Caution Hockey Parents – Silly Season Is Fast Approaching

Yeah, so in an extended moment of weakness a couple of months back I decided to apply for one more tour of hockey coaching duty. I guess I just can’t get enough of the all the time it takes to prep, spending 140+ hours in rinks between practices and games along with the ever present parent scrutiny and expectations raining down from the stands. But in truth, I applied again because I was fortunate this past season to have had the opportunity to work with a fantastic group of players. A true “team” with little to no infighting or divisions. The parent stuff is part of the job and at this point is mostly easy to simply let go in one ear and out the other. So I went through the interview process again; though mine was condensed being the incumbent for the position I sought. I had my answers ready ahead of time for the questions I thought I would be asked and sure enough was. A couple of weeks later the title of Head Coach was bequeathed upon me again.

Silly Season
My first important and least enjoyable coaching task, as always, will be to try to select another good group by going through tryouts. Any one who has been a hockey coach surely feels this is the worst part of the job. Having to evaluate 50 odd players and pare down to a group of 17, with there being often very little difference between the abilities of the last 5-10 players on your list. I personally rely fairly heavily on my group of evaluators to help make the best technical choices based on the quality of each player’s tryout. A three-day tryout is hardly enough time to measure the true relative strengths of all of these players and plenty of factors come into play with teenage girls. But the process is what it is and we do our best to work within it.  The difference with the last few players may be based your previous personal history with them; particularly at the Midget level where you’ve been on teams with the same players on and off for the last 5+ years. And sometimes you just have to go with your gut and hope for the best. One little twist to my tryout sessions this year is that they will be missing one notable participant, namely the Devil, who is still recovering from her broken fibula, sustained in a game in the closing weeks of last season. As Coach and Dad, I’d love to see her skate to justify her spot on the team, but she’s definitely not ready and I’m fairly certain no one will question her qualification based on her previous performance.

tryoutsAll of the tryout fun has already technically started as the team above mine started their selection process a couple of days ago. I’m attending their sessions to see what players I will have to choose from assuming they will attend my tryout once they’ve been released from the higher squad. Even though it’s only second tier Midget girls hockey (not to diminish it) the customary rumour mill has also already started.  Who’s going to try out for which team, who’s already committed or been promised a spot or who wants to play with who. Minor hockey is simply never free from politics. I do my best to keep an open mind by remembering my end goal is to simply keep the game fun for the players; particularly at this end stage of the minor hockey careers. This will be the Devil’s last year. I want to ensure she and her teammates have a positive experience; encouraging them to continue playing the game, regardless the level, or giving back to the game as coaches.

Of course, one of the other unavoidable challenges, is dealing with the ever-present hockey parents. While less so at this age, there are still a few out there who take the “game” too seriously for my liking. Others, as parents are wont to do, don particularly rose-coloured glasses this time of year. Their son or daughter is quite obviously the best player on the ice. And I get it, I’ve been there. Parent’s get pissed when their kids are rejected by a coach/team; a natural defence mechanism kicks in. Momma bear claws as our Momma likes to call them. But we’ve always told the Boy and the Devil they’d be fortunate if this was the worst rejection they ever received in life. Some parents are less objective as I hearken back to being accosted by an irate parent during last season’s tryout proceedings. So my open mind is paired with a solid set of blinders as I enter and exit the rink.  In an effort to quell parental tirades one of the Provincial governing bodies has sent an email to its hockey parents reminding them to behave providing a list of tryout tips. Perhaps I’ll include this link in my introductory letter to the parents of my prospective players. Or maybe I’ll simply ask here if anyone reading this can pass it along to their hockey parent friends. I’d rather not I, nor my coaching comrades, have to worry about dealing with extra difficult situations. For most of us, having to release players is tough enough on us already.

In a few days, my evaluations and a few sleepless nights will begin. Kindly wish me, the players and the parents safe passage through this thankfully short but certainly silly season, after which we’ll all take a Summer rest and no doubt quickly start pining for the smell of the rink again. Or feel free to commiserate here and let me know how you handle the stress of the tryouts whether your a player, parent or fellow coach.


