Let me set a scene for you, a goalie that couldn't stop a beach ball and could only gather the words "I’m sorry" after letting in countless and worthless goals. Not once did he opt out for a goalie swap nor did he put in extensive training leading up to this moment. Teammates that utter the words “we’ll get them next year” but for some this was their last chance. But lastly a coach that can’t praise a single player unless it's followed by numerous digs and insults. And after the loss there was nothing but silence. My heart hurts for every player thats ever been in this position.
Losing a game 6 conference final for poor playing and the wrong attitude is heart breaking. Its disappointing when your d-men are more concerned playing goalie than defence and your forwards are more worried about playing defence than scoring goals. My heart aches knowing there's a coach that drives players to quit, dread practice or skip games. Seeing the difference in players on the ice who care and who don't and being able to tell who gave up in the second period. It hurts to see leadership crumble and teammates lash out at each otherall while a coach doesn't care to gain control. But what about playing an amazing game as a team and still getting ripped apart in the dressing room for not putting up more points. Simply because the one thing your coach cares about is goals. If any of this sounds too familiar to you I send you my deepest and most sincere apologies because this isn't hockey, this isn't sports. However, this unfortunately was a reality for the final two years of my boyfriends junior hockey career.
The team was a mix of many talents and skills, with great assistants and two captains, one home and one away. I may be biased but when I hear about room presence and I see the on ice presence, the home captain in my eyes was the true captain of this team. Hear me out when I say it wasn't always bad, "I feel like when we were on and things were going our way we were as good as we've been, but as soon as we were down it was like the worst things thats happened” said the captain. “ Thats why we didn ’ t succeed this year”. He explains its as too many highs and too many lows. When they came together, showed up and played as a team they were incredible to watch and they were unstoppable. When they were on a high they were true entertainment, they kept games on edge and never stopped until the end. But for all those lows, you could see where the team lacked structure and coaching. You could see the lack of heart and drive in the players, you could tell when none of them wanted to be there. The captain admits that even thought the team had incredible bonds, that there was always problems on the ice. Something that coaching didn't try to fix.
Allow me to explain the coaching these boys endured; the only stat that mattered was goals scored; there was no care for how many penalties you drew, shots you blocked, pucks you dug from corners or how hard you skated. Favouritism was evident as not all rules applied to all players, and some received extensive perks/gifts and others received nothing. Heart and hustle went under appreciated, fourth line was often ignored while the first line was worked like dogs. Unfortunately as the end of the second season under this coach approached the team was just accustom to it; the heart slowly faded, the cohesion was nearly gone and hockey became more of a task than an enjoyment. The captain stated that they were a team of positivity but with this coach it was hard to come by. “It's hard to talk to the guy and give suggestions or have your voice heard” he said “change was tough”.
Watching the one you love give up their first love is probably the hardest thing to do. It makes it harder when the goodbye isn't full of joy and celebration rather anger and frustration because the “team” he plays for can hardly be called that. By definition a team is a group of people coming together to achieve a common goal, and yes they may all want to win but none of them are willing to sacrifice and work together to achieve it. It's frustrating watching players give up on plays, take selfish shots when others are open, or focus more on laying body than stealing the puck, especially when you can see the heart and fire in the eyes of someone you love. My boyfriend was never a goal scorer, yes he sometimes scored but he was always one for drawing penalties and blocking shots. It was a very common thing for the two of us to jump in the hot tub post game as he was always very sore, and it broke my heart seeing all the bruises from sticks and pucks on his body. I was not heartbroken because he was in pain, but because he was playing with so much heart and effort and constantlybeing under appreciated or unacknowledged by coaching. I was lucky enough to know his teammates were a group of modest and humble young men who constantly praised and congratulated each other when coaching failed to do so.
I've dated my boyfriend through two seasons and I swear he loves hockey more than he loves anything in this world (including me), he played for the same team in the same town from the very first time his skates were tied, to the last buzzer of the very last career game for him. Countless times I've asked him why he didn't look to play elsewhere and his answer was always simple, “growing up it was fine, junior was fine and then we got anew coach and I wasn't going to let him drive me out of my hometown and drive me away from the boys” and when he hung up his skates after an awful game 6 loss he looked around and realized it wasn't the sport he was going to miss the most and it wasn't the sport he loved more than anything; it was the boys, the brothers, his other family. But these last 2 years coaching drove steaks between these boys, it was evident after seeing on bench fights, post game threats and being thankful for player suspensions. It's unfortunate to see how the boys could go from so good to so bad on the ice all from one play but after speaking with the captain I have no doubt my boyfriend and his teammates wouldn ’ t lose touch as he said “It's a bond I'll always have, no matter how long or where we end up, we'll always have a connection”.
I promise you it wasn't all bad, this group of boys was given an outstanding captain and group of assistants, together they truly had so much heart and fire within them but with a extinguisher as a coach, that seemed to always be blown away. There were plays and goals and you would swear they each had a bluetooth in their helmet because of how quick and sly they would be. The respect they had for each other with mistakes and the maturity of their leadership team on the ice was outstanding. The boys spent so much time together on and off the ice between being roommates, having parties, getting sushi or post game beers and wings. Most of us girlfriends bonded too but I was blessed enough to be in a long distance relationship meaning all of those post game beers I was dragged along to, and I am more than pleased to see the love and friendship that grew between them. I can't even gather the words to describe how incredible each and every one of these boys are. To the ones that are ending their careers whether it be by age or because of this coach I give you all the best for your futures and I know I'll always see you boys around and together. As a team I truly believe you could have made it so much further had you been under a better coach. I know I only have been with my boyfriend for the last two years of his junior career but in a way this is a goodbye for me as well, not necessarily the sportbut like him the boys; each of them so kind and welcoming to me from the beginning and thank you again to the captain for sitting down with me for this article.
For any players that had any of these realities I am truly sorry but I hope you built those bonds and friendships that will last you much longer than that cold arena. For any players in any of these realities, I hope you find the courage to step up as a team and take control of your coaching. I hope you don't lose faith in your captain and leaders, I hope you work hard and play for each other. I hope you look back at your years lacing skates and love them, I hope you take this time to promise yourself that you won't let anyone make you hate the sport you love. Lastly, for any coach reading this and thinking this seems far too much like your team, maybe you need to step back and look at what the real problem is, it could be you.