Month: December 2017

Weenerz go to Buffalo (Part 5: The Final Act)

Weenerz go to Buffalo (Part 5: The Final Act)

The game time was awkward.  Especially considered those of us on the Canada crew didn’t get back until about 4AM.
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A 10:45 AM game played havoc with hotel arrangements.  Our checkout time would be while we were at the game.  We had too many rooms for them to give us all late checkouts.  They did say they could do it for one room though.  It should be noted that there were no showers at the Healthy Zone in East Aurora.  Because of this, we arranged for the hotel to give us a late checkout so the team could use the large shower in the suite after the game.  After alerting the team to this, everyone stored their non-hockey gear in my room, while we loaded up for the 20 minute drive to East Aurora.

We arrived to find no opposing team waiting for us.  Were they not coming?  It seemed the hosts had no idea.  There was conflicting decisions about what to do.  The ice was ours, we had paid for the ice time, so some of us were pretty hell-bent that we would use the ice, even if we just had a shoot around.  Some players started suiting up, while others waited to see if our opposition showed up.

After a substantial delay, the hosts alerted us that our opponents were indeed coming.  They were at the wrong facility.  We began to suit up and make the most of our warmup time.  I played some music to kill the time while guys trickled onto the ice and the opposing team began to arrive.  As soon as they had 5 players dressed and a goalie we started the game.  We were starting about half an hour late.  Rather than the three, 13 minute periods we had been playing, it was decided to play two, 16 minute halves with no stoppages.

We feared our opposition would come in salty from our previous meeting.  Much to our surprise and delight, they did not.  Ultimately they fielded a team of about 9 guys and a goaltender, and those that had showed up, had come to play.  It was a clean, back and forth game that found itself in a 3-3 tie in the second half.

With about 7 minutes to go it all threatened to come unraveled.  With what I can only call a momentary, colossal lapse in judgement, our goaltender chopped the knee of an opposing player.  The referee did not see it.  No penalty was assessed.  As our angered opponents made their way to the bench a “so that’s how it’s gonna be” was heard from them.  The entire mood and tempo of the game changed.  They started getting chippy.  The play had invigorated and encouraged them.  Meanwhile our team was now watching their backs and no focusing on the game.  That lapse in focus led to a go ahead goal for them briefly after the incident.  We were on our heels.  A fortunate power play allowed us offensive zone time and at its conclusion, we had an offensive zone faceoff with about 90 seconds to go.  I pulled the goalie to the bench for an extra attacker.

I didn’t see the tying goal.  I don’t even know how it happened or what play created it.  I was too busy going ballistic on the goaltender for creating a situation that put his team at risk and changed the momentum of the game.  I had spent the previous 7 minutes slamming sticks, kicking benches and punching glass.  I made it quite clear to my team, and the opposing team that his actions had been unacceptable.  Over the previous weeks I had tried to make it clear to him that he cannot do these kinds of things.  This was not the first time he had done something like this.  His timing in this moment was the final straw for me.  Maybe my outburst was too much.  The gift of hindsight gives me that kind of perspective, but in that moment reason and sense had been replaced by blind rage.  In spite of that, we tied the game in the dying seconds.

Our ice time was dwindling.  It was decided that the game would be decided by a 1 shooter shoot out.  We went first.  My decision was easy.  Throughout the entire tournament, Cory had been our best individual goal scorer.  He had more than 1 move up his sleeve and in a shootout/penalty shot situation, I’d take him against most beer league goalies I have seen.  He didn’t disappoint.  I wish I had video of it, because it was excellent.  The goalie didn’t even have a chance.

Now it was up to the goaltender that I had just spent the last 2 minutes berating.  It was his moment to be the hero.  He stepped up and delivered one of the best saves he had made all weekend.  We had won our final.  The team was a combination of elated and relieved.  I couldn’t join them.  I was still too mad.  I did the best I could to avoid them in the team pictures afterwards and in the locker room.  I didn’t want my dour demeanor to kill the mood on a win they had earned.
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After the game, we all went back to the one hotel room, and turns were taken in the shower.  I think they limited one another to 4 minutes each so we would make our checkout time.  Throughout the entire experience the Doubletree Hotel we stayed at provided us with excellent service.  I had notified them that the team was coming back to use the shower, so they had a pile of towels and toiletries waiting for them.  After cleaning up and loading up our cars, we all departed for the long drive back to Jersey.

