Cross Border Hockey Challenges

Hockey Road TripThe Devil, her Sharks teammates, several parents, one grandpa, Momma and I embarked on a 6+ hour road trip this past weekend to play in a tournament in Pittsburgh. This city is one of a few U.S. hockey hotbeds thanks to guys like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and some kid name Sid, who’ve led the success of the Pittsburgh Penguins over a couple of decades. One of the advantages of playing so far away from home is the opportunity to play against teams you won’t otherwise compete against during the regular season. Indeed this particular tournament offered up three U.S. based teams and two from our home province, albeit from distant regions. Of course, for some there is simply the attraction of visiting a somewhat foreign country or city. We did, in fact, ourselves transport one player on her longest trip to this point in her life and her first across an international border. Another reason for travelling as a team is a chance for the players and family members to get to know each other better off the ice, at the hotel or at breakfast, lunch or dinner. From the girls perspective, there is at least one other benefit to playing games in the U.S…..Shopping…in this regard, girls will be girls; though I readily admit to being something of a shopper myself (apologies to other proud hockey dads). During our three-day experience, most of us crossed all of the aforementioned benefits off our lists, while also getting our share of exciting hockey action.

With a game on Friday afternoon and uncertainty around border traffic, we decided to travel on Thursday evening so we could wake up near the rink, which we knew was only 10 minutes from our hotel. Little did we realize how difficult it would be to find the latter. Finding Pittsburgh was relatively easy, but it turned out our hotel wasn’t actually in Pittsburgh, leaving us at the mercy of an ill-instructed GPS. What should have been a 6.5 hour trip was extended by roughly 60 minutes. So much for extra rest before Game 1.

Luckily, day one would only see our squad playing one game as one of the original seven tournament combatants from the U.S. had to bow out after having incurred a goalie injury. I’m fairly certain female hockey players and particularly hockey goalkeepers are not in ample supply. Case in point was our second match opponent; the Carolina Lightning who, yes, were the Tier II Girls Hockey representatives for all of the Carolinas (and they only had 11 players in total as opposed to our squad of 17). However, our first game was against a team from New York State, where female hockey players are more plentiful. When you play new teams you never know what to expect and such was the case with this opponent. Our charges came out hard maintaining the balance of play and creating several scoring opportunities through the first period and a half. Unfortunately, they surrendered a goal on one of the other side’s few shots deflected in front by one of our defence, which would be a bellwether for the next two matches. Nearly another 12 minutes of game time passed before the next goal was scored…again by the wrong team. As some times happens in girls hockey and/or sports in general, the “dominant” team is not always the victor. Not the start we wanted, but there were a lot of good things to build on over the next couple of days.

Devil is SidWe would get to play tourists before any more hockey would be played; starting with an hour long drive to a somewhat local outlet mall. Again, to be clear, I am in touch with my metrosexual side and enjoy shopping as much as the next hockey mom, so don’t immediately assume I’m complaining. Momma and the Devil actually had to remind me dinner would hold precedence over bargain hunting. A few hours later, back at the hotel we settled into delivery from a local takeout joint and had a few families pile into our room. With two games the following day, the evening was relatively uneventful.

A few of us made plans to check out downtown Pittsburgh and the home of the Penguins the next day as game two was scheduled for late afternoon. At the Consol Energy Center, we got more than we bargained for as we knew the home team was on the road. A kindly older security guard named Dennis, beaming with Penguin pride, was more than happy to give us our own personal mini-tour of the joint; telling us stories about the history of the building, Mario Lemieux and the Penguins along the way. A perk of being Canadian hockey-type visitors. After lunch at the aptly named Blueline Cafe across the street from the rink, we made our way to face our next foe with hopes of better results.

Our game two opponent would be the aforementioned, short-handed troop from Carolina with a diminutive goalie giving us ample hope for a notch in the Win column. While we were pretty dominant again (shots on goal were probably 3-1 in our favour), the Sharks continued to have a tough time finding the back of the net. We would settle for a 1-1 tie, forcing the need for a positive result in our third and final round robin game.

