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.


Setting Some Hockey Team Rules

Had a chance to see most of the Devil’s and my new team have their first “non-official” skate together and through some expected summer rust there were some really good signs of things to come. While several of the players have not played together, many have, and those connections were readily obvious when they called to each other for a pass or instinctively new where the each other would or should be during a scrimmage. One of the things I’ve dreamed of seeing and more importantly hearing from younger-aged hockey teams is communication. Getting them to look up, call out each other names or simply call for a pass can be like pulling teeth when they’re eight years old. Here, with an older group, the importance of this critical component of the game has sunk in and surely seems natural. Of course, this will likely be true of every other team we face, so our team will also need to excel in other areas if we expect to compete with those squads.

The-Guiding-PrinciplesPrior to taking the ice I decided to lay down some coach/team philosophy and look to get pre-season buy in from the group. What I perhaps grandiosely positioned as “The Guiding Principles”,  jotted down on a bristol board (as I became accustomed to doing in my previous head coaching stint two years ago) and affixed to the dressing room wall for all to see were five simple tenets: Positive Attitude, Respect, Focus, Hard Work and Communication. Though they likely didn’t need much explaining, I took some time to review each in the context of “our” team and what “we” should expect of ourselves and each other. To solidify the importance of those expectations, hockey trainer/Momma had a great idea in suggesting each member of the team, players, coaches and trainers alike, sign the back of our mini sports Magna Carta. We stopped short of signing in blood, but I’m hopeful the messages left a mark and I’ll be re-affixing the document to walls before the next several practices and games for lasting effect. I said, and firmly believe, a team built around the top four principles and anchored by communication will succeed; regardless the finals scores or standings.

Having set some ground rules, I, the coaching staff and the team will start the real work this week beginning with a short practice followed by a minimum four and hopefully five-game tournament where we’ll get our first true glimpse of what we have to work with and on. Would I like a couple more practices before jumping into the fire? Sure. But we’ll go  into this weekend with few preconceived notions and will hopefully be pleasantly surprised…or not. Either way, the real goal of this weekend is to start to build a team and culture based on the aforementioned principles with an eye towards success on and off the ice.


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.


It’s the Least Wonderful Time of the Hockey Year

Last week provided the first opportunity to somewhat reluctantly redon my coaching hat to participate in six days of tryouts for the Devil’s and my team for next season. The first three days were designated for the team above mine, which would provide a preview of players I would be evaluating and selecting a team from. And then my own three relatively intense days of nervously anticipating player selections and, more importantly, releases. I and my evaluators would be given the unenviable task of having to reduce a pool of 45 players down to 17, with the most challenging task being the selection of 9 forwards from 27 skaters; with only 4 1/2 hours of evaluation time to do it. In order to make things manageable, the bottom 10 or so players would need to be released after the initial 90 minute session. Hardly time enough to make such a weighty decision.

You might think, at this point, after 13+ seasons of having gone through the process as a parent and/or coach, things would get easier. It’d be old hat. But rather, if anything, they get harder because closer ties and relationships have been formed between players, coaches and parents. You’re tasked with selecting from a group of players, many of whom you’ve spent significant time with, perhaps even over the last six months and who you (or more importantly your children) call friends. Everybody knows everybody. It would be nice to leave emotion out of it, but there is just no way you can. No matter which way you slice it, someone will be left feeling rejected. For my part, I try to do everything I can to maintain objectivity by leveraging multiple evaluators and lending credence to their experienced hockey opinions. I try to choose people with little or no affiliation to the players they are evaluating; who can provide unbiased opinions based on what they see on the ice.  Sometimes this can result in having to make decisions I would rather not make, in order to build a team comprised of the most deserving tryout participants.  This is not to say previous knowledge of a player’s ability or attitude do not creep into the selection process because they likewise have to. Ultimately, all of this info and input are combined with gut instinct to form a team of players you hope will gel and have some success on and off the ice.

I was a little dismayed when one of the players being evaluated, who had played with the Devil this past season and who had shown quite well throughout the tryouts thus far, did not return to the ice after our first session. When questioned, the player’s parent commented “We were told the team had already been picked and didn’t see any point in continuing to try out.” Anyone who knows me would realize my approach is quite the opposite. I believe I give everyone a fair opportunity to compete; sometimes to a fault. Yet in this crazy minor hockey world stories have a way to taking on lives of their own. The old broken telephone conjures up backroom deals and hush-hush conversations. And I’m not naive to think this doesn’t happen on other teams or in other jurisdictions. One issue with the way girls’ hockey is run in our area is any player, from any centre can play on any team she chooses, which can lead to some of the more skilled players jumping from one centre to another with little to no allegiance in the hopes of advancing their personal agendas; sometimes of their own accord and, of course, sometimes at the bequest of their parents. The same resulted in my own tryouts having a whirlwind of activity surrounding the goalies competing for a spot on my team. In a two-hour period on the second day of my tryouts, there was a confluence of four teams and five keepers in a situation akin the to the six degrees of Kevin Bacon as the actions of one affected another and so on and so on. All I could do was wait for the dust to settle.