Book Review – Moron: The Behind the Scenes Story of Minor Hockey

I finally found some free quiet time yesterday morning to sit down (or rather lay back) and read former President of Hockey Calgary, Todd Millar’s, book dramatically and appropriately titled Moron.

Moron: The Behind the Scenes Story of Minor Hockey in Canada

The premise of the book, which begins with a Wikipedian definition of the word “moron”,  is that minor hockey in Canada is being ruined by a small minority of “moronic” hockey parents and action must be taken to protect the game we all love for our kids’ sake.  The author identifies six main problem areas: Safety, Fair Play, Bullying, Respect, Volunteerism and Adult Behaviour.

Off the top, I will say I agree with at least 95% of what Mr. Millar has written, I applaud his candor and I think this book should be required reading for every hockey parent. As I’ve written here many times before, I’ve certainly witnessed and interacted with a few of the morons to whom the author is referring. And yes, I too will admit to having worn what Mr. Millar calls the Moron Helmet (as he himself did), a time or two. However, I believe upon reflection we were both quickly able to see the error in our ways. Not all morons are so self-aware.

I am sure Mr. Millar is heartened by Hockey Canada’s recent decision to ban body-checking at the Peewee level as this issue is likewise a central theme and perhaps the primary driver behind this book’s genesis. He resigned from his position as president of Hockey Calgary following a “moron” laced blog post he wrote back on April 30, 2012 out of frustration with his organization’s inability to pass the same body checking ban, which has now come to fruition.  The entire book actually reads like an epilogue to the minor hockey news of the past couple of months.

In the book, Mr. Millar clearly and passionately talks about the importance of respect and fair play in hockey; two common sense notions not always ascribed to by the previously mentioned minority.  He writes frankly about problems with misguided volunteerism, sometimes corrupt, elitist competitive hockey leagues and the need for coordinated top-down/bottom-up changes. With the Boy and the Devil having played rep hockey for the last 13+ years and having been involved with our local associations, hockey Momma and I can both readily relate to the points he’s raised. Sometimes you just shake your head and say, How the hell can that person do that? Don’t they realize how stereotypical they are and that everyone is pointing and laughing, whether quietly or out loud?

I applaud the author for writing this book and further illuminating major issues in minor hockey. Recent media attention would indicate there is something of a groundswell of change underway in the sport where body checking, concussions and parental behaviour are concerned. Many associations across the country are mandating parents take rinkside behaviour courses, with Windsor Minor Hockey being the latest.  But I do challenge Mr. Millar’s assertion this problem is most prevalent in hockey. He states in the final chapter “It’s not present as much in other sports, or at all.” I beg to differ from past and recent experience. Just last weekend in my hometown the police needed to be called to a local soccer field to break up a 30-person parent fight after one soccer dad apparently hurled a racial slur at an opposing black family. I can vividly recall coaching the Boy in a rep soccer game at the age of 6 and witnessing an opposing soccer coach berating a player (I would realize later is was his own son no less) to the point of tears.  In my very last post, I mentioned witnessing a kid/parent mini-brawl at a charity street hockey tournament. You need only watch a single episode of Toddlers and Tiaras or Dance Moms to see the height or, better put depth, of moronism in modern society in general. Apparently, Moron Helmets can be and are readily purchased at Walmart by any Tom, Dick or Mary. A growing disregard for respect is a larger societal issue. Moronic parental behaviour stems from a general breakdown in human morals. It’s not just a hockey problem, it’s a human problem.  (Hang on a sec, is this me or my father ranting?). So what do we do about it? This is obviously a much bigger issue, but having people like Mr. Millar getting stuff out into the open for a sport like hockey, exposing the morons and empowering the rest of us to stand up to them out loud is a positive start. I certainly do encourage other hockey parents to give the book a read and then consider handing it to the next moron you encounter at a rink, field or dance competition.


You Might Be a Minor Hockey Parent

hockey dad

Image courtesy of –

I began this with a list originally forwarded by a hockey Dad from the Devil’s team who received it in an email from yet another hockey Dad.  We joked over a couple of beers we were enjoying while our daughters were working hard at practice. Several of the Ifs hit really close to home.  I’ve added a few of my own and welcome any others you can think of.  If you’ve done any, or like me, many of these……youuuuuu just might be a hockey parent (with deference to Jeff Foxworthy and his little Redneck thing).

