Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chapter 14: Peewees-Second Verse Same as the First

Second verse, same as the first.  A little bit louder and a little bit worse.   With a state title in our pocket and the first year of peewees behind us we looked forward to next season.  Players spend two years at each level.  At this level age difference means everything.  The first year kids are the freshman and the second year kids are the seniors.  Then the next season everyone moves up.  The younger kids are now the big men and the older kids become the underlings at the next level, bantams in this case.  Puberty is kicking in. Kids mature at different rates.  Some kids who were big and strong stop growing and others shoot up, gaining a foot in height almost overnight.  It turns out our kid would be a late bloomer.  

Joe Noris moved up with his son to coach the Jaguars bantam team. Max and a handful of his Jaguar team mates had another year at the peewee level. Word has it the Gulls hotshot coach, who I now love, was telling everyone these boys would be playing for him in the upcoming season. Sounded good to me.  Besides the Jaguars were a declining organization.  The Gulls were, if not already, becoming the predominant youth hockey club in town.  

Once again the tryout process began.  Once again, skating, drills, scrimmage and the letters were passed out.  They went to the returning players.  They went to Max's Jaguar team mates.  Max did not receive a letter on the first night. Are you freakin kidding me.  There I went again.  Upset. Offended.  Looking for alternatives.  If they didn't want him who might?  

The next morning we drove up to Anaheim.  We went to the Junior Ducks AAA tryouts.  They loved Max.  Offered him a roster spot right off the bat.  Whew!  Validation. 

We went back to the Gulls tryouts later that day.  The club president handed me an envelope with a letter.  Better late than never.    

The California style of play is greatly influenced by roller hockey.  In fact, for a number of reasons, including hockey, we were considering moving back to New England at the time. I spoke about this with Joe Noris and he pointed out that even though you might get more ice time in the east, roller hockey can be a powerful complement to ice hockey in California.  Joe owns a roller rink and has been a big proponent of the sport.  My kid had only recently started playing roller. 

Hockey in California tends to emphasize stickhandling,  dangling and puck control.  Roller hockey is more of an individual game than ice hockey.  Ice hockey tends to stress more of a passing, skating and positional game.   

I mentioned in an earlier chapter that from an early age I stressed to my son the value of head-manning the puck to the open man. My own experience of playing in New England and in Europe reinforced this notion.  When I was a lid the last thing you wanted was to be called a puck hog. The roller boys of SoCal got a different message.  Hold on to the puck as long as you can. Try to take the puck to the net and take a shot.  Pass only as a last resort. 

Max had only recently started playing roller hockey.  he was a "puck distributor". He was very good at moving the puck quickly to the open player.  In the process he became "puck shy".  We had innumerable conversations in the car discussing and contrasting "puck hogging danglers" and discussing the need for balance...I tried to impress on him that those puck hogs would be better if they learned to mix it up and move the puck and he would be better to hang on sometimes, make a move, take the shot. It took while to sink in...over the years and, admittedly with the exposure to roller hockey,  he has struck a very nice balance.  My message to him was that either extreme becomes predictable and easy to defend. Mix it up. Keep your opponent guessing. 

So Max made the Gulls, the coach liked to run the show.  That was understandable. I was still in the doghouse coaching wise but I wanted to help if I could.  I ended up handling video and stats.  I ended up really getting into video and it has become quite a hobby for me. You can see some of my work from the last few years on my YouTube channel.  It covers mostly junior and prep school hockey from the last few years. There is also some summer showcase stuff from various camps including the Chowder Cup and Hockey Night in Boston. 

The Gulls coach wanted stats on everything.  I delegated various tasks to different parents.  We kept track of plus/minus, shots, hits etc.  one dad took on recording hits.  His son was a defenseman.  After the first game he turned in his sheet. Kids were credited with three, four or eight hits here and there.  His son had 28. We stopped tracking hits after that game. 

