I’m finding out quickly that being a minor hockey coach, in addition to being a hockey dad, is akin to riding roller coasters to borrow an oft-used, and in this case, highly appropriate metaphor. In the last week alone, my young Sharks team has hit some fantastic high notes and some equally amplified lows.
Early in the week our team’s home-town tournament victory was heralded on the front sports page of the local newspapers complete with colour photos Barrie Examiner – Simcoe.com. The articles were no doubt clipped and magnetically attached to the fridges in several players’ homes, while others passed links along to distant friends and relatives. To push our notoriety a step further, a local TV sports journalist, having seen the positive press, decided to reach out to offer an “Athlete of the Week” honour to one of our shining athletes. On a team who’s success has been primarily driven by their ability to play as a unit, it was truly difficult to single out one member, but I did so judiciously I believe. Our next practice became the focus of pre-skate interviews and a post-practice presentation of the coveted award amidst the high-pitched cheers of the honourees comrades. Of course, The Athlete of the Week segment airs tomorrow night when we’ll all be on the road or on our way back from an away game, so the PVRs and YouTube will have to come to the rescue.
The aforementioned practice itself left something to be desired as the distraction of the television camera appeared to have a distinct affect on the girls’ abilities to pass, receive and/or shoot the puck. The coaching staff and I hoped this was merely distraction and not a full-blown victory hangover with a critical game against a bitter rival scheduled only a couple of days away.
The match against the bitter rival actually went quite well, though we had to settle for a 1-1 tie, which was only secured in the final five minutes of the contest. As usual, the ladies out-hustled and out-played their counterparts for a majority of the game, yet were only able to put one lone shot beyond their able keeper. That said, a tie in enemy territory is obviously preferable to a loss.
Fast forward a couple of days to a game versus one of the apparent top teams in the league. It’s taken me a few days just to digest, though not quite fully or comfortably absorb, the events of last Saturday afternoon, which is really just one lost game in the grand scheme of things. Before the game, I was sure to instill the notion that we were up against a formidable opponent. I knew from previewing the standings that this side had put up some big scores against other teams in the league to date. I also reminded everyone we need to start winning some regular season games if we hope to rise from our current cellar-dweller status. These messages seemed to be heard loud and clear as the Sharks went on the offensive from the get-go. Constant pressure seem to stun the visitors who were slow and relatively weak to respond. The first period ended with our side ahead 1-0, a lead which was then doubled by the end of the second. At our level of hockey a not-necessarily-wanted break to flood the ice is taken between the second and third frames. We retired to the dressing room, hoping to maintain the focus which produced the results to this point.
Now they say a two-goal lead is the worst thing to have in hockey. A single goal in response cuts the lead in half. Then a tying goal brings the panic of a decided momentum shift. Knowing this, I tried to say all the “right” things in the dressing room. “Play smart, aggressive, but defensive hockey.” “Don’t let your goalie down now.” “Keep the pedal to the metal.” “The other team is going to come out with a vengeance so be prepared.” A mere 15 minutes later I was staring a the scoreboard in disbelief as the clock struck 0:00. The board read Home 2 — Visitors 3. It felt like there was nothing I could have done to stop it – try as I may with pleas seemingly falling on deaf, or at least, muzzled ears. Added to the drama was a failed penalty shot with 30 seconds left, which would have knotted the score at two. While less so, at that point, even a tie would have stung following the terrific two-period start. Opportunity lost indeed.
I’m sure there were some who hoped I would go back into the dressing room to proverbially peel the paint off the walls. But as I walked in to address the beleaguered throng, I could see most players were as stunned as I. To be sure, the gravity of the situation was not lost on anyone. I said, “I don’t get mad often, but I’m a little mad right now. More so, I’m disappointed.” I could sense hearing I was disappointed hit a sharper chord versus simple, assumed anger.
Of course, all we can do is learn from our mistakes; take lessons from our failures. We’ll see what, if any, effect this loss has on our team’s growth and development. Halfway through our regular season, we have only one win, five losses and three ties, which places us firmly at the bottom of the standings, though not out of reach of those above us. The frustrating part to date has been the competitiveness of our team in every game but one. We’ll focus on this positive to buoy their efforts. Perhaps this latest loss will leave an indelible mark only to be removed with renewed vigor in future contests. I guess we’ll see tomorrow night when the Sharks brace as they reach the next crest of the wave.
As for the Athlete of the Week, her segment airs tomorrow night at 6:15 and 11:20 when we’ll all be on the road or on our way back from an away game, so the PVRs and YouTube will have to come to the rescue.