For those of you that don't already know, this September I started my second season as head coach of a floor hockey team at a Catholic school I teach after-school religious education at. They needed a coach last year so I volunteered for the job and since I was an outsider to the school, the people who create the teams (since it is intramural) made sure I got the worst of the lot.
On a team of ten, I had maybe three players that could play well while the other seven looked like they had never seen a hockey stick before. It was tough, and we had only three practices in our very short regular season of six games.
I worked these kids into shape as they are only in fourth and fifth grade and we finished that season with a somewhat respectable 2-2-2 record. I ended up becoming very good friends with the father of my best player and he said that if I needed help as an assistant in the next season he would help.
Even though we missed out on the playoffs that year, he was still very happy with the job I was doing as coach as he told me that his son learned more in one of my practices then he did in his first entire season the year before. That reason made me want to return for another year, which started this September.
As the first practice happened and my players made their way in, I sensed that we had a solid crop of guys. A good even mix of size, strength and skill and of course, four players that knew absolutely nothing, including two twins that kept fighting with each other.
So with my best player's dad as my assistant and one of my best friends from school as my goalie coach, we quickly got to work on trying to put together a team that could make a championship run. There was only one problem, no one ever had or wanted to play goalie. In practice, we put our biggest player in and he did well even though he wasn't thrilled.
Our first game was two nights later. I had my lineup card all set and line combinations and defensive pairings in mind and when I arrived at the rink, I was met with something totally unexpected. The mother of the kid I wanted to play goalie informed me that she was going to make her son quit if he had to play the whole game. Thus began a night of frustration. He would play the first period and we then put our best offensive player in net in the second period in which he allowed a horrible goal, and we fell behind 1-0.
Before the third period started I asked for volunteers and no one wanted to. My best defenseman, Eddie said that he sucked at goalie and never wanted to play but eventually agreed to play the third period, showing me the kind of person he is, a stand up guy who just impressed his coach a hell of a lot.
So he played that third period and made some unbelievable saves, but our offense couldn't muster anything and we fell 1-0.
We then had a practice a few days later in which Eddie played goal the entire time. We knew we had good defense and needed to work on offense so I decided to challenge my team. Myself and my two assistants would play against all ten players in a practice scrimmage. We let them win, 7-5 as we played with an empty net, and I must say, I think I had more fun then my players.
When the next game started, the players were passing the puck and looking to get open, something they hadn't done in the first game. One player actually ran into the corner to get the puck and looked behind him before getting there so he knew what to do with the puck once he got it. At that moment, my assistant turned around, smiled and said, "We taught them well."
We won the game 3-0 on a hat trick by my best player and on the next night we would beat the eventual champions 2-1. Things were going very well, until the next two games.
Both ended with a tie in regulation, one was 0-0 and the other was 2-2 and we would go on to lose both games in the shootout, since they play no overtime. My goalie looked clueless and my shooters were un-intimidating.
Also during that fifth game, came my first ever argument with a referee. She walked by my bench, leaned over and said, "You know, Tyler (my best player) is using a stick that's too big for him." So I responded, "He has six goals and leads the league in goals with that stick, I'm not making him change it as long as he's comfortable."
She then says, "Well, the purpose of this league is about learning and not stats." And again I said, "As long as he's comfortable, he's keeping that stick." She then says, "Fine. Then all the goals he scored were all luck and no skill."
As she walked away, I was not about to let her have the last word so I yelled, "Oh, so now your saying my best player has no skill?" And she then yelled, "No he probably doesn't." I was furious and jumped down off the bench to chase after her as she walked away but my assistant coach held me back.
Things then stayed relatively calm for the rest of regulation until the shootout. My player walks down and the opposing goalie came out of the crease and knocked the puck away. The referee yelled at him and told him to not let it happen again. So my goalie, upon not hearing the explanation then did the same thing to the opposing shooter when it was their turn.
The referee then blew the whistle and yelled at him and call for a re-shot. Yes, a re-shot. Ever hear of that? Exactly.
I was fuming.
I screamed, "You know in real hockey the goalie can go out as far as he wants!" She then yelled back, "No he can't. We're doing this the right way! My way..."
I then yelled, "Then this isn't real hockey cause in real hockey he can go wherever the hell he wants." She then yells back, "What league have you been watching?"
So I screamed, "The fucking NHL!"
My dad who was out in the lobby, which is enclosed, heard the screaming as he was getting a soda. He didn't know what it was until he walked back in and saw me standing on the bench having a conniption at the ref who was walking away.
It ended up only being a moral victory as we lost 1-0 in the shootout.
Facing elimination with a 2-3 record, I decided to work on breakaways with them in warmups before the sixth game just in case we went to a shootout. My goalie was beat down low in the previous two games so I quickly taught him the butterfly position. My forwards took too long to shoot so I taught them a quick release.
In a game we needed to win to make the championship game, it once again ended in a 0-0 tie. We went to a shootout and a kid that knew he wasn't going to make the championship because of family matters charged up on the breakway and released a wrist shot over the shoulder of the goalie, propelling us to a 1-0 victory, and a championship berth with a 3-1-2 record. We would go on to play the best team with a 5-1 record, with their only loss coming to us.
Now for this championship game, it's a huge deal. Since the New Jersey Devils sponsor the league and supply the equipment, their mascot was there along with ex-Devil, Grant Marshall. I wore my Rangers' shirt there just to spite them, and Marshall saw me and I pointed to the logo and he smiled.
Music blasted out of the speakers, the national anthem was played, and Marshall made a quick speech at "center ice" in front of a crowd of about two hundred, and the game was underway.
Little did we know how much we would miss the kid that scored our championship clinching goal as no one could move the puck from side to side like him. He would get the puck and charge and everyone would want to follow him but now, with his absence, there was no one to lead and our offense was lost.
We left the first period trailing 1-0 on a horrible bad angle goal. My goalie then had a complete mental breakdown and started crying and complaining. My best forward was also penalized for slashing and it seemed the wheels were fallling off the bus one by one.
We then gave up another goal in the second and were losing 2-0. Second intermission came and I was fuming. I knew yelling wasn't the answer and I sensed them giving up on the game.
I sat them all down and said the first thing that came to my head, "If there's anyone here who doesn't think we can come back in this game, then you can leave right now."
The third period started and it seemed as if my words had sparked them, but after a few minutes it was evident that we weren't going to win this game. As the clock wound down, I shook hands with my assistants and exchanged some hugs. The final buzzer sounded and our run had ended. I was mad but knew that we made it farther then the year before and we showed progress.
Deep down I also knew that if we had that player, we would have won the game. As a consolation, my best player ended up leading the league in goals, and was awarded with a special trophy.
We shook hands with the opposing team and coaches and made our way to where we were presented with our second place trophies. My dad came down from the stands and shook my hand and then I was approached by a parent who also shook my hand.
He then leaned in and said, "If my son were to to become half as good as you when he grows up, I'll be very happy." I told him thank you and made my way for the exit.
As I was walking out my dad said, "You know, win or lose, what that guy just told you means more then any trophy that you can possibly win. I am very proud of you, and you should be too."
It took me a while, but now I'm feeling very content about this season and looking forward to what lies ahead next year.