Waiting to Take To the Ice

Bring on the final US opponent, a NY team from the Southern Tier, and a chance to secure our first win of the preliminary round. We knew we were guaranteed a fourth game, but wanted it to be a semi-final instead of a consolation game, or as one of our players referred to it, the Numby Bowl. I don’t know what the Numby Bowl means. I do know it doesn’t sound good. The third game with a 9:20pm start followed a familiar pattern to the two which preceded it, with the Sharks maintaining the balance of possession and scoring opportunities. Yet, the score at the end of a somewhat heated affair was 2-2; leaving me wondering where we’d finish. I was suspicious when the opposing coach pulled his goalie in the tie game to try to secure a win. Little did I know a loss and two ties with a very low goals against record was good enough for a 3rd place berth ahead of the team we’d just played. We’d take on the 2nd place team, likewise from Canada, bright and early the following morning. The girls would have to figure out how to find the ever-elusive W if we hoped to play in the Final.

The team came out strong for a fourth consecutive game, only this time they were able to find the back of the net in relatively short order; scoring the first of a tournament high three goals just a few minutes into the first period. Another strong performance from our goaltender resulted in only one marker against and we were Championship game bound. At this point, the tourney was a success regardless the result. The glass half full scenario we now faced was a game which would not start until 4pm, which meant we wouldn’t be starting our 6+ hour trek home until after 6pm. Monday morning would not be pleasant. Ahh, the things we do for our kids.

Finalist TrophyGoing into the final we knew we were in tough against the first place finisher from round robin play (another Canadian squad from Southwestern Ontario), who had outscored their opponents 20-5 in their four prior matches. Undaunted, in my pre-game talk, I told our players they had more than earned the right to be in this final contest and they would be rewarded if they stuck to the game plan, which had brought them this far. This little talk was preceded by a synchro dance move, which the team had apparently been working on a fallback should the hockey thing not work out. I was both pleased and scared to see the girls so loose.

A game plan primarily consisting of hard work and communication. At the risk of sounding like a whiny coach, this championship game was marred by terribly inconsistent refereeing. Our girls took their share of bad penalties, but there were at least a half dozen or more called against both sides which took pretty much all of the flow out of the game. We alone were assessed seven trips to the sin bin in the 2nd period alone. The Sharks held their own through and trailed by a score of 1-0 until the Devil and a linemate streaked into the offensive zone with less than a minute left in the 2nd. A certain hockey dad was beaming on the bench as the Devil fired a shot up over the blocker of the opposing keeper to knot the score at 1-1. The third period saw no goals so we headed to a tense 4 on 4,  five minute overtime, in which we were assessed one more penalty for good measure. Isn’t there some unwritten rule about penalties in OT? Again, not that I’m whining or anything. Luckily, we survived the OT, which meant the worst solution to decide a game was nigh – the dreaded shootout. Prior to the game I was asked to pick 10 shooters, hoping I’d never have to see them take the ice. The team with the most goals after the first five shooters would be declared the victor, otherwise shooters six through 10 would engage in a sudden death showdown. In the showdown, I unfortunately missed what I’ve been told was one of the finest cellies (hockey celebrations) in recent history, as the Devil re-enacted the team’s pre-game dance right in front of the oppositions bench. When she returned to our bench she said “I feel like such an asshole.” Ah Midget hockey. The showdown was uber-intense to say the least, but long story short, we lost this portion of the competition by a score of 3 goals to 2; thereby settling for 2nd place overall. An excellent result overall, albeit bittersweet in light of how close we had come to winning it all.

Mentally and physically drained, we jumped in our vehicles and headed home. Two of my three passengers, who had played five games in three days, deservedly slept most of the way. I can honestly say six and a half hours later I could not have driven another kilometre. And the next day was a long day indeed. However, the weekend overall was a decided success from my perspective both on and off the ice. The team was challenged and fought hard for their Finalist trophy. Only time will tell if this weekend will give them a shot of confidence as we head into the teeth of the regular season. They’ve certainly proved to me and I hope themselves, they have the ability to play with any team when they work hard as a team.

