Cross Border Hockey Challenges

Hockey Road TripThe Devil, her Sharks teammates, several parents, one grandpa, Momma and I embarked on a 6+ hour road trip this past weekend to play in a tournament in Pittsburgh. This city is one of a few U.S. hockey hotbeds thanks to guys like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and some kid name Sid, who’ve led the success of the Pittsburgh Penguins over a couple of decades. One of the advantages of playing so far away from home is the opportunity to play against teams you won’t otherwise compete against during the regular season. Indeed this particular tournament offered up three U.S. based teams and two from our home province, albeit from distant regions. Of course, for some there is simply the attraction of visiting a somewhat foreign country or city. We did, in fact, ourselves transport one player on her longest trip to this point in her life and her first across an international border. Another reason for travelling as a team is a chance for the players and family members to get to know each other better off the ice, at the hotel or at breakfast, lunch or dinner. From the girls perspective, there is at least one other benefit to playing games in the U.S…..Shopping…in this regard, girls will be girls; though I readily admit to being something of a shopper myself (apologies to other proud hockey dads). During our three-day experience, most of us crossed all of the aforementioned benefits off our lists, while also getting our share of exciting hockey action.

With a game on Friday afternoon and uncertainty around border traffic, we decided to travel on Thursday evening so we could wake up near the rink, which we knew was only 10 minutes from our hotel. Little did we realize how difficult it would be to find the latter. Finding Pittsburgh was relatively easy, but it turned out our hotel wasn’t actually in Pittsburgh, leaving us at the mercy of an ill-instructed GPS. What should have been a 6.5 hour trip was extended by roughly 60 minutes. So much for extra rest before Game 1.

Luckily, day one would only see our squad playing one game as one of the original seven tournament combatants from the U.S. had to bow out after having incurred a goalie injury. I’m fairly certain female hockey players and particularly hockey goalkeepers are not in ample supply. Case in point was our second match opponent; the Carolina Lightning who, yes, were the Tier II Girls Hockey representatives for all of the Carolinas (and they only had 11 players in total as opposed to our squad of 17). However, our first game was against a team from New York State, where female hockey players are more plentiful. When you play new teams you never know what to expect and such was the case with this opponent. Our charges came out hard maintaining the balance of play and creating several scoring opportunities through the first period and a half. Unfortunately, they surrendered a goal on one of the other side’s few shots deflected in front by one of our defence, which would be a bellwether for the next two matches. Nearly another 12 minutes of game time passed before the next goal was scored…again by the wrong team. As some times happens in girls hockey and/or sports in general, the “dominant” team is not always the victor. Not the start we wanted, but there were a lot of good things to build on over the next couple of days.

Devil is SidWe would get to play tourists before any more hockey would be played; starting with an hour long drive to a somewhat local outlet mall. Again, to be clear, I am in touch with my metrosexual side and enjoy shopping as much as the next hockey mom, so don’t immediately assume I’m complaining. Momma and the Devil actually had to remind me dinner would hold precedence over bargain hunting. A few hours later, back at the hotel we settled into delivery from a local takeout joint and had a few families pile into our room. With two games the following day, the evening was relatively uneventful.

A few of us made plans to check out downtown Pittsburgh and the home of the Penguins the next day as game two was scheduled for late afternoon. At the Consol Energy Center, we got more than we bargained for as we knew the home team was on the road. A kindly older security guard named Dennis, beaming with Penguin pride, was more than happy to give us our own personal mini-tour of the joint; telling us stories about the history of the building, Mario Lemieux and the Penguins along the way. A perk of being Canadian hockey-type visitors. After lunch at the aptly named Blueline Cafe across the street from the rink, we made our way to face our next foe with hopes of better results.

Our game two opponent would be the aforementioned, short-handed troop from Carolina with a diminutive goalie giving us ample hope for a notch in the Win column. While we were pretty dominant again (shots on goal were probably 3-1 in our favour), the Sharks continued to have a tough time finding the back of the net. We would settle for a 1-1 tie, forcing the need for a positive result in our third and final round robin game.

Waiting to Take To the Ice

Bring on the final US opponent, a NY team from the Southern Tier, and a chance to secure our first win of the preliminary round. We knew we were guaranteed a fourth game, but wanted it to be a semi-final instead of a consolation game, or as one of our players referred to it, the Numby Bowl. I don’t know what the Numby Bowl means. I do know it doesn’t sound good. The third game with a 9:20pm start followed a familiar pattern to the two which preceded it, with the Sharks maintaining the balance of possession and scoring opportunities. Yet, the score at the end of a somewhat heated affair was 2-2; leaving me wondering where we’d finish. I was suspicious when the opposing coach pulled his goalie in the tie game to try to secure a win. Little did I know a loss and two ties with a very low goals against record was good enough for a 3rd place berth ahead of the team we’d just played. We’d take on the 2nd place team, likewise from Canada, bright and early the following morning. The girls would have to figure out how to find the ever-elusive W if we hoped to play in the Final.

The team came out strong for a fourth consecutive game, only this time they were able to find the back of the net in relatively short order; scoring the first of a tournament high three goals just a few minutes into the first period. Another strong performance from our goaltender resulted in only one marker against and we were Championship game bound. At this point, the tourney was a success regardless the result. The glass half full scenario we now faced was a game which would not start until 4pm, which meant we wouldn’t be starting our 6+ hour trek home until after 6pm. Monday morning would not be pleasant. Ahh, the things we do for our kids.

Finalist TrophyGoing into the final we knew we were in tough against the first place finisher from round robin play (another Canadian squad from Southwestern Ontario), who had outscored their opponents 20-5 in their four prior matches. Undaunted, in my pre-game talk, I told our players they had more than earned the right to be in this final contest and they would be rewarded if they stuck to the game plan, which had brought them this far. This little talk was preceded by a synchro dance move, which the team had apparently been working on a fallback should the hockey thing not work out. I was both pleased and scared to see the girls so loose.

A game plan primarily consisting of hard work and communication. At the risk of sounding like a whiny coach, this championship game was marred by terribly inconsistent refereeing. Our girls took their share of bad penalties, but there were at least a half dozen or more called against both sides which took pretty much all of the flow out of the game. We alone were assessed seven trips to the sin bin in the 2nd period alone. The Sharks held their own through and trailed by a score of 1-0 until the Devil and a linemate streaked into the offensive zone with less than a minute left in the 2nd. A certain hockey dad was beaming on the bench as the Devil fired a shot up over the blocker of the opposing keeper to knot the score at 1-1. The third period saw no goals so we headed to a tense 4 on 4,  five minute overtime, in which we were assessed one more penalty for good measure. Isn’t there some unwritten rule about penalties in OT? Again, not that I’m whining or anything. Luckily, we survived the OT, which meant the worst solution to decide a game was nigh – the dreaded shootout. Prior to the game I was asked to pick 10 shooters, hoping I’d never have to see them take the ice. The team with the most goals after the first five shooters would be declared the victor, otherwise shooters six through 10 would engage in a sudden death showdown. In the showdown, I unfortunately missed what I’ve been told was one of the finest cellies (hockey celebrations) in recent history, as the Devil re-enacted the team’s pre-game dance right in front of the oppositions bench. When she returned to our bench she said “I feel like such an asshole.” Ah Midget hockey. The showdown was uber-intense to say the least, but long story short, we lost this portion of the competition by a score of 3 goals to 2; thereby settling for 2nd place overall. An excellent result overall, albeit bittersweet in light of how close we had come to winning it all.