The biggest challenge of the entire process is having to deal with the emotions of those you’ve released and this time around was no exception.  To start with and in a unique twist, after my first round of “cuts”, I was approached by a parent questioning my logic on releasing a player, who wasn’t his daughter. I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret this or what, if anything, needed to be done about it. I thanked him for his feedback and got ready for the second session.

The second round of releases was, as expected, a little more challenging and resulted in a little more emotion. In fact, in one case, if a parent could have slugged me in the jaw without fear of retribution, I am certain they would have. And all I could do was apologize with no doubt faint explanation of the reasoning behind the decision. With this particular player, I’d had some history and had wanted to not have to release her, but could not justify keeping her in light of the other competition on the ice. Having been more often on the parent side I could understand the parent’s interest in inflicting some degree of bodily harm on my person.

I was a little dismayed when one of the players being evaluated, who had played with the Devil this past season and who had shown quite well throughout the tryouts thus far, did not return to the ice after our first session. When questioned, the player’s parent commented “We were told the team had already been picked and didn’t see any point in continuing to try out.” Anyone who knows me would realize my approach is quite the opposite. I believe I give everyone a fair opportunity to compete; sometimes to a fault. Yet in this crazy minor hockey world stories have a way to taking on lives of their own. The old broken telephone conjures up backroom deals and hush-hush conversations. And I’m not naive to think this doesn’t happen on other teams or in other jurisdictions. One issue with the way girls’ hockey is run in our area is any player, from any centre can play on any team she chooses, which can lead to some of the more skilled players jumping from one centre to another with little to no allegiance in the hopes of advancing their personal agendas; sometimes of their own accord and, of course, sometimes at the bequest of their parents. The same resulted in my own tryouts having a whirlwind of activity surrounding the goalies competing for a spot on my team. In a two-hour period on the second day of my tryouts, there was a confluence of four teams and five keepers in a situation akin the to the six degrees of Kevin Bacon as the actions of one affected another and so on and so on. All I could do was wait for the dust to settle.

Regardless the perception or the politics, my concern, at the end of the day, is to try to manage a fair and equitable process, where hopefully no one’s feelings are too badly damaged. Unfortunately,  sometimes trying to be fair ain’t always that easy.

After three days, three relatively sleepless nights, a fair amount of hand wringing and a couple of pointed debates with my evaluators, I did manage to select a final group of nine forwards, six defence and two goaltenders. Suffice it to say, I was glad to put those three days behind me.

Now the fun starts in trying to bring together these 17 budding personalities and getting them to all row in the same direction or at least having them get along to start.  If I’ve chosen right, there is great potential for success, and if I’ve chosen wrong, there’ll just be more a little more work to do. Either way, there’s will no doubt be a tale or two to recount along the way.


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.


Back to Barely, But Winning, Ways

Fresh off of their disappointing early playoff exit, the Sharks needed to refocus their attention this week on a four-point series to qualify for the Provincial championships, a daunting task considering the opponent; one of the only teams they hadn’t beaten all year with a less than stellar 0-1-1 record. As I’ve likely bemoaned here in the past, the whole qualification process is a little misguided as some teams, depending on their geographic location, are required to face-off against several opponents while others may automatically qualify if there is no team at their level in close proximity. In the Devil’s team’s case, the number of teams in their way was just the one.

pre-game hockey strategy

Early on in game one it was obvious the Sharks’ closest nemesis would continue to be a bee in their hockey bonnet. This series would be much like the games preceding it.  The Devil and her mates would hold the balance of play, but their scoring woes of the past couple of weeks would continue. They would be able to net a single marker, which would be matched by game’s end. A win and at least a tie in the next  two contests would be necessary if the Sharks hoped to move on. Neither was expected to a simple proposition.

However, in game two a few days later, ours was the dominant side from start to finish. The net result was a slim 2-1 victory, but at least to me it felt like the team had regained some of its swagger.  The score would have been much more lopsided had it not been for some  very good netminding between the opposing pipes.

