Archive for February 2010

Predicting These Olympic Ice Hockey Games

February 25, 2010

Well, if yesterday didn’t provide several good examples of why I don’t make hockey predictions, today’s lopsided Team USA win over Finland certainly did.   You see, I think hockey is one of those sports where pure talent doesn’t always win-out?

Twitter friend, @DerekZona, sent me a neat link last night, this after Canada totally dominated the Russians.  That link took me to an article by Scott Reynolds called “Canada v. Russia Post-Game: Unbelievable“, and the author’s opening just about says it all:

“It was supposed to be epic.  It was supposed to be a classic.  It was supposed to be close!  Yes, it was supposed to be the tournament’s two best teams, meeting unexpectedly in the quarterfinals, fighting tooth and nail to the bitter end to determine who would march on as favourites for gold and who would leave Vancouver with nothing…”

Ha, it was supposed to be…  And that’s the point I’m trying to make here, in that hardly any of these games play-out the way they’re supposed to.

Understandably, a lot of my on-line hockey friends were a little disappointed at the way the whole day’s slate of games went.  Oh, I don’t think any of us were disappointed by who won the various match-ups; the real downer was that there weren’t any nail-biters — at all, or no games to keep us on the edges of our seats.

@weissie20 , @janners22 and I discussed the Russians being virtual no-shows, and I offered that most of the Czechs — with a few exceptions — also disappointed me.

I mentioned to @TheEricMartens at one point, that I thought it would have helped the USA team if they later met a Canadian squad that had to expend some energy in their lead-up games.  That certainly didn’t happen in the one versus Russia.  So, those cheering for the Americans can only hope that Slovakia at least forces the Canadians to need showers after tonight’s game.

At one point, my friend, @tavarescountry hit it on the nose when he credited the Canadians with some good old fashioned hard work against the Russians (and it might be unfair of us all to give the Russians all the fault and Canada none of the credit).  I totally agreed with him on Team Canada’s effort, but I also pointed to their inconsistencies over the course of the tournament, in that they’ve seemed to play in one game, snooze a bit in another, play again, and…  And, I had to ask my buddy, What could possibly come next?  For, one snooze — at this stage of the game — means you’re going home.

I went on to mention that a team that goes up and down in intensity worries me.  And I’m talking about any tournament team here, not really Team Canada.  Russia snoozed and what happened?  The Czechs didn’t seem to bring their A-game yesterday, and they’re out.  I didn’t get to see much of Sweden, but they are also hiss-to-ree.  (Come to think of it — and this may or may not matter in the end, Team USA has probably been the most consistent squad to this point.)

Anyway, I finished with @tavarescountry by saying that I need to see that performance/intensity two more times by Team Canada before I can truly believe in them.

Then, as I was readying to sign-off late last night, another hockey coach, @weissie20 , asked me which team I was rooting for (in reference to I-don’t-know-which-game).  Hmmmm…  To be perfectly honest, I seldom cheer that much for any team unless there’s some personal connection.  (Of course, I’ll root for the team I coach, for my grandson’s college team, and now for Team USA, but…)

More often, I love watching and studying individual players, no matter who they play for.  For example, can you blame me for studying the likes of an Ovechkin or a Crosby?

I also mentioned to @weissie20 that I like to study team systems and strategies, and even the styles of different coaches.  But no, I don’t get too rapt in who wins a game I don’t have some ties to.

By the way…  I got to thinking about some of the above as announcements were made today about Anthony Chic’s college playoff schedule.  For, although they’re a low seed, they should win their first game.  If they do, they at least have a decent chance to take the semi-final.  From there, I’m guessing they’d be big underdogs against whomever they face in the finals.  However, as we’re seeing this week in Olympic play, anything can happen in a one game match-up.  One lucky or fluke goal early-on can get a team believing in themselves, while the other team can just as suddenly start wondering if they’ve lost their magic.

So again, just about anything can happen in one game, and — at least in hockey, it seems, talent doesn’t always win-out in the end.

Finally, a young lady who goes by the Twitter name @sarazen asked my opinion of that hit(?) by Boyle (I think), ’cause she evidently thought it was a dirty move.  I still haven’t been able to catch a replay, but friends I talk to seem to agree with Sara.  So, does anyone else out there have their own opinion?

