Friday, November 30, 2012

It works every time

Because it would embarrass him, I won't share the one word that Mama used to get Colin to flash a real smile for his "official" 2012-13 Brandon Jr. Bulls Peewee A portrait.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Good-faith effort

Given the need for objectivity within my occupation, it's easy for that concept to play a significant role here on this blog. Not only is it fair, but it's also the right thing to do.

I'm pleased to say that things are looking better regarding the current situation we've been dealing with for the past few months in Colin's travel-team season. We haven't had an issue in more than two weeks, which means we're headed in the right direction.

Honestly, that's all we ever wanted. We didn't ask for any of this nonsense, but we're weren't going to back down. And it's our sincere hope that we keep heading down this new path.

At the least, we're hoping that this serves as a teaching moment for everyone involved, including ourselves. Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Hockey Life: Nice hat

I'm not a big fan of hockey parents rewarding their kids for every goal they score, shutout they earn or game they win. To me, it sends a mixed message. Yes, it's nice to celebrate their success, but it also can build expectations for rewards on each and every achievement.

In our case, we reward Colin for his academic achievements, knowing full well those will likely take him further in life than anything else. Making the principal's list earns him $50. The honor roll is worth $25. And that's on top of $5 for every A and $2 for every B, as long as he doesn't get a C or below in any other subject.

Having said that, though, I'm not above making exceptions to my no-hockey rewards rule in special circumstances. I told Colin recently, after he spied a certain hat -- a fedora -- during a trip to our local  Target, that if he scored a hat trick this season, no matter which team he was playing for, I'd buy him that hat. Well, earlier today, I had to take him back to our local Target store.

Playing for the Pinellas Sheriff's Police Athletic League Stars, the program where he started his hockey journey, Colin scored not just three goals for a hat trick yesterday, but added another pair during an 11-1 victory during the 2012 Turkey Shootout recreational hockey tournament.

Yes, five goals in one game, topping his previous best of four. No assists, though, meaning he played the role of a puck hog. Ah, just kidding, buddy. Here's a copy of the score sheet for his scrapbook.

In talking with him about the game, as I missed it because of work, he told me it was some of the most fun he has had in a while, just playing hockey and not having to deal with anything else. It's no secret that he enjoys a much greater comfort level playing for the Stars. He has been a part of the program for nearly four years now. And, really, we feel much more a part of the Stars family, if you will, than any other team we've been associated with.

His effort during the game only reinforces the point that a clear mind leads to a sharper focus on hockey. Rather than let the ongoing, unresolved and unnecessary nonsense that we're dealing with in his travel-team season weigh heavy on him, Colin simply went out and, literally, played the game of his life.

Amazing, isn't it?

There's a bit of irony in all of this, too. Colin's travel team, the Jr. Bulls, took part in a tournament in South Florida over the weekend. Though we paid the tournament fee, we stayed here in Hockey Bay and played much closer to home. Our decision, too, boiled down to finances, nothing else.

I couldn't justify spending another $700, between lodging, transportation (we would've had to rent a car, as ours have high mileage), food and gas. Simply put, our pockets aren't as deep as I'd like. All told, playing for the Stars this weekend cost us less than $50, between the fee, gas and food.

Oh, yeah, plus the $9.99, plus tax, for Colin's new fedora.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My 1,000 words

Some posts, as well as photos, don't take a lot of words to send a message. Like this photo. He may not be the biggest or the strongest, but there isn't an ounce of quit in this kid.

Keep going hard, buddy boy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More than hockey

To think that Colin spends his free time only playing, practicing or thinking about hockey would be incorrect. He also spends time building items with Legos.

For his most recent creation -- a Conrail SD80MAC diesel-electric locomotive engine -- he spent seven hours over three days building it in the freehand style, which he tells me means not using any instructions, and relying on only one photo as a point of reference.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Hockey Life: One simple rule

If you've ever been in a hockey locker room, as a player, coach or a parent, you'll know what I mean. Those places, and it doesn't matter where, are, quite simply, an assault to some of our senses. And that's not a good thing.

First and foremost, most every hockey locker room stinks. Not being blunt. No, just being honest. Between the lingering scent of a washdown in bleach or the aromatic aftermath of sweat-filled hockey bags, the smell filling nasal passages is, in a word, nasty.

It's no surprise, too, that locker rooms can get loud. From pregame pump-up music to the celebratory whoops and whistles of a hard-fought victory, it takes mere minutes to leave ears ringing. Not nearly as bad as the stench, mind you, but enough to resonate, if you will, for hours.

Yes, locker rooms can be downright funky, rowdy places. Locker rooms, no matter the sport, must be one other thing, too: a safe environment.

Beyond the camaraderie and the respect that comes with being teammates, the locker room is home. It's a place to feel safe and, without hesitation, a place to let down your guard. Just like you'd feel with your family. You shouldn't have to worry about being humiliated or worse by a teammate. And, yet, it happens.

