The Tale of Two Seasons
It was the best of times it was the worst of times…
That pretty much sums up Euan’s first year playing elite hockey.
Euan was very happy when he made the AA team last September, but we quickly realized that as excited as we were, it was going to be challenging – with the main challenges having little to do with what was happening on the ice.
Our first hint at what awaited us, was when parents started buzzing about the head coach that had been selected to lead the team. The word was he was brutal and had apparently been replaced by other teams for mistreating the players. The coach never had a chance.
Although Euan admitted he found the coach different than other coaches he had had before — he was more direct, pointed out mistakes and rarely praised players, and yelled a lot — Euan quickly grew to like him and took his personality as a challenge. He was determined that by the end of the year – the coach was going to tell him he played an outstanding game. But many parents and players were not able to adjust as well as Euan, and according to some parents, players were crying and not wanting to play hockey any longer.
In addition to the tension between parents and the coach behind the bench, tension started brewing between parents. Within the second game of the regular season, the city association had to call a parent’s meeting because parents were fighting in the stands, complaining about ice time and preferential treatment of players. It was ugly. After that meeting, one assistant coach/parent quit. By the 6th game of the season, a letter was circulating among the parents to fire the coach and within the 11th game, he was removed from the team.
From Bad to Worse
You would think that replacing the head coach would have helped, but it only got worse. The assistant coach/parent that had quit at the beginning of the season asked to come back, but one group of parents threatened to pull their son from the team if he was allowed to return as a head coach. As a result, the association decided to promote one of the assistant coaches as head coach.
That didn’t satisfy the parents either, and after one game, the association had to ask the other assistant coach to be head coach. Parents divided into camps based on which coach/assistant coach they liked best. With all this tension, we headed into our first tournament, a weekend away in a suburb of Quebec City.
It Could Have Been A Turning Point…
The first game of the tournament was horrific. We got blown out of the water by a much weaker team. By the third game, the city association received calls from parents, at the tournament, complaining about ice time. But despite the drama, the team started winning.
Unfortunately, while our team was creating moments that will last a lifetime — such as a semifinal game that finished 0–0 and was won in overtime, and a final game that ended 3–3 after overtime and was won in a shootout — some parents were sitting in the stands with pen and paper, recording their child’s ice time, instead of enjoying those memories that may only come once in a lifetime.
Despite the incredible moment, several parents pulled their children from the celebrations early, and upon our return to the regular season, the coaches were warned and under strict supervision regarding ice time, line combinations and preferential treatment.
At this point, we were halfway through the season and the situation kept deteriorating. Players were yelling at each other and labeling each other “good” or “bad”, parents were sitting angrily in the stands. People who had once been friends were no longer speaking to each other. The season was turning into a disaster.
Predictably, we started losing, and losing badly. A new round of complaints about the caliber of the coaching ensued. The head coach decided to take a game off to contemplate quitting after one parent posted an ad for new coaches wanted on Facebook. Thankfully, he decided to stay on.
After another parent meeting (I lost count of how many we had), our team hit rock bottom. We lost 5 in a row. Euan wanted to quit. Not because we were losing but because the players were more interested in fighting with each other and pointing fingers than playing as a team. They left him hanging in net on more than one occasion. It took a toll on his performance, his confidence and his passion for the game. I could see him give up earlier and earlier in each game.
A Glimmer of Hope
It came with our fifth loss, but an incredible game. We were playing the top team in the league from the city we used to live in and Euan used to play for. He always plays well against them and he was pumped.
After making several unbelievable saves, Euan let in a couple of goals, but then the team came back and scored two. The game remained tied until the last 10 secs of the game. Euan made 30 saves but in the last 10 secs, while a man down, we failed to clear the puck and they scored.
Two things happened in that game that I think contributed to a change in attitude by our players. Euan stood on his head and the leaders on the team noticed, but a careless play led to the goal. The two players responsible for the careless play — laughed about it while skating off the ice which resulted in a blow up in the locker room. What happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room but after that, the players seemed to have sorted themselves out. They started to play as a team again and we started to win again. We won 4 out of the last 5 games heading into the playoffs.
The Best of Times
Perhaps the hockey Gods decided to smile down on us, but what happened over the next three weeks was nothing short of spectacular if not completely unexpected. I would not believe it had I not lived it.
The first break happened when, despite losing our first game in the playoffs, we ended up playing a team lower in the standings for the second game because they unexpectedly beat one of the stronger teams in the league for the first game. Euan posted a 5–0 shutout that kept us alive for a quarter final game against the top team in the league.
The second break was a favorable scheduling coincidence that resulted in the quarter final game being played in our home arena and against the best team in the league, that same team that had beat us in the last 10 secs of the regular season game (not too long ago) and that had resulted in the locker room blow out that had started to turn the team around.
The result was one of the most incredible games I have ever seen. With 7 mins left in the game, we were down 3–0. In the following 3 mins, we scored 3 goals to tie the game. The atmosphere was electric. We scored the winning goal in overtime.
After that comeback, the team became unstoppable. We walked all over teams that were much higher in the standings than us, 5–2 and 5–1, respectively, to win the semifinal and final to become league champions.
The story could end there and would still make a good Disney movie, but it doesn’t. By this time, the parents have also made up and we are one group, getting ready for The Regionals. The Regionals are a series of 6 games that determines the two teams, two finalists, that secure a spot to play in the Dodge Cup, the province’s minor hockey version of the Stanley Cup.
Against all odds, our team won 6 games in a row becoming Regional Champions this weekend, securing their place among 12 provincial teams in the Dodge Cup from April 20th to April 23rd, 2017.
I don’t know how the story will end. It doesn’t really matter at this point.
In one season — we have experienced the worst and the best of youth sports and elite hockey. I can’t say we’ve figured out how to navigate the off ice intensity and politics that seems to accompany playing elite hockey, but I hope we are that much more prepared for next year.
Meanwhile… we still have a Cup to win. Go Concordes Go!