Saturday, October 26, 2013

Chapter 38: The Journey Continues-Coast to Coast

The Journey Continues

A quick note.  Again, I'm recounting our (mine, my son's and my families) journey through our love affair with the sport of hockey.  I'm again going to jump out of sequence to update you on the most recent development.

The other day we got word that my son made his new team.  I will tell the full story when the time comes, but for the moment, let me say that his freshman year at his previous school didn't go as well as hoped so he decided to transfer.  The decision came quite late, mid-July.  There were lots of hoops to jump through.  He needed to get a conditional release, contact athletic directors at all the schools he was interested in and then talk to coaches to find out if they would have an interest.

Last year when he chose his initial school it was a very close decision and a toss up between that program and his new school.  The new school was at the top of his list when considering where to transfer.  Problem was, the coach had fulfilled his recruiting quota and couldn't guarantee my son a spot.  He chose to transfer there anyway, knowing he would need to tryout and earn a roster spot.

As of this year the D3 hockey teams could officially start skating with coaches on Oct 15th. The past month has been filled with the team skating in "captain's practices".  At the strike of midnight on Monday, the 14th, as the calendar turned to October 15th, his new school could "officially" skate together.  They kicked off the season with a an intrasquad game.  I got a call at 2:30 a.m. east coast time from my son telling me he felt good and was optimistic.

The next day they had a 1pm practice and then another scrimmage game at 7:30pm.  That would pretty much conclude the tryout period. The coach told them the roster would be posted at noon that day. The scrimmage happened and again Max said he felt good.  He played half the game as a forward and the other half on defense.  His choice.  I think he felt he would get more ice time due to the number of forwards present.

I got word the next morning that he made the cut.  I'm not surprised.  But I am certainly relieved.  I hate tryouts.  The season starts in a week with the first game on November 1st.  Now I get to wait in anticipation to see how that turns out.  I hate waiting to see how things turn out.

Back to Junior hockey.

I was not thrilled with my son committing to play in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League. (AJHL) I figured, if he was to stay in the northeast he would be better off with an Eastern Junior leage team. (EJHL).  There were opportunities and calls to go to a number of North American League(NAHL) main camps.  We had our eyes on the British Columbia Hockey League(BCHL).  Since this time, the AJHL and the EJHL have merged into the Eastern Hockey League(EHL).  I haven't followed it very closely, but I suspect it is the best of the best of these two leagues.  

I'm not sure why I had this in my head and it was faulty thinking, but I figured he'd be better off on a top rated AJHL team than a lower level EJHL team.  Again, If I could do it over again, I would have encouraged him to sign with any EJHL team he could and there were plenty of opportunities.

But in the meantime we had bigger fish to fry.  Beer league in San Diego.  Working out nearly every day. Signing up for a couple of more showcases.  He got invited to skate in Denver at a camp for the Langely Chiefs(now defunct) of the BCHL.  He and his buddy Johnny Neal attended.  Johnny was one of Max's best buds growing up in San Diego Youth Hockey.   He's also one of the funniest characters I've ever met, in addition to being a great skater and a skilled defenseman.  Here's Johnny in one of his finer moments playing "Blastoff" on the laptop.  And here he is having a chat with some geese.

We all headed for Denver at the invitation of the Langely Chiefs head coach, Barry Wolff....Wolffy.  This would be the first time Max would be skating in a competitive situation without a cage protecting his face.  He went with the halfie.  Here's the result. 

In the first game/scrimmage of the camp, near the end of the session, Max had the puck. He stepped around the defender and was cutting hard to the net, without a lot of room.  As he neared the crease, the defender crosschecked him from behind.  He went head first into the crossbar.  Nothing serious but it was good for a laugh and a few stitches.

Both of the boys, Max and Johnny were invited to the main camp in Langely that would be held at the end of August.  I flew up with Max to Bellingham, Washington where we stayed with my wife's aunt for a day or so before borrowing her little camper van, Lulu and driving up to Langley.

Holding the main camp at the end of August puts everyone in an awkward situation.  If you make the team, you stay and the season starts. You need to be ready to stay and play.  If you don't you scramble to find another team at this late date.  There is always a filtering down from the upper level leagues to the tier 3 leagues as players are cut from these tryouts.  We were banking on his making the Chiefs, but had the comfort of knowing he was expected to show up at the Cyclones camp in New Hampshire the following week if things didn't turn out.

Max was set up with a billet family in Langely.  They lived a couple of miles from a very impressive arena where the Chiefs played.  I slept in the camper and hung out at Starbucks, Tim Horton's or any place with wi-fi.  I'd learned my lesson from using cell phones in Canada on too many occasions.  

