Thursday, January 17, 2013 Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Getting Organized

The roster for the Devil’s team has been finalized. No other immediate signs of defections or mutinies on the horizon. With the stress of tryouts somewhat behind us, but never totally forgotten, it is time to get down to the business of organizing and running the team.

The season won’t officially begin and no ice will be touched until sometime in late August or more likely early September, but there is plenty to do. And so, last week I got together with my newly appointed manager (a critical and often thankless role on a minor hockey team) to begin building the checklist of things we have and want to do with and for this team. A checklist which includes creating a budget, opening a bank account, completing an official roster, building a contact list, organizing fundraising activities to offset the cost to each player’s family, finding and registering in tournaments, scheduling team building and pre-season training, etc….and finding parents on the team who are willing and able to help with all of these tasks.  I’m quickly realizing that running a minor hockey team is a lot like running a small business. I actually heard a speaker at a business function today refer to running his business as a “do-ocracy”, which is a concept I would like to adopt in that if something needs to get done then we find someone to do it. The more helpers; the merrier the team; and certainly the merrier the manager.  I promised my manager, who was hesitant at first because of past experiences where he had little to no help, that I would ensure he had all the help he needed.

My second immediate course of business was to select my coaching staff.  After careful consideration, including an assessment of my new team’s political landscape, I approached a few individuals who I felt would be able to help me on the ice during practice, on the bench during games and at the rink in general. 

My first choice was an unaffiliated personal friend who has a great deal of hockey experience, having actually coached the Boy a few moons ago.  I am very fortunate that he agreed to give up a fair bit of his personal time to help me out. I will gladly pay him back in spades because I’m confident he will be an invaluable resource in terms of providing objective opinions and feedback on player and team performance.  I believe the parent group will also be pleased with this choice as there can be no concern regarding bias for one player over another as can often be the case when a parent/coach is involved.  My other assistant and alternate assistant (required to fill in during inevitable scheduling conflicts) will be parents who I know have previous coaching experience; in one case with me on the Devil’s team a couple of years back.  I trust they will follow my lead where fair play, ice time and a primary focus on individual player development are concerned.

The other roles already filled include the trainer/backup trainer, the fundraising committee of three and the social coordinator. Yes, a team does need a social coordinator to figure out accommodations, team meals and extracurricular activities during the 4 or 5 out-of-town tournaments that the team may attend during the season. At our first team meeting last night, one of the parents quipped that a social coordinator should also be charged with ensuring the parents’ social activities during tournaments are in order. However, I’m fairly certain our hockey dads and moms will have no difficulty entertaining themselves, if my observances from the past 10+ years are any indication.

Last night’s first team meeting was arranged to introduce the preliminary staff and to ask for volunteers for a few other positions (timekeepers, statisticians, dressing room moms (as we male coaches understandably aren’t allowed in until about 10 mins before a game) and someone to maintain a team Web site).  I also wanted to communicate some of the more immediate scheduling/tasks we have on our plate.  Fundraising, for instance, can never start too early as the team does have some early expenses to cover.  We do already have a pre-season September tournament we can and should register for right away in order to secure a spot.  Registration = Downpayment. So we’ll all be soliciting friends, neighbors and others shortly with a fine selection of frozen meats and seafood just in time for BBQ season and all in support of a wonderful cause indeed.

Our initial meeting, cut short by a cold Spring drizzle down by the lake, also provided an opportunity for the players to really meet; in some cases, for the first time.  This is very much a team of new faces from different places.  I had each introduce themselves and their parents, where present. I am still working on putting names to a couple of faces, but that of course will come with time.

The final course of business last night was the final determination of jersey numbers. Each year there are inevitably conflicts between players who would like the same number. The Devil, for instance, has had a conflict each of the last three years - she apparently favours very popular numbers. Her only problem, in this regard, is that she is not what you would call “lucky” when it comes to the use of tie-breaking measures. As such, she has not had her number of choice (#8) in any of the past three seasons. Instead, she has been #18, #6 and most recently #4, which are at least even numbers, but admittedly poor consolations from her perspective.  Her brother, by comparison, has donned the #3 (just like yours truly I might proudly add) since he started playing the game.

Last night, it was decided between the Devil and her new rival for #8 (one of her teammates from last year) would partake in a best 2 out of 3 rock-paper-scissors competition.  She would naturally come out on the wrong end, though she did force a third and deciding face-off. This coming season the Devil will be #7; which I was quick to point out has quite often been referred to as a “lucky” number.  We will see what luck it brings this year I’m sure.

Perhaps more by good fortune or planning than luck, I do have a very good feeling about this group - of players and parents combined. Both, of course, are necessary to ensure a successful and enjoyable season for all. I am committed to doing all I can to facilitate a positive, fun and open environment. Early indications are that I won’t be alone in his endeavour; which I was sincerely hoping would be the case. I am not so naive to think the coming season will not have its challenges, but I’m hopeful that we’ve set a course on a fairly bump-free journey.

And if nothing else, I will definitely come out of this exercise with a new appreciation for organization, collaboration and a few other -tions we’ll need to implement in order to survive a full season of minor hockey.

