Sometimes You Need a Short Hockey Memory

What's Hockey?As you venture through a hockey season, particularly early on, there are shifts and games you want to remember and those you’d rather forget. In the Sharks’ first tournament and few exhibition games of the young season, we had a our share of both. Before the first tourney puck drop, I stressed the importance of using this event and these initial games as learning opportunities. All the coaching staff was looking for was a full and honest effort; similar to what we had refreshingly seen in our other exhibition games leading up to the round robin event. We would work on some specific tactical things as we went and get as much benefit from playing a minimum of four games in two days as we could. If we picked up a couple of wins along the way it would be awesome, but certainly would not be the sole measure of the team’s success.

Our first match would be our most useful and telling as we would be playing a team we are expected to be facing in our regular league play. I was admittedly a little nervous for this one as I expected this to be one of the stronger teams in our loop and therefore a real test for our new, relatively young squad. Indeed our opponents came out aggressively and we were pleased to see our troops rise to the challenge. The other side pushed and we pushed back. A decidedly evenly matched affair unfortunately saw us on the wrong side of a 3-2 final score. However, the score could have just as easily been reversed in our favour if not for a bounce in the other direction. We exited game one very pleased with the outcome and hopeful about those which lay ahead.

Several hours later we would engage our next foe with buoyed expectations based on our first semi-positive result. One wild card would be the time between games, which can always be a challenge in tournaments like these. As this game began, I felt we maintained an advantage in terms of our speed and numbers as the other side had a short bench. We would, of course, still need to use the perceived edge and execute or in other words skate, pass, shoot and score. As the game progressed, the players were able to fully accomplish only three of the four. A second, albeit admirable and full effort, did not translate into pucks in nets (an all too familiar scenario in girls hockey). As the game wore on, it appeared we were destined to play to a 0-0 tie, with our goaltender making some key saves to keep us knotted. Then, with less than 5 minutes remaining, one of our first-year right wingers unleashed a surprising semi-slap shot from just inside the right face-off circle, which found its way over the shoulder of the opposing goalie and under the crossbar behind her. Our first victory of the year raised spirits higher. We all looked forward to making even more progress on day two.

Back at the rink just over 12 hours later, we knew our next challenger would likely be our toughest as we noted their 2-0 record. Suffice it to say, this was the first game to be stricken from our combined memories. I especially had to remind the starting goalie of the short memory lesson as I removed her from the game at the end of the second period in a veritable heap of tears. To prove my point and stick to my post-game promise, I won’t even share the score here. Rather I and the coaching staff encouraged our players to embrace another important adage “Shit Happens” and looked ahead to game four for redemption. This message appeared to ring true for most, but some, like the Devil in particular, took this loss hard; even harder than I would have anticipated. Though it seems there were other factors at play where she was concerned. Something else sticking in her craw, which Momma and I will need to work on as the season progresses and we build this team on and off the ice. I did and will continue to tell her along with anyone else who asks that a new young team needs time to grow, learn and gel. She as well as anyone should know how sometimes even a last place team can come back and defeat a highly touted first place Goliath.

Despite our implorations to put game three behind us, it undoubtedly left a mark and sewed a dangerous seed of doubt in some as we entered game four. A fourth game in two days only a couple of weeks into the season is challenging enough. As in game two, after a quick review of players on the ice, I felt we had better overall talent, but then watched our girls lose battles, shifts and ultimately the contest by a 2-1 score; after falling behind 1-0 in the first minute. In typical hockey fashion, an excellent stifled opportunity for our side was immediately answered by a 2 on 1 goal for the bad guys – a goal from which the girls never fully recovered.

There would be no advancing to a playoff round for our side, yet overall we had to be pleased with three one-goal games including our first victory (notice how I didn’t even mention the other item we are never to mention again). I’m reminded of last year when our first win took nearly a month to arrive and last season was a relatively successful one in the end (if you don’t count the Devil’s broken leg incident).

We’ve played two more games since the tournament with less than stellar results on the score sheet. Sort of a one step forward, two steps back scenario. However, these again are just exhibition matches (or so I keep telling them) and meant to provide ample opportunities to fail and learn.

