I hate hockey, I love hockey, I am not sure…

Posted: March 24, 2009 in Uncategorized


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.


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