#imahockeydad #imahockeycoach

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Trying Something New, Innovative & Ultimately Grueling
The Boy was recently offered an opportunity to try some cool hockey-related technology.  Technology has invaded hockey like any other sport or walk of life.  Tools have been designed to make you skate faster, shoot harder and supposedly perform at a higher level.  The Boy, admittedly at dad’s urging, thought it would be cool to give this latest one a try.
A local sports/hockey shop has recently installed skating treadmill, which he’s signed on to try with a buddy and former teammate.  The kids in the YouTube video clip we watched looked to be having fun, while presumably improving their skating stride. The were skating, smiling with relative ease. Marketing can be so deceiving sometimes.
The 8x8 treadmill requires participants to be harnessed/tethered from above to keep them from being flung off the end at high speed. It can be set at an incline upwards of a 20 degrees and is, by all accounts, one hard-ass workout. There’s no gliding with this skating unlike its on-ice equivalent. The ultimate purpose of the treadmill is to work specifically on developing a cleaner, more powerful stride. A trainer guides each athlete through a series of endurance, power and explosive acceleration drills.
The first challenge the Boy encountered was simply getting used to the feel and speed of the unit.  Like I said, there’s no gliding — you must keep your feet moving or the treadmill will move you - hence the harness.  Day one on the new contraption and the Boy along with his mates could be seen scrambling and eventually swinging through the air like an astronaut on a gravity-free spacewalk.
The second challenge for the Boy grew out of the fact that he hadn’t been on the ice for a few weeks.  Even 16 year old boys lose something when they shut down for an extended period of time. In this boy’s case, shutdown translates into spending time in his beanbag chair playing Call of Duty on XBox.  Now suddenly, he was being tasked with performing high-impact skating sprints for 20-30 second intervals — uphill.  An onlooker asked my favourite question upon witnessing the obvious strain on the Boy’s face, “What ya been doing that past few weeks?  Eating samwiches?”  During this first session there was a pretty good chance we were going to see exactly what type of samwiches the Boy may have eaten earlier that day. Story simple - the treadmill kicked his ass. In fairness, it should be pointed out that his training companions found themselves in similar straits.  All were quiet, sullen and gasping for air that was apparently not in abundance from their perspective.
A week later (last night) all three skaters looked like they’d gained some comfort and confidence with the machine from their experience the week before. They approached their new-found nemesis with a greater awareness of what they were up against.  The roar of the motor was less intimidating. The streaking surface below was an easier measure. But the work was no less difficult.  One by one they took their turn at the direction of the trainer. Slow to start…a little more speed and incline with each rotation. The expressions of each lad declared their level of effort. The instructor sensed the physical toll the machine was taking; slowing the pace every so slightly. Yet a participant was lost a little past the 1/2 way point in the scheduled hour-long session. Shortly thereafter a second brave soldier fell by the wayside. The Boy, to his credit, somehow worked through the obvious stress of the situation. He told me at once, “Dad, I think I’m gonna puke.”  Then a sip of water sated his thirst and seemingly buoyed his spirits for the last couple of rounds. He was about to quit when the trainer asked if he had enough left in the tank for a quick cool-down. He was pleased to learn he had made it to the end; whereas his comrades were not as fortunate.
The true test of the value of this experiment will be realized tomorrow night when the Boy and one of his partners take to a standard sheet of ice for hockey practice with their Summer team. Flat ice should be a welcome surface by comparison to their mechanical nemesis of the past two weeks. They should welcome the opportunity to push then simply glide.  We’ll see how much difference a couple of weeks of effort and pain makes.
Then next week its back to the pain. We’ll have to see who bows out and who, if any, is able to make it through to the end.  No matter, they will all be somewhat richer for having had the experience.  Of course, the Boy claims that his “old dad” had no idea how hard it is.  In fact, he doesn’t think “old dad” would last a minute on the daunting machine.  With ego firmly engaged, “old dad” may just have to jump on the treadmill to prove the “young lad” otherwise.  There may, or may not, be photo evidence of said event…if/when it should actually come to pass.
#imahockeydad

Trying Something New, Innovative & Ultimately Grueling

The Boy was recently offered an opportunity to try some cool hockey-related technology.  Technology has invaded hockey like any other sport or walk of life.  Tools have been designed to make you skate faster, shoot harder and supposedly perform at a higher level.  The Boy, admittedly at dad’s urging, thought it would be cool to give this latest one a try.

A local sports/hockey shop has recently installed skating treadmill, which he’s signed on to try with a buddy and former teammate.  The kids in the YouTube video clip we watched looked to be having fun, while presumably improving their skating stride. The were skating, smiling with relative ease. Marketing can be so deceiving sometimes.

The 8x8 treadmill requires participants to be harnessed/tethered from above to keep them from being flung off the end at high speed. It can be set at an incline upwards of a 20 degrees and is, by all accounts, one hard-ass workout. There’s no gliding with this skating unlike its on-ice equivalent. The ultimate purpose of the treadmill is to work specifically on developing a cleaner, more powerful stride. A trainer guides each athlete through a series of endurance, power and explosive acceleration drills.

The first challenge the Boy encountered was simply getting used to the feel and speed of the unit.  Like I said, there’s no gliding — you must keep your feet moving or the treadmill will move you - hence the harness.  Day one on the new contraption and the Boy along with his mates could be seen scrambling and eventually swinging through the air like an astronaut on a gravity-free spacewalk.

