Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Chapter 39: Junior Hockey Growing Pains(Mine)

A theme was emerging.  Go where you are wanted.  I’d seen so many players try to make teams above their pay grade.  It rarely ever worked out.  Starting with being recruited by Pat Norton at Tilton and then by Bill Flanagan at the Northern Cyclones there were clear signals that the kid was wanted, went where he was wanted and he made the most of both opportunities.  I think all anyone wants is a fair shot and a chance to prove that you are up to the task.  That happened at Tilton and it would also be the case with the Cyclones. This philosophy broke down when he got to his first year of college.  I will cover that issue when we get there.

The other theme, from my vantage point was that I was no longer in the picture.  Except for to write the checks.  Flanagan made it very clear to everyone he wants nothing to do with parents.  I obliged.  I did befriend his team manager, Brandon Barnard.  Brandon, or B as he is known, was great.  I helped him with some scouting and recruiting.  In return he helped me with Max’s housing, job hunts, etc.  We had a good relationship and we still do.  The team also had an advisor who was going to work with the kids to help them get placed.  His name is Brett Carriere.  Brett had played for the Cyclones and was one of the success stories of players who went on to have a decent D1 college career.  He was a borderline D1 recruit who had plenty of D3 opportunities, but held out and ended attending UMaine and had a decent career there.   Brett was very helpful in the first year, but got involved in his own business career and was not available during the second year.

But for the most part, I was now an interested observer.  Junior hockey, more than anything else was a time for my kid to become his own man. I remained his biggest fan, but my role had changed.  I was no longer in the middle of the action.  I was far removed.  I didn't like it.  I experienced growing pains.  It's now his second year in college and I am still missing being a bigger part of things.

Both seasons were very successful seasons for the team.  Max was productive, 44 points in 44 games the first year and 57 points in the same number of games the next, split fairly evenly between goals and assists.  Coach Flanagan was intense.  He hated to lose.  My son responds well to this type of coaching.  He’d never seen anything like this though.  Losing was not tolerated.  It came with trash cans being thrown, sticks broken, people being sat, the team being punished in various ways.   He made it very unpalatable to lose.  The team complied.  They were #1 or #2 all year for both seasons.  

There were a few teams that were competitive and gave the Cyclones a tough time.  They were the Walpole Express, Mike Adessa's Boston Bulldogs and the New York Bobcats.  Any games between these teams could go either way.  Occasionally, one of the other teams would upset the Cyclones, but typically not.  A few top end guys on each team ended up committing to D1 programs.

So from afar I watched and listened.  All the games were available to watch on  There was no play by play, but it was better than nothing.  My daughter, Bret, who was a senior in high school at the time decided she would like to look at colleges in New England.  She had gone through her own evolution as an athlete, starting with travel soccer and softball.  She played both sports avidly until she ran into the fact that she too, like her older brother had inherited their late bloomer genes from her mother.  Max was barely 5 feet tall and a hundred pounds while many of his teammates were 6 to 12 inches taller and 50 to 75 pounds heavier when he was 14-16 years old.  His love and passion for the game sustained him through those difficult days.  

His sister, on the other hand didn't so much love the sports she was playing as she enjoyed the friendships and social bonds she'd formed over her young life.  As her sports got more competitive she started getting cut from teams due to her size.  She was every bit as talented and smart at her chosen sports as her brother was at hockey, but she didn't have the love for the game the way her brother did.  She even got cut from her softball team where her best friend's mom was the coach.  These were difficult days.

She made it through her sophomore year playing varsity soccer before she decided enough was enough.  It broke my heart to see her give up.  I enjoyed watching her compete as much as I enjoyed watching Max skate.   The shame was that within a year she had her growth spurt and she would have been an absolute stud-dette. The next year she ran track to stay in shape. And by her senior year she joined a rowing team.  
Zlac Rowing Club
Rowing was a trip.  A whole new world to discover.  Bret was strong and in great shape.  She enjoyed it even though it was a grueling sport and required a lot of work.  I forget what you call the seat, but she was placed in the most important seat on her 8 person crew.  She seemed to have serious potential at this new (to us) sport.

