Sunday, April 08, 2018

The Boys on the Bus

If you’re a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, you remember the documentary about them in the 80’s called, “The Boys on The Bus!”.  It chronicled a year of following the team around as they went from a low point to the highest of highs in winning the Stanley Cup.  It was a great film in that it showed the inside look at the many personalities that make up a hockey team.  Sure hockey is a team sport and we do for the most part, cheer for the logo on the front, but we all like to see the inside look into these athletes and in some ways relate to them on a human level.  Goodness knows we certainly couldn’t relate to them on a physical level.  The Boys on The Bus was an appropriate title, because it speaks volumes to the sanctity that is the team bus, and how the bus itself is an exercise in team bonding that even Tony Robbins couldn’t manage. There’s something magical about that first bus ride with a new roster in the fall.  Some kids nervous as it is their first time playing rep, the vets who sit in the back and rule their roost, and the coaches using bus behaviour as a possible measuring stick of team cohesiveness.  When you're going to a different town to play and you don't know a soul, the place of refuge, is the bus.

I’ve heard it called may things in my time; the iron lung, Sparky’s Speedster, the pig, the yellow submarine, and so on.  I’ve had the privilege of being able to sit back while driven places by drivers named ETA Norm, Rocket Mike, and Mister Mike.  One of the best memories was of Mister Mike and I coming back from a tourney where the bus had issues and our ETA was moved from midnight to 4AM.  Everyone, and I mean everyone was asleep except Mike and I.  He was an older retired fellow from Ireland and to pass the time and keep ourselves awake, Mike taught me the words to “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and we filled the air with our voices as we drove through the darkness.  It still remains one of my favorite hockey memories to this day.

There’s nothing special about the buses themselves unless you have a generous team manager or team willing to lend you one of their super coaches, which are a definite step up from the modified school buses I’ve ridden (nothing says iron sides like riding on a foam seat for 10 hours when the expiration on the foam is about 2 hours).  Adventures on the bus are another thing as well.  I’ve been in those bad boys when the heater blew leaving the bus about as cold inside as outside, or the time a spark plug lodged loose and yours truly crawled underneath to not only find the problem, but also thread it back into place and tighten it, all at 2AM in the morning on a dark highway.  One could write a book about the adventures on a bus.  They are part and parcel of the sporting experience.

After this weekend’s tragedy involving the Humdboldt Broncos, we are left with many questions, heavy hearts, and much sorrow, particularly those who have ridden the bus to get to a game.  No one ever expects that to happen and I pray it never happens again.  Why do we feel such closeness to these young men whom we never met?  Quite simple really.  We feel for the parents who let their kids play sports knowing full well that injury is part of sports, and really hoping injuries are never too serious.  We feel for the young lives of these young men who were living out their hockey dreams in a time of such innocence.  Those of us in the coaching fraternity feel for the coaches who take on a monumental task of not only producing good players but also excellent human beings.  We feel for the statiscian, team announcer, and driver, who may not feel they are part of the team per se, but are as valued as anyone else.  Most of all, because this was a team from a small town, we all feel like they were members of our small town due to the closeness of not only the hockey community, but from that small town feeling most Canadians have ingrained into their DNA.  We can all relate and we all know we can all help in whatever way we can.
Leaving some sticks out for the boys to play

I sit here this evening still numb from two days ago and I really should be preparing to teach tomorrow, but I just can’t.  The pain is too much right now. As one who lost their dad to a MVA just a little over a year ago, I know all too well the pain those families are feeling right now after receiving the phone call no one wants to hear.  It shakes you to the core of your being and life is never the same.

To close, my utmost prayers are to the community of Humboldt and the players families.  I would also like to thank all first responders who have given so much these last few days.  Bless each and every one of you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, like many others have done these last two days, I’m going outside to leave some hockey sticks out for the boys in case they drop by and need one.


Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Letter to my Dad

Today is a sad day for me.  Exactly one year ago today, I woke up, got ready for work, went to work, then proceeded to drive home after picking up my daughter.  As we sat there, my phone rang with my uncle's number.  "He never calls me, so what's up?", was my original thought.  Well, in about a minute (it all seems like such a blur now), my aunt informed me that my Dad was killed in a motor vehicle accident.  Those of you who have lost a parent know exactly what happens.  You are left in a state of shock, disbelief, and an overwhelming sense of despair and sadness.  It is a sadness and pain you may have never felt before in your life and it is something that you will never forget either.  This past year has been a tough one for me and my two sisters, Mavis and Elsa.  Losing a parent is insanely hard, but we have all been surrounded by many great friends and family and have felt great support and love through this past year.   

Those of you who know me for my sports writing (like this blog) and know me from either coaching with me, being coached by me, or being a team mate, want to ask the obvious question?  What sport did your dad enjoy the most? 
Wearing my "Big Bay" style hockey gloves.
I bet he was a big hockey 
fan.  Well, to be quite honest with you, my dad wasn't a big sports fan, and his involvement with hockey was primarily through my involvement.  As a teenager so into sports, I have to admit that sometimes I drug my dad into the sports world a little too much.  However, he was a willing participant even if the cost of my sports probably cost him a lot.  He once told me he'd rather be picking me up at the rink rather than the police station so sports were good for me to be involved in.

My dad grew up in Northern Alberta near the town of Lac La Biche and in particular, he was born and raised in a place called, Big Bay (the nearest railroad station is listed as Barnegat as it says on my dad's birth certificate).  Dad was a pretty smart kid.  He would never say it, but consider this.  He didn't start school until he was 10 years old and spoke very little English (Cree was his first language).  In spite of this, he did 6 grades in 4 years, and probably would have went further, but as was the case for many 14 year old's who stood 6'1" and weighed close to 200lbs, he went to work.  One highlight of his time in school though, was his time playing baseball for the school team.  He played first base, could throw a ball a mile, and he could hit it a ton.  I'd say he was a 3-tool player from what I gathered, and he did all he could to teach me the basics of playing ball.  I often remember standing in the yard with my dad and sister playing catch and dad encouraging us both.  My sister was a pretty good ballplayer when we were kids and she and I played one season together and we both did pretty well.  I think we were both happy to get our ball uniforms and our dad was pretty proud to see our names on the back knowing he gave us both our start in the sport. 

Uncle Archie's company sponsored many sports teams
and some of them went to to win National titles.
However, my dad didn't always have the time to sit and watch sports and before I was born he would often go and visit his cousin, Archie, who was a sports nut and loved to watch hockey.  It drove my dad nuts because Archie wouldn't talk to him while the game was on.  Archie, who I called Uncle Archie, who tell me years later, that my dad would leave his place frustrated as Uncle Archie wasn't good company.  He thought it was absolutely hilarious, that my dad's son, would totally emulate his behaviour once I grew up and started watching sports of my own.  To hear my dad tell the story was a treat as  my dad was an excellent storyteller and had a memory like an elephant. 

Well, I soon began playing sports and when we made our move from the province of my birth (Alberta) to my adopted and forever hometown of Fort St. James, BC, the best thing in the world happened; I got to play hockey.  I was a late starter at 9 and the other kids on the ice started much younger, but my dad listened carefully as my coach said I should get new skates, so that weekend off we went to Beck's Hardware and my dad carefully laid out a small ransom, so I could get a brand new pair of molded Lange skates (I'm wearing them in the picture to the right). 
Me as a PeeWee wearing my beloved Lange Skates
My coach also told my dad that I should go to public skating and just skate as much as I could, so my dad, for the next 4 consecutive winters, would drive me to the old Fort Forum, give me a dollar and say he'd pick me up at 8:10 precisely (public skating went from 6:00-8:00).  When you consider that admission was 25 cents,
 a large pop was 35 cents and a bag of ships was 25 cents, my Friday nights were awesome growing up.  As I skated lap after lap chasing dreams of being the next Lafleur (and later on chasing the cute girls around the ice), a strange thing happened.  I got better and better on the ice and I actually became a hockey player.  Through it all, there were my parents helping me every step of the way.  Driving me to practices, games, footing the bills for fees, equipment, and doing all they could to help their hockey mad son.  My dad though sometimes used this to his advantage when he told me splitting and packing firewood and hauling water would make me stronger and a better player (Yes, my dad was Dallas Eakins before there was a Dallas Eakins), and it did. 

