Archive for March, 2009

Ouch…

Posted: March 31, 2009 in NHL, Oilers

hockey-accidentAs a busy guy, I watch what I can, when I can.  I watched the first two periods of the Minnesota game.  You can give individual player grades, where you have some guys going and some guys not.  You can count chances here and there.

There is something that you can’t measure.  Passion.  This team has no passion.

There are a lot of people that suggest that these are millionaire hockey players that are getting paid to do their jobs, and they should be self motivated and committed to doing their job.  MacTavish also seems like a coach that doesn’t use his powers of persuasion to invoke a sense of urgency on a team with more than enough talent to make the playoffs.  So, maybe the coach shouldn’t have to motivate his players, but if he has to, then he has to.

Well, here are some examples of guys that might help get the job done.  (Well, you might need a time machine.)

1.  Scotty Bowman.

“I was in St. Louis and had given the guys a curfew,” Bowman said recently, going back to the beginning of his NHL coaching career, in the late ’60s. “I didn’t do a bed check or anything, and I had guys that tramped a lot. So once I gave the bellman at the hotel we were at $10 and a hockey stick. He stood in the lobby, and when the players rolled in at one, two in the morning, he had the guys sign the stick. Every guy who cut curfew, his name was on that stick in his own handwriting. I just walked into the room the next day and held it out. ‘Look what I’ve got.”

2. Herb Brooks.

“When it came to hockey, he was ahead of his time,” Ken Morrow said. “All of his teams overachieved because Herbie understood how to get the best out of each player and make him part of a team. And like everyone who played for him, I became a better person because I played for Herb Brooks.”

3. Badger Bob Johnson.

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the second game of an important two-game series against Herb Brooks’ Minnesota Golden Gophers at the old Williams Arena on the UM campus during the 1978-79 season. The game was tied going into the third period and both teams were still in their respective locker rooms in the bowels of Williams Arena – each refusing to take the ice first before the start of the third period. The bitter rivalry between Brooks and Johnson was legend and often manifested itself in ways beyond simple gamesmanship in order to establish even the slightest of edges.

Suddenly, there was a loud pounding on our locker room door, and I when I opened it, there stood referee Medo Martinello, hands on hips, and barking this command to the visiting coach: “Let’s go Bob – take the ice.” Johnson grunted and nervously ran his hand over his face from top to bottom as he often would when out on the spot.

“Just one minute, Medo,” said Johnson as he closed the door.

Frustrated, Johnson moved to address his players one more time before acquiescing to the demands of the WCHA officiating staff to take the ice before Minnesota. But just before he did, I reminded him of a conversation we had earlier in the week over breakfast at Mickey’s in Madison.

“Clockwise,” I said. “Let’s take the ice first, but let’s skate clockwise around the rink instead of counter-clockwise.”

Earlier in the week at Mickey’s we had talked about the phenomenon of all skaters’ insistence of skating counter-clockwise and never clockwise around the rink – even at public skating. Johnson dismissed all of the conventional theories and just intuitively knew there was something more to it than simply being right-handed or left-handed. So my assignment for the week was to find out why 100 percent of all skaters prefer to skate in a counter-clockwise direction.

This was a prime example of Johnson’s deep need to know about every aspect of his passion. And sure enough after speaking with several physics professors at the UW as well as a good friend and former U.S. Pairs coach Pieter Kollen in Colorado Springs it became clear that Johnson was right. It was the gravitational pull of the earth that caused skaters to skate, hurricanes to swirl, and toilets to flush in a counter-clockwise direction north of the equator and the opposite direction south of the equator.

Without even responding to me, Johnson moved to the middle of the locker room and said: “Each of you knows what you have to do to win this game. Now let’s go out there and do it.”

With that, the team collectively jumped to its feet and headed for the door. But before starting goalie Roy Schultz could lead the Badger team out, Johnson quickly pulled him aside and told him to lead the Badgers around the rink “clockwise.” Schultz was a simple farm boy from Regina, Saskatchewan who followed Johnson’s instructions without question and lead the Badgers out onto the Williams Arena ice in a clockwise direction without really understanding why.

A few moments later, the Gophers started to make their way to the ice all puffed up for the third period, then suddenly as a group, slowed to a stand-still and stared out onto the ice confused at what they saw. It was amazing to watch as the Gophers reluctantly and uncomfortably took the ice to start the third period.

The Badgers ultimately won the game but who is to say for certain whether or not taking the ice clockwise had anything to do with it or not. Afterall, Brooks ultimately led that Gopher team to the NCAA Championship later that year.