So her request to visit schools in New England, included contacting a number of rowing coaches at the various schools.  The timing of this trip couldn't have been better.  We visited nine schools between Wednesday and Friday.  Then we headed off to Hudson New Hampshire to catch Max and the Cyclones playing in a Columbus Day weekend showcase.  

Those nine schools included; Northeastern, BU, UMass-Lowell, Holy Cross, UNH, Connecticut College, Trinity, Sacred Heart and Uconn.  We were supposed to head up to UMass Amherst but someone wouldn't wake up that morning!  I had a great time and this trip was a great chance to bond with my daughter.  I got to see her interact with the admissions people and the rowing coaches and I was so proud and impressed at her maturity.  It was very cool to see.  We had a blast.

The Cyclones swept their way through their three games of the showcase.  There were a ton of college coaches in attendance.  The league held five or six showcase weekends per season.  These were set up so that all the teams from the league come to one venue and play three games.  The game format for the showcases were two 25 minute periods rather than the normal three 20 minute period games.  Here are a few highlight clips from the weekend.  Here's a game winner vs. New Jersey.   

Max got plenty of ice time.  He did quite well.  I couldn't have been happier.  Here is a highlight clip from another one of his games that weekend.  A hat trick and at least one assist that rung off of both posts and the crossbar.  I apologize for the music on the video. I can't seem to remove it. 

The entire season went very well.  The Cyclones ended up losing in the championship to the Walpole Express, but both teams qualified for the Tier III National Jr. Championships to be held in Rochester, Minnesota.

Junior A Tier III was changing.  The New Hampshire Monarchs and the New Jersey Hitmen of the ECHL were dominant and seemed to always come away with the national title.  The previous season to Max's first year with the Cyclones, the Monarchs lost in the national championship game to the St. Louis Jr. Blues.  By the way, fellow San Diegan, and past teammate of Max's Stevie Terry played defense for the Blues.  Stevie's dad, Steve Terry, and I coached together when the boys were squirts.  Steve and I had also coincidentally attended the same Koho Hockey School together in Finland and Switzerland when were were teenagers, unbeknownst to both of us until we figured it out over beers one night at a hockey tournament.

I made a few more trips and managed to squeeze in quite a few games on each one.  I arranged with Fasthockey to be a camera man for the Tier III Nationals.  They paid me enough to defray much of the travel costs.  I arranged to shoot games, but get breaks so I could watch when Max and the Cyclones played.  

As this was the very end of the junior season, Max and his roommates had all just moved out of the hockey apartment.  I'd managed to limit my liability for this apartment by keeping my name off of the lease.  But the property manager had my phone number.  On the first day of the tournament, I received a call from the property management lady.  Apparently, the boys left the apartment a disaster and they were pissed and wanted someone to pay for the extra cleanup. She emailed me pictures.  Pretty disturbing. I have no idea how it got resolved, but I never heard from them again.

They played the Chicago Hitmen in the first game. After trailing 0-2 the Cyclones came back and Max got the tying goal in the 3rd period.  The game ended in a 2-2 tie.  They then lost a tough one to The El Paso Rhinos in the next game.  Their goalie, Brian Fleming was very good, but he had a rough day.  The Cyclones found themselves down 2-0 early.  Max scored two timely goals to tie it up, but the rest of the game was a tough one for the Cyclones....they scored 5 goals on 61 shots, but it wasn't enough to overcome a poor outing for the Cylcones goalie, giving up 6 goals on 21 shots or an outstanding goaltending effort by the El Paso goalie, Trent Caspar.  The final score was 6-5 El Paso.  Fleming is in his junior year at Manhattanville of the ECAC West.   The final game was against the Granite City Lumberjacks of the NA3HL.  Cyclones won 3-2.   So, 1-1-1 at Nationals.  Not terrible.  Walpole lost to the Helena Bighorns in the semi's and Helena beat El Paso in the championship game.

The second season had it's own stories.  The team, and I believe the
Max, Me and Cassidy April
league, opted not to go to Nationals that year.  Max's childhood teammate, Cassidy April, left the San Diego Gulls and joined the Cyclones for this season.  This was the last season of junior hockey for both of the boys.  Cassidy had a good year and got an offer to attend my buddy, Brad Holt's program at the University of New England where he is now in his sophomore season.

I'll follow up next with some thoughts on the final year of junior hockey and the recruiting and commitment process that developed.

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