The second challenge for the Boy grew out of the fact that he hadn’t been on the ice for a few weeks.  Even 16 year old boys lose something when they shut down for an extended period of time. In this boy’s case, shutdown translates into spending time in his beanbag chair playing Call of Duty on XBox.  Now suddenly, he was being tasked with performing high-impact skating sprints for 20-30 second intervals — uphill.  An onlooker asked my favourite question upon witnessing the obvious strain on the Boy’s face, “What ya been doing that past few weeks?  Eating samwiches?”  During this first session there was a pretty good chance we were going to see exactly what type of samwiches the Boy may have eaten earlier that day. Story simple - the treadmill kicked his ass. In fairness, it should be pointed out that his training companions found themselves in similar straits.  All were quiet, sullen and gasping for air that was apparently not in abundance from their perspective.

A week later (last night) all three skaters looked like they’d gained some comfort and confidence with the machine from their experience the week before. They approached their new-found nemesis with a greater awareness of what they were up against.  The roar of the motor was less intimidating. The streaking surface below was an easier measure. But the work was no less difficult.  One by one they took their turn at the direction of the trainer. Slow to start…a little more speed and incline with each rotation. The expressions of each lad declared their level of effort. The instructor sensed the physical toll the machine was taking; slowing the pace every so slightly. Yet a participant was lost a little past the 1/2 way point in the scheduled hour-long session. Shortly thereafter a second brave soldier fell by the wayside. The Boy, to his credit, somehow worked through the obvious stress of the situation. He told me at once, “Dad, I think I’m gonna puke.”  Then a sip of water sated his thirst and seemingly buoyed his spirits for the last couple of rounds. He was about to quit when the trainer asked if he had enough left in the tank for a quick cool-down. He was pleased to learn he had made it to the end; whereas his comrades were not as fortunate.

The true test of the value of this experiment will be realized tomorrow night when the Boy and one of his partners take to a standard sheet of ice for hockey practice with their Summer team. Flat ice should be a welcome surface by comparison to their mechanical nemesis of the past two weeks. They should welcome the opportunity to push then simply glide.  We’ll see how much difference a couple of weeks of effort and pain makes.

Then next week its back to the pain. We’ll have to see who bows out and who, if any, is able to make it through to the end.  No matter, they will all be somewhat richer for having had the experience.  Of course, the Boy claims that his “old dad” had no idea how hard it is.  In fact, he doesn’t think “old dad” would last a minute on the daunting machine.  With ego firmly engaged, “old dad” may just have to jump on the treadmill to prove the “young lad” otherwise.  There may, or may not, be photo evidence of said event…if/when it should actually come to pass.

#imahockeydad

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Riding the Waves

The hockey dad life ebbs and flows like the ocean. We’re in a small ebb now, but a killer wave is rising in the near distance. You go from spending an inordinate amount of time in rinks watching your two kids and their teams play here, there and everywhere to having time to scrub the deck, scrape the barnacles and watch The Masters. Don’t get me wrong; the break is welcomed.  I’m sure the Boy and Devil, who put in way more physical, if not psychological, effort than we do, will concur. They no doubt become a little weary of their lengthy time at sea.

The end of the kids’ hockey seasons actually coincides nicely with the start of the NHL hockey playoffs and the Major League Baseball season.  I’m a self-admitted big sports fan.  Hell, I’ll even watch darts or billiards in a pinch. But its never quite the same as watching your own. Rooting for them. Urging them on.  Reveling in their wins. Agonizing over their losses. The legions of hockey parents who, like us, usher their kids to rinks across the nation no doubt get the same rush from participating in the game.

In a couple of weeks, I get to begin participating at yet another level as a head coach - Captain of me own ship if you will. My rooting, urging, reveling, agonizing will have to be tempered with delegating, mentoring, leading - coaching. I will have a group of players, coaches, parents looking to me for guidance - measuring my ability to affect team and individual successes - the criteria for which will differ with nearly every player and parent.

As a new coach/pirate, I will unashamedly beg, borrow and steal ideas, insights and techniques from sea-farers and salty dogs I’ve worked with in the past or those who wish to provide assistance as the season progresses. I’ve already begun compiling a library of evaluation forms, drills, season plans, preliminary schedules and budget documents - all necessary tools in running a tight ship.

Beyond the selection of the team, which deserves a full examination of its own, one of my first priorities will be identifying my support group of manager, assistant coaches, trainers and others. The emphasis will most certainly be on teamwork.  I will rely on these crew members to help steer the ship - keep it on a somewhat even keel. Opinions will be welcomed and measured. Suggestions will be applied within the context of a course we’ve charted for the season.  We will surely encounter our share of unsettled waters as all ships inevitably do.  The full measure of a crew is one who works hard through to a see journey’s successful end.

I guess this has all been a prelude to saying I’m nearly ready to set sail on my maiden voyage.  All aboard who’s comin’ aboard!

#imahockeydad

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

End of Another Season….Next

The Devil’s season mostly ended, or at least we had the farewell party, this past weekend.

The team was treated to an opportunity to take in the final game of the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup.  The girls, in their dark jerseys, lined the glass at one end of the rink with inflated beater bats in hand to cheer on Montreal vs. Toronto.  As Montreal took most of the play to Toronto in a lopsided 5-0 victory, our young ladies appeared to be cheering for the visiting side as they flashed up and down the ice in their familiar red, white and blue Montreal colours. The game action was impressive, despite the uneven score. There were some strong power moves, some very good saves and one beautiful top-shelf goal. The game no doubt gave our still-fresh athletes something to aspire to.