If you base the next purchase of a vehicle on how many kids, sticks and hockey bags it will hold.

If you know the location of every Tim Horton’s within a 400 kilometre radius.

If you give directions to places relative to the closest arenas.

If you’ve quoted Don Cherry, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe or lines from the movie Slap Shot in conversations with your kids.

Slap Shot Movie

If you know the name of every single kid on every single team your kids have every played on……. but don’t have a clue who their  school mates are.

If you’ve lost your voice at a weekend tournament.

If the smell of a locker room or unwashed hockey gear doesn’t make you nauseous or if,  in truth, you actually enjoy it.

If you feel lost when you have a hockey free weekend.

If your spouse waits until you decide where to sit and then chooses a spot on the opposite side of the arena.

If you know at least three rink rats on a first-name basis.

If you can justify complaining about someone who donates hundreds of hours of volunteer time to your son or daughter.

If you ground your kids for a week when they misbehave (except for hockey practice).

If you’ve had to replace panels or your entire garage door after several pucks were shot at or through them.

If you’ve rationalized spending $250 on a Synergy for a 9 year old, but won’t spend $5 on a birthday card for your wife.

If when someone asks how old your children are you respond, “I have a ’95 and a ’97.”

If practices are a major part of your social life.

If you buy gloves according to how loud you can clap in them.

If you don’t mind the giant dead spot in your backyard where the rink used to be.


If you find yourself missing the parents of your kids’ teammates during the off-season.

If you rank arenas based on the quality of their french fries.

If you refuse to make any plans with your friends until you check your kids’ hockey schedules.

If you open a credit line to pay for all the registration fees, equipment and travelling expenses.

If you’ve ever leaned to the left or the right to psycho-kinetically attempt to help your did avoid a hit or guide a puck into a net from 150 feet away.

If all of your computer passwords begin with “hockey” or contain your child’s jersey number.

If your wedding anniversary celebration has included a watching a game or practice followed by a trip to McDonalds or some wing joint.

If you have been barred from more than one rink on more than one occasion for bad behaviour.

If you’ve purchased a new $200 stick because old one “didn’t have any goals left in it.”

If you know a few 5 year olds who are good, but “lack focus.”

If your kids have asked if Christmas is “Home or Away” this season.


If you’ve sat up all night with pre-game jitters in anticipation of a game you aren’t even playing in.

You juussst might be a hockey parent.

I’d love to see this list grow so let me know what you can add in the Comments below.


So You’re Signing Your Kid Up for Hockey Eh?

We had a friend last week who has younger kids and has enrolled her son for his first year of hockey.  Hockey, for many, is a hand-me-down game.  I definitely remember strapping on a lot of my older cousins’ gear growing up and the Devil has been the occasionally unwilling, but non-voting, recipient of her brother’s seconds. There’s a whole Canadian industry built around exchanging used equipment, which we’ve also leveraged from time to time. And with this reduce, reuse, recycle attitude we also have our share of old hockey gear tucked away, which we gladly offer up to friends who can get yet another life from it.  The young lad in question, excited by the newness of playing hockey, stood wide-eyed with anticipation as I carted in three different bags of elbow pads,  skates, socks, helmets and sweaters up from under the stairs and down out of the rafters in the garage. I haven’t counted, but am pretty sure we’ve close to enough hockey sweaters from years worth of teams, camps and clinics to dress four teams of various sizes. We even had some old lacrosse gear from an one-time experiment with that sport which unfortunately got ruined by a bad coach, but that’s a whole nuther story.

hockey equipment

Our young player-to-be was like a kid in a candy store as we outfitted him within a couple of articles of the full set. Turns out we’d already given or traded away all of the smaller skates – generally a hot commodity with the biggest price tag when purchased new.  We also couldn’t, in good conscience, provide an adequate helmet as the ones we had were past their expiry dates.  The grateful new hockey mom asked why he couldn’t just use one of these helmets and we were quick to point out this is, perhaps after skates and just slightly ahead of a protective cup/Jock (or Jill for girls), the most important piece of equipment you shouldn’t skimp on. I would think there is enough hockey concussion and generally injury buzz to make the importance of good equipment obvious, but it got me to thinking there are a lot of other things new hockey parents should maybe get some counsel; assuming of course I have some level of authority on the subject.  Here, I will do my best to provide some insights and rules (written or otherwise) for new hockey dads…and moms, in an effort to make your hockey experience and that of your child,  more enjoyable. Think of it as a hockey public service announcement or perhaps several bundled into one.