The Canadian billet family was very nice.  I’ll only reference the mom, Julie and her kids, Connor and Kaylee, because her ass of a husband ended up getting kicked out a couple of years later.  They were excited to host Max. They’d never done it before and they were all thrilled.  The little ones loved him.
Langley Event Center, Langley, BC Canada

There were a number of San Diego kids attending the camp.  The San Diego Gulls goalie, Jason Campbell was there, as was Johnny Neal.  We knew a few other skaters from around Southern California Including Chris Blessing. Chris was an opponent we played against from Valencia, California.   I knew his mother.  When the boys were peewees and bantams his mom was an entertaining presence on the website message board.  She seemed to have a lot to say about everyone and she took a lot of abuse over those years.  She and I actually became friends after a while and we’ve stayed in touch to see how our boys are faring.  Her son, Chris was fresh off of a midget national title with one of the Chicago teams and he was expected to make the Chiefs out of this camp. He did make it even though he suffered a shoulder injury during the tryouts. He played in four games before being traded to the Quesnel Millionaires, also in the BCHL.  The following year he played for two BCHL teams and then the Fresno Monsters of the NAHL.  Last year he attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls where he had a less than positive experience with the coach and is now playing D1 ACHA at the University of Arizona.  Before you know it he will be in the beer league with the rest of us.

Jason, the goalie, played well.  But there were a shit-ton of goalies all competing for zero openings.  On the last day of the camp the coaching staff held evaluation interviews with each player.  I spoke to Jason as he was coming out of his meeting.  He said the coaches told him he was one of the best goalies at the camp, but that a Major Junior goalie from the QMJHL in Quebec had decided he wanted to play for the Chiefs so there were no openings.  Multiply about forty goalies times $250 bucks and the Chiefs took in a cool $10 grand for just the goalies.  My math says they raked in another $50,000 from the skaters, less the $250 I never paid.  Nice business model.  Again, from the looks and feel of things the team was pretty much pre-selected.  Here's a little peak at what I call "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Goalies".

Max ended up with 16 points in 4 games.  Every time he stepped on the ice good things happened. Here are a few clips of his play, here and here  I couldn’t have been happier with his performance and production.  The camp was structured such that each team played four games, then players were selected to stay to play in an intra-squad game.  One more cut would be made and then the team went right into their exhibition game season vs. the rest of the league.  Here's a clip of the quietest hockey fight I've ever seen.

Given Max’s performance I would have been shocked if he didn’t at least make it to the intra-squad scrimmage.   I ended up getting shocked. He went in for his evaluation interview and was basically told thank you very much.  Perhaps if I’d payed the $250? (In all honesty, I never thought about it at the time and no one ever asked. I figured at some point someone would ask for money.  Never happened.)

I will never forget the look on my son’s face as he emerged from that meeting.  Heartbreaking. Julie, the billet mom and her kids had come to watch the last game and we were all anxiously waiting for him in the lobby.  It was not one of our finer moments.  The air was thick with disappointment.  

Max’s buddy, Johnny Neal, did make the cut and a stayed.  He’s a defenseman.  He got to the exhibition games and ended up making the team, but there were paperwork problems with his release from USA Hockey and he sat for a few weeks before finding his way to the NAHL Wenatchee Wild in Washington State.  He sat for another few weeks as he was a late addition to the team and they didn’t have room for him there.  He ended up playing in the EJHL for the Rochester Stars and in the Ontario Provincial Hockey League(OPJHL)  for the Trenton Golden Hawks.  He’s entering his freshman year at Hobart College in New York.

Randy Carlyle and me
One of Johnny's coaches at Rochester was Craig Carlyle.  Craig played hockey at Brockport in the SUNYAC.  His dad is Randy Carlyle, the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Johnny introduced Craig to the WSHL Gulls owner, Bruce Miller in San Diego.  Craig ended up moving to the San Diego area to take over coaching the Gulls.  He's currently in his third season.  

Chuckanut Bay in Bellingham, WA
So, we left the rink in our camper van, Lulu and headed back to Bellingham to regroup and figure things out.  We hung out with Aunt Barbara at Chuckanut Bay.  Beautiful country.  After that we started with arrangements to get Max to New Hampshire so he could report to the Northern Cyclones.  With the anticipation that Max would be staying in Canada, I never made billeting arrangements with the Cyclones.  They had a billeting coordinator, but we passed on the chance.  In lieu of that, I had made loose arrangements with a client of mine who had moved to New Hampshire and lived not far from Hudson, where the Cyclones played.  He had offered to let Max stay with his family.  There would be details to work out such as transportation.  Max didn’t have a car so would need to rely on teammates in the area for rides to and from the rink.

My client’s name was John.  His wife is Lisa.  I called them on the drive back to Washington, once we got back into the the U.S.  “Hey Mark, It looks like Max will need to stay with you after all.  Will that still work?”.  Mark decided it would be best if he put Lisa on the phone, so I started discussing the situation with her.  This was the first she’d heard of any of this.  And she had no idea what “billeting was all about.  So I explained.

“So, you mean Max will need his own room?”, was her response to my explanation.  Yep, pretty much-he could probably use his own room.  Well they didn’t have an extra room.  They had two kids, and John had an office with a fold out bed/couch, but that is where he worked. This was not going to work, but they would be able to let him stay there for a week or so while he got acclimated and found another housing situation.