*

Oh, I did a piece yesterday over on CoachChic.com about whether speed skating training can help a hockey player or not.  There’s a great video there featuring Apolo Ohno, the famed speed skater (so a lot of the ladies ought to at least enjoy that part).

Olympic Ice Hockey Thoughts

February 22, 2010

I guess I ought to first update my faithful friends about this past weekend in Ye Ole Hockey Wars.  Ya, most of my weekend is spent running from rink to rink, to a practice and then to a game, on to another game, to my young students’ Learn-to-skate and Learn-to-play clinic, and…

First, “my babies” — I mean my Mighty Mites — lost a great game, 6-5.  Let me clarify something here, however…  I don’t think we’ve had a game this year whereby we’ve been out-played.  No, we almost always out-shoot our young opponents, big-time (even in our three losses).  And, I’d say that was the case this Saturday.  We probably sent twice to three times as many shots towards the other team’s goal.  But, but we missed the net or hit the opposing goaltender a kzillion times.  So, which would I prefer?  I’d really choose that my kids show they’re developing well by playing well; the wins will ultimately take care of themselves.

I thought my Team NEHI junior high kids played one of their best games of the winter.  As CoachChic.com fans have probably noticed with some of the articles and videos I’ve been posting lately, I’ve been working an awful lot on those kids’ offensive skills.  And, they put-on a bit of a show in that regard, even though the game ended in a 4-4 tie.

Now, you might be getting a feeling that I care more about my players’ progress than I do their record.  And, this is really so.  Oh, I have to hold their feet to the fire about the mental mistakes that might lead to poor play, and I surely want them to strive for wins.  At the same time, about the only thing they’ll ever be able to take into their hockey future is what they’ve gained from practices — in the way of improved individual skills and an ability to think the game really well.  Hey, whatever stats or team records they record along the way vanish pretty shortly.

*

Okay, so about those Olympic ice hockey games.  Ah, talk about being in hockey heaven…

I posted my humble opinion on Twitter early this afternoon, telling hockey friends that they ought to get to their TVs to see what I consider the best talent in the world.  What game would that be?  Why, the one pitting the Russians against the Czechs!

Now, I’m guessing this is going to provide some awesome fodder for a CoachChic.com post, as well as for a future “Hockey/USA” column…  Oh, I’m not predicting either team will make it to the Gold Medal Game.  However, if you wanted to see some truly highly skilled players, that was the game to watch.

In my opinion, several European nations — including the Russians, Czechs, Swedes and Slovakians — have unbelievable development systems for young players.  To me, that’s a societal thing, mainly because the hockey federations in those countries dictate some things that are great for development, and things that just couldn’t be pulled-off in the US or Canada.

So was the Team USA win over Canada a thriller.  Actually, I really enjoyed watching the “team concept” managed by Ron Wilson and his American squad, this against the pretty star-studded line-up of Team Canada.

I took some heat over on Facebook tonight, though, after suggesting that there is unfair pressure on the Canadian players to win.  Oddly, I didn’t hear any complaints from my Canadian friends.  No, but I got raked by a number of US citizens who felt they are just as passionate about the game as any other nation, and that they demand(?) success from their Olympic team.  Oh, I could go into numerous experiences I’ve had north of the border that make me feel the way I do.  But, I probably can’t convince anyone who hasn’t seen or experienced what I have.  So, as I often end these entries — 🙂 …  Oh, well!

Playing a Little Catch-up

February 19, 2010

Ya, I know I left some things hanging the other day, so I thought I’d clean them up as best I can…

*

The saga of my PC battles continues — with spam and malware, although I finally brought the laptop to my computer guy to get that virus removed.  The spam?  Well, I’ve cut it down from about 200 per day to just a handful.  I can’t just go turning my controls up on that stuff, though, because an awful lot of important customers have some pretty weird email addresses and subject lines.

*

I sometimes joke that I can’t sneeze without someone in Sweden or Canada or the town next door yelling, “God bless you!”  Ya, I can’t do much within hockey circles without everyone in creation noticing (and probably having an opinion).