Mentally and physically drained, we jumped in our vehicles and headed home. Two of my three passengers, who had played five games in three days, deservedly slept most of the way. I can honestly say six and a half hours later I could not have driven another kilometre. And the next day was a long day indeed. However, the weekend overall was a decided success from my perspective both on and off the ice. The team was challenged and fought hard for their Finalist trophy. Only time will tell if this weekend will give them a shot of confidence as we head into the teeth of the regular season. They’ve certainly proved to me and I hope themselves, they have the ability to play with any team when they work hard as a team.

Hockey Sharks in PinkEarly returns are positive as just yesterday they won their first regular season game back 2-1. This match also happened to be their home opener and an opportunity to promote breast cancer awareness with some funky pink jerseys. Even yours truly got into the act, sporting a lovely hot pink boa on the bench. If nothing else, I get the sense this team is really starting to come together; another critical component of their long term success methinks.

We’ve a couple more games this weekend and plenty more challenges to follow. We’ll see how far this current momentum can take us, then adjust as needed when an inevitable lull comes, cuz we all know hockey, sports and life in general is all about ebbs and flows. As always, with the blessing of the Hockey Gods, we’ll gladly take more flows than ebbs thank you very much.


Hard Hockey Lessons Hopefully Learned

The Sharks competed in our home tournament this past weekend. As usual, the games we played were not without drama or ample learning opportunities, which I believe are a big part of what tournaments are really all about; beyond the fame, glory and medal ceremonies, of course. One of the things the coaching staff and I  have really wanted to work on with the girls of late is penalties as they’ve bitten us in the collective seat of our hockey pants on a few occasions this season. Tough to score or win if you’re playing shorthanded. And yes, penalties are part of the game. We just want to avoid the “dumb” penalties usually borne of frustration – roughing or retaliatory penalties taken in the heat of battle. To this end, a couple of weeks ago, I let the team know we would be taking steps to help ensure these types of lapses in judgment were kept to a minimum. I am not a coach who likes to “bench” players, however, I determined this would be the best way of getting the message across. I may be repeating myself, but one of the first times this new team “rule” was instituted, it happened to be one of the assistant’s coach’s daughters who was the subject, after she drew a 4 minute head shot call; during which we surrendered a game-tying goal. We were fortunate to come back and win that particular game, thereby limiting the sting of the reprimand; a measure, which has been used a couple more times in recent games and would be necessary this weekend.

This particular seven-team tournament happened to feature four teams from our league so there was a pretty good chance we’d come up against one of them, although we wouldn’t face any unless we advanced beyond the round robin. The tourney scheduler did a good job of setting our first three games up against squads from other leagues. Another goal of entering tournaments is to play against varied competition, but you generally don’t get much choice when it’s your own event.

Snoopy Hockey Penalty

The juxtaposition of penalties and drama struck early in the first game on one of the oddest occurrences I’ve ever witnessed in a game. During a mutual line change one of our defencemen and an opposing player collided only a few feet from our adjoining benches. Both players fell to the ice, but ours got back to her feet quickly while the opponent struggled to leave the surface on her hands and knees in obvious discomfort; that being said she was noted to return to the game no long thereafter. All the while, the game continued for another two minutes without a whistle being blown. When the play finally was stopped the head referee and one of the linesmen came together to have a prolonged conversation. Eventually, they skated over and summoned me down from the bench to have a ice-side tête-à-tête. The head ref proceeded to tell me he had missed what the linesman felt was a major tripping infraction; the operative word being MAJOR, which thereby enabled the linesman to call a penalty – a major penalty, which in turn meant ejection from the game for our bewildered player and a five minute powerplay for the other team, during which the first goal of the game was naturally scored against us. Not only had I never heard of a linesman calling a penalty 2+ minutes after it occurred, I had never heard of a GM73 Major Tripping penalty. To make matters worse, I would find out post-game the infraction also carried with it a 2-game suspension. We heard from the other linesman post-game that no official really saw what happened, but only the post collision result.  The only, albeit important, positive from this first game was an eventual 3-2 win.

So we would enter game two (and then game three for that matter) down a member of our defence corps. We were confident knowing our second opponent had lost their first game 6-0 to one of our close competitors, but we also knew all too well nothing is to be taken for granted. As the two teams took to the ice, I noted one of my fave referees (he says trying not to sound tooooo sarcastic) would be handling the head officiating duties. I wanted to be sure I properly denoted my suspended player’s info on the game sheet so I asked her to review it for me. She immediately asked what happened in the last game and I described the unusual circumstance as objectively as I could. She patted me on the shoulder, gave me a quick wink and said, “Let’s try to not let that happen again.”  I returned the wink, but dreaded what could potentially ensue. The game started and we carried a three-goal lead into the final period. With the other side having given up 9 goals to none, over the last five periods, they understandably started to get a bit frustrated and it showed in their play. Their aggressive play was unfortunately matched by our own. One of our defencemen in particular retaliated to being struck with a right jab of her own; earning her a two-minute penalty…one of those we’ve been trying to limit. Consequently, when the offender returned to the bench I suggested she have an additional rest.  “She hit me first,” signaled her mild protest and frustration. To which I quickly countered with, “Yeah, but we all know they always catch the retaliator.” To her defence (pun fully intended as always), even most NHLers have a difficult time grasping this incontrovertible truth and perhaps in this we are seeing learned behaviour. She hung her head and served her extra team-inflicted mini-suspension…lesson hopefully learned. The game ended with the Sharks registering their highest goal total to date (5) and none against.

Game three was a semi must-win or at least a must-tie despite our unblemished record through the first two matches. We knew we would be in for a tougher match, but would hopefully ride the wave of our last and eye the prize of a semi-final berth. A short time into this game it became apparent our referee du jour was very familiar with his whistle and willing to use it as both teams were tagged with early penalties. As such, I gave a quick warning to those on our side to be mindful of their actions. They were for the most part until a few minutes into the final frame, at which point we were deadlocked in a 0-0 contest. An over-aggressive play in the corner ended with one of our defenders being banished for the obligatory 2 minute span; thereby putting the game and our opportunity to advance is some jeopardy. Again, luckily, we were able to kill the 2 minutes with no damage done, but again I felt it necessary to allot an extra brief punishment to try to get the point across to the offender’s teammates. Having secured/survived a 0-0 tied score, the Sharks were headed to the medal round against their nearest and “dearest” rivals.

Our semi-final opponent was familiar, but a bit surprising, as the first place team in our league entered the tourney round in 4th place, though in a tight 7-team tourney anything can and usually will happen. Once more, we realized we were in for a fight to secure a place in the Championship game. Pre-game I had fashioned a new motivational “Survivor Hockey” sign instructing our charges to Outsmart, Outwork and Outlast the other side. And indeed they did, dominating the first half of the game on the ice and the scoreboard with a 1-0 lead. The lead would evaporate before the end of the second period, making the third a race to the finish. We implored the players to keep battling shift by shift. However, a few shifts in our skating gave way to the other team’s pressure and they notched a go-ahead marker. As frustration and/or panic set in, we took the first and only, but certainly ill-timed and unwarranted penalty of the game. Shorthanded, we gave up a third nail in our proverbial coffin when again the girls’ efforts lagged momentarily and the puck found the back of our net. For a third consecutive game, I found myself patting a player on the shoulder as she begrudgingly served a second sentence. Two hard lessons learned over the span of a single period.