So we scrambled and after a week or so we decided on probably the worst possible option…the “hockey house”.  No billet family.  Nobody watching.  Just a small group of 18-20 year olds learning to live on their own, probably without a mother or other responsible adult in the house for the first time in their lives.  It wasn’t pretty and I already know way too much about the lifestyle, so I’ll leave it at that for now.  Let your imagination run wild.

Up next, preseason showcase at the University of Vermont, the Woodchuck Classic, and then the start of the season.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chapter 37: On To Junior Hockey

So that was that.  Many dollars spent.  Many miles travelled.  Memories to last a lifetime.  I would owe SallieMae $1027 per month for as far as the eye could see.  But I was happy.  Happy that I gave my son this gift.  Happy that I was able to give him the opportunity to do something I would have loved to have done when I was playing at his age.  He got great exposure, met amazing friends and formed bonds that would last a lifetime.  Coming from San Diego, he made a mark in one of the America's most competitive hockey hotbeds.

After all is said and done (I refuse to use the most overused phrase in the history of the world-"At the end of the day") would I do it again?  Depends.  Given the hit I took with the economic decline and my health I could never afford to do what we did.  If I had to choose today, in my current situation, I would probably elect to get my son into the best junior hockey league I could as early as he could physically handle it.  Much more affordable than prep school or Tier 1 travel hockey in Southern California.  If money was no issue, I would definately do it again.  Too many benefits to deny.  I can't speak to playing public high school hockey.  I do know that more than a few times at showcases over the years in the New England area I would always ask parents I was standing near while watching which was their son and where does he play.  Too many times, they would put their head down and with shame and humility tell me in a hushed tone, "he only plays high school hockey".  In my day that was nearly all we had.  Today it's a scarlet letter.  Too bad.

The quest continued.  As his senior prep school hockey season was ending the push was on to get picked up by a good junior team in a competitive league.  This was a challenging task to say the least.  It would start immediately after Tilton's season ended and would last until the very end of August.

First up was the America's Showcase, the premier event for high school hockey players in the U.S.(other than perhaps the Minnesota State high school hockey tournament) This event had been held, forever, in Chicago and was known as the Chicago Showcase.  For the first time it was being held elsewhere and the name was changed.  It was to take place in Pittsburgh at Robert Morris University and would henceforth be called "America's Showcase.'  To qualify to play in this event you needed to tryout for the team in the region where you attend high school, not where you were from.  In Max's case, that would be Team New England.  The tryouts were held just before I headed back to California at the end of my last trip, when I was recuperating from my neck surgery.

The coach for Team Northern New England was Sean Tremblay.  Sean was the coach of one of the top Eastern Junior Hockey League team at the time, the New Hampshire Monarchs.  This was the same organization for the midget AAA Monarchs Max had skated for the past two season before the prep season got under way.  

Looking forward to junior teams and leagues, the Monarchs and the EJHL were one of the programs at the top of our list.  Remember, the goal was being recruited by and committing to an NCAA Div 1 school.  Another major part of this goal would be not only to commit to and play for a D1 team, but to also play, to get ice time, to be an impact player.  I know way too many kids who stretched to get themselves on a top team only to sit the bench, to be a healthy scratch and to watch as the program brings in new fresh recruits each year while they ended up seeing more and more bench time. 

So when Max was selected by Sean Tremblay this was tremendous.  Just as important as being able to play and be scouted in the showcase was being selected by one of the top junior coaches in New England to play for his team.  Max earned his spot on the top line and skated with D1 recruit and current Merrimack standout, Connor Toomey.  Connor had played prep hockey at Proctor.  They had played against each other a number of times over the previous two seasons.  Connor was a standout in New Hampshire hockey and everyone knew who he was.  I was thrilled that Max would be skating with him on the same line.

The showcase took place in April.  I flew out to watch.  As I was arriving at the hotel, I had an idea.  As things were going, I would be a dad watching my kid play.  Ok, that would be fun.  But, I called my friend Bruce Miller, the owner of the San Diego Gulls of the Western States Hockey League and asked if he would like for me to scout for the Gulls as long as I was in Pittsburgh at the showcase.  He was more than happy.

So I went to the scouts table and signed in.  Instead of just watching my son's games, I got to watch all the games with the other scouts.  Free food, VIP pass, learning a ton about the scouting and recruiting game.  It was much more fun and interesting than just catching my kid's games.

I had a thick book with all the rosters of each team.  I studied the players, their ambitions, their academic records and their stats from the previous season.  Most players had somewhere between .5 points per game and maybe 2 points per game on average.  Max for example had around 33 points in 30 games…he missed 5 games due to his concussion.  Connor Toomey scored 56 points and Kevin Hayes, in his senior year at Boston University and drafted 24th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks notched 64.  The top scorer in all of New England Prep hockey was a kid named Garrett Sider who had 71 points, slightly over 3 points per game.  Garrett played at St. George in Middletown/Newport Rhode Island, a division 2 program that was not as competitive as some of the aforementioned schools.  He ended up at Tufts, a NESCAC D3 program where he hasn't particularly lit things up.

