Monthly Archives: December 2013
What happened in Pittsburgh last Saturday has left yet another black mark on the great game of hockey. Both Shawn Thornton’s attack on Brooks Orpik and James Neal’s knee to Brad Marchand’s head were dirty plays which crossed the clear lines of respect all hockey players are supposed to follow, the “unwritten code” we all so often speaks of. (In case you haven’t seen it, click HERE for a video including both incidents)
It is very easy for the anti-fighting fans of hockey to twist Saturday night’s Thornton-Oprik incident into another example of fighting not having a place in the NHL. The problem is that the incident was not a fight: it was an assault. It is unrealistic to imply that this would not have happened if fighting was banned in the NHL. You can ban fights, but you can’t ban the thirst for revenge . Thornton was on a mission to avenge the concussed Loui Eriksson after he was hit by Orpik in the opening minute of the game. One could counter-argue that if Orpik had fought Thornton when he first challenged him, the incident could have just as easily been avoided. But the reality is that Orpik had no obligation to fight, and that’s where it should have ended. Thornton’s actions of slew-footing and punching a defenseless Orpik were unnecessary and uncalled for, and it’s very likely that the NHL department of player safety throws the book at him. He crossed a moral line, and there is no room for that in hockey. However, this should not be come a hill for anti-fighting groups to plant their flag. This was more about a player crossing the line than fighting.
What is being lost in all of this, most likely due to the images of Orpik being stretched off the ice, is the incredibly vicious knee to Marchand’s head, only second’s before Thornton’s attack. Neal, who has been under fire for dirty hits a few times in recent memory (such as these two incidents in the same game), had more than enough time to get out of the way and avoid hitting Marchand. No such attempt was made, and it’s clear in the replay that he angled his leg ever so slightly towards Marchand. The more I look at the video, the harder it is for me to come up with any defense for his heinous acts. A 5-game suspension for such an act I feel is getting off easy. For Neal to have such a lack of respect for a fellow player is far more disturbing than and fight I’ve seen this year.
We hope that what happened in that game will never happen again, but this won’t be aided simply by banning fighting in the NHL. Both of these incidents relate more to a lack of respect between players, something that rules simply can’t change. In a season that has been plagued by blatant head shots and other incidents which involved an intent to injure, it is the culture of the NHL players that needs to change, not the rule book. Respect for one another is the key to improving the poisoned and tainted culture of the NHL.
Coaching hockey is something I have always been interested in, and I have been thinking about getting involved with my local hockey association for several years. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I think coaching in minor hockey is a very important and undervalued role in the development of youngsters. A good coach can teach a lot of life skills to be used on and off the ice, such as hard work, determination, loyalty, and the value of teamwork. A good coach also helps players develop their hockey skills in a fun, healthy environment.
After a few of years of thinking passively about coaching, I finally decided to be proactive and go through with it. I did all the necessary pre-requisite courses, which were “Health and Safety” and “Respect in sports”, and I signed up for a weekend coaching clinic to become a certified coach. The clinic involved both on and off ice lessons, and it was a great experience. After about six hours of coaching, I left the arena a certified coach.
The next step was to actually find a team to help coach. I don’t have any kids, and I don’t know anybody currently in minor hockey. I did what any normal person with a lot of time on their hands would do: I went through all the teams in my region to see which ones had the least amount of coaches. I was interested in coaching the older age groups, as I had already been an assistant coach for a pre-novice team two years ago. Although it is a lot of fun to teach individual skills to eager youngsters, I wanted to focus on team skills and systems, while not completely forgetting about individual skill.
I found a team that was right in my comfort zone. A Midget B team with only three coaches seemed to be a perfect fit! I went to one of their practices, and spoke with the head coach afterwards. He said they’d be happy to have me, and introduced me to the assistants, the manager and a couple of parents. Coincidentally, one of the other assistant coaches was at the same certification clinic I attended the previous weekend!
Full disclosure, the team did not need another coach. If I had never shown up, the team would not have been suffering. I feel extremely lucky to be given the chance to try coaching, and even luckier to have picked a team with such great people on the team. The one attribute I really bring to the table is that I have experience as a goalie. With very limited practice time, it’s difficult to focus on all the players consistently. It’s even more difficult for head coaches to give goalies the training they so desperately need, especially since the position is so unique and personal. It takes a lot of hours to properly develop a goalie’s personal technique, something head coaches simply don’t have the time for.
In the first practice I participated in, I was in charge of coaching the goalies. I was excited, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t spend a good 2 or 3 hours beforehand coming up with drills and tips to work on. Only one of the two goalies showed up, so it ended up being an intense and hard workout for the poor lone goalie. I had a blast coaching, but it was also a little strange at first. The young goalie had skill, but knew she had weaknesses. We worked together for a good half hour, focusing on the butterfly slide, quickly recovering after the initial save, being square to the puck. She was open to all my tips and tricks, and when I spoke, she listened. I’m used to being the one listening, not talking.
So far, I have been behind the bench for three games. We’ve lost one 7-6, and won the other two both with a score of 7-2. My role is kind of a rover coach: the head coach covers everything, one assistant coach focuses on the defencemen while the other focuses on the forwards. That leaves me, the fourth coach, to speak with the goalie between periods and give advice wherever I see fit. I don’t mind it, because I am still very new to the coaching scene, and I am still getting comfortable with the role. What I enjoy is when I do have something to say, the players actually listen. I’ve never held this kind of respect and authority before, so I’ll try my best to make sure it doesn’t go to my head!
The team is a very close group of kids, many of whom have been playing together for at least a few years. There are some very talented players, and most of them work hard each shift. There are a couple of players with short tempers, with one player in particular seeming to come off of the ice angry after every shift! The head coach makes a point of trying to calm the young man down. All to often anger leads to retaliation, and retaliation leads to penalties. When things aren’t going their way, the players all suddenly become seasoned dockworkers, based on their colourful vocabulary! Besides that, they are a great group of youngsters, who support each other while not putting blame on each other’s shoulders. In my opinion, they are the type of players you want to coach. Talented individuals who play hard, but listen to advice and don’t get down on each other.
The team has some weaknesses, as all teams do. What the coaching staff has been trying to focus on is the ol’ dump and change to avoid players changing on the backcheck, a big no-no in the hockey world. We’ve also been emphasizing getting a player in front of the net, taking shots and pouncing on rebounds. Many of the goals we’ve scored have been rebounds from shots. The old cliché of getting more pucks on net is valid; when you shoot on goal, good things will happen!
Another issue we’ve been focusing is the forwards supporting the defencemen in their own zone. A few times, a defenceman would get the puck and have no one to pass to. The other team pounces on the opportunity, and ends up with a semi-decent scoring chance. We want the forwards to stay back and breakout as a team, not as an individual. As for the goalies, we’ve been focusing on being square to the puck, being aggressive in the crease and recovering quickly after the initial save.
We’re currently fifth in the league, but the season is still young! I’m looking forward to contributing more and more to the development of the team’s skills, while learning from the coaches. I’m already having a blast, and I’m sure that won’t change.
I will keep you all posted as the season progresses. We have a game and a practice coming up, so we’re going to be busy!