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Cornered Coach: Tournament Tidings

 

'Twas the season for holidays and hockey.

In Canada, that meant tons of tournaments—everything from the World Juniors to minor hockey events all across the country. We spent a lot of the Christmas break in the Niagara Falls region watching our seven-year-old son compete in his first-ever hockey tourney. I coach Theo in the Minor Novice house league ranks, but he also plays at the "Select" level so at tournament time, I had the pleasure of just sitting up in the stands and watching.

Tournaments are a three-day, jam-packed reflection of minor hockey as a whole and the first thing you notice is that adults are much more intense about the on-ice action than the kids. Theo's team, for instance, won the first three games of their tournament, which propelled them into the semifinals. The kids were obviously pleased with their performance but, to be honest, they were more interested in the water park and the arcade at the hotel.

The adults?

With visions of sugar plums (i.e. a tournament title) dancing in our heads, we decided it would be smart to scout our potential semifinal opponents. So with the kids back at hotel headquarters shoving quarters into every arcade game imaginable and risking serious groin injuries propelling themselves down the water slide, the grown-ups were busy bird-dogging our opposition.

The only problem?

Somehow, my wife and I got separated from the scout troop and we ended up taking in the wrong game; watching two teams who, to be kind, weren't quite at championship level.

"We can take these guys easy," I whispered to Kathy, as she nodded in agreement. 

Returning to our hotel, we approached a few of our fellow parents, confidently predicting a semifinal triumph.

"Really?," one of the dad's replied. "Both teams looked pretty solid to me."

"Man," I pondered to myself, "I thought this guy knew the game."

It turns out he does.

The next day our little lads hit the ice for their semifinal… and the other team wasn't little at all. Yes, we'd eyeballed the wrong contest and our real opponents were a huge bunch of farm boys who looked as if they were ready to eat our guys for dinner.

Final score, 6-1 for the other guys as our scouting cred took a serious hit.

It reminded me of the old '72 Canada-Russia series. Before the superpower showdown, Team Canada sent a pair of scouts to the Soviet Union to check out Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak. The young Tretiak was absolutely awful during the game the Canadian scouts attended and they submitted a report assuring Team Canada they had nothing to worry about.

Unbeknownst to the scouts, however, was the fact that Tretiak was soon to be a married man and his Russian teammates had staged his stag the night before his terrible performance between the pipes. Feeling the effects of too much vodka, Tretiak's head was throbbing and to the chagrin of the sheepish scouts, Tretiak would prove to be a huge headache for Team Canada's big shooters before a guy named Paul Henderson finally scored a rather famous goal in the final game.

But while my wife and I were guilty of some extremely bad scouting, we definitely have a lot of great memories from our first holiday hockey tournament.

And Theo?

Sure he was disappointed about not making the final.

But the stuffed animals and plastic key chain he won at the hotel arcade seemed to take away most of the sting.

 

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