So the tournament didn’t go quite as we hoped, however, it was not without value for showing the team what is required to win hockey games. Keep up your efforts, especially against the tougher opponents, and keep your emotions in check against the rougher ones….always. We’ve told them these are the things they are able to control, though both are easier said than done in hockey as in life. We’ll see how things progress from here with the hope the benching subsides because as Snoopy adeptly points out, we are all really “…such a nice guy(s).”


“Peanuts” image courtesy of

Ws and Other Fun Stuff Found at a Hockey Tourney

I don’t want to take any undue credit, but I’m happy to report the Sharks winless streak ended right after my last post about chasing an elusive first W.  Based on the way the girls had been practicing and for that matter playing to this point, a win was bound to come. But until you get the first one, particularly when it’s been a while, you’re never quite sure when it will.

Happy Hockey Team
This past weekend we travelled an hour and a half down the road to compete in our second tourney of the year. Applefest 2013 guaranteed us four round robin games, with the top four out of seven teams going on to play semi-final and hopefully championship final games. A little quick online research helped us get a sense of our competition and revealed what looked to be three strong opponents in games 1, 3 and 4 and one presumably lesser foe in game 2.

So we knew we had a challenge right out of the gate. Pre-game I tried to position the entire tournament as an opportunity to set a new winning precedent for the rest of the year.  The squad had proved to this point they could “skate” with any team, but had yet to translate their effort into wins. I told them in order to win they would need to do a couple of things – play like a team, which meant passing the puck more and committing to a forecheck we’d been working on over the last few weeks in order to create more scoring opportunities. To their credit, they did both and entered the 3rd period with a less than comfortable 1-0 lead. They would extend this to a 2-0 gap  just 20 seconds into the final frame. The other side would manage to put one past our keeper a couple of minutes later to raise our combined blood pressure. Moments later a shot from the point would sail towards our net and then be deflected over the right shoulder of our defenceless goalie. Luckily, the hockey gods and an observant head referee noted the deflection came from a high stick. Our 2-1 lead was preserved and maintained until the final buzzer rang. The proverbial monkey was off our back. The previously elusive W was behind us. With a weaker side (who we watched lose their first match 6-1 to the home team), scheduled for game two later that evening, things were certainly looking up for the Sharks.

The game two pre-game speech was relatively simple. Take your effort from game one and bring it up a notch. This should be plenty to advance the tournament record to 2-0. Of course, things are never as simple as we’d like or often expect them to be. Instead, the team we watched lose 6-1 earlier in the day brought their game up a notch and our side inexplicably dialled their back a few. While the play and scoring chances skewed slightly in the Sharks favour, the 1-0 score on the clock when the game ended did not. With a 1-1 record, the team had now put itself in a bit more of a precarious situation as much stronger foes were on tap the next day.

The next day started would start unusually early for a Midget team with the first puck scheduled to hit the ice at 8am. My fellow hockey parents and I thought we were done with waking up at 5:30am for hockey several years ago. To make matters worse, our fourth and final game would start 13 hours later at 9pm. However, this was simply another challenge we would have to deal with if we wanted to advance to the semi-finals on Day 3. Challenge one would be getting past the team we thought would be our stiffest competition. Though it was a bit of a fib, I told our charges we were in a must-win situation. I wanted them to bring everything they had in order to give them their best chance to win. And I believe it worked as we watched a night and day transformation of the team was saw drop a 1-0 decision a mere 12 hours ago.

Even with this improved effort our side entered the third period down 2-1 on the scoresheet, but still had a positive result in their sites. Unfortunately, the hockey gods had other plans. A little over 5 minutes into the 15 minute 3rd period, a puck shot harmlessly behind our net and just above the boards, caught a stanchion and ricocheted directly out in front to a fortunately positioned opponent, who in turn quickly buried the errant rubber disk into the mesh behind our goaler. Our sides effort had not diminished, but their spirits after falling behind 2 goals with only 10 minutes left to play certainly did. Having taken a must-win attitude myself as the game wore on, I decided to pull our goaltender with just over 1 minute left in the game so see if an extra attacker could pull us within a goal. This tactic unfortunately resulted in an empty net goal against making the score 4-1. Insult to injury came with only 7 seconds left on the clock as our now decidedly dejected troops allowed an unchallenged shot from in close, which rang off a post for a 5th goal. Post-game my consolation speech revolved around the fact that we gave our opponents all they could handle for two periods. I honestly told the girls the 5-1 final was not an accurate measure of the game they had played. That being said, I could now definitively tell them game four was a MUST-WIN. Adding to our early morning drama was the realization that our netminder had re-injured her knee at some point during the contest. She was in considerable pain as a couple of fathers escorted her out of the arena – a scene no one wants to watch. See y’all in 11 hours to fight for our tourney lives against the host team.

I was concerned by the time the final round robin game rolled around our players would be less than fresh having sat around at a hotel or in a local mall trying to kill 11 hours. A 9pm game for girls (and coaches for that matter) who woke up a 5:30 was far from ideal. Yet, I implored our side, reminding them of how well they played earlier in the day. I reiterated the MUST-WIN message and let them know not all hope was lost. In fact, because we knew the scores of those who were battling for the last playoff spot, we also knew we were actually in a win-and-get-in scenario. Our opponents on the other hand, were pretty much already advancing on the strength of their results in their first three games. Before the opening face off I get one more chance to talk to the players on the ice. As I tried to deliver this serious invocation someone actually asked the question “Who farted?” and tone of this game was somewhat set. Despite the gravity of the situation, I was encouraged to see our players relatively unfazed. The first two periods were fought tooth and nail deadlocking our squads in a scoreless tie. With the Zamboni preparing a fresh sheet of ice four our final push to the playoff round, we retreated to our dressing room where we encountered a surprisingly upbeat, loose and I dare say confident group of players. Even better I noted 17 girls who were having a lot of fun. I and the coaching staff hoped this bode well for the final frame. The third period continued to be a tight affair with each side exchanging its share of chances. Then with just under 4:30 left the good guys struck paydirt first as a rebound was banged home from in close. The stands erupted behind us and I may have given the trainer aka Hockey Momma a double high five or two. Our jubilation was short-lived as other side fought back to square the score at ones only two minutes later. With a tie not really being an option if we wanted to advance, I would need to pull our goalie for a second straight game, hoping against hope for a better result. And the better result (the desperately desired result) occurred with only 46 seconds left on the clock as another garbage goal was notched in our favour, thereby cueing renewed jubilation. The final 46 seemed much longer, but expired and signalled what we thought was a berth in the next day’s festivities.

As it turned out, we would have to wait nearly another full hour to hear the verdict we were waiting for. The girls did indeed earn a berth in the semi-finals and a rematch with the team they lost 5-1 to in their 8am match. An opportunity to get to the championship game by exacting some measure of revenge and proving the earlier lopsided score was unfounded. Though we all knew this would be a difficult proposition at best.