And so, there would be  an opportunity to finish the mini-war in the third game with a draw or victory.  The script in this fifth meeting of the year between the two combatants would repeat itself as the good guys on the home side would start as the aggressors, throwing plenty of pucks at the visiting keeper. Plenty of pucks, which would be turned away time and again.  At the other end of the ice, a miscue in the defensive zone was turned into a one-goal advantage, which would remain in tact until halfway through the second period when the score was finally knotted at 1-1.  A tie would be enough, but sure wasn’t welcome by those of us with weak nerves on the sidelines. A two or three-goal victory would have been far preferred. While the girls did not provide the wanted margin, they did spend the majority of the third period in the offensive zone again registering several good scoring chances. Yet, the only other goal they would score to cap the series was an empty-netter when the visiting coach realized a draw was not enough for his crew to stave off elimination. Regardless the means, our ladies are headed to the Provincial championships for a chance to avenge their league playoff defeat.

The only problem now is the Provincials are five weeks away.  There are a bunch of practices scheduled between now and then; with a few of those likely becoming exhibition games, but ya gotta figure in a month’s time a lot of players will have lost that hockey luvin’ feelin’. It will be interesting to see how long it might take some to get back up to speed. Other teams, having advanced further, or who’ve had to battle through bigger divisions will not have had a chance to get rusty. Then again perhaps ours will surprise and be chomping at the bit. In either case, we’ll be cheering them on.

The Provincials will also set the stage for 2013-14 season rep tryouts happening in our centre just one week later. On that note, I’m going to have to get back up to speed myself as I’ve managed to secure another head coaching position; a new adventure which will no doubt provide plenty of hockey and rink-related fodder for the next 12+ months.  Feel free to send along your congratulations and/or condolences as you see fit. I’m hopeful a year’s experience followed by a year in the stands will serve me well to guide my new charges through a successful season. More on my specific plans and aspirations for next season to follow. Let’s finish this one on a high-note first. Go Sharks Go!


Playoff Hockey Highs and Lows

In fairly stark contrast to my last entry, I am going to take less pleasure in recounting the Devil’s second round playoff series.

However, before that series started the Sharks made their way a few hours north for a “tune-up” tournament.  A three-team tournament with two of the teams classified at a level above our girls.  None of us were quite sure what to expect.  We knew our ladies had competed at the highest level in their own division for a good part of the season, though not so much at the tail end or in their first round playoff series having barely survived to see round two. This mini-tourney could be a potentially good or bad thing. For the first two periods of the first game it felt like the latter. The girls were out-skated and out-battled for pretty much every puck.  A conservative shot clock dually managed by the scorekeeper indicated only a couple of shots on net having been registered. It seemingly took until the third period for the girls to realize they could skate with this team or maybe some just needed to work off the rust of a 3+ hour drive. Either way, the game would end with ours on the wrong side of a 2-0 score, much of the credit for which could be attributed to solid goaltending.

We would see how the rest of the team would respond the following morning when they would take on the home squad. Game two felt closer, similarly had some strong goaltending, but lacked scoring punch from the visitors and ended 3-0 for the home side.

The Sharks would only have a couple of hours to recover and prepare for a rematch with their game one opponent. Advancing to the Finals of this tourney was a longshot with an 0-2 record to start, so I think we all just hoped for at least a better effort since they now knew they could compete. What we got was a complete turnaround and a mark of revenge as the girls brought their A game (pun fully intended) against dumbfounded opponents. This time around our girls were the aggressors, out-skating and out-battling their latest rivals on their way to a 2-1 victory. They would need help from the keeper again, particularly down the stretch, but they were full measure for the win and pretty pleased with themselves.

Being a mini-tourney, they actually had a slim chance to move on to the Finals with a four-goal win. They would get to sleep on it and take on their hosts again in the morning. They would sleep and parents would do “hockey-parents-at-overnight-tournament” things, which I will leave at that.

Suffice it to say, the morning came earlier and more abruptly than anyone wanted it to.  We got to the rink only to find out we could have slept a little longer as someone forgot to tell the rink rat to open the joint on time.  After an hour delay, game four got underway and the Sharks battled hard again. They weren’t able to secure the multi-goal victory they needed, but represented themselves well in a 0-0 draw. With an overall strong showing in the Near North, we returned home with the next playoffs series just around the corner.

Sharks on ice

Two nights later our ladies, second-place finishers from the regular season, would face-off at home against number three. During the regular season, the Sharks were able to win three times in three tries, though everyone knew their opponents were not a team to be taken lightly. Nor were they, as our side came out strong in the first match of this four-point series. They held the balance of play for much of the game and had several scoring chances. Unfortunately, all but one of those remained chances and not goals.  The visitors were able to find the back of the net twice making game two a must win on the road. Post-game, I heard someone question if perhaps the girls were still a little tired from having played four games over three days during the weekend just past. Maybe a little emotionally if not physically fatigued.  Regardless, they would need to come back fresh to avoid elimination.