Hockey Sharks in PinkEarly returns are positive as just yesterday they won their first regular season game back 2-1. This match also happened to be their home opener and an opportunity to promote breast cancer awareness with some funky pink jerseys. Even yours truly got into the act, sporting a lovely hot pink boa on the bench. If nothing else, I get the sense this team is really starting to come together; another critical component of their long term success methinks.

We’ve a couple more games this weekend and plenty more challenges to follow. We’ll see how far this current momentum can take us, then adjust as needed when an inevitable lull comes, cuz we all know hockey, sports and life in general is all about ebbs and flows. As always, with the blessing of the Hockey Gods, we’ll gladly take more flows than ebbs thank you very much.


The Tryout Season That Was (Not Without Its Highs and Lows)

I’ve kept relatively quiet for a few weeks so as not to jinx the Devil as she ran through the latest installment of tryouts – only this time for the Midget division, into which she and most of her most recent teammates entered as the youngest of three age levels. Boys in many centres are fortunate to have a minor-midget division; whereas for girls there are 14 and 15 year olds competing against 16, 17 and even potentially 18 year olds. Quite a challenge at a physical, if not, mental and social level. But the Devil and her young mates soldiered on starting at the highest AA auditions.  Each tryout was comprised of three one or two hour sessions.

There were really no expectations to making an AA team based on the triple-age category and the fact the Devil has never played at a higher level than A (including in her most recent campaign under the tutelage of a fine rookie coach who shall remain somewhat nameless).  Skate #1 was a wee bit grueling at two-hours and considering most of the skaters had been away to the rink for a couple of weeks.  That doesn’t seem like a long time, but it doesn’t take long to have conditioning fall off; particularly when tryouts demand all-out effort and focus for an extended period of time.  An added challenge at any first tryout is the sheer number of competitors.  The Devil was one of 53 skaters on the ice at the first session.  Pretty easy with that many players to not stand out or simply be overlooked.  However, the Devil did enough to avoid an initial cut of about 20 players; which is necessary to make the selection process more manageable for the selection committee.  She would give a full effort in the second skate, never backing down from a challenge in the corners or along the boards. Yet she wouldn’t avoid the axe of the evaluators and would renew her focus a little over a week later on at A team tryouts; a team she felt she had a much better chance to join, though we all knew it wouldn’t be easy.

The first skate for the next team saw the same intimidating number of competitors at around 45. The Devil knew she’d need to work her butt off again in order to stand out, impress and have an opportunity to skate a second time.  She did just that in the first and then the second session putting her into the final round. By the third skate there were only four or five cuts left to make. The Devil knew she had her work cut out for her, but was hopeful as having been given the opportunity.  I might add here that in a bit of an unusual circumstance, the coach of this Midget A team also happens to be a very good and long-time friend of our family.  That being said, we expected no preferential treatment or consideration. The Devil would need to earn a spot as she did even a year ago when I was heading up the selection process. Though she never said it, what she did hope for was something of a heads up should hers be on the proverbial chopping block.  And, as the process played out, she was indeed released following the final skate which did not, and for that matter still does not, sit well with her.  She said if the skate were on the other foot, I would have handled this situation differently, to which I’d agree, but without going through it who knows.  Having been through tryouts for nearly eight years now the technical reasons for her release are well understood, but there is, of course, no way to separate all that emotion from the equation. This too shall pass. One more tryout, one more life lesson for better or worse.

A week later (and just a few days ago) tryouts began for the third and final Midget BB team.  After having gone through the physical and mental rigors of the first two rounds – the third (because this isn’t the first time we’ve been here) is always a little taxing.  Making this third team would have a couple of challenges of its own. First off there were far fewer players on the ice to begin with – only around 24 for 17 spots.  Secondly this team would be selected by a new coach in the association with whom the Devil has little familiarity and vice versa.  A new coach could certainly be a wild card.  On the positive side of the scale, many of the players trying out for this third team were the Devil’s teammates/friends from this past season who had likewise gone from AA to A to here.  So the Devil was ushered to the rink with the same set of instructions from the previous two rounds – skate hard and there are no friends in tryouts.  I’m pleased to report the Devil and five of her teammates, including her actual linemates, were all successful in this third attempt. There are, of course, some new allies to form and friends to be made.  At the end of all of this, just like every other year, the Devil will get to play, learn, take away from and give back to the game we all love.  For now, we’ll take a wee bit of a rest through the Summer then wait to see what else the next season will bring.