I kept the pre-game banter short and simple again. Through a dozen games now, I believe the players have come to recognize what they need to do in order to compete and give themselves the best chance to win. Skate, commit to an aggressive forecheck, unselfishly pass the puck and crash the net (or get into the kitchen as one assistant has become fond of saying) looking for rebounds and dirty goals. To their credit and as they’d done in the two previous games, the girls came out skating and battling. Unfortunately, one such battle resulted in a 4 minute penalty about 5 minutes in. The opponents were able to capitalize on their man advantage and took a 1-0 lead into the second period. Over the next 15 minutes, the Sharks would register several good scoring chances, all of which were turned away by an able goaltender. Before the second period ended the bad guys would find the back of our net again. During the intermission, I reminded the girls they had scored two goals in the 3rd period of the previous game and they could do so again. However, a relentless opponent scoring 2 minutes into the 3rd was a likely death knell to our hopes of reaching the final stage of the tourney. We tried to buoy the team’s spirits and implored them to not give up. And while they did not, their team game effectively went away as desperation kicked in. One final goal would be scored (not by us I’m afraid) ending our tournament on a somewhat sour note. Perhaps a small consolation lies in having worn down our semi-final foes who went on to lose the championship game to the host team who we defeated to reach the semis. Again proving hockey is an unpredictable game (like we need more evidence).

At the risk of sounding cliched, this tourney was a great learning experience for the team. I admitted to them the team we lost to twice is, at this early point in the season, a better team. However, I hope they also realize the level at which they were and are able to compete. Overall on the weekend, they played more good than bad hockey – did more positive than negative things. Furthermore, they secured two previously unattained Ws.  We can and should use this realization as inspiration to get more Ws. Of course, it partially rests on me and us to ensure “can and should” becomes “will and do”; all the while striving for the same level of fun I saw on and off the ice in Game 3. I’m open to any and all suggestions on that front.


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.


Another Fine, Albeit Short, Father Son Ball Hockey Weekend

Last weekend, the Boy, a few of my buddies (including another father-son duo) and I made our annual, but perhaps final for now, pilgrimage to the Walter Gretzky Street Hockey Tournament. A tourney held in the hometown of the man known in hockey circles simply as The Great One and his almost as famous Hockey Dad. What better place for fathers and sons to play some puck and ball together. Coming off a stellar result, going undefeated and technically finishing in 5th place overall following the round robin  in the Adult Rec division last year, our cobbled together group of half young lads and half well-seasoned veterans like yours truly, long ago dubbed STICK U, were optimistic about our chances of showing well again. With the possibility of having a Friday night game, I had booked a hotel room for two nights with the tourney being located nearly two hours from home. As it turned out, all of our games were scheduled for Saturday, which afforded some of us the opportunity to spend Friday night “preparing” for the challenge ahead. And how better for finely tuned athletic machines to prepare than with two large pizzas, a couple of frosty beverages and a few pressure-packed rounds of hardly high stakes Texas Hold’em. I personally enjoyed the first two a bit more than the third.

texas hold'em poker

Yessir, just call me Father of the Year or                 Pre-Tourney Prepper Extraordinaire

We woke early and  just raring to go for our 11am game against a seemingly erstwhile side called the Sausage Runners.

One notable thing about Adult Rec Men’s sports teams is the variety of creative monikers, though many follow a common and predictably, sexually-oriented theme. Among my favourites in no particular order this year were Zidlicky My Balls, My Balls Your Chin, Multiple Scoregasms, Hamilton Phat Cocks, The Guts cuz it sounds mean and Kane’s Taxi Squad for the NHL Playoffs tie-in. The obvious testicularity of many of these male-constructed labels is troubling to be certain. A catchy name and homage to The Great one from a previous tourney worth noting was I Promised Mess I Wouldn’t Do This.

Surely, we’d be able to get off to a quick start against a team with a questionable nickname like Sausage Runners, which itself may be anatomical in nature. After a brief sighting of the tournament’s namesake (yup, Walter wanders the grounds giving interviews, taking pictures and signing autographs) and witnessing a brawl in one of the younger divisions, which spilled over into the spectating parents (cuz that’s what you expect to see at a just-for-fun charity tournament), STICK U faced-off against foe number one. We could tell early on the Sausage Runners were a little more dangerous than their lime green t-shirts and silly sobriquet suggested.  They scored a couple of quick markers on the Boy’s uncle (who only stands between the pipes once a year, but you’d never know it) which we answered with goals of our own. However, we found ourselves down 4-2 halfway through the 20 minute contest. Their lead would be extended by a phantom goal the ref claimed went off the centre post, but made the unmistakable sound of striking the cross bar. STICK U would battle back to make the game 6-5  only to see a two-goal lead regained and held till the conclusion. An 0-1 start would demand back-to-back victories, if we hoped to play at least one more on Sunday.



While the primary focus of such a weekend is ball hockey, the time after and betwixt games has certainly provided some highlights. This time is typically spent in lawn chairs or on beer laden coolers back behind our vehicles with tunes playing and non-stop laughter evoked by new and old stories only guys appreciate. Being well-seasoned we upped the post-game ante this year with a couple of bbqs, lump charcoal, applewood chips, thoroughly marinated chicken wings, halved limes and home-made bbq sauce prepared lovingly by a teammate.  To say the by-product of these ingredients was to die for would be a severe understatement. The Boy quipped they even rivaled hockey momma’s Portuguese chicken, a longstanding family favourite also prepared over a charcoal grill.bbq chicken wings

After a feed of wings, a couple of burgers, a distinct depletion of the cooler contents and a realization of the advancing age of a few, several amongst us were hard-pressed to leave the comfort of tailgating to play a second game.  But a squad called simply Awesome awaited our challenge, so off we went. The Boy surmised a team who called themselves Awesome, likely weren’t. Arriving at the designated “rink” for our next match, we found a ragtag group not unlike our own; except we had a bit of a young guy advantage we hoped to capitalize on. Perhaps the highlight of this game, beyond it being a 5-2 victory for the good guys, was the first occurrence of a full father-son line. The 4-on-4 format allowed for me, my buddy and our Boys to collaborate against an opposing foursome; a cool and memorable opportunity to be sure.

tailgatingOur spirits were buoyed by having evened our record at 1-1; thereby giving ourselves a chance to advance with a repeat win. A loss would signal an early tourney exit.  After a bit more tailgating with just enough time for muscles to start seizing up, we would be tasked with facing a team we suspected would be strong; though they hadn’t come up with a more imaginative name than Topper’s Pizza. As it turned out, some of their side were holding their pre-final game prep session right next to ours. We naturally encouraged them to get their fill of libations or to maybe even consider forfeiture, since they’d already won two matches on the day. What we didn’t fully realize in speaking with our foes-to-be was their relative youth. Hell, most of them were probably not even old enough to partake in wobbly pops.  We would become well aware the moment the ball was dropped to start our final match. I won’t repeat the final score, but suffice it to say, our weary legs were no match for those of our counterparts. Further, we agreed this team passed the ball and generally played at least one level above Adult Rec calibre, in which we were firmly entrenched. It leaves one to question what satisfaction a bunch of 20-somethings get from thoroughly defeating a slightly misfit bunch like ours. Not a tale of conquest I’d want to relay to my friends. Why wouldn’t they want more of a challenge at an appropriate level? With this in mind, we’ve pondered finding another tourney to enter next year, though my guess is we’ll find our fair share of sandbaggers there as well.  One thing is certain — STICK U will rise again.