Post-game, we headed to a local rink for food, our own turn on the ice and some time to reflect on the season past.

After putting a pretty good dent in 11 pizzas, a veggie tray and a few 2L bottles of soda, the head coach took the stage to thank his many supporters and reward the kids with a medal for their efforts and a custom lithograph of the team he commissioned a local artist to produce - some lasting memories for our players who had worked hard and certainly improved throughout the year. The medals were a consolation for having narrowly missed the league finals and a spot in the provincial championships. They had certainly come as close as they could have, thus ensuring a successful season no matter the final result.  In short, medals were well deserved.

Hockey mom and I, who have a standing tradition of turning the hundreds of candid action photos we take into year-end, sound-tracked video montages, shared our latest compilation. It’s always good to hear the kids and parents alike laughing at shared memories. DVD copies for nearly the whole team have been requested and will be delivered.

With full bellies, coaches and players took to the ice for a skills competition, complete with prizes for some added incentive, and a quick game of 3-on-3.  The pressure of the last month’s games has long-since faded.  The girls just had fun. More laughing as they rushed after loose pucks or issued fake body checks along the boards. The game had about 20 penalty shots which had some girls cursing their assistant coach turned ref. I will admit I’ve never seen two penalty shots called on one infraction, but we do know it never pays to argue with a ref.

The day was capped fittingly with cupcakes and well wishes.  Some of these players will be on teams together again, while others may not.  Overall, this will be a fine season full of positive experiences for them to recall.  I believe the Devil would say the same.

The team actually still has some practice ice left over despite the end-of-the-year celebration. This season surplus will be used as tune-up ice for next season’s tryouts, which begin in a little over a month’s time.  Just enough time to take a deep breath before starting all over again.  Only this time it will all be a little different for yours truly - a hockey dad and a head coach.  Perhaps a couple of deep breaths are in order.

#imahockeydad

Saturday, March 5, 2011

And Then There Was One

Just two days and technically 45 minutes after an epic win to salvage their series, the Boy’s team’s season came to less than dramatic halt on the backside of a 4-2 loss. Momentum from the previous game certainly carried the visiting team through the first two and a half periods of the game. A tied series felt like a real possibility as the boys opened a 2-0 lead with some very dominant play.  A two-nil lead could have just as easily been four-nil as the visiting side was firing on all cylinders.

Then the middle of the came turned out to be a virtual crest in the road. Aggressive play tuned into timid play; particularly in the defensive zone. The entire team seemed to collapse back into their goaltender. The home team became the aggressor after scoring their first goal. While the Boy and his teammates never gave up, they certainly seemed to back down (or at least back up).  The home team, already up four points to two in the six point series, finished the second period with a 3-2 lead. The boys had 15 minutes to square the score, which would have kept their season dimly alive. But another goal by the home side, quickly deflated already fragile spirits.  Play in the rest of the period was noticeably desperate and panicked. The crowd got quiet as we too could feel the game, series and season slipping away.

An opposing penalty and resulting power play opportunity in the last two minutes of the game provided one last ray of hope. The goalie would be pulled to create a six on four player advantage, which would in turn provide a couple of scoring chances. However, the soon-to-be victors keeper held strong to preserve the win. 

The game/series, which had its fair share of animosity, unfortunately ended on a sour note with a late penalty then a game ending skirmish. The refs, to their credit, were quick to dissipate the situation. At the end of any series, good or bad, a time-honoured tradition has the combatants shake hands in a show of good sportsmanship. In a show of poor sportsmanship, one of the victorious coaches chose to not shake hands with his counterparts - not the right message to be sending to a group of 15 and 16 year old boys. 

In quick retrospect, our group of boys had a pretty good yet that provided a lot of unique tests of individual and team character.  While they didn’t achieve all of their goals, I think some of them learned and grew - most of them enjoyed their time with this team. They and we all have a substantial store of good and bad memories.

Now the focus turns back to the Devil, who is still wrapped tightly in two exciting series - the first of which resumes in a couple of days. Just enough time to take a breath and ease some shaky nerves. With all the talk of two long seasons, I’m still not ready to see them both end.

#imahockeydad

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Must Win Thrillers

The last three games, in the last three nights, all must-wins for the Devil and the Boy, have provided as much drama for the players, coaches and especially we spectators in the stands as nearly the whole year combined.  Ya just gotta love playoff hockey.

Two nights ago the Devil and her mates played their latest game against their closest rivals, having already lost the first game in a best-out-of three series which will determine who gets to go on to play in the provincial championships.  The girls played what could best be described as a bend-but-don’t-break game that saw them score the first and only goal half-way through the second period. Our goalie, not unlike other games this year, “stood on her head”; pushing away several good scoring chances from the other side.  On one shot in particular that had its sights on the bottom stick side of the net, she instinctively threw out her right leg, just barely getting her toe in the way of the oncoming puck. On the bench for this game, I watched a great deal of it behind splayed fingers, as did many of the onlookers in the stands I’m sure. But in the end the girls prevailed, sending the series to a game three back at the same foreign rink in exactly one week’s time.

