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Cornered Coach: On Frozen Pond

Coaching the Penguins is great, but Mike Toth's favorite part of the hockey season is hitting the outdoor ice with his two lads, Theo and Max.

Since last we checked in the Mighty Penguins, the 8-year old Novice house league squad I coach, have upped our record to 4 and 3.

On the weekend we knocked off the first place Sabres, getting contributions from each and every guy. At the start of the season, the games were dominated by the handful of "Select" players that also suit up in the house league. These are the little lads who are really serious about their hockey, spending a lot of their summer involved in on and off-ice training programs. However, the ham and egg house league gang are starting to narrow the gap a bit and the games are getting tighter and more exciting.

Regular games and practices, of course, help all the players improve. But another great (and free of charge) skill development program is also starting to kick-off across the country. The action at outdoor rinks is beginning to pick-up, and there's nothing better than a little pick-up shinny hockey to give your game a boost.

A lot of us old hockey hounds bundled up to play outdoors on a regular basis. In fact, for the first five years of my own minor hockey experience, virtually all our games and practices were staged on outdoor rinks. The only time we got to play indoors was during minor hockey week, and we'd fight to the death to stay alive in the annual tournament so we could play in a real indoor arena for as long as possible.

But most of my childhood hockey memories are from the great outdoors.

-Playing goal in a raging blizzard and not even being able to see the other end of the ice. We won 12-0 and I didn't get a single shot. Talk about being "frozen" out of the action!

-In goal again, and taking a shot right in the you-know-where. But if that wasn't bad enough, I also suffered the embarrassment of watching my mom leap off a snow bank and on to the ice in a desperate attempt to make sure I was alright. Dad, thankfully, read the situation perfectly and hauled her back over the boards, avoiding what would've been a very awkward Q & A between mother and son.

-Sneaking out on the outdoor rink at midnight with my best buddy, Rick, after everybody else had long gone home. Under the full moon we'd have the whole ice to ourselves and we'd stage epic games channeling our inner Danny Gallivan (The Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play legend) and screaming about "Savardian Spineramas!" and "Cannonading Blasts!".

That's the best thing about playing hockey outdoors. Sure, it's a little tough on the ol' toes, but it opens up our imaginations and takes us back to our childhood days when our lives, and the perfect sheet of ice, seemed endless. Those romantic images are probably the reason why the NHL Winter Classic is so popular, with the league staging more outdoor games this season than ever before.

Following our big win over the Sabres, I reminded our team that the outdoor rinks in all their neighborhoods were waiting to be carved up.

After all, Penguins and a frozen pond?

It's a match made in hockey heaven.

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