Thankfully, especially when it comes to youth sports, there are rules and programs in place to shield participants, no matter the age, from these concerns. USA Hockey, the governing body of the sport here in the states, is no exception. Just this year, it approved guidelines, in its SafeSport Program, to deal with locker room behavior.

Really, you'd think that these rules wouldn't need to be put in print. There are just some incidents that common sense, no matter the age, would keep from happening. Still, though, there's the reality of life. Some people, no matter their age, will choose to not practice common sense and, honestly, the basics of being a good teammate and a decent human being.

That's where coaches come in.

Everyone knows being a coach is a thankless position. Coaches, who often serve this position in a volunteer capacity, have to also be parents, teachers, counselors, psychologists, taskmasters and chauffeurs. You name it, a coach has likely filled that role. To me, though, providing and maintaining a safe and non-hostile environment would be one of the most important duties for any coach.

Given all of the good that can take place in a locker room, there are also unfortunate instances and illegal incidents that can occur with the confines. That's why USA Hockey, in its SafeSport program, mandates that a coach or a screened adult (someone who has gone through a background check and has been cleared by the organization or team) must be in the locker room when players are present.

From the SafeSport program's handbook, specifically the top of page 10:

"It is the policy of USA Hockey that all USA Hockey Member Programs have at least one responsible screened adult present directly monitoring the locker room during all team events to assure that only participants (coaches and players), approved team personnel and family members are permitted in the locker room and to supervise the conduct in the locker room. Any individual meetings between a minor participant and a coach or other adult in a locker room shall require that a second responsible adult is present. The responsible adult that monitors and supervises the locker room shall have been screened in compliance with Section III of this Handbook."

Pretty straightforward, isn't it? It's not a guideline. It's a policy. And that makes it an unbending rule.

Part of being a coach is knowing and following the rules, and not just ones pertaining to hockey. To me, it's also upon an organization, be it its board of directors or its youth program director, to make sure any and all rules, policies or guidelines are followed.

Following this one simple rule -- one that, really, is dripping in common sense -- certainly would eliminate any opportunity for foolishness, wouldn't it? I certainly think so. Sadly, though, it doesn't happen all of the time. Even worse, some player -- most often a kid -- usually pays the price.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hitting NHL ice

Colin takes a faceoff at center ice of the Tampa Bay Times Forum,
in a view from the Lightning Vision jumbo screen above the rink.
Even with the NHL lockout, there's still something pretty special about watching your kid play hockey on an NHL rink. That will be us later today, when Colin skates with the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars in a youth hockey game during Battle of the Badges festivities at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Stars, who play in a local recreational league, will take on the Scorpions, another rec league team, in a full game. That takes place, though, after the kids, as well as the parents, get a tour, led by former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk, of the Lightning's locker room.

We're hearing, too, that the teams will play a five-minute exhibition during the first intermission of the Battles of the Badges, which pits police officers against fire fighters in a hockey game.

Though Colin has skated at the Forum before, this is the first time he has ever played a game on an NHL rink. And as excited as we are about this, I can only imagine how pumped he'll be.

It's days like this that make for positive hockey memories.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Test of strength

No one ever told us that this hockey journey would be easy. This is just another test by the Hockey Gods that Colin must endure.

Don't worry, buddy boy, your daddy will always have your back.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Now that I have your attention ...

,,, here are a few links related to bullying that some people, including the many new visitors we've had over the past few days, might find informational:

~ Florida Statute 1006.147, also known as the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act. Though this relates to an educational setting, the principles could be applied to other areas.

~ USA Hockey's Safesport Program Handbook. Items of particular interest are on pages 7-10.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pop quiz

So, I'm curious, which of these would be classified as bullying?

a.) A teammate says you suck in front of the locker room;
b.) A teammate threatens to punch you in the nose;
c.) A teammate falsely accuses you of punching an opponent in the helmet cage;
d.) A teammate "sneezes" ice shavings from a skate at you;
e.) A teammate flicks not one, but two drink caps at your head; or
f.) All of the above.

Quitting a team would only mean a bully wins. Sorry, but that's not going to happen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Hockey Life: What NHL?

Admittedly, hearing that the NHL and the NHLPA engaged in substantive talks last week got my hopes up, albeit slightly, that a deal was within reach and, perhaps, we'd be seeing the opening of abbreviated training camps in the days ahead. Alas, reality struck in and, here we are, apparently no closer to a season than a month ago.

Thankfully, and I say this with all sincerity, I've had Colin's hockey, even with its continued nonsense with one kid on his team, to fill my hockey fix, so far, this season. Yesterday's doubleheader, so to speak, serves as a perfect example.

Based on scouting reports from parents on other teams in the league, I figured Colin's Jr. Bulls peewee A squad stood a very good chance of winning its first game of the day. Well, it did, but not by the margin that I expected. It was a hard-fought 1-0 win over a very scrappy Jr. Knights team from Orlando.

This game was closer than the score. In a contest of close calls and a multitude of moments, it came down to one Jr. Bulls player's extra efforts to score the game's only goal in the waning minutes of the third period. To be honest, I can't remember feeling so tense at one of Colin's games. I can still sense the relief that swept over me when I saw a referee signal the goal.