Cut to last night, where the Boy’s team turned the drama up a few notches. I almost don’t know where to start describing this third game of a six point series, which had our team facing elimination with a loss.  To start, the team would be dressing only ten out of 15 skaters as they dealt with two season-ending injuries, one two-game suspension from earlier in the series, one player on a family vacation in Florida and one competing in the provincial high school cross-country skiing championships. One of the ten dressed skaters had injured his wrist lifting weights in gym class earlier in the day and the other had injured his shoulder in the previous match.  The player with the injured shoulder would only sit on the bench as an emergency backup should someone be needed to serve a ten minute misconduct penalty (crafty little coaching move, indeed). The team was shorthanded to say the least.

But it gets worse. The hockey gods seemed to be frowning.  One on the nine players who was capable of skating realized just before the game started that he had a broken skate. He was lucky to be able to borrow a pair from a team coming off the ice from a previous game.  So we started the game with a hodge podge of forwards and defencemen.  The opponents, with a full bench, no doubt salivated at their prospects for a win.

The Boy and his rag-tag side had other ideas. They came out aggressive right off the hop. The Boy was able to split the D on a rush in the first couple of minutes. He was hauled down, crashing into the net with the puck in tow. At first, we in the crowd thought we witnessed a quick goal, but instead the ref called a tripping penalty; giving the Boys their first powerplay opportunity. They would not score early, but would dominate play for much of the game.  As the other team scrambled, their goalie and defence were forced to knock the net off its moorings on at least four occasions. On the last of these, the Boy threw the puck into a dislodged net - another goal disallowed, but the Boy and his mates mock-celebrated to let the visitors know they were going to keep coming.

Then the break came as the home team was fighting off a penalty. The Boy pressured an opposing defenceman into turning over the puck.  He scooted in behind him and broke towards the goalie with the startled defenceman in hot pursuit.  He was able to throw the puck up an over the goalie’s left shoulder to establish a one-goal lead.  Now the challenge would be squarely on the nine, exhausted skaters for the remainder of the second and the entire third period. Hockey mom did her part, by ordering in a round of energy drinks to boost the psychological, if not, the physical spirits of the young warriors.

With all the adversity they’d faced to this point, what else could possibly go wrong? How about another broken skate at the start of the third period; this time on the foot of a different defenceman.  The only option, it seemed, was on the foot of the tenth penalty emergency player. His skate was subsequently transferred to where is was needed more. The newly equipped defencemen was able to rejoin the team after a quick “pit stop”.

The final event in this multi-act play was a collision between the Boy and an opposing player in the corner of the rink. The Boy went down in a heap. The trainer was summoned to do a quick assessment; before calling on a couple of other players to pick the Boy up and escort him back to the bench, reportedly with a fair stream of drool running out of his cage. All the while, the crowd looked on as both teams got something of a rest prior to finishing the last half of the final frame. The Boy would shake off the hit and return a couple of shifts later.

Scoring chances would be exchanged in the dying minutes. The Boy’s goaltender came up big on more than one occasion. The good guys held on to their painfully slim margin for the victory. Victorious, nine players and a backup goalie poured onto the ice to celebrate.  Another must-win game four is tomorrow night;  back in the bad guys’ playground.

Finally, cut to tonight and the last of three consecutive critical games. This time the Devil’s team was taking on the first-place squad from the regular season who had already won game one 2-0 at home. A first-place squad who only lost 4 out of 22 regular season games. The home side certainly had their work cut out for them.  But they’ve proven in the past that they can play against strong opponents.  And play they did. They battled hard the entire contest. Without looking at the stats, I would guess that they were outshot; our goalie shone again in behind her embattled crew.

As in the past two evenings, the game would be decided by a single goal coming on a seemingly harmless shot by the Devil towards the end of the second period, followed by a scramble for the puck in front of the goalie.  One of the Devil’s line-mates was able to poke the puck past, through, over and/or under the sprawling goalie. It was difficult to determine how exactly the puck found its way into the net, but that’s where it ended up; delivering an early death knell to the visitors. Once again, the home team would fight tooth and nail to preserve a win and to play another day. Another victory huddle would form around the winning tender.  This series will end, one way or another, this coming weekend. Both teams now know it’s anybody’s game.

There you have it. Three identical 1-0 decisions in three nights have sprouted a few more gray hairs on my aging noggin. These kids and their teams may have very well knocked a couple of days off my life expectancy. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. The post-game jubilation I’ve witnessed on the ice is worth every chewed fingernail. The high-fives and fist-bumps I see other parents exchanging tells the same story.  We’re all proud of the efforts our players are putting in; particularly when their backs have been against the wall.  Keep it up all ye young hockey soldiers.  We’re gonna keep cheering you on as best we can.

#imahockeydad 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Up Against It

The Devil’s team somewhat oddly began two separate playoff series for two different regional and provincial championships this weekend.  Both series will be determined by the first team to reach four points with victories counting for two points and ties counting for one. As such, there are pretty slim margins of error between continuing on to the next/final series and having the hockey season end altogether.  Par for the course this year, the girls played two very close matches, but fell 2-1 and 2-0 (with the second goal finding an empty net) in each; thereby putting them behind the eight ball in the next game of both series. Both games could have just as easily gone the other way.  Just the incentive they need to come back and win game two in each.  I have every confidence they will because we, the spectators/parents, need more heart-stopping action.  While many would claim to be “hockeyed-out”, none can truly say they want to see it end.

