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!