Off to a Quick, but Not Necessarily Fast, Start

It seems like the tryouts for the Boy’s team just ended, but here we are two weeks and five games into the regular season already with a game and a minimum four-game tournament on the sked this week.

One problem with Fall tryouts is little time remains for the newly picked team to get its combined legs and to get re-acquainted with each other.  In this team’s case they have something of an advantage with many of them having played together last year.  However, post-tryouts they only got one team practice in before having to play their first match.  Or at least most of them played their first match.  The Boy had to sit game one out due to a one-game suspension left over from his over-zealous defence of a teammate in the last game of last season.  One of his teammates was in a similar albeit slight larger boat with a four-gamer of his own.  So the Boy and mom drove a bit over an hour to watch his new teammates skate to a 3-3 tie in what was reportedly a chippy season intro with a whole whack of penalties – par for the course in many testosterone-filled Midget games.   The Devil and I stayed behind to get her to a practice; a fairly common occurrence.

I did get to witness game two, in which the Boy would make his 2012-13 season debut; at least until his skate blade snapped in half. Yup, a few shifts into the contest he went hard into the end boards with a foe. He rose awkwardly and had noticeable difficulty getting back to the bench.   He appeared to have injured his foot/knee/leg as he wasn’t able to put any weight on the other. But then I saw mom/trainer waiving something frantically in the air. Turns out it was half his blade. Seemed like his first game would be a short one. But then his suspended teammate came to his rescue, pulling a pair of newly sharpened skates from the back seat of his car. Now they were a little small and a little narrow, leaving the Boy with pretty sore post-game feet, but he did get the final two periods of the game in. Unfortunately, the team would end up on the wrong end of a 4-2 score in a hard fought game.

A few days later the Boys would find themselves winless in three on the road as they came out a little flat and fell by two again in a 3-1 game. They all seemed a little tired and in need of a regroup. The coaching staff would no doubt welcome the second practice of the year. 0-2-1 is no need to panic, but in a relatively short season you don’t want to have too many lulls; and particularly not right off the hop.  You’d no doubt prefer to set a winning tone.

Game four saw the team return to the scene of game one with most expecting another raucous affair. And raucous it was, b0th on the ice and in the stands.  Before the game began, the rink was inundated by several (upwards of 50) boisterous teenagers.  Apparently the Midget AA game is a big attraction in this particular town on a Wednesday (yup Wednesday) night.  The visiting Colts would prevail for their first victory through what was a rough and quite poorly officiated meeting with catcalls and even a water bottle being hurled by one of the teen onlookers in the stands. As the game neared its end, one of our team’s parents verbally expressed his frustration with what he witnessed on the ice. A suspended player from the opposing team who happened to be within earshot took exception to the remarks, approached and shoved the parent.  Tensions rose. Local parents actually needed to intervene; stepping between the large, advancing group of teens and our parent group. The crowd young crowd dispersed, but didn’t leave the arena; prompting a call to the authorities.  We found out shortly thereafter that much the same drama had ensued at this team’s last home game.  Police had likewise been dispatched.  We’re all pretty happy there isn’t likely going to be another trip to that rink this season.

However, the next game, the first home game, would be a third meeting with the very same opponent against whom the Boys should have by now developed some confidence.  Some fireworks were anticipated following the last penalty-fest. Only this time, the game was played on a much larger ice surface where our guys would have much more room to move. Our quicker side, having worked in another practice to gel a little more, were too much for the visitors. Win number two on the season would come via a 5-1 count.

Winless in three has given way to undefeated in two.  The team can carry some all important momentum into their next tilt against what will certainly be a tougher opponent; one the Boy is particularly fond of facing as it includes one of his best friends – a game where bragging rights in addition to positions in the season standings are up for grabs.

The regular season begins for the Devil in four sleeps with three games in three days; though she will be favouring a previously booked Mariana’s Trench concert over Game One. Such are the priorities of a teenage girl and a certain Dad who bought the tickets for her birthday on the off chance there wouldn’t be a conflict (off chance indeed).

Only a few weeks in and like every other year, the stories just keep telling themselves.  There’s rarely a dull moment on or off the ice.


Pesky Proverbial Primate Be Gone

Well, I don’t know if it had anything to do with the constant pleading by the coaching staff for a full three-period effort, but our young ladies did that with a vengeance this weekend, thereby dislodging their hockey albatross.