Similarly the Boy is finally in a playoff series again, after a bye-induced, three-week layoff. He decided to play after spending the past few days nursing flu and then cold symptoms that kept him from one day of school.  Nothing a couple of Tylenol and a Sudafed couldn’t cure long enough for him to play.  Game one, which I missed in attending the Devil’s game this aft, was apparently a poorly refereed affair that saw our boys on the wrong end of a 3-1 score, with an empty-netter of its own and a couple of ejections, including a frustrated coach at the end. But this is a six-point series, with game two as soon as tomorrow night, back on home ice, which should see the boys come back with a vengeance.

Suffice it to say, we have an exciting week and hopefully a few with several important games ahead.

#imahockeydad

So You Wanna Be a Hockey Coach

I decided, sort of at the last minute back in December, to throw my hat into the ring for the head coaching position on the Devil’s team next year. My interview was this past week. I had a couple of reasons for giving it a shot - 1. the Devil would be tickled pink to have Dad as her head coach and 2. several people have suggested this season that they would like to see me as a head coach. 

I do think I would bring a good balance of positive reinforcement and focus on individual technical skill. This next year will be a critical year for many players as they are getting older.  Other interests like school, jobs and boys will start to compete with hockey.  My primary goals would be to make sure all of my players improve as players, have fun as teammates and maintain, if not, grow their love of the game.

The first step in applying for a representative team coaching spot is to submit a detailed application, complete with hockey resume and references. Coaching hopefuls begin by indicating what level of team they wish to manage.  In order to do that each applicant needs to be realistic about what level his/her child is able to compete at. I submitted an application for a level above where the Devil is playing this year as she has played at that level before.  I am confident she would be a strong performer playing against stiffer competition.

In my other minor hockey role, as a rep boy’s hockey convenor and part of a coach selection committee, we actually take time to watch games to assess the capabilities of prospective coaches’ sons.  We can only consider giving a team to a coach if his son is a “lock” to make that team, because we are effectively guaranteeing that one spot without a formal tryout.

The rest of the process is not unlike a typical job application with a panel from the selection committee posing questions around previous experience, coaching philosophy and how you anticipate handling specific game, practice, player and parent situations.

Handling situations, with players and parents, is definitely a big part of the job description. Coaching is not simply a matter of teaching and guiding a group of young players. A team consists of players, staff and parents.  In my last two years of convening, I’ve see my fair share of issues, the majority of which start with parents’ concerns about ice-time, player favoritism or coach conduct. In most cases, the parents’ concerns are unfounded or there is simply some miscommunication, which needs to be addressed.  A good coach needs to be a great communicator.  I’m certain having to deal with hockey parent-related issues is a big reason why many people choose to not apply at all.

There is no shortage of applicants for the division I’ve selected this year with at least six others vying for a spot. That is a very good sign as volunteerism is key to the long-term success of minor hockey and particularly women’s hockey. I believe this is the third time I’ve applied for a head coaching position. I’m hopeful the old adage about it being a charm rings true.  And so does the Devil. 

Until we know, one way or the other, mum’s the word.  Coach selection for next year happens to be running at the same time as this year’s playoffs, which I’m not sure I agree with.  You could effectively have two coaches on the same bench competing for the same job next year, potentially adding an unnecessary level of tension within a team.  Make no mistake that for many, there is competition involved. For my own part, I am hopeful, but will by no means be severely disappointed should I not be selected.

If my bid for head coach is unsuccessful, I will simply let the chosen coach, for whatever team the Devil ends up on, know that I am willing and able to help out in whatever capacity he or she see fit. I’ve done this every year she has played the game.  I’ve helped out with the Boy’s team as well, though his coaching staffs have tended to be more pre-determined.  I do think it’s important to be involved and to support a coach who’s primary concern should be the development of the players.

All of this coaching talk aside, both the Devil and the Boy are still plugging away in playoffs.  He’s headed to one rink this afternoon and I’ll be taking her to play at the same time at another rink a little farther away.  Hockey mom will be trying to get out of a first-aid course to get to his game as soon as she can.  And she better be quick about it because I need my regular text updates of the score in his game. I hate missing either of them play. Sometimes it simply can’t be helped. For that matter, if I’m a head coach, on a bench next season, it will only get worse.

#imahockeydad

Sunday, February 13, 2011
We’re Number Two (But One in Our Hearts)!
The Devil and her Shark teammates certainly had an eventful tournament weekend.  After a slow start with a 1-0 loss followed by a 0-0 tie in round robin play, the girls just kept getting stronger with a 4-2 quarterfinal win, a 4-3 shootout win in the semi-finals. The rollercoaster three-day event ended with a heartbreaking, albeit inspiring, 5-4 overtime loss in a turbulent final.  A final that would have the team watch their captain leave the ice on a stretcher after suffering a season-ending injury, but still manage to come back from two 2-goal deficits and hold a lead going into the last two minutes of the game. More details to follow as the weekend wore this father/temporary assistant coach out.  For now I’ll let the smiles in the photo tell the story of an overall successful, team and character-building effort.
#imahockeydad

We’re Number Two (But One in Our Hearts)!

The Devil and her Shark teammates certainly had an eventful tournament weekend.  After a slow start with a 1-0 loss followed by a 0-0 tie in round robin play, the girls just kept getting stronger with a 4-2 quarterfinal win, a 4-3 shootout win in the semi-finals. The rollercoaster three-day event ended with a heartbreaking, albeit inspiring, 5-4 overtime loss in a turbulent final.  A final that would have the team watch their captain leave the ice on a stretcher after suffering a season-ending injury, but still manage to come back from two 2-goal deficits and hold a lead going into the last two minutes of the game. More details to follow as the weekend wore this father/temporary assistant coach out.  For now I’ll let the smiles in the photo tell the story of an overall successful, team and character-building effort.

