Like most hockey leagues and communities, Southern California hockey boasts an active Internet message board, SoCal-hockey.com.
I was fairly active and it seemed everyone knew of Cosmo, my screen name. Yeah, I'm a huge Seinfeld fan.
Many, if not most discussions were quite contentious. There was an awful lot of chirping, criticizing and name calling. I did my best to avoid those types of battles. Some the rivalries were epic. People were happy to be anonymous and hide behind their screen names. There was one persona who seemed to know everything about everyone. It was uncanny. Everyone was sure they knew who it was. They were certain it was Joe Francis. Joe was a dad and sometimes coach. I think he may have originated the board to begin with. This all-knowing, all seeing person went by the screen name of TinMan. I was friends with Joe. I know it wasn't him. After a few years I started getting messages from TinMan...we spoke on the phone a couple of times...I never got her name, but she was definitely not Joe.
I was the recipient of one such classic encounter....someone attacked me, accusing me of viewing my kid through rose-colored glasses. Ok. Whatever. I had no idea who would be attacking me nor why.
There was a kid who used to play in the same group with Max. Apparently he didn't make a couple of the teams that Max made and he held it against him. I had no idea but his dad was pretty bitter about it. So I got this public rant from an anonymous poster slamming me. It was surprising to realize I had that affect on someone. Over time, the mystery was solved when a mutual friend pointed out to me who it was. When I called him on it I received an explanatory rebuttal as a post on the website claiming that it was from the kid and that he admitted to writing the initial post. The thing was that twelve year old kids don't use terms like "rose-colored glasses" and other similar adult language, and in the rebuttal, there were multiple misspellings which made it pretty obvious the writer was trying to make it look like he was young. In other words, Dad was the culprit and threw his kid under the bus. What a beaut.
Oh yeah. There was a reason I brought up the message board. That spring after we took the prep school tour I saw a announcement on the socal board from a coach named Ryan Kravetz. He was advertising tryouts to take a team to Boston for the "pre-draft" tournament and the Chowder Cup. The team had a pretty embarassing name...it was the California Cool Catz. The tryouts were held up in North Los Angeles, Panarama City. The West Valley Wolves played out of this rink. The Wolves and Gulls were bitter rivals for the past couple of years. I didn't know at the time what the Chowder Cup was. As it turns out, there are a series of showcase tournaments in and around the Boston area. The Chowder Cup is one of those. It started in 1991 and has hosted thousands of teams and many more players. They hold tournaments at many levels from youth to adult. Max would be trying out for the team that would play in the "Pre-Draft" Tournament and then the Chowder Cup in July.
We learned after driving up to Panarama City at 7am on a Saturday morning that the team he was trying out for would be selected for the pre-draft team. After that tournament in May some players would be invited to play on the "Junior Elite" team and others on the "College Open" team in the Chowder Cup in July. The Junior Elite would include the bigger, better and stronger players. The College open was for the younger kids.
At the tryout, Max looked ok. I couldn't tell what the coaches were thinking. I hung out with some rival Wolves dads who I'd met over the years. The coach, Ryan Kravetz, really didn't say much to Max and nothing to me. We walked out after the tryout figuring he didn't make the team.
A few days later I got an email from the coach inviting Max to be on the team. We were both thrilled. Who knew.
So that was that. Max made the team. We took a couple of trips up to Panarama City for team practices and we headed off for Boston(actually Quincy and Foxboro) in May. What happened next probably doesn't seem like much of a big deal, but it was the turning point for Max. It was a clear line of demarcation where he showed up and became an impact player. The team did ok. I forget the outcome of the games. The "Cool Catz"(I can barely say it with a straight face) played in four, maybe five games in total. One or two were exhibition games the coach set up. They did not qualify for the tournament playoffs. They won a couple of games...one of the games they won was against a stacked prep school team. I remember because a San Diego kid who moved to Connecticut played for them. His name was Stefan Demopoulos. Stefan was a year older than Max. He played for the Jaguars when he lived in San Diego. After moving east, he attended and played for Avon Old Farms and is now going into his junior year and playing at Providence College. We also played against Jimmy and Kevin Hayes. Jimmy was a second round Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick at the time. Kevin was in high school but is now at Boston College and was a 1st round pick by the Blackhawks.
Max had a standout showing at the showcase. Looked really good against the stacked prep team. Here is the scouting report from the showcase:
Balaban was one of the best 91 born players at Chowder Cup (Pre-Draft) and made ISS top 10 list for 91 born players at this event. Played both PP/PK units and did a very good job. Has a good work ethic and high hockey IQ. Has his head up and showed good puck control. Has good offensive instincts, protects the puck well and has the ability to slow the game down. A bit light on his skates and will need to bulk up in order not to get pushed around. Good skater with deceptive speed and agility. Handles the puck well and has a good transition game. Will need to learn to shoot more, will try to pass when opportunity to shoot is there.
Has potential to reach next level and contribute. He will need to improve his strength and defensive commitment to reach that level.
I was pretty happy with this report.
Pat Norton, the Tilton coach, got up very early to make the two hour trip down from New Hampshire to watch Max play in an 8am game. He was not disappointed. I was impressed he made the trek. Max had already applied and been accepted to Tilton so it was nice to get the re confirmation that the coach saw his potential.
We ran into the coach, Ryan Kravetz, at the hotel after the tourney was over. He pulled us aside and had a word with Us. He told us that Max was the last player he picked for the team, but he was so impressed with his play that he is the first person he wanted to invite to play on the Junior Elite squad for the Chowder Cup.
Fast forward to the Chowder Cup in July. We are planning in heading back to Boston. I get a call from Ryan telling me he's over-recruited a team of WHL and NAHL juniors and he thinks Max should maybe play for the younger college open team. That was disappointing. After some discussion Max ended up playing in every game for both teams.
When it was all said and done Max came away with a huge boost in confidence. He'd faced NHL prospects, D1 recruits and major junior players and not only held his own, he stood out, had fun and got noticed. And he really hadn't yet begun to grow. My rose colored glasses were working just fine, thank you very much.
On to prep school at Tilton in the fall.