Ladies, Gentlemen and Adult Rec Ball Hockey Fans — The 2013 WGSHT Edition of STICK U

Regardless the outcome of our last game and the tournament-ending death knell it dealt a disappointed STICK U contingent, I’m fairly confident the overall experience was positive. We’d cap the two-day junket with a team dinner at a local watering hole, watching the first two games of the third round of the NHL Playoffs, a few more drinks to drown our sorrows and a return to the Texas Hold’em table to recoup, in my case supplement, past losses.

We would rise the following morning with aching muscles, yet a burning desire to play at least one more game, undoubtedly fueled by the perception of having been wronged to some degree a mere 16 hours earlier. The drive home would be bittersweet and long enough for the aforementioned old muscles to seize up just a little more making the climb from the car a painful proposition.  A text from a teammate had earlier bluntly declared “I am paralyzed.” After dropping off our two passengers, the Boy turned to quickly say, “Thanks for the weekend Dad.” A simple gesture, but more than enough, coupled with two-days worth of laughs and even a wee bit o’ quasi-exercise, to validate the abbreviated weekend.


Ending Anticlimactically and on to the Next Hockey Season

The Devil and her Shark teammates rolled into the Nation’s capital this past weekend for our provincial championships with high hopes based on a successful regular season, but likewise some trepidation following an unflattering early exit from their league playoffs. Adding to the concern was the fact the girls had not played a meaningful game since qualifying for this provincial tournament over a month ago. There were a bunch of practices, an exhibition game against one of their provincial opponents and a fun parents/siblings vs. the Sharks game, but nothing to prepare them again for real competition. But they had played some great hockey earlier in the year and perhaps they could regain their icy mojo.

So we packed up the van for the second time in a few weeks, made a traditional pit stop at Timmies to load up on caffeine and Timbits and then hit the road for 4+ hour scenic drive on a long overdue warm spring morning.

hockey roadtrip

Tim Horton's Drive-Thru









This hockey trip started off on a pretty good foot as I found out before I left I had lucked into some tickets for a game between Canada and Finland at the World Women’s Hockey Championships, which were also being held in Ottawa over the weekend courtesy of a fortuitous tweet from Club Hockey Canada. My other life as an online marketing geek was coming in handy. We had wanted to go to the game and were offered tickets a few weeks prior, but found the prices a little dear with the games being played nearly an hour from our hotel. But free tickets were gladly welcomed. When we arrived at our hotel I was pleasantly surprised to not find just a couple, but in fact, 8 tickets to the game being played on our second night in town.

After a quick check-in, we headed to the rink for the Devil’s first game. Another bonus to this tournament was its location as all of our sides games would be played at the alma mater of both Hockey Momma and yours truly.

Carleton University Ice House Hockey Arena

Returning to the scene of our “glory days” would surely resurrect some misty remembrances in both of us. As it turns out, the hockey rink our girls would be playing in did not even exist when we went to school there some 20+ years ago (as liver spots begin to burst onto my hands and my aging neck starts to stiffen). Indeed, driving onto the campus brought back a flood of memories of both a clear and somewhat foggy variety. The Devil would have to endure our recollections of “when we were here” for three straight days.

Hockey-WarmupBut back to game one, where the Sharks would face a team they should be able to handle based on their comparative records. Unfortunately, our side came out a little flat (which is not recommended in a short round robin schedule)….for two periods and would trail by a score of 2-0 heading into the third. They would pick up steam and the Devil would pick up a goal to cut the lead to one, but this would be all they could muster. In the final minute a great shot would ring off the post and the Devil would launch a shot which found its way between the opposing keepers pads, but not quite across the line. Game one would end 2-1 in the wrong direction forcing a must win or at least tie in the next contest. A curfew was set by the coach and all players were expected to come to the rink bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Of course, as with any away tournament, the hotel always has a central role to play in the weekend plot. In this case, the hotel’s role was one of antagonist as the Inn did not offer the Comfort it’s name suggested. The first offense being a quite loud buzzing noise coming from somewhere in or around our room. A fellow hockey dad/HVAC specialist would later help the night manager discover and temporarily correct said buzzing by slamming his fist on an electrical panel. Crude, but effective. Strike two came in the form of a much less than comfortable pull-out sofa, which I was quickly directed to by the Devil and her mother when we first entered our luxurious accommodations. Suffice it to say, I was certainly glad for being short in stature on this particular occasion. A larger man would have had a even more restless sleep than I; even with the assistance of a few hockey dad libations. The third and final nail in the two-storey motel’s coffin was a distinct lack of hot water for showers when we woke up the first morning. Apparently, this hotel did not anticipate having more than three people wanting to maintain their personal hygiene within the same one hour period. There have been a couple of occasions on hockey trips where a cold shower was warranted, but this was not one of them. This was not a good start to the team’s second tournament day.

Game two would, of course, be against stiffer competition meaning the Sharks would need to step up their effort from the previous match.  Maybe the cold showers would serve to wake up those who braved them. Indeed they did skate harder for the balance of this important game. However, for a second consecutive game they would have a tough time finding the back of the net, while the solid opponents managed to bulge the twine three times. Hopes of advancing to the next round were all too quickly dashed. Game three would simply be played for pride and perhaps a chance to spoil another team’s chances (which is sometimes a small consolation).

2013 Womens World Hockey Championships - Canada v FinlandWith the gravity of game three lessened, the curfew was lifted and the Devil chose four teammates to join us at the Team Canada hockey game. Our one extra ticket went to an equally fortunate Canada (Joe from Oakville, an apparent superfan and friend of former Team Canada member Jennifer Botterill, decked out in a Team Canada jersey) who was flabbergasted when I handed it to him just before he was about to line up to buy one. A good hockey deed I am hoping doesn’t go unnoticed and gains me some favour with the Hockey Gods at some point down the road. The Provincial Championships and World Women’s Championships being in the same city at the same time was no coincidence as it seemed players from nearly every team in the province were at the Friday night match at Scotiabank Place. 2013 Women's World Hockey ChampionshipIn fact, our little group was part of something historic as the crowd of 18,103 represented the largest ever to attend a women’s hockey game. A great sign for the sport moving forward. The relatively young crowd was vibrant and electric, cheering the Canadians on to an unsurprising 8-0 drubbing of the overmatched Finns. It was a great experience for our young ladies and I am indebted to Club Hockey Canada for making it happen. The unfortunate postscript being a 3-2 Canadian loss to their nemesis from the USA in the Gold Medal game a few days later. Yup, even the best in the world have their off games when expectations are high.

