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.


A Full Minor Hockey Schedule Indeed

The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy for the Boy, the Devil, Momma Hockey and yours truly between practices, regular season games and two out-of-town tournaments in back-to-back weekends.  Add in the rigours of putting food on the table 9 to 5 (or 8 to 6 in the case of some) and you simply don’t have much left in the way of free time – not even to record a few thoughts online as I’m here typing beyond the midnight hour. What free time we’ve been afforded has been better spent face down on a mattress. All of that being said, the last 14+ days has provided a ton of entertaining hockey; certainly a lot more than a bunch of, what some would call, greedy professionals have been able to see their way fit to offer their starving fans.  As such, I easily declared to someone who asked my opinion recently, “I don’t really care if we don’t see any NHL hockey this year.”  Hell, I don’t know where I’d fit it in anyway.

So flash back a weekend to the Boy’s tourney/early season test down in the Big Smoke.

Momma and I were able to play a little hooky for hockey on Friday to catch the first mid-afternoon contest.  The squad opened the festivities on a high note with a 6-3 victory over a depleted home side. A good start, but you really should be able to beat a team with only 8 players when you dress 15.  Such is Midget hockey where suspensions, injuries, school and jobs can get in the way.  Game two, a full 8 hours later at 9:45 (again typical of Midget hockey, but much preferred to 6:45am games) the Colts were faced with a stiffer test against a strong skating team from just outside of Buffalo.  They would go into day two with a 1-1 record after falling 4-3.  In a relatively small schedule tournament a 1-2 record would severely limit playoff hopes so game three the following afternoon would become a must-win.  With the Devil having a game back home on Saturday, I would have to miss their positive effort in game three, which resulted in a 5-2 score against a representative from the nation’s capital.

However, the Devil’s first of two weekend games was also not to be missed as it was her team’s best undertaking to date; stomping on their visiting foe 4-1. This game was reportedly a marked improvement over a match the night before, their first game of the regular season, which they dropped by the same 4-1 mark. I say reportedly because I, of course, was down in the city with the Boy.

I must add here that the Devil was noticeably missing from game one also as her chosen priority lay in a rock concert for which she’d received tickets from an unnamed source on her birthday back in August. Yes…I took a shot at her not having a game on that particular Friday night in October and lost my misguided wager miserably.  You’re probably noting a repeating Midget hockey theme creeping in.

Sunday provided one more game each for my progeny, which meant Momma and I would again go our separate ways. In looking at our packed schedule ahead there are surprisingly few game conflicts.

The Boys had another must-win on their hands with another team in their division (the one they’d lost to) sporting an identical record of two wins and one loss.  Unfortunately, the “must” part of the equation was apparently lost on more than a couple of them as they closed the door on this tourney with a 5-3 loss.

Meanwhile, back at home, the Sharks would play their third regular season game in three days; certainly a  grueling start to a season and not necessarily a recipe for success. They would be playing a team they had dominated in a tournament a few weeks prior.  Pleasantly and perhaps a litte surprisingly this trend would continue. The girls would storm out to a 3-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game. It looked like a rout was in order.  While their pressure on the visitors did not discernibly change, the final score would only read 4-1.  Two wins in three games to start the season is a more than respectable start. I need only reflect on my troops from last season who were only able to muster three wins over a 30 game regular season schedule. But enough of ancient history. The Devil’s current team would have another chance to establish their competition level at a tournament this past weekend.

The weekend challenge in question, creatively named the Hocktoberfest International Female Hockey Festival, found the team traveling just under five hours to play a minimum of four games with a stretch goal of playing six in three days.  A 6:00am Friday departure would have us arriving with plenty of time for the girls’ first game just past noon against a team from Rochester – hence the International.  Momma Hockey was unable to get this Friday off work so it was just the Devil and I hitching a ride down and splitting gas costs with another father/daughter duo.


It’s worth noting there is an important adult social aspect to an away tournament; something I was less able or willing to engage in during my stint as head coach a year ago.  Arriving at a foreign arena upwards of an hour before game time allows some enthusiastic parents (the majority of which are admittedly fathers) to exercise their social rights, which from time-to-time manifest themselves in the minor hockey version of tailgating. Suffice it to say, this past weekend saw its fair share of pre and post-game exercising. During the very first post-game workout, which is naturally deemed mandatory to celebrate a victory or mourn a loss, one father was noted to jokingly mention to a player/daughter, “These tournaments are really all about us parents having fun you know.”  I can confidently say we had a lot of fun in and out of the rink.

Pre-game tailgaiting complete with a bedazzled cooler.