4. Al Arbour.

One day the Islanders showed up at a practice facility to find that an egg had been placed in each of their lockers.”What Al told the players was, ‘If you carried that egg with you last night when you played, you wouldn’t have broken it because not one of you touched a soul,” Torrey recalled.

Torrey recalls that Arbour was always “fussing and fuming” about losses, but the next day he would come in smiling because he would have a plan.

He remembers the Islanders had played poorly on the road in Los Angeles and Arbour had essentially said that his team had “gone to the dogs.” He said they had played like dogs.

The next day they flew to Vancouver and Arbour asked Torrey to go for a walk as he sorted out what was going wrong. On their journey, they stopped at a general store, and Arbour spied a bag of dog biscuits sitting on the counter. He bought them.

“I said Al if you’re hungry we can go have lunch with the players,” Torrey said, laughing at the memory. “But he had a plan.”

Arbour went to the dining area where players were having lunch and he told the waiters to put a plate of biscuits on each table instead of dessert. Arbour and Torrey waited around the corner to monitor the reaction.

“And I remember Al peeked around the corner, and he turned back laughing, ‘can you believe that Stefan Persson just ate one,’” Torrey recalls.  Then Arbour and Torrey heard all of the players barking like dogs, and Arbour knew that he had made his point and had a good laugh at the same time.

5. Toe Blake.

The mastermind behind the on-ice exploits of the likes of “The Rocket”, Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey, Bernard Geoffrion and Jacques Plante, Blake always knew which buttons to push. Wearing his trademark fedora wherever he went, he had a knack for keeping his talented group of superstars and future Hall of Famers focused and hungry year in, year out. While they could easily have become complacent, Blake’s Canadiens were instead the most driven and determined team in the NHL.

Now ask yourself if you feel the same way about our coach.  Is he a good NHL coach?  Well he isn’t Mario Tremblay.  But he isn’t good enough to get this team into the playoffs (Well, as of this moment.)  and that will be five misses, two first round losses, and one fortuitous finals appearance in eight seasons.  Wouldn’t a good coach do more with less?

He seems like a decent fellow, and a player’s coach (Unless you have lots of skill.) overall.  But if game 82 shows up and people aren’t shelling out sheckles for playoff ducats, then the Silver Fox has to bow out.  Period.

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The morning after…

Posted: March 27, 2009 in Uncategorized

l3648873

I heard MacT talk about a four bad minutes in the 2nd period cost them this game.  The Coyotes had them hemmed in and got 3-4 chances a couple times and that sunk his team.  Maybe we should wonder why they didn’t come out like a house on fire in the first.  I don’t know what team that our coach watches, but that wasn’t a desperate effort.  Not even close.

In a must win game against a non playoff team, the Oilers were flat.  Either the coach has an inability to get these guys fired up, or they are playing to get him fired.  One of the two.

Hopefully tonight, they are fired up on their own, because I don’t think our coach can get any more out of them than he already has.

Style points….zero.

Posted: March 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

Red Wings Oilers Hockey

With my Novice team in the finals, I didn’t get to watch all of the game.  I predicted an Oiler 3-2 final, although expecting victory, I was not surprised.  Apparently, reading over at Lowetide in the comments of the game section, Dennis pointed out that Gagner took the late draw that caused a goal.

I know I am only a first year Novice head coach, but with a few minutes left, if I am in my own zone, I do not put my weakest players out there in a game where I am either struggling to hang on, or fighting to win.

Sam Gagner has a 43.3 face-off win percentage on the year.  Both Brodziak and Horcoff are substantially better.  Since I didn’t see the game, I don’t know what the shifts leading up to the faceoff was, nor do I know for sure whether it came off an icing and Gagner had to take the draw.  Either way, this team plays a passive game.  A very passive game.

Take a look at these stats.

PP: 22nd

PK: 27th

Shots for: 29th

Shots against: 25th

Win% trailing after 1st: 24th

Not only that, but our face offs are 26th in the league.  We don’t have the puck, we don’t pursue the puck, we don’t win the puck, we don’t carry the puck.  We don’t play an offensive style, we don’t aggressively play the game when we are ahead, we fight for a tie and a late winning goal, or to get to OT and get a loser point or fortunate win.

Hopefully the system changes.  The playing personnel changes, but the coaches seem to consistently coach them into a grinding style, which must be tiring after a while.  Ask Hemsky.

matt-borutski-minor-hockey1

This is a hard post to write.   I was ready to call it a day.  All I could think about was how my pass time, my passion (Outside my work and family) had been bastardized to the point where the mere thought of it (Hockey itself) disgusted me.