Not too many were early to bed in advance of game three, but we were still hopeful their pride would kick in and allow them to pull out a victory to end their season on a relatively positive note. We had beaten the same team 4-2 in an exhibition game only a week earlier, so we all knew our girls could play with them. Yet, our opponents in this game had a little more to play for as a win would secure them a spot in the next round. The match was tightly contested with a scrammbly marker registered by the bad guys mid-way through the second period. As had become par for the tournament, the Sharks offence sputtered though they had several chances turned away by a hot goaltender who made some great saves.  As the game and season wound down under 90 seconds, the coach pulled his goalie in favour of an extra attacker. Shortly thereafter a puck was innocently lifted out of the opponent’s end, propped up on its edge and curled its way into the Sharks unprotected net. Make the final score of the final game in the 2012-2013 season 2-0.

2013 Midget BB Sharks Hockey Team

Following the match, no one seemed too dismayed as their ultimate tournament fate had been realized the previous afternoon. Out in the parking lot an end of season team photo was snapped. Congratulations were given on an overall positive season.  Cards and parting gifts were handed out. For one player, #18 who coincidentally turned 18 on this very day, this final game marked an end to her minor hockey career complete with the emotion we experienced with the Boy a couple of weeks back.  She was presented with a jersey signed by all the players and a few appeared to have something irritating their eyes. Players, coaching staff and parents shook hands. Thankyou’s, goodbyes and good lucks were exchanged. Because, don’t ya know, the beginning of the tryouts for next season are less than a week away when friends and teammates will become rivals and competitors. I, in fact, know all too well as the joy and stress of a head coaching gig are calling my name.

The trip ended with a quick campus walk to rekindle a few more memories and then long overdue visits with a couple of close friends Momma and I had not seen in far, far too long (like we needed more reminders of how quickly time flies). As usual, a hockey tournament provided the backdrop for a much larger and significantly richer life experience to all of our personal benefits.

Next up: Tryouts aka The Coach’s Week from Hell. Stayed tuned for what is sure to be an interesting ride.


A Wild Ride to the End of the Hockey Line

I thought this final chapter would be a little difficult to write through eyes blurred by the memories of 14 years on ice, so I decided before we embarked on our weekend trip to the 41st Annual Leo Boivin Major Midget AA/AAA Showcase tournament I would try to construct something of a photo essay of our journey to the end of the Boy’s minor hockey life.  Pictures, as they say, tell a thousand words and in some cases even these photos fall short of summing up an incredible three-day hockey experience. This was, without a doubt, one of the best tourneys we’ve ever attended…and how fitting  it should be the last. So follow along if you will and forgive any typ0s, which will have nothing to do the occasional nostalgic tear dropped on my keyboard I assure you.


loaded hockey van

Van loaded to the roof though it is only a three-day tourney. Luggage – check, Equipment – check, Sticks – check, Cooler for Dad – check. And of course, it’s snowing.



Tim Hortons

Every real minor hockey trip starts at the local Timmies…and the snow continues to fall.










hockey player convoy

Something of a hockey player convoy as five carloads of players, parents and even a coupla siblings make their way four hours down the highway. We’ve also move south and left most of the snow behind us.

hockey pit stop

With the first game scheduled for two hours after our arrival, we stopped early to fuel our finely tuned young athletes. Are those pre-game french fries and root beer I see?


Leo Boivin Community Centre - Prescott, Ontario

The Leo Boivin Community Centre, iconic home of this now fabled tourney is a classic small town Canada barn with wooden bleachers and championship banners from days gone by hanging from the rafters.











hockey team runner

Each team in the tourney adopts their own personal runner for the weekend, who is responsible for filling water bottles, hanging jerseys, familiarizing the players with the rink and lending one more voice to cheer at game time. Our team in turn supplied the young lad with his own signed jersey, which apparently and quickly became a prized possession.

game one vs Team Latvia

The Boys’ first test of the tourney would be their toughest in Team Latvia, who had reached the Championship game at this tourney the year prior. The team did well to skate with their skilled opponents trailing by a single goal after the first period. But the lead would be extended to four after the second. The Boy was the beneficiary of a broken play, which allowed him to break a Latvian shutout bid. The final score read 8-1 leaving the Boys a little dismayed, but by no means defeated.


The Row at the Leo Boivin Tournament

Before game one the team introduced themselves and made symbolic offerings to “The Row”, a special group of fans who are symbolic guardians of the tourney and whose allegiance can be swayed by those bearing gifts and showing reverence.













Another Leo Boivin tourney tradition is a post-game 3-Star selection with a twist. Those Boys selected as stars are required to accept their awards from one of the town's fairest maidens. In return, they are expected to plant a quick peck on the cheek of said the merriment of the crowd. On occasion, The Row demands the star to "Kiss All Three". Those teams more familiar with the process were noted to send their stars equipped with flowers for the young ladies. All very pomp and circumstance.

Another Leo Boivin tourney tradition is a post-game 3-Star selection with a twist. Those Boys selected as stars are required to accept their awards from one of the town’s fairest maidens. In return, they are expected to plant a quick peck on the cheek of said maiden…to the merriment of the crowd. On occasion, The Row demands the star to “Kiss All Three”. Those teams more familiar with the process were noted to send their stars equipped with flowers for the young ladies. All very pomp and circumstance-ish.


hockey team paradeLeo Boivin

Leo Boivin tournament opening ceremonies

Opening ceremonies complete with a parade of all 16 teams, a ceremonial puck drop, the anthems of the US, Latvia and Canada and an appearance from Leo Boivin, the tournament’s namesake, himself.


Boy's birthday

Coincidentally, this weekend would also find da Boy becoming da Man by virtue of his 18th birthday falling on Saturday morning. Quite the juxtaposition of a minor hockey career ending and a whole new chapter of life beginning. He subsequently got to open a few presents in the hotel room prior to game two. Fittingly, one stayed true to the hockey-themed weekend and would be eerily prophetic of things to come.

Game two pitted our squad against another AAA foe, but one we all felt would be an easier mark, particularly if our side brought their Double A game. And indeed we watched two very closely matched teams battle to a 1-1 tie through two periods. Unfortunately, a half-hearted shot from just above the slot about halfway through the final frame somehow found its way behind our goalie, who had played a stellar contest to that point. An empty netter would spell a second loss for the good guys and a rematch with a decidedly unpopular rival at 7:30am (an equally unpopular time) the next morning.

game two warmup

goal celebration









However, night two of the tournament featured a skills competition, which included fastest skater and hardest shot categories along with a one-on-one breakaway challenge and a four-on-four mini all-star match. Somehow (methinks birthday related) the Boy was selected by our coaching staff to compete in the hardest shot category, which immediately had me envisioning his infamous “Woooof”  a few years earlier; only this time in front of a few hundred more onlookers in a packed Leo Boivin Community Centre. I tried not to remind him of the somewhat embarrassing moment (he says with the knowing smirk of a caring father). Regardless he was honoured to be chosen and Momma and I were thrilled to see him and three of his teammates competing against players from all of the other teams.

hockey skills competition   hockey skills competitors








A highlight of the Skills Competition was watching local five or six year olds participate in  challenges of their own, mimicking their midget counterparts' skating, shooting and scoring. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the stands looking down and trying to remember when my kid was that small.

A highlight of the Skills Competition was watching local five or six year olds participate in challenges of their own, mimicking their midget counterparts’ skating, shooting and scoring. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the stands looking down and trying to remember when my kid was that small.