In the technology world, of which I am intimately familiar, many pundits say it’s important to fail faster in order to learn and ultimately succeed faster. I believe this likewise applies to sports teams, be they young or old, though the lesson is much tougher to explain to young adult female athletes I assure you. Cue another oft-heard cliche which states “You’re never as bad as your worst lost nor as good as your best win.” Methinks the same again holds true for this squad, who’ve shown signs of brilliance, while lacking consistency. I take some solace in knowing we’ve yet to play even one game with a full roster as injuries, suspensions and jobs have already gotten in the way; an all too familiar midget-aged circumstance. The risk we run with a young team is the potential for them to lose confidence as they lose games. We need to build on the successes of our one-goal games; accentuate the positive strides we’ve made. We can and have skated with quality teams. Only once have I seen the team stop skating and with semi-good reason (of which we will never speak). I am hopeful our veterans, including the Devil and her 2nd and 3rd year mates, take a leadership role on our cues to bolster the spirits of their younger cohorts. To their credit, I have been impressed with the level of maturity exhibited by players I’ve known or coached for a while now and some of the new players I’m still getting familiar with. I should not be surprised as I am struck by the fact they are all becoming independent young women. Yes, I do still need to be reminded from time-to-time. On another positive note, we have an abundance of practice time over the coming weeks, which we will use to work on skating, shooting, passing and gelling; before the games start to matter just a little more.

Three years into this coaching gig and I’m still learning every week, game, practice because when you’re dealing with people, be they young or old, everything is dynamic. I expect this won’t change any time soon. If any of you have any suggestions on how to carefully and successfully fail faster in this game or life in general I’m all ears. In the meantime, we’ll all try to forget most of the bad and stay focused on the good.


Image courtesy of

Final Minor Hockey Tourney Hurrah

I don’t usually like to write, talk or even mention games before they happen out of fear of angering the ever-present hockey gods. But this time is different as next weekend we will embark on the final road trip to play the final games of da Boy’s minor hockey career. A few on the team thought last weekend’s provincial semi-final loss was the end (eliciting a coupla well-earned tears). However, as it turned out the coaching staff was able to find and register for a last-minute tournament for the squad to compete in.  And not just any tournament; the 41st Annual Leo Boivin International Midget AAA Showcase Tournament. The key words here being AAA, International and Showcase in that order.  AAA because da Boy plays on a AA team (one rung below AAA) and there are only only two other AA teams taking part in this tourney, which will make for some pretty stiff competition to be sure.  This group is coming off a great playoff run, this is really a no pressure tournament for them and hot goaltending can go a long way in a short tourney so ya just never know.  We do know from the last few weeks there’s no quit in our side.  The International means the Boys get to play teams from a bunch of different places, including Latvia in game one; a pretty cool opportunity.  And the Showcase means there will be scouts from schools, Junior teams and elsewhere in the stands. Not that any of our kids are heading to the Show, but another cool factor to add to the swan song hockey experience. As always for me it’s about the memories created and carried forward.

Which gives me pause to bring back a few recollections from the Boy’s many tourneys past. Each and every season has brought its share of moments on and off the ice.

Like the time someone, who shall remain nameless, forgot da Boy’s skates in the trunk of his car, which was sitting in his driveway over three hours away. After suffering through the first game with undersized circa 1960 skates donated by the local rink rat, da Boy was able to finish the tournament on a teammate’s blades as four of his comrades found themselves suspended following a game ending brawl. He probably would have been involved in the skirmish, but he could barely skate.  All I could say to the disappointed player’s parents was, “Sorry about your luck…what size are your kid’s feet?”

Or the season ending tournament held in Niagara Falls over the St. Paddy’s day weekend, which found several parents, one of whom shall again remain nameless, playing texas hold em poker and sipping Irish whiskey until the wee, wee hours of the night before the final game on Sunday morning at 7:30am. As I recall, we lost the morning game and I had to settle on counting my poker winnings in the passenger seat on the way home for faint solace.

A couple of trips to the Nation’s Capital have afforded us chances to skate on the canal, visit the War Museum, catch a Senators game and take the kids on a tour of where Hockey Momma and I spent our college years (speaking of memories).  Ottawa also produced da Boy’s infamous Whooosh…. moment shared here for your, or perhaps simply my, enjoyment.

As you can see, he had planned on a booming clapper from the point as he rarely played D that season. He swung mightily and missed, much to the merriment of several of us in the stands who happened to be standing next to the cameraman’s microphone. Yet, my favourite part is the part you don’t see when da Boy turns to unceremoniously salute us before refocusing on the play.

Of course, this season provided one of the most memorable tournament experiences as hockey took us all many hours south to Nashville, Tennessee. A trip deserving two full sets of remembrances by yours truly. Though the team came home with a well-deserved Championship, hockey was merely the backdrop to a much larger life event.

A similar such event, though not a tourney per se, took place a couple of years ago when the Boys were treated to a bus ride to Oswego, New York to visit the Oswego State University of New York and to get a feel for US Division III hockey. A trip which included a practice on the university rink followed by chat with the school’s team coach, a tour of the locker room and campus, a couple of successful exhibition games against a local high school team and capped by tickets to a Oswego State Lakers Men’s Ice Hockey Team game.