Their first of two victories came yesterday when they toppled the third place team in their own rink after skating to a 1-1 deadlock after two periods.  We did our best to convince them that they were more than holding their own despite not getting a lot of shots on the opposing net.  We reiterated our belief in them as winners, but only they could affect a positive outcome.  We hoped, as my one assistant coach mused, that they hadn’t simply become used to losing.  Our defence and goaltender were keeping their scoring opportunities to a minimum.  In the final frame, with an earful of encouragement, our charges came out with a determination we had not seen since our tournament victory so many games ago.  The Devil, bless her soul, started the albatross eviction with a pretty highlight reel goal of the top-shelf variety after a deliberate charge to the net.  Another marker would be put past the enemy keeper a couple of minutes later, which forced her from her goaltending duties.  The slumping body language of the other team was eerily similar to what we’d seen from our own side over the past few weeks.  A few questionable penalties down the stretch made things interesting, however our bending did not lead to breaking this time around. The final score read 4-1. We all agreed the post-win feeling was much better than what we’d become accustomed to.  A fine TEAM win indeed.

As with most games there is always a story within the story. This one involved my first disciplinary player benching of the season; brought on to some extent by the recent feedback from team parents.  One of our defencemen took  what we’ll call a “lazy, ill-timed” penalty with about six minutes left in the second period.  Her father, in particular, suggested it would be ok to use benching as a consequence — to send a message.  When she returned to the bench after her penalty I reminded her of my previously announced commitment to ensuring discipline from this point forward. I then told her to have a seat on the bench, intimating she would miss a shift for her unwanted foul, which would essentially mean she would miss the rest of the period.  A fair punishment from which I trusted she would learn a lesson. The third period started after a flood of the ice. As noted above, this frame saw frantic action.  I was certainly caught up in the game as we pulled ahead on the scoreboard. Then with about five minutes left in the match I looked down where I noticed the penalized player standing next to our back-up goalie.  It was obvious she had been standing there a while so I asked “Have you not been back on the ice?” to which she replied “No, I assumed I was still benched.  I was waiting for permission.”  My heart sank as I realized my single-shift message had been misinterpreted.  I’d been too involved in the game to notice one player had effectively sat for 10+ minutes (plus the four she sat in the previous period). Another rookie coach mistake. Hopefully one I won’t make again.

Before today’s game I told the recent victors this was an opportunity to start building momentum for the playoffs.  A string of three wins to close out the season may not move us up in the standings, however, it would bode well for round one no matter who we are set to face; after all, we’ve competed with, if not defeated, every team in the league. I may have also mentioned to the group I was superstitiously wearing the same shoes, socks, pants and shirt as I did the victorious day before.  One player naturally quipped, “I hope you changed your underwear.”  “Everything’s the same except that” I assured her.

As the game started, so did the momentum building I asked for.  In the first two periods the girls won pretty much every battle against a short-handed home team. They outshot the competition 24-4 and outscored them 4-0; a good start indeed.  Yet I reminded them to keep the pressure on in the final frame.  The third period started well but our opponents would net a goal of their own by deflection a puck off of our defenceman’s knee only a couple of minutes in; the clock could not tick fast enough. However, the game would take a dramatic shift as a player from each team collided and slid somewhat harmlessly into their net.   But the rival player stayed face-down on the ice following the mishap complaining of not being able to feel her toes.  This unfortunately would be the final action of the game as the trainer decided to put caution first as she should by summoning an ambulance. The player reportedly said the feeling had returned to her toes and we all hope she’s ok.  I’ve asked for a update as our player involved in the incident was pretty shaken up in having to watch the events unfold, though it was clearly an accident. Ultimately, we recorded a 4-1 victory on an understandably sour note.  I was also a little disappointed in our side not being able to finish the game on their own.

All said, I believe the mental barrier, our biggest foe the past couple of weeks, has been broken down.  There is still plenty to do in terms of playing one final strong game against the team just above us in the standings and then having to take on either the first or second place team in round one of the playoffs.  But the team has leaped over an important hurdle in re-establishing their ability to play full games and win them.  I sincerely hope we never encounter that oh so maniacal back-riding monkey again cuz he was sure tough to remove the first time around.