I hoped lightning would strike twice for my kids as we coincidentally and almost fatefully returned to the scene of the Boy’s team’s successful series two capper only one day prior. Surely the girls would be able to summon the strength and bounces to pull their series even at one game apiece. Again, early on they were the stronger team recording several chances (there’s that word again) to score. Their four-goal per game pace from the early regular season was not being sustained. They entered the third period 2-1, but it still felt like a comeback was within reach. They just needed to bury a few of the opportunities they were generating.  The game would indeed be knotted at two about halfway through the final frame giving everyone on our side of the glass a little hope. Hope only to be dashed a few minutes later as one of the bad guys found some open ice and fired a shot past our keeper. The same keeper was pulled from her goal with under 90 seconds left in favour of an extra attacker. But the empty net drew the attention of one more home marker. And just like that the playoff run was over. It almost didn’t seem real and certainly not fair based on the regular season success the girls had enjoyed. The only silver lining was finding out one of the Devil’s mates was credited with her first goal of the season; something she and her hockey dad had been waiting far too long for. Yet, I’m sure this was a weak consolation in light of the surprisingly quick playoff exit.

The team does have an opportunity to exact a measure of vindication with provincial playdowns still underway.  They’ll need to put their disappointment behind them and focus anew on their secondary goal.

I am hopeful of being able to report more playoff highs than lows in the coming weeks for the Boy and the Devil, though either way games will be won or lost and lessons will no doubt be learned.


Sometimes Ya Gotta Lose to Win

The Sharks continued their strong league play as they faced one of their toughest foes to date a few days ago. Their opponent came into their match undefeated and trailing them in the standings only by virtue of having played fewer games. A quick look at the standings revealed only two goals against in their first five games….a test for our ladies to be sure.  Our side was thankfully up to the challenge turning in probably their best performance to date in a rough and tumble affair.  The referee for this particular game was someone I had not seen before and I was told he had only just started officiating girls hockey after having spent 10+ years reffing Jr. A boys games. It seemed as the game went on that he may have thought he was still reffing those older lads as his whistle never parted his lips to flag down what were a couple of the biggest hits I’ve seen all year. The girls’ game, of course, does not allow body checking, but this referee was letting pretty much everything go. In facing a slightly larger team, it would not have been surprising to see the Sharks back down. Instead they fought through to a 5-2 win – more than doubling their surprised opponents’ goals against on the year. And so they solidified their early season hold on the number one position in the league with a couple of teams on their tail with games in hand.

The success they had in the league game bode well for an anticipated strong showing in their home tourney, Sharkfest, this weekend. A quick check of their schedule revealed three teams ranked in the middle of their respective divisions; three teams you’d our side would presumably be able to excel against.

However, game one, though closely fought, ended with the Sharks on the short end of a 1-0 loss with the winning goal being scored on a late powerplay; the result of a retaliatory penalty. As is too often the case, one of the Devil’s teammates responded to a punch in the head with a shot of her own. The referee apparently only saw the latter.

In game two the next morning, the girls struck quickly, apparently sensing the need for a victory in a three-game round robin format. They dominated play for the first half of the game, scored two quick goals and carried the two-point cushion into the final frame. Unfortunately, their killer instinct seemed to give way to some lackadaisical play half-way through the second. A goal partway into the third cut the lead to one, which then evaporated to nil when an errant pass in the defensive zone found an opponents stick and the back of the good guys’ goal shortly thereafter. A 2-2 tie would demand a victory in the final match.

Between games two and three, Devil would require a visit to a clinic to check on a wonky, swelled-up knee, which had her hobbling around pretty good. Prospects for her participation in game three, only a few hours later, did not look good. The doc decided there was no major damage; prescribing ice and rest.  Three hours later she would wrap it up and suck it up for an hour to help her mates.  We’d have been fine had she decided to heed the good physician’s advice, but we followed her lead. Must get her toughness from her Momma.

Unfortunately, the girls would find out just before taking to the ice for their third challenge that even a win would not be enough to advance to the playoff round.  The goal for the last skate of the weekend would be to simply salvage a winning record at 1-1-1. But this game would go much the same as the ones before it and end the same way game one did, with a 1-0 score in the wrong direction.  This was not the team’s weekend; leaving the coaching staff and a few other onlookers a little bedeviled after having witnessed such an impressive showing only a few days prior.  In the squad’s defence, they were two players short; one lost to concussion and the other to a wonky wrist. Further, though they have demonstrated a higher level of play, they did compete in three one-goal games. The goaltenders, as all three scores attest, played very well; more than giving their teammates the opportunity to compete and win.