The team had a tournament weekend up at Lake Tahoe. Two things about that trip are memorable. First, one of the boys decided to take a leak on the rocks in the sauna.  It was near our hotel room and we got to enjoy that aroma for the entire stay. Boys will be boys. 

The other thing that happened involved the coach, who I love, but that wasn't always so.  I wanted to help him where I could.  Like I said, I was handling the video and stats.  He was starting to warm up to me, to let me in.  I was happy to do whatever I could to help. 

The weekend was over. Most of the boys and families were flying back home on the same flight.  So was the coach.  We all got to the airport in Reno and were waiting for our Southwest Airlines flight back to San Diego.  I think we had to stop over in San Francisco. 

Some of the boys went to Burger King. Apparently, although I did not know, the coach headed for the airport bar.  We were still in Reno awaiting our flight. Eventually our flight number was called and we boarded. By we, I mean my family and the others hanging out at the gate.  

We boarded the plane and made our way back to the very last row.  I got comfortable in my seat and do what I normally do. I dozed off, even before the plane took off.  I woke up in flight. We landed in San Francisco.  One of the Dads, Rick Hatch got a phone call. It was from the coach.  

Apparently the coach started drinking and after a few beers lost track of time and missed the flight. No one was aware until the phone call to Rick.  Rick was trying to calm him down as he was quite upset.  He made some suggestions to the coach about catching another flight. Then he asked if there was anything else he could do.  The coach replied,  "Yes, here's a thing you can do for me...go and  order a tall glass of  go f**k yourself?"   I tell this story, not to embarrass the coach.  I'm not sure if I mentioned it, but I love this guy.  I tell this story because this is one of my favorite quotes of all time. 

It was another great season. This was a very talented and, might I say, well coached team.  There are a couple of kids from this team playing minor pro and D1 hockey.  One of them was a very talented player who scored over 200 points that season.  All time leading scorer for the Gulls organization at any level. 

Another player, one of the roller boys scored his 100th point.  I heard a parent congratulate him after the game on this milestone.  She asked him how many assists he had and he responded that it didn't matter, all he cared about was goals.  Wow. Really!!??

Near the end of the season, just before playoffs, Max joined the Anaheim Junior Ducks in Quebec for the Tournoi International de Hockey Pee-Wee de Quebec. Max billeted with a wonderful French Canadian family and roomed with goaltender, Jason Torf. Jason attended Cushing Academy and is now the goalie for the Air Force Academy.  Another member of that team was Luke Moffatt.  Like was from Arizona.  He is now playing at the University of Michigan and was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2010. 

The Ducks did so-so in the tournament, losing to the Hershey Bears and beating a team from Finland and a team from Connecticut.   The Connecticut team was sponsored by my old friend Whitey Bensen's.   I was happy to see our boys and my boy could compete with players from my old stomping grounds. 

One night in Quebec City , which is a beautiful city, which is a beautiful city by the way, the fathers and sons were given tickets to go watch the Quebec City Ramparts of the Q(Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). Their opponent was the Rimouski Oceanics.  The Oceanics featured a 16 year old kid named Sidney Crosby.  That was pretty special to be able to watch Crosby as a junior.  He looked like a man among boys even though he was up against players 4 years his senior.  

One cold snowy afternoon we were doing some souvenir shopping in Quebec City.  A person could easily mistake this place for Paris.  It is the most European city I've ever seen in North America. We bumped into Tracee  Chelios, Chris Chelios's wife and one of their boys. I know she is good friends with my buddy, Jaye Park.  You may recall Jaye as the friend who shared shifts at Thursday night pick up with Chelios when he was a kid in San Diego.  So we said hello and had a nice chat.  

We returned from Quebec to rejoin the Gulls heading right into the state playoffs. We managed to win a second straight title and again lost in the Pacific District regionals. All in all it was a very positive season.  Peewees were behind us.  On to summer hockey and Bantams. 

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