Been a little while since I wrote anything here and there’s a whole bunch of reasons/excuses I want to convince myself are responsible as work, life and hockey have collided on multiple fronts of late; the good, the bad and sometimes ugly as they say. This is by no means meant to be a pity party, however, there’s been a bit more of the latter two conditions than the former for my liking. In years past, hockey has always been the escape mechanism. Hitting the ice for practice, watching either the Boy or the Devil kids play games and just having fun playing those games has provided welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of everything else. Unfortunately, the last month or so has seen the hockey and everything else getting all mixed up in one big blurry mess. To the point, where I can honestly say for a bit there I wasn’t really looking forward to visiting the rink. Rather, I was welcoming a short Christmas break from the everything. Aaand, as luck would have it, my stocking was filled with a nasty case of the flu rendering me virtually immobile for a week (insert sympathetic gasps or groans here). So bad, in fact, I missed three of my own rec hockey games, though the last may have had something to do with the dramatic final game of the the World Junior Hockey Championships between Canada and Russia. I was schedule to make my return to the ice at 10:30pm last Monday night. At 9:15pm, the score was 5-1 Canada and I had my hockey bag at the door and was ready to return to rec league action. A mere 10 minutes later, Russia cut the lead to 5-4 at which point the Devil asked, “You’re not really going to miss the rest of this game are you Dad?” Nuff said and I remained couch bound until I heard the Canadian anthem denoting a triumph for the home side after a nervous final frame.
On the other personal hockey front, I knew before we started there would be on-ice challenges with our team this season, but I was hopeful and optimistic of an overall successful campaign on the strength of having a good group of girls; who I and my staff would work on getting on the same page. To date, and particularly lately, there have been more challenges than successes. Anyone who knows me, or has read my ramblings over the last few years, knows hockey success for me is not synonymous with winning. Rather, I just want to make sure I’m keeping the team on an even keel, providing a positive influence and seeing to it the majority of players are having fun. The last couple of weeks haven’t been much fun. Of course, winning a few games here or there or at least competing has a way of making things a whole lot more enjoyable. In the last 14 games we’ve only managed one of those ever-elusive Ws, combined with a whole bunch of less attractive Ls; many of which are have been of the lopsided variety. Losing has become a bit contagious. Once behind, momentum quickly becomes our greatest foe. An antidote is admittedly becoming increasingly difficult to concoct. The optimal place to work on a cure is practice, however, those have been sporadically attended, perhaps likewise due to the lack of on-ice success. Losing breeds apathy, particularly in older teens who have a bunch of other ways to occupy their time (see school, jobs, boys and families).
A few weeks ago, I and one of my assistants decided to lighten the mood by staging a shaving-protest who’s end is contingent on two consecutive wins for our side. Much to Momma’s ongoing chagrin, by Decembeard continues to flourish well into Januhairy. I do continue to hope to become reacquainted with a razor sooner rather than later. Perhaps a little help from the Hockey Gods is in order.
One of the primary frustrations with this team has been the promise and flashes of brilliance they’ve shown from time-to-time. Our biggest enemy has been consistency; which is to say, three full periods of hockey played by the entire group at a level these girls have proven they are capable. As a coach, I can’t help but feel at least part of the answer hinges on motivation; meaning my/our ability to motivate consistent effort, at the heart of which is positivity. I can and have hearkened back to a previous team who went from worst to first in a relatively short period of time.
Back in real life, the first weeks of the New Year has dealt a couple of sobering shots across my mortal bow, reminding me of the importance of making hockey fun the priority; for me and my players, particularly the one wearing #8. The Devil remains the primary reason I want to go to the rink, regardless the Ls or Ws. Hockey, he says to himself knowingly, is and must be held high as pure fun balanced against sometimes harsh work/life realities.
The greatest NHL defenceman is in the process of writing a book about the importance of minor hockey in Canada and is promoting the Chevrolet Safe & Fun Hockey Program, which will supply new Canadian players with free helmets. And who should know better than #4?
This past weekend was a great example of how hockey can be an excellent backdrop and excuse to simply get away to have some fun. Our family spent the weekend in Niagara Falls where the Boy took part in a Summer tournament. Where else would you expect me to spend Father’s Day? You naturally go into any tournament wanting to win, but the emphasis in this case, as it should be in the majority of situations, was on having fun – both for the Boys and their families in tow.
Upon dropping our Boy off at the front door of the first arena on Friday afternoon, we made our way to the back of the parking lot to join several other hockey moms and dads in some Summer hockey tail-gating. As I scanned the parking lot I could see pop-up trailers, RVs, bbq-flavoured smoke rising from well-prepared grills and multi-colored, ice-filled coolers. The general rule is to arrive one-hour before game-time, which leaves plenty of time to pop open the back door of the van, turn on some music, sit back in a lawn chair, sip a cold beverage and wonder what the unfortunate working people are doing. It was almost difficult to rise up and head to the rink to watch the game as puck-drop drew near. And such would be the case over the next few days as the temperatures rose and the beverages seemingly got colder or at least certainly more refreshing.
The rest of the weekend included a surprisingly efficient and affordable team dinner, a customary trip to see one of the Wonders of the World, a pre-game round for a few fathers including yours truly on a phenomenal golf course, purposely missed late-night curfews and two white-knuckled walks for me and the Devil thru a couple of Niagara Falls’ finest haunted houses. I’m confident the feeling should come back to my over-gripped hand any day now.
And oh yeah, there was a little hockey mixed in there too. The hockey portion of the weekend saw the Boys play to a 1-1-1 round robin record putting them firmly in 5th place entering the playoff round. All of the games were close and they could have just as easily been 3-0. They would fall 3-1 in their first playoff game, which relegated them to battle it out for 7th, which they were able to secure with a 4-0 victory to end on a high note. It may have just been me, but it seemed the fun had outside the rink found its way onto the ice – win or lose.
The original plan in putting this team together was to enter two tournaments, with Niagara being the second. But at the end of day two Boys and parents alike were talking about looking for a third opportunity to hang out and maybe play/watch some hockey. And to be clear, a few more wins than losses will certainly be welcomed. For some this will perhaps become more of a priority as the real season draws near. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in hoping the fun stays the primary focus.