Whatever sport I played (and I played a lot of them), Dad was always there to help me along the way, and he like me cheered for the Oilers, Eskimos, Expos and Blue Jays.  It was our common theme and we would chat about who was good (Gretzky, Coffey, Warren Moon, Gary Carter, Josh Donaldson), who was bad (Carson, Pocklington, Vernon Wells), and who we totally disagreed on (Hall, and too many to mention).  As I got older and moved away from home, our calls were often about the Oilers and the Blue Jays and it was good for me to chat with him about sports. 
Dad with his Sportsnet-Focused pair!
After our daughter was born there was more talk about her, but my dad laughed when he held his 
grand daughter on his knee while Sportsnet was on TV, and she turned and intently watched the highlights playing on the screen, and all at six months of age.  He smiled a sly smile, pointed at her and said, "I can tell this is your kid!", and he went into his story of Uncle Archie watching sports once again all the while laughing at his pride and joy, his grand daughter.    
I can't tell you now, just how much I miss those phone calls, especially now with the Oilers having a player like Connor McDavid.  His brilliant play reminded Dad and I so much about the Gretzky days, and how I saw the Oilers win 4 out of their 5 cups while watching with my dad.  That was the topic most discussed on our last year of calls.  It seems trivial to others, and to some they might wonder why of all the things I miss, that stands out the most.  Well, to me, my dad was also my coach in sports and life.  He coached me very hard in the game of life, but he also loved me harder.  You see, my dad was not what you would call overly affectionate, but I always knew he had my best interests in mind.  Like a good coach, he knew when to push me hard (doing adult chores as a child), and when to loosen the grip (letting me go skiing when I had time off for Christmas break).  Those phone calls were just a way of asking my dad advice and to check in and see how my life was going.  As I get older, I reflect on how our relationship that went from hotheaded prima dona me, to one where I enjoyed being around my dad more than just about anyone else.  I wanted to please him, to show him that he did a good job raising me, and that I was someone he could be proud of.  Those calls were my affirmation.  My rewards.   

That begs the question I put forward earlier, was my dad a hockey nut and a sports fan.  Not necessarily.  However, he was one of my biggest fans, and he was a coach unlike any other I have had in my life, and what you see today when you see me, is the reflection of that. 

I miss you Dad, and I will always Love you! 
Your Son 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Oilers' Defence Prospect Caleb Jones is Developing Nicely

Once again a big thank you to Bruce McCurdy for asking me to do this again.  I always enjoy writing about hockey and trying to find the little nuances that make a player.

The Oilers have made the playoffs after wandering the desert for 10 long seasons, but the new era under Bob Nicholson and Peter Chiarelli has found some nice additions via the draft, and one I believe is Caleb Jones.

Without further ado, here is the latest scouting update on 2015 Oilers draft pick Caleb Jones. You can find the article at The Cult of Hockey

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Guest Article in Edmonton Journal's "Cult of Hockey"

Here is another Article I have written for the Edmonton Journal. This one is on Ethan Bear, who is a prospect for the Oilers.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

As always a big thank you to Bruce McCurdy for asking me for my thoughts.

Ethan Bear Continues To Impress

Monday, December 03, 2012

Skating Evaluation Drill

     Have you ever began a season and wondered just how good a skating team you have?  Of the five basic technical skills of hockey (skating, shooting, passing, stickhandling, and checking), skating should be the skill you evaluate the most it should be the skill you work the hardest at.  My reasoning for this is simple:  If you can can skate well in hockey, it makes learning/performing all the other technical skills easy.  If you don't believe me, ask yourself how well you can check without excellent skating skills?

     The problem with evaluating skating is that there are very few drills out there that can give a quick look without taking up copious amounts of ice time.  If you've done evaluations, you know the frustration of having to evaluate 40 kids on a single sheet of ice, who sometimes may or may not have a jersey number, or a different coloured jersey depending on position.  The reality is that sometimes you may see a player skate for 10 seconds out of a 90 minute tryout.  

