Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Respecting your Opponents...?

I'm sitting here watching the USA/Slovakia World Jr game and just watch Jason Zucker was just nailed with a blind side hit.  Earlier in the game Jerry D'Amigo was rocked with a high hit to the head and in the Canada/Czech game a Canadian was stuck in balls.  It brought up the question...Where has the respect for your opponents gone?  Hey I know all about hating the other guys on the team.  A month ago I told one of my River Rats players (now playing his season with L.A.) to talk a kid on Belmont Hill into coming to the Rats next fall.  His response was "after the game I'll talk to him, he's one of my best friends but during the game I hate him."  But that doesn't mean he's going to go out and try to hurt him intentionally.  These hits in the World Junior games have clearly had the intent to hurt their opponent.  Both games were blowouts and I know it's frustrating to be on  the losing side, but that doesn't give you the OK to go try to put a guy out for the year.  Maybe it's the way things are done in Europe.  I thought the North Americans were supposed to be the dirty players, but in this game the penalty minutes are 58-4 in favor of the Slovaks.  Maybe I'm missing something but I don't think I am. Can someone fill me in?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Coaching at the Younger Levels...

Allow me to set the scene for you...a Friday night at a local 2 rink complex, squirts practicing on one side and a prep school game on the other rink.  Between periods I poke my head over to the rink where the squirts are practicing only to see something that I would only believe in person.  There were 18 players on the ice, ages 7-9 years old, and there were 6 coaches.  SIX. COACHES. ON. THE. ICE.  You have to believe that of the 6 coaches on the ice at least one of them would be able to show these young players how to crossover backwards right?  I mean there are SIX of them, surely one of these "coaches" must have played on their JV team in high school 20 years ago and has the ability to crossover backwards.  Unfortunately, not one of them could.  They are coaching these young, impressionable kids at an age where skill development is most important and they can't even show the kids what they are teaching them.

Now I guarantee you that you can walk into any rink, in any city, on any weeknight and see the exact scene that I witnessed tonight.  You'll see it at all levels mites thru bantams and even at the town midget level.  With that said, I have no problem with a proud father helping out little Timmy's team as an assistant coach.  Opening the door, filling the water bottles, offering praise when a kid does something correctly.  But to take on a responsibility like coaching not just your son, but 16-20 other kids when you have no idea what you're doing is insane to me.  And for me that is why USA Hockey isn't as deep as it has been in the past.  Sure there's too many "AAA" teams out there and not enough practices per team...But you know where it all stems from??  It comes from the dads out there that want their kid to be the next Sidney Crosby, Tyler Seguin, Bobby Ryan or Alex Ovechkin and think that their one year on the Groton JV team and years of playing in C level mens leagues makes them the candidate to show the future the way.

And let's get back to SIX COACHES ON THE ICE thing....Jesus that's a 3:1 ratio out there.  One "coach" shows the drills, another pushes pucks into the corner, two are "sniping" on the teams goalies (surely making those poor kids never want to step in goal again) and two others are having social hour with each other.  Six coaches...really?

Now I know not every town has 9 grown men that have a legit hockey background and want to volunteer their time to coach kids.  But at least find someone that maybe played varsity hockey in high school, even if it was for only a year.  Hell you'd get lucky to find a guy who played in college, but at least ask him run the practices and bench.  These poor kids don't stand a chance.  And for the money the parents pay now to play this sport the egotistical old men need to step to the side and let someone who knows what they're doing take the reigns.  Have an outside hockey company come in and run a skills session once a week.  At least then you'll have qualified professionals running your practices and teaching your kids something they might use in the game of hockey.  Instead of the kids hearing about how in 1991 you scored 39 goals on your Midget C team.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Didn't Get It Done

It's taken me over a week to sit down and put some thoughts into the blog here.  We lost in the State playoffs and came up short of our goal to win a State championship.  I could come on here, whine and complain about not winning and be miserable.  Or I could come one here, talk about the great time I had coaching these 20 players.  Obviously every coach wants to win championships each year, if you don't it's time to look in the mirror and question your competitive drive.  But at the end of the day, you also want 20 guys to come together and have a blast playing for you.  And I am fairly certain that I accomplished that this season.  We committed some guys to schools, we won a bunch of games and we had a ton of fun.

To me having fun is the most important part.  I learned exactly a year ago yesterday that having the chance to play hockey competitively comes to an end eventually.  I wanted to make sure the players on my team would remember this season for the rest of their lives and I know most of them will.  After we lost last Saturday I received emails and texts from the boys thanking me for the season, telling me how it was the most fun they had ever had and some telling me I was the best coach they ever had.  It's overwhelming and very nice to know that I helped them out along the way to their goal of playing in college and hopefully pro hockey.

I knew most of the guys really wanted to go to nationals, but I didn't know just how bad they wanted it until after our game against Cape Cod.  We had just been knocked out of the playoffs, I was kicked out of the game and I walked in our locker room to collect the jerseys.  I open the door to no one moving, tears coming out of kids eyes and players with their heads buried in their hands in disbelief.  I looked around and my mind went blank, I choked up and could only mutter "White shirts in one bag, black shirts in the other."  It took me three times walking in and out of the locker room before I found words to say to the boys.

The last game of the season always sucks.  It's the last time you'll be together as a team, you say your goodbyes and wish everyone good luck.  You hope that everyone stays in touch and that's it.  Everything you built together is over.