Boy's Slap Shot

I’m pleased to report there was no Wooof this time around. And while the Boy didn’t measure up to some of the big shooters speed-wise, he did manage to go “bardown” with a 69 mph slapshot, much to the foul-minded amusement of the crowd.

Sunday morning and our 6am wake-up call arrived way too early. All bets were off on what type of game we might expect from our Boys or their all too familiar opponents, whom they’d ousted from the Provincial playdowns only a few weeks ago in a thrilling five-game series. To sweeten the pot in this grudge match, the opponents are still locked in a regional playoff battle with the other local league team the Boys removed from the Provincial championship equation in the following, equally exciting five-game series. It’s a wonder we have parents still standing. What we did all know is this could be the final game for our lads should they not be able to secure a win. As the game started, it seemed the knew this too as they were definitely the aggressors early on with a strong forecheck and several shots launched at the opposing keeper. A few minutes into the initial period, they would strike first giving us all a shot of hope. But the momentum would not be sustained as a few penalties were taken enabling the bad guys to tie the score and take the lead late in the second. And then, with the clock winding down in the middle frame, our goalie took exception to the taunting of an opposing player camped out in his crease as a whistle sounded to stop play. Within moments each players arms were flailing as others on the ice, including da Boy, watched from the periphery. I should preface this with mentioning da Boy’s team had one “fight” all year. Suddenly, a player close to da Boy decided to secure him in a headlock to which he says he responded, “Do ya wanna go?” Now his assailant apparently replied “No”, but da Boy had already decided a “fight” had indeed started and he was gonna finish it. He managed to remove his opponents “bucky” as they affectionately refer to their helmets and tossed a few right hands in the right general direction of his target. Meanwhile, one of his linemates grabbed his own dance partner and a partial line brawl ensued. The fracas was relatively short-lived as the linesman moved in. And with that, da Boy’s minor hockey career was brought to an abrupt end one period early; the upside being yours truly and da Boy would watch the rest of the game together side-by-side in the stands.

watching hockey in the stands

The Colts would not be able to mount a comeback in the third period. In fact, they gave up an empty netter for a second straight 3-1 defeat, thereby ending the minor hockey careers of all but one player. And while the three losses naturally stung as they should, the entire experience of the weekend felt far from hollow. In an impressive, unprompted show of class and character the Boys led by their Captain skated out in front of their parents to raise their sticks in a salute for not only this weekend, but a nearly quarter lifetime’s worth of getting up early, stopping at Timmies, driving to frozen rinks and sharing their victories, as well as their defeats.

hockey salute

Thank you Boys!

I count myself lucky for having the above photo to go along with all the others trapped securely in my head and I believe da Man sitting next to me will most likely say the same. Of course, I wanna hold onto da Little Boy sleeping in the back seat on the way home as long as I can.

asleep in the back seat

Now could you kindly pass the tissue cuz I gotta wipe off this blasted keyboard?


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.


A Little Hockey Sibling Rivalry

We got back into hockey in the New Year in a pretty major way with a total of nine games over three days this weekend past, which included a hometown tournament for the Boy, an exhibition game/event with some ex-NHLers and two regular season games for the Devil.  All of this rink activity provided opportunity for each of our young players to grab a bit o’ the household spotlight.

The weekend started slow with the Boys team skating to an uninspiring 2-2 tie in their first game of the Glen Bellerby Memorial Tournament; a game they dominated for the most part and against a team I think their fans in the stands all thought they should win.  The Boy bounced between Centre (which he hadn’t played all year, which was somewhat apparent) and Defence, as a couple of players were lost to injury.  Those injuries certainly didn’t help the Colts’ cause.  A draw in the first of a three-game round robin would necessitate wins in the following two matches if they hoped to move on to defend their turf.

Game two would follow a few hours later and the Boys would flirt with playoff danger as they trailed by a goal up until about five minutes left in the game when they would become the fortunate beneficiaries of a penalty shot, which was thankfully converted.  A couple of minutes later the Boy would take his first shot at the home hockey crown by scoring what would be the game winning goal; their playoff spot was secure for the moment.

Immediately following their tourney match, the team made its way over to the big rink in town for a skills competition date with a roving team of former NHL stars. The ex-pros  were in town as part of a regular Alumni charity event, which would typically see them playing a full three periods against local minor hockey alumni. However, it was decided this year to let some younger legs take on the pros in feats of stickhandling, target shooting and penalty shots.  The Boy, for his part, would draw the latter assignment, which would pit him against Mark Andrew “Trees” LaForest, who had a cup of coffee with the Detroit Red Wings, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators.  The Devil joked she was just glad he wasn’t in a skating competition cuz that would be embarrassing for him. His spirits, and that of his teammates, were no doubt buoyed by the young guns taking a lead in the first two rounds of skills; though their opponents may not have been fully invested in the competition. I’ve unfortunately no video or photographic evidence, but can attest to having witnessed the Boy making a pretty sick move on LaForest, faking a move to his forehand and tucking the puck in the net a la  Henrik Zetterberg.

Ok, so his wasn’t quite at the Zetterberg level, but I for one was surprised he even tried and completed the move. Maybe LaForest was surprised too. In all, the event was a lot of fun for the Boys who got to share the ice and some laughs with some great guys.


The third and final preliminary round tourney tilt started just after noon on Saturday.  This match would see the Boy notch his second goal and first assist of the tournament in a convincing and semi-final clinching 5-1 victory.  The game had even been taped and was set to be featured on the local 6 o’clock news.  Returning home, the Boy would announce his exploits plenty loud enough for the Devil to hear and a challenge was not so silently waged.

Off we went to the Devil’s game; one which needed to be won in order to keep her streaking side atop their league standings at an impressive 15-1-1. Early on I could tell my youngest had a little extra jump in her game. She’s skated well all season, but there was some added fire on this particular night.  About halfway through the second period, she would grab a loose puck and make a furious dash between two defenders. She was tied up only momentarily, would not be denied and raced in on the goalie all alone. A quick deke to the left froze the keeper and the Devil deposited the puck in the back of the net. Already she’d scored a prettier goal than either of her brother’s, but she wasn’t done.  After the flood and with her team tied 1-1, she again rushed the goal with a defender in tow, hitting the goalie with her initial shot, then pounding home her own rebound for marker #2 on the evening.  You can likely sense where this is going. Before the game would end with the visitors on top 4-1, our competitive little bundle of joy would secure a coveted hat trick (her second of the season vs. none for a certain older brother). And yet, in my mind the actual highlight of her game was a 5 on 3 penalty kill situation where the Devil held off three opponents deep in enemy territory for about 20 seconds capped with a scoring chance; something she’s seen her brother do a time or two in the past.  Post game, the Devil was beaming and more than set to text her brother with her superior news. Hockey Momma would steal some of her thunder by pre-emptively notifying the Boy of his sister’s impending gloatfest. And gloat she would in quipping, “So how many goals did you score today?” as she walked back in the front door an hour later.