Needless to say, the students at Oswego State luvs them some hockey. The spirit in the rink was infectious and was one of the highlights of the trip – maybe of the season.

Then there was a great weekend in Ann Arbour, Michigan about five or six years ago, where the Boy and I shared a room with one of his teammates (a teammate to this day) and his hockey dad in the interest of saving a few bucks in hotel fees. Little did the other father and I know this would automatically designate our room the warzone for the weekend, as the timing of this trip coincided with the height of the popularity of rapid-fire Nerf guns. I couldn’t locate a photo so you’ll simply have to imaging an entire room disassembled and reassembled with makeshift forts and strewn with all manner of projectile from the traditional nerf  “bullets” to toilet paper rolls and water soaked hotel towels. Oh yeah, the team also got to play in the fabled Yost Ice Arena, home to the Michigan Wolverines college hockey team. If I recall, the team settled for a second place finish on this particular trip and we had a long, quiet ride home.

Yeah, I could probably go on here ad nauseum as plenty of scenes flood back into my head and please do add any here should they occur to you. Even caught myself going back to look through old pics in the process.

hockey team cheer

I guess they really were that small once. Gonna have to take a lot more pics next weekend to complement the ones we’ll feverishly stuff into our already jam-packed minds.


p.s. So as I lay awake last night with the gears spinning in my head, as they are often wont to do, another great moment popped to the fore. This one methinks occurred seven or eight years ago during a sudden death quarterfinal match in Guelph; a game which had ended in regulation at 2-2, then went through 5 minutes of 5 on 5 overtime, followed by 4 minutes of 4 on 4 overtime with no decision. At the end of the 4 on 4 our side was assessed a penalty meaning the next round of OT would put us at a rare 2 on 3 disadvantage. I and the father standing next to me looked on with trepidation as our two sons were sent out onto the ice to take a faceoff in our zone.  I may have actually said out loud, “Aw cmon, don’t put my kid out there!” But then the play which has stayed etched in my subconscious lo this many years unfolded. The Boy successfully won the draw and pushed the puck forward between his combatants feet. His agile teammate, who is still a close friend to this day, pounced on the loose biscuit, flew by an unsuspecting defenceman and took off on a breakaway. With three players in hot pursuit, he hurled the puck past a no doubt nervous little goal keeper and bedlam ensued as fifteen little bodies threw themselves on top of him with da Boy leading the way. I’m pretty sure this particular tournament ended for our lads with a loss in the Championship match, but no matter as no one could erase the drama which was the quarters.

p.s.s. I lay there some more, because I don’t have to go to work on Monday morning or anything, and thought it would be kinda cool to try to remember all of the places da Boy played tournaments – each one with a set of moments of its own. Here in no particular order, save for the first and the last, is the somewhat complete list to the best of my recollection: Oak Ridges, Beaverton, Bradford, Barrie (multiple times as it’s the home rink), Aurora, Markham, Richmond Hill (again), Belleville (twice), Guelph, Niagara Falls – Ontario (more than once), Niagara Falls – New York, Ann Arbor – Michigan, Sudbury (two Silver Stick qualifier championships), Sarnia (two Silver Stick appearances), Ottawa (a coupla times), Toronto, Mississauga (2 or 3 times), Pickering/Ajax, Welland, Fort Erie, Nashville – Tennessee, Prescott (in just a few days to put a cap on this story). Of course, then I had to consider the Devil’s travels as well, which have included some repeats in Ottawa (deux fois), Toronto, Pickering/Ajax, Sudbury, Mississauga (twofold), Niagara Falls, Aurora and Guelph, but also had us driving to Midland, Coldwater, Darlington, Stouffville (dos veces), Brampton, Whitby, Aylmer, North Bay, London and Windsor (x2). No US trips for the Devil…yet.  I’m sure I missed a couple in there somewhere and I’m also sure Hockey Momma will remind me which they were.

p.s.s.s. My dreary-eyed remembrance is actually more of a coincidence as I recalled the Boy’s first tournament at the ripe age of four in Oak Ridges. One of the players on an opposing team was the son of then active NHL goalie Curtis Joseph. I remember Cujo showing up at the arena and immediately being mobbed by his adoring Toronto Maple Leafs fans (something I personally couldn’t fully appreciate being a lifelong Leaf hater). I recall he politely asked to be left alone to watch his boy’s game in a quiet corner of the rink and then graciously signed autographs for upwards of an hour thereafter. The small coincidence arises in the fact our boy’s paths would not cross again until this season when their teams would battle against each other right up until their league quarter-finals, which ended with our side’s victory just a few weeks ago. The happenstance is obviously lost on Mr. Joseph, but I thought it an interesting correlation as I pondered the past in the middle of the night.