The reason I mention these stats is that there was a team, Team Illinois that had kids with nearly 200 hundred points in not that many more games.  I couldn't figure out how they could have been such prolific producers. In fact, I was skeptical and doubted these numbers.  At one point, I was chatting with their coach, a tall good looking guy who seemed to know what he was doing.  I asked him how legitimate these stats were because they were so much higher than any other team in the tournament.  He wasn't really sure.  He said the competition was sketchy and inconsistent and that the better teams tended to run up some pretty high scores against the weaker teams.

That made sense.  I could get that.  It wasn't particularly helpful or impressive. But at least it could account for the skewed numbers.  I'm not sure how it came up, but somehow this coach and I got around to talking about San Diego and he mentioned Chris Chelios.  Chris grew up playing hockey in his youth at our local rink in Mira Mesa.  This coach said he was good friends with Chris and had played with him.  Turns out he was Brian Noonan.  Brian had a long NHL career and played with Chris for the Blackhawks.  Brian is product of the Boston area.  I met his brother too.  I think he still coaches high school hockey in the area.

We (Team New England) beat Team Illinois in a game that was close, but they were no where near as good as their stats would have indicated.

One of my best friends in San Diego is Jaye Park.  I've mentioned him before in this blog.  Jaye is the guy who shared shifts with Chelios during the Thursday night pick group at the rink in Mira Mesa 40 years ago when they were young punks.  Jaye's son Greg and my son played Peewees together on their "miracle" team that upset the California hockey world and won the State title.  

Max and Greg attended many summer showcase events together.  They skated together in our adult pickup and senior league teams.  They played roller hockey together.  We spent a lot of time with the Parks who were also fairly close neighbors.  Gregory started playing junior hockey fairly early.  He joined the predecessor to the Gulls, the San Diego Surf when he was 16.  Jaye and MF Schurman, the owner/coach of the Surf were pretty close.  After a couple of seasons, MF sold the team to Bruce Miller and moved to Delaware where he now coaches the University of Maryland ACHA D1 club team.  He started coaching with the Little Flyers of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League.  MF was a recent ACHA coach of the year and won a natty championship a couple of years ago.

Jaye had a connection in the Ontario Junior Hockey League and the Huntsville Otters.  Greg packed up and went to Northern Ontario and played for a coach who had a sketchy history as a heavy drinker during his pro hockey days.  I heard tell of some criminal behavior, but apparently he'd paid his debt and was now coaching kids.  Nice. He was an old school hard ass.  He favored the veterans and gave Greg and the rookies a hard time.  Greg did well and always produced, but he didn't play a lot. Frustrated, Jaye and Greg ended up deciding Greg would leave late in the season and join MF with the Little Flyers in Philly.

Greg racked up some points and finished the season with the Little Flyers strongly.  He tried out for nearly every USHL and NAHL camp he could get to that summer but didn't get picked up, so he went back to play for MF's team the next fall.  He was the leading scorer for the Little Flyers but they were dwelling near the cellar and again, Jaye and Greg decided to make a move.  They asked to be traded to the Northern Cyclones in Hudson, NH.  The Cyclones were a powerhouse in this league and were in first place in the northern division.  

Greg got traded and proceeded to pretty much watch most of the games.  He hardly dressed and when he did he didn't get much of ice time.  The coach said things were working, the team was in first place and there was no sense in changing things up at this point.  He told Greg he knew who he was and what he could do but he would have to prove himself.  

Greg never got the opportunity.  As the season's end approached he again got traded.  This time to one of the bottom place teams in the northern division, the Portland Pirates.  He played.  But before the very end of the season the coach left or was fired and the new coach, not knowing the team, played everyone equally and Greg again found himself sitting out games.  His junior career came to an unspectacular conclusion.  He had one more year of eligibility but he'd decided enough was enough and it was time to get on with school.  Greg is very strong academically and had already turned down a scholarship to Villanova to chase his hockey dream.  

He finally decided on attending Northern Arizona University(NAU) in Flagstaff.  NAU has a competitive D2 ACHA Club team.  Greg is now in his senior year and has been a consistent top producer for the Lumberjacks.  

There was a reason I shared Greg's experience.  The coach of the Cyclones, Bill Flanagan, was one of the many scouts attending the America's Showcase in Pittsburgh.  I was scouting, he was scouting, I introduced myself to him and told him I was from San Diego and I knew Greg Park.  He was friendly enough.  He told me Greg was a good kid, but what I'd said before, things were working and there was no sense in changing the team around at that point.

That was the end of the discussion.  Bill would later become pivotal to my son's development.  I just mention this here as a notation.  I will pick this up again shortly.

I continued to scout the players, watch my son's games, hang out with the other scouts who represented both junior teams and colleges and enjoy the perks of being treated as somewhat of a VIP.  It was a great learning experience and one I would repeat a handful of times over the next few seasons. Scouting is fun.  As long as you don't have to do it for a living.  These coaches come to dread it after a while.  There's a ton of travel and it can become quite tedious.  Not for me though.  I dug it.
The only picture I took in Pittsburgh
The Penguins Last Season in the Igloo
Lost to Montreal in the playoffs

Team New England did well in the tournament.  They went undefeated in the round robin, but lost in the finals.  I forget who they lost to.  Most likely, Massachusetts, New Jersey or New York.  Maybe I'll dig in and do a little research to find out.  Here are a few highlight clips of my kid and Connor Toomey  putting a couple in the net.  Here are a few others here and here and here.