Final Thank Yous

The 2011-12 Edition of the Bantam A Sharks got together for one last time tonight for a quick game of glow-in-the-dark mini-putt and an all-you-can-eat pizza party.  I took some time to thank each one of the girls for their efforts and offered a quick anecdote or remembrance that stuck in my mind for this or that player from what now seems like a relatively whirlwind year.  I also gave them a pic we took during before a game in our league division finals that was pretty representative of their combined carefree attitude (off the ice). I enhanced it a little with some of their accomplishments and our pre-game reminders of what they need to do to win.  I left plenty of room for them to sign their names, numbers or whatever else they chose – a one page year book if you will.  And write they did, including full paragraphs on the backside of the photos in some cases.

In return, one of our player’s grandfathers was commissioned to create a sketch of the team at our bench during a game; a keepsake I will display proudly above the mantle for the foreseeable future.

The thanks I received tonight from players and parents brought the entire season into quick and simple perspective.  I believe for most, I delivered the positive minor hockey experience they should expect and deserve – an experience which will hopefully be looked back upon fondly as they move forward on or off the ice.  For all my fretting and more than a few sleepless nights, I’ll miss this group and I’m glad I can say that.


One Hockey Season Ends and Another Begins

The Sharks season ended somewhat unceremoniously, but not without significant prideful effort or drama this past weekend.  Three round robin contests; three one goal games including a 1-0 win in the opener, a 2-1 loss to one of the strongest opponents we’d faced all year and a 4-3 heart-breaker to cap things off.

As an aside, I must reflect briefly on a scene that I happened upon between games one and two which could only occur with a group of 13 and 14 year old girls.  Many of the parents had decided to book hotel rooms on the first night of the tournament as we were just over  90 minutes from home with an early morning game on day two.  After game one, we grabbed lunch and then most of the team retreated to the hotel to kill some time.  After checking in, my room was almost immediately usurped by 3/4 of our 17 player crew with an iPod boom box and several curling irons in tow.  Players who only an hour earlier had battled hard in corners or jostled aggressively along the boards for pucks were now partaking in what I could only best describe as a “pretty party” complete with a blasting techno/rap soundtrack. I peeked in at one point to discover my room had been converted into a makeshift salon.  Half the players taking on the roles of stylists and the other half as satisfied patrons donning new curly locks, which would shortly be jammed into sweaty helmets in preparation for another hostile on-ice engagement.  The dichotomy of the moment did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

The third and final result in our last tournament was particularly stinging because our side entered the third period with a 2-1 lead needing only a tie to advance to the quarter-final round.  Our tenuous one-goal lead was flipped to a 3-2 deficit with just over two minutes left following a few ill-timed penalties and scattered play in our defensive zone.  However, our ever-resilient squad battled back with just under two minutes remaining to tie the game at 3.  We went from the top of the coaster to the bottom and then back up again all within a few minutes.  Unfortunately, there was yet one more disastrous trip down as our foes managed to pull back ahead again with less than a minute to go.  Another magic marker was not to be found in our creative comeback kit so the vision of a Provincial crown came to an abrupt conclusion. Not the results we wanted, but also nothing to be ashamed of.  We knew the competition would be stiff as all 24 teams needed to qualify for this tourney as we had. I was most pleased with the level of compete displayed by our young players after having not played any games for a few weeks. Rather, the Sharks picked up their competitive play from where they’d left off in our league division finals.