Cue the Boy and his team’s semi-final match on Sunday.  As chance would have it, the Boy was able to match his sister’s weekend goal tally to get things started for the Colts. He wouldn’t get another, though he sure as hell tried to break a 1-1 tie at the end of the second period as he brought the puck crashing into the net, drawing the ire of his foes and a few swift shots to the back of the head. Unfortunately, he ended up with both an interference and a roughing penalty for his efforts. I questioned the latter as his only rough play involved his trying to avoid his oncoming aggressor.  The good guys would break the tie in the third period, hold on for a slim 2-1 win and a spot in the tourney final against a well-known rival from their league.

However, before the Championship game arrived, we would hustle across town as the Boy and I had committed to running the game clock for the Devil’s second match of the weekend; another must win against a formidable foe. As they have been so many times this season, the Devil and her mates were equal, if not superior, to the task in skating to a 3-0 triumph and a 16-1-1 record. She would not factor into the scoring in this one, but  it wasn’t for lack of trying. She knew her brother was watching, stealing the occasional glance over at the timekeepers’ booth, and she skated her butt off at both ends of the ice. The Devil did manage to get on the score sheet via a roughing penalty of her own after a little skirmish in front of her goalie.  Apparently, even PIMs would be challenged this weekend.

After a quick run to a local burger joint (where the Boy responsibly had a salad, while yours truly inhaled a Banquet Burger Combo), it was back to the rink for the culmination of the weekend tournament.  The Colts recently lost to the team they would be facing in the Final and are being chased by them in the league standings, so there were a few things on the line in this game. After four previous games in two days, including one each earlier on Sunday, both teams were a little sloppy, playing to a 1-1 tie late into the contest.  Fortunately, the Colts would find a way to strike one more time to secure the tourney title on home ice. The Boy would have a medal to cap off his weekend.



He would also secure some bragging rights; at least for a few days. The Devil’s next game is in less than a week’s time and she may just have another trick up her sleeve (pun fully intended) to grab back some of that thunder.

As for me and Momma, this little sibling rivalry stuff is all a lot of fun to watch.

#GoColtsGo #GoSharksGo


Hockey Teams Battling and Winning Through Thick and Thin

Momma and the Boy were set to travel a little over three hours North last weekend, where his team would compete in a qualification tournament for the Silver Stick International Tournament in the new year. The Devil and I were staying behind as she had three regular season games of her own to play (what else is new?).

When we woke up on the morning of their departure I noted he had developed a pretty nasty cough, which didn’t bode well for a weekend performance on the road. Sure enough upon arriving at their destination 10 hours later,  the cough had become a hack from an increasingly sore throat with an elevated body temperature to boot. By dinner time the Boy’s condition continued to deteriorate and a teammate was required to deliver him, a shivering lump, back to the hotel room to hopefully sleep off whatever bug he was battling in order to play two games the next day.  Momma says he didn’t sleep much at all through the night.  He would text me later saying he thought he was going to die (a little dramatic, but most women can attest to how men can be debilitated by colds and flus).  The morning arrived with the nasties solidly in tow. Having driven as far as they did, the Boy decided he would give it the old college in the first game and play it by ear after that. To complicate things, the team’s backup goalie was likewise battling pneumonia, while one other defenceman took a big hit causing a concussion in a game earlier in the week. Qualifying for the big tourney would have to be accomplished short-handed.

Momma reports the Boy struggled through the first game with a notable and pretty understandable lack of energy based on his sleep or lack thereof.  The team would take their first match, perhaps lightening the Boy’s otherwise bleak situation.  Game two, scheduled to start eight hours later would be a hit or miss proposition.  The Boy spent the entire afternoon in bed then decided on college try number two.  The team would win again, but by all accounts the Boy was a merely a warm body on the ice to spell some of his teammates (warm being the operative word).  He and Momma were hopeful another night’s sleep would help to evict his unwanted guest. Unfortunately, the second night was much like the first leaving the lad iffy for the next day’s final round-robin and hopefully semi-final games. As it turned out, he would play or at least see ice-time in the third game and one period of the semi-final before he would finally succumb to his sickness.  I’ve since been told by other parents that we should be proud of the effort he gave under the circumstances.

As is so often the case with teams and viruses, a few teammates were also starting to show symptoms similar to the Boy’s. This is generally inevitable as teammates dress in close, stanky quarters where bacteria must salivate at opportunity to feed and breed. You can almost smell and feel sickness when you enter some dressing rooms. From her behind-the-bench vantage point, Momma (the team trainer) would report via text that at least one player may have left one of his lungs on the ice after having coughed it up in the semi-final game. And yet, with all of this turmoil the team would find the strength and conviction to work its way into the Championship game. The Boy would reluctantly join his two beleaguered comrades as a cheerleader in the stands. Perhaps some of their spirit helped to propel their shortened squad to a convincing victory in the final, claiming the Championship and the desired berth in the bigger tourney down the road. However, in keeping with the health-related theme of the weekend another player joined the ranks of the sick or injured when he was charged by an opponent leaving him with a broken clavicle and damaged shoulder joint. While the first three players, including the Boy, are set to return to action this week or next, he unfortunately is facing a few weeks away from the game. Hopefully, all will be mended for the Silver Stick.  I’m pleased to report the team has already had two games since returning from the qualifier (cuz there’s no rest for the wicked) and the Boy has competed in both. Momma, on the other hand, has not been so lucky her nursemaid duties put here square in the path of the same bug that bit the Boy. She’s been incapacitated since their return. I and the Devil have thus far dodged the deadly bullet (he says, all the while knocking on whatever wood is close proximity).

Speaking of the Devil and while the other two were off on their disease-ridden adventure, I watched the Devil’s team continue their strong play, albeit not without a couple of bumps in the road and injuries of their own. Case in point bump-wise is a match against their closest geographic rival, which found them on the losing side of a 3-1 score with only three minutes left in the game.  The coach decided to pull his goalie early. This proved to be a prudent move as the girls scratched to within one goal with about 90 seconds remaining. The goalie would return to her net for the ensuing faceoff, but as soon as the puck entered the opponents end, she was yanked from her perch again. Having an extra player on the ice worked for a second time as the Devil and her mates tied the game with less than 30 ticks on the clock. The opposing side was no doubt dumbstruck by what had just happened while the good guys extended their regular season unbeaten streak to 11 games.

The Sharks next game, a couple of days later, would be against a lesser opponent, yet they would enter the third period with only a one goal lead. The coaches’ between period speeches must have been effective as the team would extend the score to 5-0 when the final buzzer sounded.

Game three in four days for the Sharks would again see them falling behind 2-1 on the scoreboard after two periods on the strength of several big saves by the other team’s goaltender. However, again they would come out in the third with all guns blazing and skate to a 3-2 victory; running their regular season record to an impressive 13-1-1. This currently puts them in first place in the standings though they’ve played a few more games than their closest rival. Their only loss to date came in the first game of the year against the same rival and they have yet to play the victor from that game a second time. The rematch is forthcoming. It will no doubt be a barometer; setting a tone for the remainder of the season.

We’ve witnessed a lot of exciting games and situations through the both the Boy’s and Devil’s seasons already. Soon it will be time for a brief holiday rest. Then we will be right back at it to close the regular year and move into league and provincial playoffs.  We’ve at least two more trips on tap as well, which always have a way of generating stories whether we like them or not.  Stay tuned hockey fans….who needs the NHL with all of this real hockey drama?