The team now has four practices to work out some apparent kinks before their next league game. In the grand scheme of things, if you are going to have some stinker games, as the girls collaborated on this weekend, a tournament is the best time to have them.  Would have been nice not to do it in the home tournament, but no matter. These games will presumably allow the coaches to reinforce the need to give full effort in each and every game; to not underestimate any opponent. A few hard skating practices are likely in order as well.

I and I think many believe in order to win the big games, you have to lose a few along the way. Champions across all sports have proved this time and time again. Of course last year, my own team took a whole regular season of losing and turned it into a successful playoff run; not that I would necessarily recommend this as a preferred approach.

In a week’s time and thereafter, we’ll see how the Sharks respond to this bit of adversity. Good teams, which this group feels like early on, generally come back with renewed focus and determination. Get focused, get better ladies.



Back to Reality and Full Steam Ahead

The Nashville hangover is nearly gone…I think. The Boy’s team got little to no rest with a practice the night after their return and a game the night after that.  For most of the trip I kept saying, “Glad I just have to watch and not play hockey”. That’s what young legs, lungs and hearts are for.  I even bailed on my men’s team, the mighty mighty Iceholes, who had a game at 10pm the night we returned. This old dog just wasn’t up for the hunt that night.  I’m sad to report the Iceholes dropped that contest 4-0 (not that my feeble contribution following a 15 hour haul on a bus would have likely made much difference).  But we’re certainly not here to talk about me and my faint grasp at youth.

The Boys were fortunate to re-enter their regular season with a match against weaker team because they too showed signs of a Tennessee hangover.  They were only up 1-0 going into the third period of a game which thankfully ended 4-0 and saw its share of fireworks down the stretch. Fireworks that even found their way up into the stands as there was some post-game quibbling amongst parents.

Games two and three of the week would not allow for any extended latency on behalf of the Boys as they’d face the two teams ahead of them in the standings.

Unfortunately, they didn’t get the memo in time for game two, which saw them come out terribly flat and give up a two-goal lead in a matter of minutes. And memo or not, they weren’t able to recover as the deficit mounted to 3, 4 and finally 5-0.  Not a pretty game to watch as my friend who came out to see the Boy play could easily attest.  Let’s just strike that one from our combined memory shall we?

And in game three of the week, the squad indeed seemed to have quickly stricken the memory as they came out a decidedly different team taking a 3-0 lead into the first intermission including one by the Boy (who’s been on a bit of an uncharacteristic goal-scoring tear since our visit down south) and two short-handed markers.  Unfortunately, despite several powerplay opportunities and good scoring chances, they were unable to extend their lead, and in fact, a couple of mistakes led to their advantage being whittled down to one. It was still 3-2 heading into the 3rd period, but that difference too would evaporate around some shaky backchecking/defending.  What started out promising ended in frustration as the home team would climb all the way back to take a 4-3 lead with just over two minutes remaining on a shorty of their own.  Said frustration would mount when with four seconds left on the clock and our goaltender on the bench, the Boy would tap a loose puck into the opposing goal only to have an out-of-position referee waive the tying goal off after claiming to have lost sight of the black biscuit. Don’t get me started on the quality of refereeing in this particular game, lest it should sound like sour grapes. At the end of the game, the team let this one slip away.  A little more memory striking required and/or a few more paddles in the water at the same time all the time moving forward. It’s still relatively early in the season, but these are the teams our charges need to impress against and defeat.

The Boys have what could be another fireworks-filled match tomorrow on the road followed by a game against an opponent they already have a 2-0-1 record against this year.  Two winnable games to be sure, but not games to be overlooked by any means.

Meanwhile, the Devil and her Shark crew have become something of a hockey Juggernaut with a 7-1 record in league play. So as not to risk perturbing the hockey Gods I will simply report 7-1 and 8-0 victories in their last two contests against weaker and somewhat depleted opponents. In the most recent match, they faced a team with only two lines vs. their full complement of three. This game could have actually been more lopsided had it not been for the heroics of an embattled goaltender in the opposite net.  The Sharks will have a better test tomorrow night against a team as yet undefeated in league play. From what we’ve seen so far, our ladies will hopefully be up to the task. They need only show up in a confident frame of mind and play to their potential.

Lots more hockey to watch as always. What’s that you say? “The NHL and NHLPA have been making some progress this week.”  Who cares…I got all the hockey drama I need.