perhaps more surprising was how well the girls played together…looking for each other and making some passes. A fine tic-tac-toe passing play from defence to forward to forward at the beginning of the second period resulted in our first goal. Many more scoring opportunities would present themselves, which would in turn reveal one of the only negatives from our side of the contest as none would be converted.  There would also be a defensive zone lapse in the middle of the second period, which would be addressed at the end.   As we entered the third of three 15 minute periods we all noticed some decidedly sluggish skating; no doubt a product the Summer break.  The tenacity did not leave, just the breath behind it. As unluck would have it, the home team would pick up an equalizer with about 4 1/2 minutes left on a scramble in front of our net.  The game would end 1-1, but was a decided victory in my mind.

I told the team post-game that they set their bar pretty high in their first contest.  Now the coaching staff knows how hard they can play and will expect the same from here on in.  I also told them similar efforts would ensure the opportunity to win each and every game. Time will, of course and as always, tell the full story in that regard.