And, as exciting as the first game proved to be, the second of the day, against a Scorpions Red squad that handily won a previous meeting, was that much more.

I'm not a big fan of kids expending any more energy than refueling their bodies between games. And as draining as the first game was, I was less than thrilled, upon returning from a quick walk, when I spied Colin playing kickball in the rink's back parking lot.

After the Scorpions jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead, I could only envision my worst fears coming true. The kids had indeed wore themselves out and, at best, could hope to only keep it close. The Jr. Bulls' response, with a goal a few minutes later, allayed my concerns.

The kids, it seemed, had plenty left in their tanks.

As the game wore on, it became a series of chances. Shots skittered inches wide, tickled goal lines or clanged off of goal posts. Back-checking forwards, Colin included, covered for defensemen. The level of excitement was building.

After the Scorpions scored to take a 2-1 lead, scoring on a power play, my hopes for a Jr. Bulls win disappeared. It was the kind of goal, as the result of the kind of play (retaliation penalty), that can deflate a team. Imagine my surprise, then, when the kid who took the penalty later roofed one past the Scorpions goalie.

My hope, once lost, had returned.

Both teams, with a win on the line, traded chances. Both goalies played phenomenally, making key saves to keep the game tied. But it took only one moment, as our goalie attempted to freeze the puck, for the Scorpions to score the go-ahead goal. Or so I thought. One referee, losing sight of the puck, blew the play dead.

No goal.

Of course, the Scorpions bench and fans erupted, questioning the whistle and call. I'll admit, too, that the Jr. Bulls got away with one there. It was a quick whistle. There's no doubt about it. Later, the same referee took the blame for allowing the Jr. Bulls, killing off another late-game penalty, to play at even strength, which technically, could have meant another penalty. So, yes, two big breaks went the Jr. Bulls' way, with the game ending in a 2-2 tie.

It was the kind of outcome that can become a turning point for a team's season.

At day's end, these were two games played by kids, ranging from 11 to 12 years old, that covered a wide range of emotions, went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows and, without a doubt, were some of the most exciting hockey I've seen in a long, long time.

As far as I'm concerned, if Colin's hockey is all I get to watch, I have no problem with that.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Hockey Life: Show some respect

Having signed up for youth hockey clinics with the Tampa Bay Lightning over the past few years, we find ourselves receiving a biweekly newsletter aimed at youth hockey. Most times, it gets a cursory glance before it heads to the trash folder. Every so often, though, one profiles an issue that seems rather timely.

The latest newsletter, which profiled maintaining positive locker room behavior, hit close to home.

Like I mentioned last week, Colin has had some issues fitting in with his new organization, the Brandon Jr. Bulls. While most of his teammates have accepted him, there have been a few exceptions. In a way, that's understandable. Not everyone gets along, no matter the age. Doesn't matter if it's at school, work or play. It's a reality within life.

As his father, I know that he can be a handful. He can get pumped up -- sometimes too much -- before and after games. It comes with the territory, I suppose, of his high energy level and the fact he has been diagnosed with ADHD.

It wasn't all that long ago when he would find himself upside-down in a locker room garbage can after a game or practice. Back then, he was an 8 year old on a team that had players up to 12 years old. So he felt the way to fit in, so to speak, was to be the class clown.

Maintaining an even keel, though, is something that we've talked about and worked on over the past few years. Show up, get dressed, think about the game (or practice) and do your best. If he does that, everything should take care of itself. And, for the most part, that's what he tries to do.

From what I hear, anecdotally and in-person, Colin can still draw attention to himself. It's part of his personality. In a way, that's a good thing. He is who he is. To reinforce the teaching moment, though, I've told him it might be better to take a better-seen-and-not-heard approach. Sit back, survey the situation, assess his teammates and have fun. In other words, find a way to fit in.

To hear him tell it, that's what he has done. But, I know better. I've heard his voice through locker room doors. Still, though, I don't believe he has crossed any line like, in my estimation, one particular teammate has on more than one occasion.

Since early in the season, a variety of actions, ranging from ridicule in front of teammates to threats of physical violence to having ice shavings "sneezed" in his face, have left Colin feeling uncomfortable in this teammate's presence. Of course, we've brought every instance to the coaching staff's attention. Thankfully, they've listened and have taken this situation seriously.

Understand, too, that Colin knows the consequences of false accusations -- his days of playing hockey would end, not just for this season or team, but for as long as he lives under our roof. I also know, as an observer of the human condition, he doesn't have the stones to lie about any of this.

Look, kids will be kids. Part of their jobs is to push boundaries. Some boundaries, though, should go untouched. Respecting your teammates, especially at this young age, is one of them.

Let's hope that lesson has been learned. We'll find out, I suppose, in the days and weeks ahead. If so, this will become another valuable life lesson for Colin. If not, it'll be time to get others involved.

Like I said before, zero tolerance means just that -- zero tolerance.