In between the tailgating, the Sharks went to work demonstrating their ever-improving individual and team skills posting impressive scores of 3-1, 6-2, 7-0 and 4-0. For those keeping score, they dominated and outnumbered their opponents by a combined tally of 20-3, including back-to-back shutouts for the goaltenders. With Momma back home, my texting fingers got a major workout of their own as I tried, feverishly at times, to keep her abreast of the action.  Five goals per game in girls hockey is nothing short of astonishing. For most teams this would equal a month or, in some cases, two-month’s worth of goals. I’ve personally witnessed more 0-0, 1-0 and 2-1 games than you can shake a stick at.

The team would literally breeze into the semi-finals on Sunday morning, which after two nights in a hotel with not easily enforceable curfews, represented a dangerous proposition. Add to this recipe the fact they would have a rematch against their game one opponents who had thus far provided the stiffest competition. We all hoped their strong showing would continue, but watched a much different team play the first two periods of their semi-final leading to an unfamiliar one goal deficit after two periods. However, a fortuitous delay of game penalty by the other side led to a momentum-changing powerplay goal.  A minute later the Sharks would ride their new found momentum to a 2-1 lead, which they would maintain to earn a berth in the championship game; the sixth game in three days.

Momma Hockey actually made me call her so she could listen in on the last 30 seconds of the tense semi – texting would not be sufficient.  She has actually, on more than one occasion, suggested a business model which includes closed circuit TVs streaming kids hockey games online for parents who are unable to attend.  I believe something similar is being done in large centres like Toronto for games at slightly higher levels, but I’m not sure sufficient demand exists for Bantam BB action. I shouldn’t even mention it, but perhaps this is an application for Facetime on an iPad.  Yup, I’ll be the Dad up in the corner of the arena doing play-by-play at a future game a la Danny Gallivan.

Back to the Championship game where physical, if not mental, fatigue would presumably be a factor for both sides. The championship opponent took a similar path through the tournament’s other division with convincing wins in the round robin followed by a close call 2-0 last minute victory in their semi. If either side was tired they didn’t show it. Both teams came out with their guns blazing. Good scoring opportunities were had and turned away at both ends of the ice. Tension mounted as a scoreless first period gave way to a carbon copy second.  Nerves were severely frayed as time wound down to end regulation time with nary a puck finding the back of either net; both keepers making their share of game-preserving saves.  Overtime would be a five-minute 4 on 4 affair. With more ice available to skate on, the expected signs of tired legs and battered spirits started to show.  A couple of end-to-end rushes were noticeably laboured; ending in faint scoring opportunities. Fans on both sides hoped for a break, but none would come; leaving the determination of the winner to a dreaded shootout, which in many minds is no way to decide a Champion.  Unfortunately, the Sharks who had battled so hard through six games succumbed to a couple of shootout goals while not answering with markers of their own.  Shooters and our goalie were naturally disappointed in the end result, but should have been buoyed by the knowledge of what they’d accomplished to arrive at the shootout situation. The coaching staff is no doubt pleased with the effort and teamwork displayed at Hocktoberfest.

Sharks Hocktoberfest Finalists

Proud and deserving Hocktoberfest Finalists

The reward for finishing in second place after six games in three days was a 4 1/2 hour ride home. Now as chance, or more so probability, would have it, the Boy happened to have an away game on the Sunday night of our return. Almost absurdly I was trying to calculate the possibility of my arriving home and then leaving again to drive over an hour to watch him. Had it just been the Devil and I, we may have very well found ourselves going out of our way to watch a seventh game in six days; a decision my exhausted little warrior would probably not have been a big fan of.  When we arrived home this was confirmed by her immediate immersion in a hot bathtub. It had been a long weekend to say the least. The Boys won their game, which I kept tabs on via texts from Momma Hockey. If only she had a damned iPad.

Two days removed from the weekend I’ve already attended a practice for her and a game for him with one more practice for each tomorrow night, though he’ll be able to do his own driving to and from the rink, much to my relief.

The Boys are actually on a bit of a roll bringing their current record to 4-2-3 including the salvaging of last minute ties against two of the strongest teams in their division.  Seems with this squad we are getting hot and cold with a splash of fortuitous, which can be a little frustrating to watch at times, but still much better than the alternative of not watching hockey.

Following a couple of practices and games for each kid over the next few days, the Boy and I will prepare to embark on yet another hockey adventure; this time involving a 15 hour bus ride to Music City, USA.  Something of a swan song for this team of players in their final year of minor hockey.  I can’t imagine there will be much exercising of social rights on that trip (he says with tongue firmly planted in cheek). And yes, we’ll hopefully get to watch plenty of hockey as well.  I may just end up with a story or two to tell.