#imahockeydad

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tougher Tests on the Playoff Horizon

The Boys finished their latest playoff series on the weekend in three less-than-noteworthy games by a combined score of 21-2 with lopsided 10-0, 6-1 and 5-1 victories. This first to six points series was a rematch with the winless league basement dwellers; a team that would finish their full season 0-36-0.  I believe they, like us, were happy to get the three games over with an behind them. Though it would seem a little odd if we were the ones to be done playing altogether in the first week of February.

Now our boys will wait to see who they will play in the next round. There is actually a good chance they will end up with a full week or two off. An uneven number of teams may prompt a second round bye; which no one really wants. In effect, our Boys will not have played a meaningful game in over three weeks by the time they go to play what will certainly be a much tougher opponent - rust is bound to set in.  The team will have a few practices in between, but that’s not the same as playing against stiffer competition.  Add to that the general feeling of malaise that sets in as we near the end of the season - for the boys and parents alike.  But there is still a regional championship to battle for; so we’ll see if our side is up for the challenge in the next few weeks.

The Devil’s playoffs kick in next week after a warm-up tourney this weekend. She and her teammates will hit the post-season ground running against their closest and fiercest rival, which should make for a few hard fought contests.  Hopefully without any actual fights. With the head coach called out of the country on business (because sometimes careers understandably trump hockey), I’ll likely have a front row seat as I fill in a spot behind the bench next to the team trainer a.k.a. my better half.  What better place to cheer on the good guys.  I’m fortunate for the opportunity.

#imahockeydad

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Every Game Has Its Hightlights

Both the Devil and da Boy played today.

She had her last regular season game, which meant little in terms of final standings, but quite a bit in the general scheme of things as they played their closest rival, who are coincidentally expected to also be playing in the first round of the playoffs. I joked before the game started that the girls needed to “set the tone for the playoffs” with a win.  And a tone was certainly set before the game ended, but not quite the way anyone expected.  The girls started strong and really took the play to the other team.  A good majority of the play occurred in the opponent’s end of the ice. The Devil herself had several scoring chances in the match, though she failed to put one past the other team’s keeper who was solid between the pipes. The Sharks did, however, manage to open the scoring in the second period and held a one goal lead for most of the rest of the frame. The other team would knot the score at one.  But our side was relentless today and managed to pull ahead as one of our forwards managed to put a rebound in the back of the net through sheer determination.

And then the otherwise typical game got interesting.  With about five minutes left in the third period, there was a relatively lengthy battle on the boards between one of the Sharks’ forwards and an opposing defender.  Having lost the puck challenge, the frustrated defender decided to thrust her glove into the mask of our player. Not backing down, our player shoved back and from there it got a little ugly.  Keep in mind, these are 13 year old girls.  A couple of punches were thrown by both combatants, but did not really land. Then, as our player, attempted to back out of the situation, the rival defender threw a straight right that knocked her to the frozen surface. The referees quickly interceded.  The shocked forward made her way to the penalty box, while the one who delivered the extra punch was sent to the change room.  Our player received a two-minute roughing penalty, while the other was likewise assessed a two-minute minor, along with a five minute fighting major penalty and a match penalty.  A match penalty means she could end up missing up to four games; four games presumably against the Sharks in the playoffs which start in a couple of weeks or less.  Not too often we get to see punches thrown in girls hockey.  

The end result of all the hubbub was a lengthy delay in the game and a four on three situation for the Sharks.  Our girls would come away with a 2-1 victory as the ice time allotted ran out (the game was curfewed). The stage has certainly been set for an upcoming playoff series with this very same rival.

Hockey mom and I hustled back home to pick up the Boy to bring him back to the rink for game one of his new regional playoff series.  As chance would have it, this series is to be played against the same team the regular season ended against; a team who went winless during the entire season; a team who our boys defeated by a combined score of 33-3 in the final three games of the year.  Suffice it to say, this is not expected to be a pretty round.  But these games do need to be played.  The Boy opened the scoring tonight with a laser beam goal over the right arm of the goalie.  He added a second a few minutes later; only this time over the other shoulder and from a little closer in.  The rout was on.

Entering the third period, the coach decided to do a little tweaking of his bench; moving one of his defencemen up to left wing on a line with the Boy and another forward.  A few minutes into the final frame and at the beginning of a shift, the Boy fed a nice pass to his new winger who fired a shot through the opposing keeper, who to that point had played a pretty solid game in front of his shaky teammates. The Boy’s line stayed on the ice. Within a few seconds of the ensuing face off they were back in the offensive zone.  The Boy fed his defenceman-turned-winger another puck in front of the net, which he quickly deposited in the back of it.  Two goals in one shift is pretty impressive. But they weren’t done.  Another face-off at centre resulted in another surge into the visiting team’s end.  I quickly commented to the defenceman’s father in the stands that his son could get a hat trick in a shift, which would in turn prompt me to launch my ball cap onto the ice below. The Boy fed his line mate another pass in close which was turned away by a quick leg save. But the other winger, picked up the rebound, circled the net and again snuck the puck over to the erstwhile defenceman.  On cue, he deposited his third goal of the two-minute shift neatly behind the other team’s goaltender. Within moments, my “Hockey Dad” chapeau was hurling through the crisp arena air in celebration of the rare feat.  It was nice to have a highlight in an otherwise lacklustre match which ended with our boys on top 10-0. 