And so, all that’s left is an end of the year party scheduled for later this week with a game of mini-putt, a few slices of pizza, thank yous for the many volunteers who helped the team function and no doubt the recollection of some memorable moments from a topsy-turvy year. I, for one, have been enriched and handsomely rewarded by my rookie head coaching experience.   I hope the Devil is able to say the same about having her old man run the ship.  I am sure there are those onlookers and perhaps even players who disagreed with my approach, my attitude and/or the decisions I made behind the bench this year. In fact, I believe my hockey loving wife was an unwilling witness to some of those opinions recently; opinions I respect whether I agree with them or not.   But I’m quite proud of what our team was able to accomplish from the beginning of the season to the end — proud I had at least a small part to play in the progress we made as a team — confident I granted each player a fair opportunity to compete and have fun playing this kids’ game — hopeful I was able to impart some lasting messages; hockey-related or otherwise.  A few months ago when the opportunity came up to reapply for a head coaching position our squad was going through a rough time on and off the ice, which in part led me to decide to forego pursuing a second campaign. But now, of course, after the team’s impressive turnaround there may be a twinge of regret in that decision.

Instead, for now, the day after the Sharks’ end of year party I will reclaim a spot up in the stands to invoke my parental bias and simply cheer on the Boy and the Devil in their renewed quests to make the rosters new teams for next season.  Perhaps the next coach will see fit to have me help out on the ice or behind the bench.  I’m pretty sure I won’t miss being responsible for selecting and more importantly not selecting who makes a team.

Yup, just the one partial week away from the rink is all this hockey dad will be afforded in the short-term.  However, as I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion recently, I will enjoy each and every moment of my kids finite minor hockey careers to their fullest and wherever they shall lead us.


The Worst Score in Hockey and The Semi-End of a Glorious Run

I believe I’ve allowed myself nearly enough time to grieve what I deem to be the Sharks’ premature exit from their surprising Cinderella run.  But it still stings when I consider we gave up 2-0 leads in two consecutive games; either one of which would have earned us the lofty title of division champions and secured us a spot in the league finals. I guess Don Cherry knows what he’s talking about when he says 2-0 is the worst score in hockey.  One goal against puts the other team right back in the game, swinging momentum for a second and tying goal which opens the flood gates for a game winner.  Doing it twice in a row is doubly dangerous, which is just what we did.  In fact, taking an early 2-0 lead was our downfall on several occasions this season. For us I’m pretty sure it became something of a psychological barrier we’d need to battle as much as we did the physical competition on the other side of the face-off circle.

As always our two final games were not without their share of dramatics.

In game two we did not help ourselves from taking nine penalties vs. three doled out by the refs to our foes.  Let’s just say our competition’s style of play involves getting under the skin of their opponents.  In the final two periods of the second match they did that quite well.  In fact, all three of the opposition’s goals were scored while we had someone sentenced to the sin bin. While I readily admit most of our penalties were well deserved,  at least three were questionable; particularly based on precedents set earlier in the game by the refereeing tandem. One which irked me in particular was a boarding call which the ref explained to me was made because he didn’t actually see the infraction, but he heard it and saw the result which was an opposing player lying on the ice. Now in my way of thinking, if you don’t see the infraction there should be no penalty called whatsoever. But enough with what could be misconstrued as sour grapes (by readers like my father, in particular, who is quick to rightly point out the referees don’t let in the goals) – we gave up the lead and lost the game; not the officials.  Reducing our time in the box would be a major theme discussed before the final confrontation.

While game two saw many calls go against us, game three included a number of questionable non-calls involving our players being knocked abruptly to the ice pre and post-whistle.  My pleadings around these apparent infractions fell on def ref ears, or in one case, drew an unappreciated smirk from the man in stripes striding across the ice.

In this final game we took our 2-0 lead into the second period, but found ourselves deadlocked at 2-2 entering the third.  During the Zamboni break between the second and third, there was definitely a sense of panic, which I tried to balance with the notion of only having to win a single period pointing out we had won several against this team to date.  I also looked to lighten the mood by reminding the girls to have fun…that this moment was what it was all about and that a few weeks back we would have been very happy to have the opportunity to reach this point.