     The drill shown below is one of my favorites and one that I use for pee wee and up.  The older players will gripe about the simplicity of this drill, but they need to be reminded that part of any tryout is attitude and willingness to do drills the coach wants them to do.  It's not like you are making them run the gauntlet.  You just want to see what they are capable of.   You can also use this drill from time to time to evaluate the skating skills of your players at different times during the season.  The beauty is that you can use a stopwatch if you want to, but you will generally see great progress as the season moves on.  This is also a great drill to use to evaluate a players readiness to return to play after recovering from an injury.  This drill is taken from Hockey Canada's Skills Development manuals (an excellent resource for any coach!).

      I apologize for the crudeness of the drawing, but there is a glossary in the upper right corner to help you make sense of it all.
Magic X Skating Drill
      I usually place the cones a little closer together as to reduce time, space, and sometimes speed.  You can place the cones further apart as your players progress. One key teaching point I forgot to include above is, "heads up", as players in their pursuit of speed might keep their head down.

     Yes Martha my dear, there are progressions to the this drill.  Add these variations to the drill to make the drill harder or to look for certain skating elements:
  • Two foot jumps over the cones (heads up on the middle cone)
  • Tight turns around each cone
  • Backwards through the cones
  • Use pucks to test skating and stickhandling
  • Ask your goalies to use shuffles and keep their stance through the cones
     I hope you enjoy using this drill.  I know I haven't put many drills on here, but from time to time I'll an old fave in here and you are welcome to give it a try.  I have to give a shout out to BC Hockey and Hockey Canada for providing the absolute best drill sheets out there!

Any comments gladly accepted.

Keep smiling and keep your stick on the ice!

More to the Portland Winter hawks story than meets the eye!

     Unless you have been living under a rock or consciously make an effort to ignore hockey totally, you are probably aware of the recent penalties handed out to the Portland Winter Hawks Junior hockey team.  It seems the Winter Hawks were playing against the league rules in recruiting and paying players to play in the Rose City.  Fair enough rules are rules and leagues put forth rules to ensure the safety of the players, and also the financial stability of the league.  However, the WHL set about to make an example of the Winter Hawks and put forth severe punishment that will see the Winter Hawks not only lose draft picks for the next 5 seasons, but also have to pay a huge fine of $200,000, which is a lot for any junior club.

    Now I understand that the league is looking out for its best interests and wants to have a level playing field, but I find it hard to believe that the league is looking out for the fans in this mess.  Why do you ask?  Well, when the league says that is wants a level playing field among all the team so small market teams can compete with the larger markets, why does it allow some teams the run their operations that would make Ebenezer Scrooge look like a free spending fool?  I'm not at liberty to say which teams they are, but I'm sure their fans would tell you the owner simply doesn't spend enough money to put a competitive team on the ice season in season out.  Why does the league allow organizations to run so cheaply that no decent player in their right mind would want to play for an organization that will not help them develop?  I'm not sure the WHL has a certain minimum level that teams must spend on players, but it perhaps would be a good idea to have one so some owners can't rely on the old tired excuse that they play in a small market.

     Now lets look at the case of Seth Jones.  If you were a highly touted prospect, where would you want to play?  Here are your choices, a team in larger market with a highly respected coach/GM known for developing prospects with a proven team track record of sending players to the next level.  Or, a team where the GM is a son in-law with eyes only on the bottom line trying to run a five star program on a half-star budget with a proven history of mediocrity?  Hmmmm, and this is merely an example of a player who has a little say in where they want to go.  How would you like to be drafted to one of these small markets with a cheapskate owner?  I know I wouldn't.

     Portland broke the rules and they deserve to be punished.  That much is clear.  How about changing the rules so that each franchise has to put forth a minimum amount of effort in trying to be successful?  If it really is about protecting the fans and ultimately the league, then it has to happen.

Keep smiling and keep your stick on the ice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Google Search Reveals that I am a published author!