I suppose I will have to paint a picture.  I was a smoker, out of shape, but at 32 decided to give up the habit, get in shape.  What better way to do that then to join a recreational hockey team and get back to my roots.  (I grew up on the ice at the outdoor rink my Dad managed)  So I joined a league, and it didn’t work out, but a couple years later, I joined a pretty good hockey team. (Called the Xtreme Hockey Club…go figure)

We played together for 8 seasons summer and winter, and won the title every season that we were together.  But the seasons took their toll, and with more young bucks coming in, I was feeling like my age and slow down meant that I just didn’t have the “jam” to continue as a player.  I retired from playing for the time being.

But, I couldn’t just not be involved in hockey, I still needed to be in shape.  The league had been advertising for referees for a couple seasons.  I thought..hey, skating, a few bucks, what the heck, it could be fun.  Not only that, my 7 year old was starting hockey, and I could coach and juggle the two.  Was going to be a fun winter.

A funny thing happened on the way to the fun winter…hockey players.  Men’s recreational hockey players.

Don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of great people playing rec hockey.  I met my best man playing rec hockey.  Until you ref recreational hockey, you have no idea what kind of animal they are.  I started reffing in October, and the amount of abuse that hockey players put on officials, is unreal.  Some real examples…

-Puck takes funny bounce off boards and hits my skate and player calls me a ****ing idiot.

-My partner waves off an icing and a player goes on a tirade how I am a ****ing moron.

-After a game giving a player three penalties, he suggest I keep my head up because he will take my teeth out next game. (And made it a point to say he was serious.)

-I wave an icing (100% sure it was the correct call) and the resulting breakaway scores.  The next face off,  losing player gets the puck, looks at me, down at the puck, back at me and takes a full slapshot that hits me in the leg.

Obviously I can penalize the infractions, but why does someone want this job?  I see why they have to advertise for referees…

After the last incident,  I had had enough.  This game sucks.  The players suck, and as far as I am concerned, I will only ref this year, and never again.  I don’t want to play it, I don’t even want to watch it on TV, or highlights.  I am disgusted at this game and the players that play it.  I couldn’t care a less if the NHL folded and all ‘Nucks, ‘Oil, ‘Habs, ‘Sens fans could cry in their beers and it wouldn’t matter to me.  TSN.ca is off my bookmarks.  I didn’t check a score for a week.  I left some of my fantasy leagues…  I will ref until the end of the season, but every drive to the rink is tempered with a lack of enthusiasm.  Not only is it just a job, it is now hard work.

But, I still have committments.  I am the head coach of my son’s Novice team.  We still have a season to finish.

It was actually quite funny, the coaching thing.  I intended to be an assistant coach.  I am a busy guy.  When the director phoned and asked me to be the Head coach, although I liked the idea, I travel with business, I have 5 kids, it is quite a committment.  Obviously I didn’t think that there was another candidate by what the director said because I took the job.  He even asked me to help with evaluations.

When my son went to the evaluation, he could barely stand up on his skates. (So did many others)  We went through the process, and my son ended up on a team in one of the lower Novice divisions.  When I got the team, 80% could barely skate, and maybe one had played organized hockey.  I didn’t even know if I could coach them.  I am probably better off suggesting when Staios loses his man and causes a goal than how to stop with two feet.   Could I take my hockey knowledge and break it right down to the basics?  I don’t generally think basically.

Well, we start working on it, lose our first two, then we get hammered in our third game 10-1.  It could be a long season.  But the kids are willing, and I am committed…so we work, and we work hard.  Last place team in the first round of Novice in our division at 2-6-0.  There is improvement, because the two wins are at the end of the round and the kids are starting to get it.  Best players start playing like best players, goalie settles down and because solid.  In the second round, they turn it up a notch, and go 5-1-0.  We might just have something here.

I get the call that we have been moved up a division.  “What the ****?”  We had one good win and all the rest were one or two goal victories.  Our goal differential was 11?  There is a team above us that didn’t move up that had no losses and a better goal differential.  Minor hockey is stupid, the directors are stupid….they are all stupid.  Hockey is stupid.  I call whoever I can, this is nuts.  Sadly, every avenue is shut down.  No one cares, that is just the way it is.  I am pissed, the parents are pissed.  Well, be a good soldier and suck it up.

