Monday, February 18, 2013

Its Magic

The boy starts playoffs this week. They've had a nice run, winning five in a row, having fun, and, most importantly, improving across the board. They have one wonderful player, he may be the best player in the league, and early in the year a lot of time the other kids stood around and watched him go end to end. The problem with this strategy is there is a maximum three goal rule in the league so there were a lot of 4-3 or 5-4 losses. He'd finish scoring (often in his first shift), the other team would chip away. End.

Credit to the league, they have the whole buzzer shift length thing and that aforementioned rule and the whole vibe is to let the kids play but we've had a few games where you can see other coaches cheating a bit. Its small stuff, maybe they rotate eight forwards but the top guys get out every second shift rather than every third shift. If you're paying attention you can see it. But the whole idea is to let the kids enjoy and to make sure they get their icetime.

My son's coach is one of my best friends and while I have coached kids forever and consider myself very good at it I couldn't hold a candle to the job he has done this year. He has terrific enthusiasm and an eye for detail but most importantly he, more than me, more than most, if not all of the other coaches, understands the point of it all. I play hockey with him and he is a super competitive guy and I've seen him grimace briefly at a bad call or killer mistake but he has never lost sight of what matters.

So what you might say? Well for my son this is everything. The boy was probably the weakest player on the team to begin the year. When I was a kid houseleague didn't have the same meaning as it does now and so weaker players often sat a bit or missed shifts. If you were the younger kids in a two tiered age group then you would play less than the older kids. It was the way it was, everyone, kids and parents, accepted it. Another part of the 'good old days' that weren't all that great.

I think if Jack was in that position he would think about hockey differently than he does now. Now I may be wrong. I was talking to one of the moms the other day and she was talking about how her son, who also plays soccer, is absolutely hockey crazy and she couldn't figure out why. Why? I said, I know why. When you are out on the ice its like no othe feeling in no other sport. You feel like you are flying, even if you are a beer leaguer like me. I have seen video of me playing once and I was shocked. How could that be me? I look so slow! When I'm out there, cutting towards the net, I feel like I am going a hundred miles an hour. And for the kids it is certainly the same.

The boy absolutely loves it. We've gone to the neighbourhood rink a street away and played shinny many times, as have many of his teammates I am sure of it, and he loses himself in it, the ice hard and beautiful, snow falling around us as we charge about, silence but for the snick of our blades and the crack of puck on stick.

But its been the experience he's had with his team that has led him to ask me if he can play this summer and if he can go out tonight and the next night and the one after that. The coach who threw him out shift after shift with words of encouragement, with tips of what to do next, so that last practice in a one on one drill facing one of his better teammates he shut him down completely. At one point in a two on two he fell and from his belly whacked at the puck, throwing himself in front of it, getting onto his knee, still fighting and then back on his skates again. Passion.

And just two weeks ago, standing at the corner of the crease, the puck hitting the goalie, coming to him on his backhand, no hesitation, the shot, the goalie, who hadn't stopped a goddamn thing all game, throwing himself across, my son banging his stick in frustration, looking to the sky.

My little guy is a cerebral fellow. He's a thinker, a reader, a guy who loves to know how things work. He's going to be an engineer, I'd bet money on it. And like his old man he's calm (for the most part), deadpan, pretty even keeled. Actually probably moreso to be honest.

Get him on the ice though and then the boy gets mental. Even before he began to improve he's get right in there, hacking and whacking, getting knocked over, getting back up, no problem.

Hockey. Best.
A few weeks back they played a club who had beaten them twice already this year. This time it was no contest. The other team keyed on our star and it didn't matter. They were overrun as each line in turn hemmed them in, went to the net, checked like demons and poured pucks at the net. In the end it was only the goaltending that prevented a blowout but it was an easy victory. The other team had two guys to rely on, same as in October, our team still had its star but after him over a half dozen players who could (and did) take the game to them and behind them another half dozen who could hold their own.

Its a wonderful thing to behold.

Yesterday I showed Jack the Hemsky goal from Saturday night. It was like he saw his first naked woman. I slowed it down.

See that guy on the boards. That's Ryan Smyth. His career is almost over but he's a great great player. Watch what he does here. See that big guy bearing down on him, what do you think he's going to do?

Hit him?

Yep he's going to hit him. But watch Smyth. He could just throw it away. Panic. Do nothing. But watch this pass even though he knows he is going to get hit.

Roll tape. Smyth sends that beauty backhand cross ice to Ales Hemsky in full flight.

Now watch what Hemsky does.

His jaw drops. And then he grins.

Play it again Daddy.

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