Coaching is a two way street
Sure, we try to provide leadership to our players while passing on a few lessons they can use both on and off the ice. But often times, coaches also end up learning a lot from the kids.
Noah Ross is a perfect example. Noah is one of the hardest working members of the East York Novice Penguins, the 8-year-old house league team I'm proud to coach in Toronto. Noah loves nothing better than battling for the puck in the corners and along the boards, something that makes perfect sense when you discover the off-ice battles he's had to face in his young life.
In October 2012, Noah was diagnosed with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia), a cancer that invades the blood and is most common among young children. Noah's treatment involves taking chemotherapy medication and showing up at the Toronto Sick Kids Hospital for regular lumbar puncture procedures, a fancy name for a spinal tap; and yes, it can be as painful as it sounds with side effects that include back pain and headaches.
Another side effect Noah had to deal with was staying off skates last year, as he missed a full season of hockey. But while Noah might be a tad behind some of our kids when it comes to skating skills, he more than makes up for it with his dogged determination. Whenever there's a fight for a loose puck, Noah gets a big grin on his face just before he jumps into the skirmish. He's a strong little guy and at close quarters, he doesn't take a back seat to anyone.
And Noah's teammates definitely appreciate his effort.
Earlier in the season, Noah was placed on a line with our leading scorer, a magician on ice named Kei Hagiwara. Midway through the game, impressed with Noah's ability to corral loose pucks, Kei spun around with a request for the Penguins coaching staff.
"Can we keep our line together next week, too?," Kei asked.
That's one of the things that makes me most proud of the Penguins. At a young age, they're already starting to understand that playing solid hockey is more than just scoring a bunch of goals. Snipers are very valuable, of course. But you also need strong goaltending, tough defencemen and gritty grinders. Noah is as gritty as they come, and one of the quiet leaders of the Penguins.
I'm pleased to report that Noah is winning his battle against cancer and, if all goes as expected, he's scheduled to receive a clean bill of health on January 23, 2016. As Noah's mom, Kim, says, "That will be a great day!"
In the meantime, Noah believes every day is a great day for hockey. Two weeks ago, he chalked up two assists helping lead the Penguins to another big win.
But while Noah has a real talent for doing the dirty work and setting up his teammates, his biggest contribution to the Penguins has come in a much more important area.
Showing all of us, players and coaches, the true meaning of courage and inspiration.
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