Ever do a google search on yourself?  Yes I was bored and I really wanted to see what info was out there that existed about me.  I found out all sorts of interesting things about myself and in the midst of it all, I signed up for 17 genealogy websites, signed up for 3 coaching magazines, and somehow managed to buy a caseload of Sham-wows.  Yes, it was an interesting 10 minute coffee break.

In the midst of all the craziness, I managed to find that an old term paper I submitted was published in 2009.  It was for a sociology in sport class and I remember the professor asking me to edit my paper and shorten it from 35 pages, down to 10.  I did and I guess it was accepted.  Click here if you want to read it and let me know what you think.

Thank you to Dr. Kelly Flanagan for asking me to submit.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Working With Hockey Parents-Creating a safe environment for the officials

     A few years back, Hockey Canada released some of the best PSA's ever.  Here is one that I particularly enjoy and fits today's topic.

     What would you do if you were this kids parent?  I can only imagine that you would want to put your foot somewhere in his posterior region, find a creative use for duct tape, or wish you could crawl into a hole somewhere and not come out until you felt it was safe.  Unfortunately for many kids at the rink this is a reality in their hockey experiences, and for any adult who has to deal with someone like this, it can be downright embarrassing and difficult to address.  Have you ever tried to deal with someone like this as a coach?  It is darn near impossible to deal with an opposing coach like this or a fan from the other team, without it looking self-serving or whiny.  However, if you are proactive in your approach to coaching and dealing with parents on your team, you can nip this problem in the bud even before it begins.

     Let's face it, on-ice officials have the hardest job in the game.  They are held to an incredibly high, sometimes impossible standard and god forbid if they make a mistake.  They are called upon to ensure that all the players are safe and that the game is carried out in a fair manner.  It baffles the mind why anyone would want to be an official when it gives about as much satisfaction as Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill.  In minor hockey, most of the officials you see will probably only be a few years older than the kids playing the game and often they do it because they love hockey, they want to become a good official, and it gives them a little bit of spending money that comes from doing something they love rather than flipping burgers.  Those are but a few reasons why kids officiate, but I can guarantee you that they don't officiate because they hate you or your kid, or that they want the glory for themselves.  Keep that in mind next time you decide as an adult to berate a 14 year old referee for a bad call or intimidate them into making sure your team gets all the calls.  It is also a good reminder to treat the officials the same way you should treat your players: with respect.

     Here's a great exercise to use for your first parent meeting of the year.  You will need a boombox (forgive me, an Ipod docking station), a stopwatch, and some assistant coaches willing to act like lunatics.  Tell your parents that you are going to give them a rules quiz and that if they don't pass, their kid will be cut and released to a lower level team.  They have one minute to complete the quiz, and there are only five questions ( a good question is; in the course of play a puck splits in two and one half goes in the net.  Is it a goal?) .  Tell them they can can turn their papers over and start on the word, "go". Once you have said go, turn on some loud annoying music that you would hear in a rink, and as the parents try to fill out the quiz, have your assistants help you in walking around the room and yelling at the parents to "hurry up", "this is easy", Why are you looking at me, the quiz is down there", etc  Bang on the table in front of those who ignore you, and just generally try to be a distraction.  Once they are done, read the play then the explanation of the rule.  You will find as I have, that no one will pass your quiz.  For some parents, this will come as a shock to them, because we all know knowledge of the rules comes merely by osmosis or a genetic coding that is activated the first time your child steps on the ice.  

     What this so brilliantly illustrates to most parents is that officiating is a hard job and that most officials will make mistakes, much like each player and every coach out there.  Officials are called on to make decisions in the blink of an eye and those decisions come rapidly at a rate of more than five decisions in one minute.  There is also the element of having to make a decision when physical and mental fatigue has set in (officials don't take shifts and they can't change on the fly), unlike your parents taking the quiz sitting at a table.  

The main point of this exercise, is to place the parents in a game situation and see if they can perform the tasks asked of officials.  If they couldn't do it successfully, why do they expect perfection out of the kids officiating on the ice?

Questions, comments?

Keep smiling and keep your stick on the ice.