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!


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.