This would be the second time I ran into Mark Ostapino, the head coach from the Milwaukee School of Engineering.  I'd met him previously when he was a speaker at my level 4 coaching seminar in Reno, Nevada a couple of years earlier.  It would not be the last.  And it would not be the last time I got the chance to hear him speak about one of his favorite topics, himself.  I don't mean to be judgmental, but it got to be funny hearing the same stories at every event.  I probably ran into him nearly a dozen times over these few years.  

The America's Showcase ended.   The first and loudest and most persistent call Max got came from Bill Flanagan from the Cyclones.  He seemed to really like Max and was fairly aggressively recruiting him.  We had bigger plans in store.  The Monarchs EJHL tryouts were coming up.  Sean Tremblay had already selected Max for Team New England.  He played quite well in the showcase.  It seems he had a pretty good shot at making the team.

The tryouts came.  I was back in San Diego.  I got reports from Max and from a couple of parents I knew.  Max looked good.  They got to the final day, had selected an "all star" team out of the tryouts.  Max made that, but did not make the team.  The first of a number of few disappointments that he/we would experience over the upcoming all important summer tryout season.  The reports I got from Max and the other parents was that the team was pretty much picked going into the tryout and they were really only needing to fill a few spots with big physical grinders.  Max is not a grinder.  He grinds, mind you, it's just not the first thing that you want him for.  

Apparently the calls kept coming from Flanagan of the Cyclones in the AJHL.  The AJHL was not the best league for a player wanting to go D1.  I was against Max committing to them.  I wanted him to play in the British Columbia (BCHL) or the North American Hockey League (NAHL).  It was pretty clear there would be no United States Hockey League (USHL) opportunities by this time.  Max spoke to Pat Norton, the Tilton Coach, and was told that playing for the Cyclones could be a good thing.  A handful of top end players commit to D1 programs each year and it would be a possibility.  Big fish, small pond.

I was still opposed, but I think my son got a bit panicked and wanted some certainty so he decided he would sign with the Cyclones knowing that he would have some tryout opportunities for teams in the BCHL and NAHL coming up over the summer.  I spoke to Coach Norton.  I had a very good relationship with Pat.  It was respectful, I never butted in or interfered.  I'm a hockey guy.  He's a hockey guy.  We talked hockey all the time.  My kid played for him, but I never was, nor would I be, one of these dads who tries to get in with the coach to connive more ice time or anything like that.  I've seen plenty of kiss ass parents suck up to coaches and it's not very becoming.  

In speaking to Pat about the Cyclones he warned me that Bill Flanagan was concerned about me.  He was worried I would be one of those dads.  It was weird because I'd spent a total of two minutes talking to him and none of it was about my son.  Oh well, what ever.  I would stay quite clear of him should Max end up on his team.  

I was then asked to call Flanagan to discuss the contract and to ask any questions I had.  I had a cordial discussion, got off the phone and sent in Max's contract with a check.  

Yes, you pay to play.  There are three tiers of junior hockey in the U.S.  Tiers 1, 2 and 3.  In addition there are many junior leagues in Canada.  The separate tiers in the states are not determined by skill level officially, but by financial arrangements.  The United States Hockey League (USHL) is the only Tier 1 league.  At this level the player pays nothing.  Many if not most of these players end up playing D1 in college.  The NAHL is the only Tier 2 league in the country.  Here, the players pay nothing to play, for travel or equipment.  But they do pay for their billeting or living expenses.  Finally there are a number of Tier 3 leagues around the country.  In Tier 3 hockey, you pay a fee to play, typically around $6500 for the season as well as your housing which runs about $300 a month to live with a local family and be fed by them.  Around most of the country there is a pretty good difference between these levels. An argument can be made that the the better teams in the leagues in the Northeast, specifically what was at the time the EJHL and to a lesser extent the AJHL could hold their own against some of the Tier 1 and TIer 2 teams.  

Despite costing money, or at least more money to play for one of these leagues, Many players from the northeast elect to stay home, or closer to home where they know they will get excellent exposure to the plethora of colleges in the area.  The geographical footprints of the USHL and NAHL are huge.  While many more players move on from these leagues it can be argued that you can just as easily, if not more so, be scouted in and around New England, New York and the surrounding area with so many schools nearby.

So, Max had a junior team, as a fallback.  The idea was still to attend showcases, tryouts and "main camps" for other leagues and hope something better came along.

I will let you know how that worked out in the next chapter.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Chapter 36: Down The Home Stretch

It's the eve of my 40th high school reunion. I'm sitting in my folks house on the lake where I grew up. I have no idea what to expect. I've never been to a reunion. My only experience with these things is from TV and movies or what I've heard from friends.  I'm not expecting much. We'll see how it goes.  
Panorama of Phipps Lake

If you've been following this saga you will know I've jumped around but have been overall following the timeline of my, then my kid's hockey career. 