One incident worth noting came courtesy of the lone rival goaltender. This young lady had throughout the season displayed a flair for the dramatic whenever opponents neared her crease during a stoppage in play.  On more than one occasion she would fling off a glove, toss her stick or once even her helmet.  More often than not she would vehemently jabber at the refs for her protection.  In this particular game in the third period and amidst a 2-2 tied score, one of our players was pulled down from behind on a partial breakaway (which did result in a penalty) and found herself sliding into the fragile keeper. What followed was a fifteen minute delay as the goaltender lay semi-motionless on the ice.  Now, I don’t want to sound heartless or insensitive, but the collision was not of a particularly violent variety. I’m not saying the goalie wasn’t shaken or possibly hurt, but if that were the case, then she should have been removed from the game; problem being she was the lone netminder. And so, after a lengthy delay, she shook off her ill effects and the game resumed – our side with the man advantage and their side well rested to kill it off.  To that point in the final frame we certainly had controlled the balance of the play.  But alas, we missed this opportunity to capitalize on the chance afforded us.

Unfortunately, a power play goal for the other team would prove to be our death knell as our rivals put the proverbial nail in our coffin with just over five minutes left to play with a shot from the high slot that weaseled its way to the twine. Our charges would continue to battle to the end, but not find the back of the net with an overtime-forcing equalizer.

Post-game, post-series my assistant coach and I let the team know we were very proud of their efforts; having battled to a division final game three after limping through the regular season at the back of the pack.  We always knew they had the potential for greatness and that is still the most frustrating part. Even though making it as far as we did was an impressive turnaround, I still believe we were the better team and should have won the series.  And a good part of the blame for not being able to preserve 2-0 leads has to fall in the coach’s lap.  So maybe I’m not quite done grieving and will spend a good part of the next week or so going over what we could have done differently in either of those two final games to coax our way through to victories.

However, the lamenting will have to end quickly as we have yet to battle through a Provincial Championship tournament to close out the year.  The crafting of the tournament is a little questionable as some teams from populous regions have to jump through several hoops to qualify while others gain automatic entry if they’ve no suitable competition within their zone. That being said, a good representation of teams from the entire province, including many from our region will be present.  Making it through to the top of this tourney will be no small feat.  So we have a couple of weeks to prepare with some practice time and perhaps an exhibition game of two mixed in.  I might suggest we start any exhibition games with at least the premise of a two-goal lead and perhaps on the penalty kill since it would seem this is where we need the most preparation.


The Road to Cinderellaville is Paved by Fate

The Sharks inspired play continued last week as our two playoff series both came to happy endings.  Of course, none of our three games to close these two rounds out were without their tense moments.  In fact, one ended with us on the wrong side of a 5-3 score. But even in that game, the young ladies displayed a resilience which has become their calling card of late. A resilience which has landed this team squarely on a collision course with the most unlikely, but also most poetically just of foes.

In Game Four of the Provincial Playdowns they entered the third period down 3-1.  A tie or win would be enough for them to move on to the Finals.  That deficit would be extended to 4-1 only a couple of minutes into the final frame. Yet the talk on the bench was not defeatist.  My players were talking about how they would stage a comeback; and come back they did. Within a couple of minutes and after some furious pressure they cut the lead to 4-2.  A minute or two at the most later they scored another and I let them know they were never out of any game.  I was fairly certain even down 4-3 this game would go our way. Then unfortunately one of our forwards ran headlong into a defenceman leaving an opposing player with the puck all alone in the slot.  She flung a shot under our shocked keeper and the momentum we’d established was gone.  The loss would force a particularly unwanted, but necessary fifth match.  Our girls were still in the driver’s seat, but some faint hope had undoubtedly been injected into the other side – hope we all knew needed to be quashed in short order. However, game five also introduced one more challenge in the form of a casualty. One of our other defenceman, on a seemingly innocent battle for the puck against the boards had her hand stretched awkwardly backwards resulting in what so far has been determined to be two painfully broken bones.  Suffice it to say, we will be without her services for the foreseeable future.  For better or worse, her loss has become a rallying cry to be loudly echoed until the end of our playoff run.

