In last season’s blog, I frequently referred to my bantam competitive team as a “gap” year squad I’d taken on to refresh my coaching batteries.
Most of my last 15 years were with elite minor or junior groups and I was getting a bit stale – even cynical. It was time to step back a bit and look at the game differently.
It was a team that shouldn’t have been in a competitive league at all. The association was just too small and the four-year results were mostly disastrous.
This particular group, thin on talent to begin with, had to play in a major bantam league of all second year boys. Though it was a combined minor/major group, we went into games with half the team both outsized and “out-skilled.” There was little hope for success.
I’d been informed of the low calibre and that the previous year the team had been undisciplined with a whack of penalty minutes. They were offensively challenged, defensively porous, and lacking confidence.
I suspect parents viewed my arrival with curiousity. This might have been especially true when I said at the first parents meeting I wasn’t afraid of parents; that they could complain any time they wanted so long as they parked their emotions; that I took a development approach; that I believed in and expected discipline from both kids AND parents, which meant no moronic screaming at refs in games.
I’d love to tell you we were a Cinderella team and pulled off a CFL Ottawa Redblacks zero to hero season. Sorry, none of that.
We finished dead last out of 13 teams. We had the lowest goals for and one of the poorest goals against. We got to the semi-final of one tournament (a first for this bunch). However, in the second half of the season, earlier blowout losses became one-goal losses. We led all competitive level teams in bantam and midget in fewest penalty minutes, averaging only 3.9 minutes per game. Their improvement was astonishing.
And it was the most fun I’d had coaching in years. They were wonderful kids from terrific and supportive parents.
So recently, when a parent from that team came up to me in a coffee shop, shook my hand and thanked me for the season - nine months after it was done - I was taken aback.
He’d been on assignment for his job out of the country and said he’d never had the chance to properly thank me for what I’d done with the boys and his kid in particular. Another Dad recently emailed me joking I “created a monster” in his son who is now turned on to conditioning and improving his game. He told his father he missed my coaching.
Everyone wants to coach the top-level kids. Been there, done that. It’s not the real hockey world though. Sometimes the purest hockey is found elsewhere.
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