I just came across this, something I must have written about four years ago. It fits my overall storyline so I thought I would include it here:

Well, as you may be able to tell from my previous posts, I'm extremely proud of my son.....but I think and hope that I've been careful not to hype his skill or potential....I've always been realistic about his prospects. 

That said, I can clearly see that he has a tremendous future ahead of him. 

He is destined to have a wonderful Adult/Beer League career. Yeah yeah yeah, there's always his senior year in prep school and most likely a year or so of Junior and then off to college where I'm sure he will find a school at a level where he will be competitive..

But, last night he became a man! He's been skating on a couple of upper level adult teams. He's playing on teams with my buddies who I used to skate with before age took it's ugly toll on me.

Last night in Escondido in a competitive game vs. the U.S. Marine team from Camp Pendleton, late in the 2nd period with a natural hat trick under his belt he got in a fight with a marine. ooh-rah!!

The Marines are always chippy and play with an edge....great for fighting the enemy, not so fun when they are trying to stop my kid.

At any rate, he didn't take it...the other player was after him and they finally got tangled up on the boards, the guy went after my son and he basically protected himself and face washed the guy, but his glove fell off and the ref booted him. 

So, it wasn't much of a fight, but on the scoresheet they all look the same. 

All roads lead to the Adult leagues...better to realize it now. I intend to continue to enjoy the journey between now and then but it was fun to see him hold his own last night.

End of that story. Back to where we were. 

Tilton was in the midst of an exciting run. I mentioned in the last chapter but I just read some of the coverage of the playoff push. 

New England prep school hockey changed that season. There used to be a D1 and a D2. Tilton had been D1. They eliminated the distinction at  the beginning of this year.  Now there was only one division. With 61 teams.  

The playoff format changed to accommodate this new structure.  The top eight teams qualified for the Elite Eight. This would determine the prep champs. The remaining teams were divided into large schools and small schools. The top eight from each group would battle for either the Large School or Small School title.  A controversy was brewing due to a .500 winning percentage rule that was coming in to play.

Here is how described the scenario:

Small School Tournament Controversy
Three teams currently contending for a spot in the ‘small school' prep tournament -- Pomfret, Tilton, and South Kent -- could, despite qualifying by NEPSIHA rules, be bounced from the tournament by a New England Prep School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) rule banning sub-.500 teams from post-season play.

As most USHR readers know, when Div. II folded up shop after last season and the ranks of Div. I hockey schools swelled to 61, a new playoff formula was adopted, and the playoffs were expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

In the new formula, strength of schedule, manifested in the form of the RPI, plays a huge role. While teams competing in the top tournament qualify under a combined RPI and JSPR ranking, teams in the other two tournaments - the so-called ‘large school' and ‘small school' tournaments - are chosen strictly from the RPI. This is something the NEPSIHA coaches voted on in the off-season.

Now, the NEPSAC executive board, headed up by Williston-Northampton AD Mark Conroy, is citing the NEPSAC rule that states that "to be considered for a NEPSAC invitational tournament, a team must have at least a .500 record in NEPSAC play."

The board refuses to waive the rule, but left the window for those schools open a bit by saying, in an email to league coaches, that "we think it is important for the selection committee to use the human factor to interpret the rankings in order to award the most deserving schools tournament berths. If the committee feels that there is an under .500 team or two that merits a berth, these cases would be appealed to me and our co-directors of championships - Jim McNally from Rivers and Kathy Noble from Lawrence. We will be available on Sunday if this is the case. We know that it is inevitable that deserving teams will be left out and not happy but this is the case each year in every tournament."

We here at USHR don't think much of this decision, and feel that last line is a cop-out. We do not think that it is ‘inevitable' that deserving teams will be left out. The new formula virtually guarantees that deserving teams are not left out. The reason those three school are ranked higher is simply that all three schools play a significantly more demanding schedule than any of the three teams that would supplant them if the sub-.500 NEPSAC rule is upheld. If the season ended today, Pomfret, Tilton, and South Kent should be in the tournament. It's as simple as that. To keep them out would be grossly unfair, and an embarrassment.

Can this whole issue be avoided by Pomfret, Tilton, and South Kent reaching .500? It's possible, but four games would all have to fall a certain way for that to happen.

Here's what would have to happen:

#5 Pomfret (11-11-4), which hosts Williston tomorrow, must win.

#6 Tilton (11-13-4) must beat Holderness today in the Lakes Region Tournament play-in game. If they can do that, they will travel to Kimball Union for a semi-final game tomorrow. They must win that one, too. That's a tall task.

#8 South Kent (12-13-1) hosts Winchendon tomorrow. They must win.

John Gardner, Avon Old Farms head coach and NEPSIHA president, said, "My opinion is that we should go with the criteria the coaches voted on and adopted."

