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Cornered Coach: Jerk Alert


Cold weather turns us all into jerks.

Mere moments ago, I just reamed out my son's grade four teacher; a zealous instructor who has a bad habit of making parents stand out in the freezing weather long after the 3.30 p.m. bell so the students can wrap up in-class assignments. "Jerk alert" to the teacher, who doesn't seem to realize that kids have a life outside the classroom. However, a "jerk alert" to yours truly as well for criticizing the teacher in front of the kids.

Unfortunately, the cold also creates freeze brain in the minor hockey world. Grumpy because of the long, cold Canadian winter and keyed up because February and March signal the start of playoffs, more than a few "jerk alerts" go off around local rinks at this time of the year.

I coach the East York Atom Avalanche, a team of nine- and 10-year-olds, who play in a Toronto house league. Saturday, we had a playoff game against the most talented team in the league. Actually, the Avalanche were the most talented team for the first five games of the season. But because we were laying a licking on everybody, the league stepped in and engineered a series of trades that saw us lose four of our top players. It was definitely the right move to even things up, although agreeing to trade four of our guys was probably going a tad too far. Predictably, the two teams at the bottom of the league in the early going are now the favourites to win the championship while we've fallen by the wayside—0 and 3 in the playoff round robin so far.

With that in mind you'd think the teams who benefited from the trade wars would show a little appreciation for their improved lot in life. Saturday, however, leading 6-3 with 20 seconds to go, our opponents decided 7-3 had a much better ring to it.

"Move up to the top of the circle!," screamed the other squad's assistant coach, positioning their best player to get off a good shot with the face-off deep in our zone. 

This player had already scored a bunch of goals in the game and after a few more shouts from the bench, I reached my boiling point.

"Hey," I yelled from our bench. "Doesn't that guy have enough goals today?"

After the final buzzer, the opposing head coach approached me.

"I can see your point," he said, "but we were working on a face-off play for down the road."

"That's what practices are for," replied my astute assistant coach.

To be honest, I wasn't in any mood to discuss the situation and put it in pretty plain terms.

"If the roles were reversed," I said, "tell me how you'd feel about what you guys did.”

Here's the bottom line.

It's house league hockey. The fact is, only a couple of players on each team have any real talent. Most of the guys are just playing the game for fun, and a few of the guys have trouble even standing up on their skates.

Before the season, coaches get handed a roster filled with names of mostly unknown kids. There's no recruiting involved and if by the luck of the draw your team is too stacked, changes are quickly made to even things out. In other words, house league coaches are glorified playground instructors whose only goal should be to pass along a few basic hockey tips, make sure the kids enjoy themselves, and ensure they have such a good time that they come back next season.

Pretending your Scotty Bowman and running "face-off plays" to run up the score on a team that had the sportsmanship to part with a bunch of their best players?

Time to sound the "jerk alert.”

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