– Properly equip and protect your kids. Back to where we started.  This is generally less of an issue these days with team trainers and a heightened awareness around the importance of safety.  However, I’ve still witnessed players both young and old with undersized or unkempt equipment putting themselves in harm’s way. And don’t let them tell you something, like elbow pads, are too big and restrictive.  This is the same flawed thinking which kept helmets off of NHLers for years and now does the same with eye-protecting visors.  The game’s played with speed, on ice and accidents are bound to happen.  Add body checking into the mix for older boys and the protection factor goes up a notch. If protective equipment is available, why not use it to its fullest capacity?

– Prepare thyself mentally.  The chances of your son or daughter playing in the NHL are awholebunchofextraspecialtalentluckandperseverance-to-one. Or maybe your kid is THE ONE, but he/she definitely won’t get there if you don’t have the right attitude. There are a lot more of the latter stories than the former.  Do not try to relive your own childhood professional hockey dreams through your kid.  Love the game for the game; pass it on. And if they don’t love the game, because surprisingly enough not everyone does, let them try something else.

– Dress warmly and stand outside. It should be obvious hockey rinks are cold in the middle of January, though some of the newer models come equipped with heaters and/or significant insulation. Regardless and in order to get the full, true hockey experience your kids’ games should not be viewed from behind glass. Now, I won’t say there hasn’t been the occasion where the allure of a modern heated licensed bar overlooking a rink where the Boy or the Devil were playing hasn’t been too much to pass up, but for the most part the game is best enjoyed when you can see it, hear it and feel it.

– Since you’re outside where your kids can see and hear you, CHEER dammit! I’m not a fan of parents who sit on their hands or worse yet, their smartphones, while their kids are down on the ice seeking affirmation for their efforts from the stands. And to be clear, I am talking about cheering for your child and his/her team in the spirit of good sportsmanship.  Presumably you and your child are at the rink to have an enriching, enjoyable experience, so do your best to enable one. There will undoubtedly (double undoubtedly) be those situations and those hockey parents which are less than positive, but you can choose to simply avoid those instances and not be those parents. Again, I am no saint. I may have pushed the sportsmanship envelope a time or two (particularly with a referee or two), but overall I believe my kids have continued to play and love the game because I’ve brought a positive passion to the arena.

– Find a good spot. A seemingly minor, but generally important factor in your ability to enjoy the game. If you go to any minor hockey game you will notice hockey dads and moms (more so dads) situated sporadically in all corners of the arena. Moms generally huddle together in the stands on the side of their kids’ team.  Some dads prefer to be down on the glass at one end of the rink or the other or sometimes switching from period to period to be closer to the action. Others, like myself, prefer standing with a bird’s eye view from up above in line with the blue line closest to the Boy or the Devil’s bench (ok, that admittedly sounds a little obsessive compulsive and is certainly rooted in a fair bit of superstition).

– Let the coach do the coaching. Unless you’ve stepped up as a coach or on-ice helper, the best way to support your young player from a hockey education perspective is to let the coaches do their job. No, you may not agree with everything a coach says or does, but conflicting instructions, particularly those delivered in the car on the way to practice or a game will not help your kid. If you have a real, lasting issue with a coach, bring it to his/her or the governing body’s attention. While I myself have encountered some questionable coaches over the years, I’ve always tried to give them the benefit of the doubt realizing they are giving their time to our kids.

– Make your kids carry their own gear most of the time.  Another minor item in the list, but I hate (HATE) whoever invented hockey bags on wheels (beyond the fact they don’t fit in the trunks of most cars).  Call me old-fashioned, but once a kid hits peewee age, if not major atom, they should carry their own bag to and from the car to the rink back to the car and to the basement or wherever their stanky bag lives (sometimes in our house it’s the front hallway for days on end). Now I said “most of the time” because after certain long practices or spirit-crushing losses it’s ok to shoulder some of the burden. And, oh yeah, add a year or two to this rule for goalies since their stuff if a whole bunch heavier.