The teams that could move up and take the spots of a sub-.500 team are St. George's, Berwick, and Groton. Could the coaches of those teams, if thrust into the playoffs, decline the invitation to the tournament? No. Coaches, due to Jack Foley's refusal to take his Thayer team to the short-lived "1-A" prep tournament a number of years back, are not allowed to decline a tournament invitation. To do so would subject them to a five-year ban.

It's up to Conroy and the board to do the right thing. 

Tilton, with approximately 165 boys was in the small school category. As the season wound down they were sitting in sixth place with a handful of  games left in the regular season. 

There was a fly in the ointment. They were below .500. by a few games and couldn't afford any losses They were down to a handful of tough games including facing a very tough KUA one more time. KUA was sitting on the bubble to qualify for the Elite Eight. Tilton was in a "must not lose" situation with five regular season games left.   And they had to win enough games to get to .500.

First up was Brewster Academy. Brewster beat Tilton 3-0 a month earlier in a game where Tilton hit three posts and scored a goal that was "not seen" by the ref. 

This time Tilton, playing for their playoff lives was ready.  Kenny Craig scored 2 goals and 2 assists. Max netted 2 goals and and assist. Final score, 8-0. 

Next up was Lawrence Academy.  Tilton can't afford a loss. They tied Lawrence, or better, were tied
Senior Night
by Lawrence.. Tilton was up 2-1 early in the third, but gave up the tying goal with just under 5 minutes remaining.   The next night Tilton faced Hebron, from Maine at home.  This game was senior night. Our friends the Hentz's stood in for us as Max's parents. Again Tilton came away with a tie.  This time 3-3.  Max scored the 1st Tilton goal and assisted on the tying goal half way through the third.

Now down to two regular season game, Tilton would take on neighbor Holderness in the Lakes Region Tournament.  If they lose, they would probably be done for the season, playoff wise.  If they win they get to face rival Kimball Union once again.  They won.

The final against Holderness was 3-2.  Max put Tilton up 2-1 early in the third period with a shorty.  Tilton scored again and then gave up a late goal but came away with the win.  KUA was up next.  They would play them tomorrow.  

The Holderness goalie is a kid named Colby Drost.  Colby contacted me a year earlier after seeing my youtube channel.  He was playing in the Metropolitan junior league and was looking for prep schools. He was hoping to go to Tilton, but could never get the full attention or appreciation of the coach. Colby ended up going to Niagara.  I'm not sure what happened there, but he transferred last year to my old college team mate, Brad Holt's D3 program at the University of New England.  UNE had struggled their first few years as an NCAA program but they had been improving a bit each year.  Colby thrust them forward by leaps and bounds.  He beat conference leader Castleton in a nail biter last year.  UNE has a brand new rink and nearly every kid Brad recruited ended up committing.  Look for good things out of that program this year.  San Diegan, Cassidy April is a sophomore defensman there as well.

The big match-up.  It was the semi-final of the Lakes Region Tournament, but officially the last game of the regular season for playoff purposes.  KUA was  heavily favored to win this one.  Tilton was now one game below .500 and need this one to make the playoffs.  The Rams wanted this one badly.  KUA scored first in the 1st period.  Max tied it up in second and assisted on the go ahead goal in the third before KUA tied it up late in the third period. The game went to OT where Kenny Craig scored the game winner for Tilton.  The following day Tilton defeated Brewster 6-1 to become Lakes Region Champs.

Jake Rivera Celebrates Lakes Region
Championship win over KUA
So Tilton was officially in the playoffs.  That ended the regular season and set up a quarterfinal game against Pomfret from Connecticut.  Once again, the game went to OT.  Max scored two goals, Pomfret tied it up in the third and Andrew Dustin got the game winner for Tilton in OT.  This was Tilton's first playoff win in 7 years.

And again, Tilton would face Kimball Union in the semi-final game.  This was the end of the road and a great run for Tilton. KUA won 2-1 in regulation time in a nail-biter.  One of Max's midget AAA team mates from the Monarchs played for KUA.  His name is Peter LaFosse.  He's from Merrimack, NH.  Peter is 6'2", 201 lbs.  Peter is entering his junior year at Utica College in the ECAC west division.

KUA went on to defeat Dexter 3-2 for the Small School Championship.

So that does it for our prep school phase.  Next up would be the junior hockey push.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chapter 35: Do You Know Why I Pulled You Over?

First of all, an apology.  I just read this article on the The Fifty Most Expensive Private Schools in the U.S.   I don't know what I was thinking.  I was in pretty good shape and I'm happy with our decision to send my son to prep school, but holy crap is that shizzle expensive.  I just checked.  Tilton is up to $49,750 per year. There is aid and scholarship money available, but that's a hefty nut.  As wonderful as it was, I would never consider paying this much today.  Like I said, we made this decision prior to the beginning of the economic crisis that left me and many others limping in its wake. I pretty much blew my 201K on this...and yes, I called it a 201k.  Anyhow, if it were today I would say screw it and go the highest and best junior route as early as possible, unless money wasn't an
issue then I stand by everything I've said up till now. 