It gets worse though.  Early in the season, one of my players moves to Ontario.  I am down to 12 kids.  Over Christmas, I play several games with less than 10 skaters.  I call the director.  “Sorry, we can’t help you.  You don’t get any affiliates.”  We fight against better teams, somehow we compete with what we have….some games I look at the kids who are tired and tell them they have to stay on the ice and feel genuine regret.

They still fight, and not too bad, after the third round, 3-5-0 against stiffer competition.  Pretty good I think.  But then, it gets worse.  One of my kids has arthritic knees and doctors say she is going to have to quit sports.  One of my kids goes to Mexico on holidays.  The playoffs are almost here.  What the heck are we going to do?  The best we can do is six forwards and three defensemen.  The league has to see it my way.  I call around for help, but no one is listening.  “I know it is frustrating, but you have to get by.”

Game one of the playoffs (A two loss and out playoff system) didn’t go well.  A team we just lost to 5-1 near the end of the year is going to be tough to beat.  And they were better.  A 6-1 loss was on the table and looking like an end to the season might be soon in the cards.

Interesting what happens though.  I see the next team we play happens to be lower in the standings.  I don’t know how they organize it, but getting one little win before bowing out would be a moral victory.   I don’t really want to see them lose like this.  The next game before the game,  I talk all about effort and compete and go over with the kids what they have learned all year.  I ask each player one by one to tell me one thing they are going to do to be successful.  The start regurgitating everything they have been taught all year.  “Use the boards.”, “Be aggressive.”, “Play your positions.”, “Pass the puck.”

Oddly they don’t really play all that well compared to some games.  Maybe they feel defeated.  I already am pretty disallusioned at hockey, so if they did end up losing, the bright lining is that I am done with it.  But they do play well enough to win 4-1.  After every game, I always call the kids to the bench for three cheers and congratulate them win or lose.  But I call, and none of them come.  They all skate over to mob our little goalie.  I shrug and smile, because they are happy.

So we lose Sunday, but win Thursday, and so on to Saturday.  I look at the schedule again.  The team right above us in the standings.  Well, I don’t care how it got there, but that works for me, we should be in it.  Not only that, our player that is injured wants to sit on the bench with us.  For sure.

I think we should be competitive.  And we are.  A hard fought two two game goes into the final 3 minutes, and one of our best players goes and finds a way to slip one past the goalie.  We find a way to hang on to a slim victory.  The kids jump all over the goalie again.  Now we are looking at superstitions.  Little number 6 wears the same clothes to every game, we do the same speeches, and same lines.  Win Saturday, play Sunday.

Well, it looks as though nice while it lasted.  The team we lost 5-1 and 6-1 is our opponent next.  The speech is a little more animated.  It has to be about the fight in the dog, not the dog in the fight.  We aren’t the best or most talented team, but there are kids that couldn’t skate 6 months ago fighting their hardest along the boards to win it.

A lot of it is confidence, and they seem to have some now.  Close game, up one, tied, up one, and the late goal to clinch it against the team that beat us.  Our goalie decided he was going to stand on his little head and some timely goals brings these kids to the point of eruption.  Another great celebration against a team they were thinking they would lose to.  Win Sunday, play Monday.

I look again and somehow we have avoided the top two teams thus far, and we play the fourth place team.  A team we played well in the regular season.  After the first period, it looks like we are spent.  Down 2-0 and a lot of kids standing around.  We coaches chatter on the bench about they are skating harder than us, that we need a big play.  One of our players needs to make a big play.  We get the big play.  Our number 6 steals the puck and shoots it off the post and in.  After that goal the energy boost to the team is evident.   Another goal comes quickly and we own the play for the rest of the game.  We score two waved off goals.  One at the 2nd period buzzer, and one on a bad whistle.  They hold on to overtime.

In overtime for minor hockey it starts 5 on 5, then each minute you reduce one player per side all the way to 1 on 1 if necessary.  I try to match my players as best I can, giving them rest and working it so we aren’t deficient anywhere.  I arrange it so that when we are down to 2 on 2, our two best players (One is my boy.) are on the ice.  We play the first three to a draw, a couple close calls at either end.  But my line matching works so that my 2 on 2 line up is fairly rested and ready to go.  I only takes 30 seconds and my son dekes both players and puts a high shot in over the goalie.  The place erupts.  My assistant coach goes on the ice and throws my son in the air a few times with hugs, the kids mob the goalie.  I grab all the kids at centre and tell them to wave and point at their parents who are so proud, the parent roar in approval.

I love the game…for today anyways.