And so we entered Game Five, again knowing, though never saying, a tie would be sufficient to move on.  The moment you start playing for a tie and not a victory you put your team perilously close to allowing a loss. Our opponent played like a much more desperate group through the first two periods. We had to rely on our goaltender to make a few important saves to keep the game at a 1-1 deadlock heading into the final frame.  What I particularly didn’t like was a negative vibe seemingly coming over our bench.  Forwards were blaming defencemen for missed assignments in our end. The Devil expressed her displeasure at me for a shortened shift (an error on my part I will readily admit), which went over with me like a lead balloon. This was not an ideal time for dissension in the ranks.  Between the second and third periods I let the team know it.  They needed to get back to the positive team game which had brought them to the brink of a Provincial championship berth.  Several players acknowledged my assertion; promising a renewed focus for the final fifteen minutes.  While it wasn’t pretty, there was a marked determination by our forces to end the game and the series. The referees had decided to put away their whistles for the most part prompting some slightly aggressive maneuvering by both camps.  Players were pinned hard up against the boards or knocked down in front of the net.  The Devil and one of her line-mates actually decided to gang up a little on one specific old nemesis they’ve been up against for the past couple of seasons; a player for whom they will readily admit they harbour a degree of ill will.  This same young lady, a fierce competitor in her own right, would air her displeasure with me in the post-game handshakes to which I giggled a little inside.  Our keeper would need to backstop a few dangerous enemy volleys to seal a settled-for 1-1 tie. The draw was enough to end this series and hopefully enough to propel us through another the following day in our league semi-final.

The next day’s critical series-ending game would find me making a less than enjoyable decision to sit one goaltender in favour of another.  I, by my own standard, have tried to commit to providing equal ice time for both of my goalies. I’ve said time and again that I am coaching development hockey, which by definition means everyone gets a fair opportunity to play.  In my mind, a goalie sitting on the bench is not developing. So I argued with myself for a day or so over the merits of starting one netminder or the other.  I knew which one would give our team the best chance to win as well as which one would be the popular choice among my parent group. I even thought I knew which goalie would prefer to start in this pressure-packed contest. Yet, I felt something of an obligation to stand by my principles; otherwise putting future decisions at risk of the precedent I was setting.  With more hockey to play after winning our two series, we are guarateed more “very important” games to be sure in which at some point I will have to play my other goaltender.  I worried about how much decision to sit her might affect her already shaken confidence moving forward. Maybe I need to work on convincing this team they will win no matter who’s in goal.  Taking everything into consideration I believe I decided in the best interest of the team to go with my stronger goalie — this time around.  By doing so, I reasoned there was better potential for everyone to play more games in the long run.

Our second elimination match in two days would be against a team which found itself still shorthanded after icing a shortened bench all season and now having lost two players to injury.  Our 14 skaters were tasked with tiring out their depleted 10.  The coaching staff and I were pleased to note more of a spark than we had seen the day before.  The Sharks did as we asked by keeping the bulk of the play in the other team’s zone with a tenacious forecheck backed by a solid defensive wall.  There were a couple of odd-man rushes following momentary breakdowns, but our forwards skated back into our zone hard with support and our goalie continued to keep the puck away from the mesh behind her.  We carried a 1-0 lead successfully into and through the third period; which included an empty opposing goal for a six on five player man advantage for the last three minutes. Three minutes of stress I and a few white knuckled on-lookers could definitely have done without.

Sharks Win Sharks Win

The Cinderellaic (now there’s a word you don’t see every day, if ever) light at the end of our league semi-final tunnel is a very familiar rival squad. A team we’ve gone back and forth with in league and tournament play.  A group with two would be evil sisters who chose to turn down an opportunity to part of our fairy tale family way back before this fabled season started along with a third who was unceremoniously cut by yours truly to complete this now unholy hockey triumvirate .  It somehow seems fitting that we’ve come all this way through 30 odd games, albeit via very different paths, to meet again in what is sure to be a storied battle for the minor hockey ages (I’m allowed a little poetically licensed hyperbole here, no?).  I hope my hard-working cast of characters are up for the test as I know I’m most assuredly motivated to motivate them.  I’ll even don some Fairy Godcoach wings and a pair of sparkly glass slippers if need be.