The pre-Christmas concussion at the Governor's tourney gave us quite the scare.  Fortunately, as I previously stated, the violence and drams surrounding the hit were not matched by any actual damage.  The kid must have a bone head.  It seemed to do its job protecting his software.

We let him play once the neurologist and team trainer cleared him.  We watched with trepidation, but he showed no signs of any lingering effects.  

Whenever I tell people about my own history and all the back injuries I experienced and suffer to this day, I fear they must think I am an idiot for "letting" my son play hockey.  I probably am, but at this point there is no "letting".  Early on, of course, I encouraged and supported it, but at this point he's his own man.  I don't "let" him do anything.  Once I was talking to someone and they surprised me with the response; "Wow, given all your injuries, I think it's really great that you let you son play".  I never thought of it like that.  I'm glad someone did.  

The second half of the hockey season at Tilton got to be pretty exciting.  I had my neck surgery in early January.  I was recuperating and wasn't really fit to travel, but I figured I'd take my chances in the ice and cold of New Hampshire instead of the wind and rain of So Cal in January.  

I flew to Manchester New Hampshire.  Flying was terribly uncomfortable.  I got stuck sitting in an exit row. I should have complained but I didn't think to.  The seats in this row do not recline. It was a miserable flight. 

It got worse when I landed.  I got in my rental car and headed to my sanctuary at the Hentz's in Meredith. The drive would take an hour up highway 93.   

In SoCal people whip around on the freeways.  The average speed is often around 80 mph. You can drive all day going 85 and probably won't get pulled over. 

I was heading up the 93 as I approached Concord, NH.  In California it's required to add the word "the" before any highway number. It escaped me, but the speed limit dropped just before Concord on a dark stretch of highway from 65 to 55.  Just as I came up over the slight hill I saw a few cars parked on the median.  As soon as I passed the blue lights came on and the highway patrolman pulled me over and gave me a $100 ticket. 

This wouldn't have been such a big deal had it not been for the gobs of money I'd recently lost in the global financial stock market meltdown. So a hundred bucks was a big deal to me at this time. 

My buddy Doug Hentz is friends with a couple of NH state troopers.  Unfortunately I didn't know their names so I wasn't able to schmooze the patrolman in this case.  I took it like a man and went on.  I did ask Doug the name of his friends for future reference. 

I got to watch Tilton play a handful of games.  They were in the midst of what was shaping up to be a very good season.  They played and lost to Cushing Academy 3-1 earlier in the season.  I got to see quite an exciting game this trip.  Cushing got off to a quick start and jumped out to a 4-1 Lead.  Early in the 3rd period Tilton started to get some chances and finally cashed in.  With under five minutes to go in the game they got two more quick ones to make it cut the lead to one.  Tilton pulled their goalie with under a minute to go and with the clock running out with seconds to go,  and this happened.

This miracle goal tied the score to force overtime with .4 seconds left.  Unfortunately for Tilton the ended up losing 5-4 in OT.  Still a crazy and exciting play. 

Here is a highlight clip from another game, another loss for Tilton. This was against, Kimball Union or KUA.  In this game, Denis Kravchenko of KUA had four breakaways against, William Flachbinder, the Tilton goalie.  Flachbinder stopped every one of them. Not an easy task against the slippery kid from Southern California.  Also on the highlight clip is Max sniping a wrister past Martin Quillette.  Kravchenko had committed to UVM as a prep school sophomore.  He was to have reported to UVM and would be playing there now but he recently decommitted.  Word has it he wasn't happy with the departure of UVM coach Micheletto.  Micheletto is at Umass and Kravchenko may end up there unless he ends up going the major junior route.  He is currently playing with Sioux Falls of the USHL. Quillette is at Maine and was an NHL draft pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Tilton had a very good run to the end of the season and playoffs.  They only had three losses in their last eleven games of the season. They won the Lakes Region Tournament by beating KUA 3-2 and got to the finals of the "Small Schools" playoffs where the lost 2-1 in the championship game, once again facing KUA. Here are max's final moments of prep school hockey. screen shot last prep game.
Tilton loses 2-1 to KUA in Small School
Championship finals

I was heading back to the Hentz's house late one night during a snow storm.  I was on a back road heading from highway 93 to Meredith.  I was going about 35 mph in a 25 mph zone when another highway patrolman, who had been hiding out on the side of the road turned on his blue lights and once again I was pulled over.

I was seriously near tears when this happened.  This time I figured I would give it a shot and try to talk my way out of a ticket.  The officer came to my window and asked for my license.  I mentioned the Hentz's.  I mentioned the name of their friend who is a NH highway patrolman.  I even threw in something about my son playing hockey at Tilton.  I was willing to say just about anything at this point.  I did not need another $100 ticket. 

No reaction. The officer was not impressed with anything I had to say.  He walked back to his car.  I sat there stewing, almost crying.  You have no idea how badly I'd been hurt by this mess in the market.  I don't think I could have taken one more bit of bad news.  He made his way back, slowly to my car, handed me a slip of paper and told me he was giving me a warning and to drive more carefully.

Yes sir!