Post-game, the defenceman’s father, who helps during practices and played competitive hockey when he was younger, was ribbed by the team who said his son scored more goals in one shift than he scored in his career. He, of course, shot back claiming he scored at least four goals one season as he was considered more of a defensive, enforcer type of player. It all made for some good laughs following the disappointing loss the team suffered earlier in the week.

The boys are in another six-point series, meaning there are at least two more similar games on tap for tomorrow and later this week.  My hat may find the ice yet again, though only as a result of something at least as spectacular as three markers in a shift.

Our girls are expected to be fired up, finishing fourth overall in their 10-team league and getting ready to face their closest fifth-place rival both geographically and competitively. I believe every one of their five or six games this year has been a one goal affair. This trend will likely continue.

We hope the same fire can be summoned by the Boy and his mates in the next round, who cannot be faulted for becoming lackadaisical against questionable competition.  Management is actually looking to find a last minute tournament to enter as a tougher warm-up for the next series; a series which will certainly provide a greater challenge than the one they currently face.

Time will naturally tell what the fortunes of these two teams hold. And I’m sure each game from here on in will have its share of highlights.

#imahockeydad

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Falling Just Short

After narrowly escaping a series sweep at home in Game 3 of their first round playoff series, the Boys returned to enemy territory for Game 4 last night.  A tightly contested match ended in another one goal game with the good guys claiming a 1-0 victory on a goal scored with just over two minutes left in the third period.  My personal highlight in this fourth game came in the dying moments when the Boy exhorted the already raucous visiting crowd to cheer louder.  As he approached the dot for the final face-off of the game, I noted a grin which spread from ear to ear. The Boy and his teammates tied the series at two games apiece and had certainly turned the momentum of the series in their favour.  That being said, they had merely claimed two one goal victories.  Game 5, scheduled for this evening, would likely be another tight affair.

True to its billing both teams came our raring to play. They exchanged goal scoring chances at both ends of the rink.  Both goaltenders also came prepared to play with each making his share of spectacular saves.  But the visitors would open the scoring in the first period on a bang-bang play on a pass from behind the net. The score would remain 1-0 until the middle of the second period when the Boy would bang in a rebound to knot the score at one apiece.  It felt again like the momentum had swung somewhat in the home team’s favour, but there was still plenty of hockey to play.

In the game within the game, I watched the opposing goaltender approach the Boy, who he knows quite well, and exchange some “pleasantries” during a stoppage in play when the net came off its moorings.  The Boy would report after the game that the goalie joked about the quality of the equipment in this town. The Boy for his part says he reminded the netminder about the equalizer he had recently scored as well as a shot he had rung off his helmet earlier in the contest.  The keeper retorted with a few choice names for the Boy. Gamesmanship; all in good fun.

Following a flood of the ice after the second period, the back and forth action continued with each team coming close to taking the lead.  Bothy would take a couple of penalties, which led to some nervous moments as they fought off one-man advantages.  Around the midway mark of the third period, the home side did appear to be a little fresher from my, perhaps biased perspective, but the visiting goalie continued to turn away their oncoming shots.

The tie was finally broken with just under four and a half minutes left in regulation time, when one of the bad guys battled for a puck on the sideboards.  He was eventually able to throw a pass towards the front of our net.  One of his teammates parked in the slot, about six feet in front of the goalie, was able to get his stick on the incoming pass, redirecting it quickly towards the goal.  Another bang-bang play resulted in the goal, which would ultimately end the hard-fought first round series.  Our boys would valiantly battle through the final four minutes of the game, including the final ninety seconds with no goalie and an extra attacker. They registered a couple more shots on goal, but were unable to get solid scoring chances or find the back of the net to re-tie the contest.

The game came to a inglorious conclusion for one team and a triumphant end for another. Sticks were raised at one end of the ice, while others were slammed down in frustration. But in a typical show of post-series good sportsmanship, the teams would line up at centre ice to shake hands; presumably wishing each other, sincerely or otherwise, good luck in their future paths.  The way the playoff system is structured, these two teams could conceivably face each other again down the road, should our boys win a round or two and the recent victors lose in one of their next couple of rounds.

The team is understandably disappointed going out in the first round, but they play in a very competitive division.  The Boy knows this all too well as he’s played in this same division against many of the same players and teams for five years; with each year being a struggle to reach the big finish line.  Hell, three of the four opening round series went to five or six games with several matches only being decided by one goal.

The Boys fought hard in this series. They are to be commended for having come back from two games down and trailing in game three; having lost a goal scorer in the process.  Nearly every league contest this year provided a challenge; save for a few games against a couple of lesser light teams.  All of the players on this team knew, or certainly should have known, the playoffs would bring more of the same. Playoff success would require their best efforts, combined with bounces and blessings from the ever-present hockey gods, in order for them to have a chance to advance through any round on their journey.  Perhaps a better start to this series would have made a difference, but that’s all woulda, coulda, shoulda at this point.

It’s now time to reset their focus on winning a new round against a new opponent on their way towards a regional league, rather than provincial, championship.  We get a few days off now as we wait and see who that next opponent will be.

As I say all too often, there is still plenty of hockey to play.

#imahockeydad