It was my first season as a head coach and I gave it everything I had.  Sometimes I went a little overboard with my rants, but I told the team at Labor Day that it was going to be a learning process.  I know I have more to learn (like the rules for advancing through a tournament right Ben), but I hope the lessons I learned this fall make me a better coach next year.  I could sit here and ramble on and on about what I learned and how I approached each game, but who wants to hear that?

So we didn't win a state championship; but we had fun, learned some stuff along the way, created new friendships and played some hockey.  What more can you ask for in a 2 and half month span?  River Rats season is too short....time to find a way to make the Rats last 10 months a year.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Playoffs Upon Us...

Well it's been two weeks and plenty has happened since the last post.  We continued our winning ways and posted 4 wins in the past two 2 weekends, including a win over our rival GBL.  We beat the Dual State Huskies 7-4 last Saturday on the road setting up the game of the season against GBL last Sunday.  It was highly anticipated by everyone in the area.  Scouts came from close to 15 NHL teams to see the talent on the ice.  The boys were fired up and we came out flying taking a 4-1 lead into the first intermission.  We took a 5-2 lead into the 2nd intermission and things looked great when we went up 6-2 within the first minute of the 3rd.  But GBL was ranked #1 in the country and we knew we couldn't take a shift off.  Unfortunately we took some penalties and GBL came storming back to make it 6-5, but time ran out on them and we walked away with a huge win.

Going into this weekend we were on an 8 game winning streak in the league and needed to win both games to clinch the regular season title and #1 seed going into the playoffs.  We almost threw it all away with a short bench and weak performance Saturday night, but Jack Riley scored his 4th of the game with just seconds remaining to give us a 4-3 win.  Going into Sunday's game we only had 6 forwards and 3 defensemen because I gave two players today off to heal some nagging injuries.  Confident in what we had in the locker room I told the boys to finish one of our team goals from the beginning of the year and win the regular season.  We came out and disposed of Western Mass Blades 8-0 to cruise to our 10th straight league win. 

Most people around the league will say winning the regular season title doesn't mean anything because our playoffs are a round robin format.  I however wanted it for a couple reasons...One being that we knew in our minds and on paper that we're the best team in the state going into the playoffs.  The other reason and the biggest reason in my mind is that we will be the home team in every playoff game, giving us last change and a chance to match lines when need be.

So there's the big update for now.  The team and myself cannot wait for the playoffs to start on Friday night.  The first half of the season is over and now the real season begins.  Nothing better than playoff hockey in our home rink to be crowned the State Champions next Sunday afternoon!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Road to Victory...

Sunday, August 28th...the first official practice of our season.  Months of preparation, recruiting and plans finally came to fruition.  Most of the guys knew who their teammates were, but it didn't mean they knew each other personally.  One of my returners actually told me at tryouts "Don't take those South Kent Kids, we'll never get along."  Well I took all five of those South Kent Kids and somehow our team clicked from day 1.  We've been through highs and lows; injuries, losses, wins and 4 weeks ranked in the top 5 of the country.  The peaks and valleys some might call it.

That first practice I told the guys that we have one goal this year.  To win a state championship.  To accomplish that goal we were going to "pay attention to detail" and "play like a championship team".  The funny thing is we've played in two tournaments and haven't been to the playoffs in either one of them.  But I feel like each time we play, each weekend that passes, we get closer and closer to becoming that championship team.

It took us a while to find our identity as a team and we finally figured it out 3 weeks into the year.  I think we resemble the 2004 Boston Red Sox.  "We're a buncha idiots" is how Kevin Millar referred to that team and that reference is absolutely perfect for our club.  I found that if we come out and take things too seriously, this team shuts down and plays too tight.  If we come out too loose, we don't play hard enough.  There is a happy medium that needs to be met with these 17 and 18 year old young men and we need to find it every Saturday and Sunday.  When we find that combination, we are the best team in the country. 

We won two big league games this weekend over the Rhode Island Saints and Valley Jr Warriors.  Those wins set us up very nice for a big finish and a chance to win the regular season championship going into the playoffs in three weeks.  The season goes quick and I love the kids and this team.  The sky is the limit for us and we're ready for take off.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


What's going on internet world...First post in the new blog here.  Some of you know I had a blog during my last year of hockey that chronicled my life on the road and experiences.  Since then I have moved on to the real world, taking a job with Cardinal Sports Group as a family advisor and was named head coach of the Neponset Valley River Rats.  Working as a family advisor has been all I could have hoped for so far.  It allows me to stay involved in the game of hockey and help kids out reach their dreams of playing college hockey. 

This is my 4th year with the River Rats and 1st as a head coach.  It's been an awesome experience and wild ride for the past 11 months that started with the recruiting process.  We started our season in August and it's been flying by since the first week of our team camp at Princeton University.  When we got back to the friendly confines of the Foxboro Sports Center in Foxboro, MA things really started to roll for us.  Right now we're 11-4-2 overall and 4-1-0 in the Mass Tier 1 U18 league.  We've also been ranked in the top 5 in the country for the past 4 weeks, going as high as #4 last week. 

With a month to go in the season we're gearing up for our state playoffs next month in Foxboro.  We're hoping that this is finally the year we win a state championship and head to Nationals in the spring.  Stay tuned here to see how it all turns out!