Weenerz go to Buffalo (Part 4: Redemption Songs)

Weenerz go to Buffalo (Part 4: Redemption Songs)

The evening after our battle with our Jersey rivals found the team scattered to the four winds in search of dinner.  I managed to find a bar that was open and still serving full kitchen at that late hour.  Five of us went there, four of us went somewhere else, some of us just went to sleep.
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The Next day I had some errands to run in Canada.  I take my maple syrup quite seriously and swear by White Meadow Farms in Pelham, Ontario.  It’s a short ride from Buffalo across the border.  Also on our morning tour was the Vineland Estates Winery and the Dillon’s Small Batch Distillery.  If you ever find yourself in the area I recommend all these places.  The teammates that went with me had a great time, but if you’re not careful it’s VERY easy to get a bit tipsy between Vineland and Dillon’s.  Both places take good care of you on tastings.

We were back in time for our 3:40 game at the RiverWorks against a team from Massachusetts.  The team that had shellacked us 11-4 had played this team the previous night and was dusted off quite easily.  We expected to be beaten big.
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We were also without Ryan.  The only repercussion of the previous night’s events was that Ryan was suspended for a game.  Playing down a man, I decided I would go with 3 defenders and 6 forwards.  This meant extra ice time for the back-end.  I decided to move Leo back to defense.  With Ryan out, my top scoring line of Cory – Ryan – Leo would be broken up anyway.  I made it clear to everyone that we were going to go out, and play a fun game of hockey.  I emphasized that, rather than worrying about the score, they should continue to try to learn things from their opponents.  The focus would be on elevating their game to discover how good they could be.
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The game wasn’t even close.  4:58 into the first period it was a 1-1 game.  Eric scored one of his signature net crashing goals.  On the ensuing faceoff they walked down and scored.  From then on, they scored almost at will.  Our opponents out skated us at every turn and jumped out to a 8-1 lead before the first period was over.  But we weren’t mad.  We weren’t upset or down on ourselves, because these guys were some of the classiest people I have ever had the joy of being matched up against.  By the middle of the second period it had become a game of us trying to skate with them, and them trying to get their weakest skater a goal.  There was one penalty called the entire game, and it was an incidental slash.  Even though the final score was 12-3, we still found a way to enjoy it.  It was invigorating.  The after game handshake was all smiles and congrats.  We wished them luck on their final, they wished us luck on ours.  It was a real feel good moment that I think many of us needed.
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That night we went out to celebrate.  We hung out at a local bar, eating Buffalo Wings and sipping Beer until about 10.  We cheered about the Devils beating Detroit in overtime and planned out evening moves.  A group of us was Canada bound and a group of us stayed local.  We were well aware that the next day, we would have to face our cross-state rivals again in a final.  Rather than be apprehensive about it, we decided to enjoy our final night up there.

Weenerz go to Buffalo (Part 3: The Battle for Jersey)

Weenerz go to Buffalo (Part 3: The Battle for Jersey)

I don’t have a lot of pictures from this night, and it’s probably just as well.

After a brief respite in our hotel, we once again rallied ourselves to head out to a nearby facility for our second game of the evening.  Several of us had been watching the Sabres game in the coach’s suite (my room).  So, we inevitably hit that postgame traffic on our way to the rink.  This rink was located along the river at a place called “Buffalo RiverWorks”

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The facility itself is a large pavilion that houses 2 full size rinks and ample locker room facilities.  Due to the traffic several of us had arrived very close to game time.  Luckily for us, the game before us was running over on time, so we had time to get prepared.

Our opponents were not just from our state, one of their players had once played for us, and the team resided in the town that one of our guys grew up in.  There was a light-hearted and friendly atmosphere to start the game.  Hugs and handshakes were exchanged in a “fancy meeting you here” kind of manner.  There was no hint of the storm that was to come.

In the early going it was a pretty close game.  At the end of the first period it was 3-2 in favor of them, but we were confident we could play with them.  It was easy to lose track of the score and just get caught up in the moment.  Here we were, 6 hours from home, playing against people we knew in this amazing out-door complex.  The cold night air, was cut by the sound of skates scraping and sticks clashing.  And then, in a moment everything changed.

I’m told the play that started it all was a hockey play in any division.  In a puck battle in a corner, Ryan made body contact with an opposing player.  We play in a “no hitting” league, but this was incidental contact.  However, Ryan came away from the hit better off than his adversary did.  We later learned that the opposing player had been female.  We didn’t think much of it until the retaliatory cheap shots started.

Our opposition had been at this rink for the better part of the whole day, watching and coaching their kids.  We had been on the road all morning and had played a game already.  By this 10:40pm game, both teams were a mixture of tired, weary and possibly intoxicated.  Once the cheap shots began, retaliation was immediate.  Slashes and shoves quickly became shoulder checks and helmet punches when the referees were not looking.  The penalty sheet began to fill up and the score ceased to matter.  Soon there were scrums after almost every stoppage.  Players started losing their cool.  Threats and foul language flew.

