October 1, 2014

Hockey Edumacation

Walking to my car last night, one of the many new faces to join my teams this season stopped me. This was moments after a gut-wrenching 5-3 loss after holding a 3-0 lead going into the second period.

"Hey man, I just wanted to say that if you see something out there that I'm doing wrong, let me know OK?" I nodded enthusiastically and assured him I would.

Leading up the game I had posted several times to the team's Facebook page. Diagrams of defensive zone coverage, suggestions to our forwards about choosing patience instead of turning the puck over and so on.

Before the game, I grabbed up my defenseman and had an on-ice huddle. "Two rules," I implored them. "One, don't play with the puck around the crease. You see the puck, you slam it to the nearest boards as fast as you can. Two, no clears up the middle."

Throughout the game I shouted words of encouragement for good play and solid efforts while loudly admonishing poor choices. In between periods I tried some quick hits of advice on what I was seeing.

So walking back to my car after we blew a big lead with 5 breakaways including a penalty shot, clears up the middle and rebounds that remained uncleared throughout the game, my frustration was at a boiling point. Then along comes New Player making sure that I promised to let him know when things were going wrong with his game.

But it's the morning after and I had 55 minutes of commuting to think about the whole idea of hockey education, experience and skills. Here's my conclusion;

Just like there are distinct levels of hockey skill on the ice in every beer league and every division in the country, there are distinct levels of hockey smarts built by experience and education.

I'm no hockey expert. I played growing up, yes. I've watched thousands of games on television (Thank you CBC), I've been to countless live games and my number one hobby is hockey. That means I read. I watch. I digest. All that adds up to a unique and often completely different level of education and knowledge about hockey (sometimes higher, sometimes lower) than any one of the guys & gals I'm playing next to on any given night.

I need to stop holding others to a standard- mine or anyone else's. Now some of my regular readers might recognize this as a recurring theme. Recognizing a flaw in my own character that allows my own competitiveness to drive me to the brink of rage. I suppose it may be, but this choice cut of enlightenment focuses on the reality that there's a good reason players play the way they do.

Joe Defenseman is in his first season playing organized hockey. He's got 3 kids and a back-breaking job and he laces his skates up an hour a week to get the hell away from the wife and kids and just have some fun. Jim Winger has been skating for years and played hockey as a kid but somehow was never coached on the basics of playing his position. He landed 30 minutes before game time and his whole week was listening to some customer complain about the nickel increase in the cost of widgets.

You can roll out a dozen different scenarios that mean the team in front of me on any given night all want to win and have fun but for many (most?) it isn't an exercise in education or self-improvement. It's 60 minutes of playing the greatest game in the world. The rest of the week is filled with domestic chaos and keeping the head above water at work.

Is it worth making an effort to help educate and improve your team mates? Yes. It's part of what makes hockey fun for me and every once in a while I see something getting though. Everyone once in a while I get educated too. That's also part of the fun.

So my hobby will include education and educating but also the journey towards enlightenment and finding pure hockey enjoyment with everyone- no matter the level.