– Hockey is not a 12-month sport. Bobby Orr and I agree on this so I feel pretty justified.  Encourage your kids to play other sports or take up other activities in the “off-season”.  If they really, really want to play hockey in the Summer, let it be a camp or a 3-on-3 league where they get some variety/change of pace. If they really love the game, they’ll be chomping at the bit to get back on the ice in September after taking a good part of May, June and July off.  They will be better off as more rounded athletes and people in the long run.

– Get them playing outside. Whenever possible, find an outdoor rink, pond, street or driveway for your kids to play on.  If they’re hooked, they’ll likely do this on their own. There is really no better place for young players to develop their creativity and let their imaginations take over.  A place to work on their mad dangles, backhand top-shelfers, slap shots and goalies stacking their pads.  I can remember self-commentating my own games of CBC’s showdown where I was Guy Lafleur or Steve Shutt or member of the Habs (an affiliation I have since given up in favour of my beloved Jets) facing my buddy in the role of Mike Palmateer or Chico Resch.

– Play with your kids.  It can take years off your own life. Probably the most fun I have in my hockey dad life is when I get an opportunity to pass to or receive a crisp pass from one of my kids, whether during a practice, in a game of ice or ball hockey or on the aforementioned pond, which hasn’t happened nearly enough of late.  If we had such a pond to ourselves in close proximity I’ve no doubt we’d spend hours on it as I did on some Manitoba farm fields in March and April when I was a lad.  Playing against them brings me equal satisfaction and I think they like it too.  We’ve even managed to get mom suited and on the ice on a couple of occasions much to their delight.

In case it’s not already coming through loud and clear, the key overused, clichéd but honest, basic message for new hockey dads and moms is just make sure at the end of the day they have F-U-N. If they have fun, regardless where, who or how they play they will likely keep on playing. Children playing – isn’t that one of the most basic things we all wish we could be?

Any and all thoughts or suggestions from hockey types who are as or more experienced than I are always welcomed!


Hockey equipment image courtesty – Greater Lansing Amateur Hockey Association

"Not So" Baby Boy

The Boy’s hockey association decided to try something a little different this off-season. They held a two day Midget mini hockey camp last week to try to gauge the level of interest for next year, to keep more players interested and to do a pre-assessment. The real tryouts are in the Fall.  The turnout exceeded expectations as there were over 60 skaters and 12 goalies registered.  There was an initial thought of only forming two teams (A and AA) next year, but the number of attendees may indicate the opportunity for a third.  Of course, the number that show up for a mini camp in the Spring and the number that actually show up to try-out in August may tell a different story. There are a lot of other priorities for young men from cars and jobs to school and girls – and not necessarily in that order.

For some, like a certain hockey mom who shall remain nameless, the mini camp brought with it a realization that the Boy is now playing with men. At Midget, the age range is 16-18, which equals a noticeable difference in size and stature. The “boys” coming out of the dressing room who would be sharing the ice with the boy during the camp were by no means “boys”.  Full beards, six-packs, other well-defined muscle mass and more than a few tattoos revealed grown men.  After tryout one, the Boy himself quipped, “A few of us younger guys were thinking that maybe we should show up a the next skate with fake moustaches, just so we can fit in.”  He likewise noticed the disparity.  The Boy, with mild alarm, also said he had a pretty good idea where he could go if he needed to score (and not in the hockey sense). Another facet of growing up that’s even more front and centre at school among other places.

All that being said, we were heartened to see that the difference in size, strength and apparent maturity did not translate into a significant gap once everyone hit the ice.  At this age, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge who’s playing to their full potential, however not too many stood out above the pack. The Boy, for his part and to my somewhat objective, if no ever-so-slightly biased eye, held his own over the two days. Hell, he is nearly six feet tall and pushing 170 lbs. so we shouldn’t really be surprised.

We will no doubt just always see him as the Boy with the emphasis placed on the youth that word connotes. And we also know he’s out there playing with a bunch of other parents’ Boys who, with resistance, have watched the same physiological changes, but beneath the surface will always love watching their little kids playing a little kid’s game.