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At one point, I lost my cool and broke one of the cardinal rules of respect between coaches and players.  After a particularly nasty scrum and hearing an opponent threaten my players I had, had enough.  I began shouting at the ice that, “If you want to go, I’ll give you my hotel room number and a personal invitation, otherwise shut the **** up.”  At this point, there was no reeling the game back in.

Usually when a game gets out of hand like this, it goes until someone gets hurt and then things calm back down.  Josh ended up face down on the ice, in pain, after being thrown awkwardly into the boards.  I started to head out to check on him, but seeing me come out, he got up.  This brief period of making sure he was ok did not stem the tide of violence.  Not long after this, an actual fight occurred with glove dropping.  Ryan didn’t even get the chance to get his gloves off and just took to defending himself.  He was tossed from the game after the altercation.  However, repeat violent offenders of the opposition continued to be allowed back onto the ice.  With 5 minutes to go in the third, 2 of my players left the bench for the locker room, unwilling to subject themselves to further physical assault.

I attempted to speak to the referee to try to get them to just start removing players from either team that instigated physical altercations.  He was… uncooperative.  To quote him directly, “It’s not my job to keep them under control.”  At the end of the game, a final scrum erupted.  With 3 of my players in the locker room, I only had the 6 guys on the ice and 2 on the bench.  Their bench substantially outnumbered us.  Had they decided to use their superior numbers against my players in a physical altercation I was prepared to get involved.  The scrum threatened to devolve further but was broken up and cooler heads prevailed.  I’m thankful they did.  Nobody needed to spend a night in jail over a hockey game.

The tournament hosts were not happy with how this game had devolved.  I wanted to make my concerns and complaints at that moment, but they were unwilling to entertain any discussion in the immediacy.  I don’t blame them.  Ultimately they handled everything very professionally and I have nothing but good things to say about them.

Weenerz go to Buffalo (Part 2 Our First Game)

Weenerz go to Buffalo (Part 2 Our First Game)

Turns out our first game is at a complex about 20 minutes from our hotel in East Aurora, NY.  The rink is the rink that was used at the Winter Classic.  We consolidate cars a bit.  I take on the goalie, (Brian) and his girlfriend (Christina).  All the gear fits, unsurprisingly.  It’s a chilly night in Western NY when we get there.  Our locker rooms, it turns out are heated sheds.  Everybody starts gearing up and our final team member, Cory, joins us.  Cory participated in another fun tournament we had in jersey associated with our goalie’s webcomic: The Stabley Cap.  You can find it on facebook.  Cory’s arrival signifies the team all together for the first time.  My pregame speech is brief and is mostly a warning to the guys that this is not like our bottom tier league back home, these guys are going to be able to skate and we have to be prepared for that.
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I made my lineups, putting Cory, Ryan and Leo together as I figured they were the best skaters.  I had never seen Leo play with people who could skate with him, so I wanted to see what would happen if he got linemates that played his pace.  Josh was a game time decision, as he had come down with a fever.  Normally I would use him as a center, but his illness meant he’d have substantially less endurance.  Thus I put the ever eager Albert playing center between Josh and Alan.  Defense was Pete, Eric and the Nicks; all usual suspects for me.  That said, we took to the ice.

I didn’t know there was a door into the bench from the side so I had to walk out.
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That’s me with the construction overalls and the backpack.

The game started out poorly for us.  In the opening period they put away 5 goals, storming out to a 5-0 lead.  Cory, Ryan and Leo looked ok as did Pete and Eric, but everyone else seemed to have not been prepared for the level of speed and competition we were facing.  A bit of talk and a bit of guidance saw us battle back in the next 2 periods.  We were still outscored by an additional 6-4, and at one point were down 8-1 At this point though, the opposing team pulled back on the gas a bit, while our first line really started clicking together.  Nick N, Albert and Alan all started to find their legs and elevate their level of play also.
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Alan, in particular was like a sponge and seemed to be taking in every shift and trying to learn something from each shift.  Playing against people who are dominating you gives you a unique opportunity if you reach out and grasp it.  Instead of resigning to defeat, this team kept digging down on every shift trying to pull a positive from each one.  It’s a value that as a coach, you really try to instill into players.  The score says the game is over, but we’ve still got to finish it out, so find something to play for and go for it.
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It got a little chippy, but stayed mostly under control and they were gracious victors.  Our team entered the locker room, having lost, but not unexpectedly.  We had another game at 10:40 that evening, and many of the guys were already exhausted.  On the locker room radio I played Christmas Music while jokingly saying “Losers get Christmas Music.”  In spite of an 11-4 plastering the mood was still good and spirits were still high.  Our next game was against another team from New Jersey.  We were looking forward to having a battle for Jersey up in cold Buffalo.