The most recent event was both comical and unnerving, however…

You see, last week I was offered an interesting coaching assignment, but I took the weekend to think about the time commitment and how the new work would affect everything else I do.  All things considered, I thought it would be good for me to try for a year, so I agreed to the job on Monday.

Well, the presses to print fliers must have been warming-up and waiting for my call, because I started getting emails in less that 24-hours.  Some folks were evidently psyched at my new availability, while I discovered tonight that some are concerned I won’t be able to keep my long-time commitments.  Geeeeeeeze…  Only someone who doesn’t know me very well would think the latter.

Anyway, I guess I’m going to have to wait for all the dust to settle from this slight change.  Hopefully, though, there won’t be a new — or negative — post on this subject anytime shortly.

In due time I’ll have a better understanding of the job itself (’cause I’m still scratching my head a bit), and I’ll look forward to explaining it better to you then.

*

Well, I would really prefer to write more about the Olympics here, and more specifically the hockey portion that’s now under way.

As I may have said previously, it struck me while catching a few minutes of one game the other night how different those contests are with NHL players involved.  What I mean, is that the current way things are done makes these games more like mid-season NHL All-star games — whereby a collection of stars are hastily thrown together and play as best they can.

Don’t try to tell me these are “team” events, because it takes a long time for team cohesiveness to form.  In fact, I think the teams with the most pro players have to be playing rather generic systems, only because it usually takes a while for players to get really comfortable with X’s and O’s that are drastically different to them.  (Actually, it doesn’t hurt if a group can practice these countless hours, so that players can perform their roles almost in their sleep.)

Something else struck me today as I thought about this, in that we’re not likely to see a “Miracle On-ice” again under the current set-up.  No, the 1980 version of Team USA was put together and then honed their skills and style of play over about a year.  And, so did the Soviet team work together for a very long time, and so did the Swedes and the Czechs and most other squads of that time.

Then, I came to yet another conclusion today, sensing that we will never again see the emergence of a Herb Brooks or a Tarasov until Olympic hockey returns to the old way of doing things.  Those guys were architects, or molders, but they needed time with their teams in order to perform their magic.

All that said, here’s MY plan:

  1. Return to the old set-up, and only allow amateur players to compete in the Olympic Games.
  2. Resurrect the Canada Cup type of tournament for the NHL players.

To me, that gives us hockey nuts the best of both worlds, and excitement to spare.

Your thoughts?

*

Was it just me, or did anyone else truly appreciate the great defensive tactics performed by the Swiss in their game against Canada tonight?  And, was I the only one who felt a little badly for the Canadian players?  I mean, those young guys are under pressures most other tournament players wouldn’t even understand.  Team Canada isn’t allowed (by their fans) to lose a single game.  Again, talk about undue  pressure.

Problems and Reflections

February 16, 2010

Well, I can get the problems out of the way quickly, with just two words, spam and worm (Grrrrrrrrrr)…

The spam has been coming in at as many as 200 per day, sometimes even filling my email box.

The worm was something new…  One of my old Team NEHI parents sent a link to a video I presumed was of her son playing high school hockey.  Right.  I almost sensed there was something wrong with the link, but trust can get one in trouble nowadays on the Internet.  (By the way, I don’t think the mom did that on purpose; the same virus likely took-over her PC.)  Anyway, about 4-hours later, I think I’m finally free of that bug (ger).

*

I accepted a coaching job today that I’m still going to keep under my hat for awhile.  (No, it’s not a pro job; I had my last pro interview like about 20-years ago.)  It’s a youth thing, and something that seems kinda interesting.  But, more on that sometime soon, when I know a little more about it.

*

There have been some rumors (or more than rumors) circulating in these parts, about some partnering going on between USA Hockey and MA Hockey.  And, if what I’m hearing is true, some of the MA Hockey brass are going to hear about it from This Old Coach.  It ain’t gonna be a one-time blast, either…  Naw, I will likely be a thorn in their sides for as long as I can type.

As a side bar, here’s a part-message I received from a guy on the other side of the Atlantic…  “_____ (our mutual friend) will no doubt tell you that hockey here in Scotland could thrive if it weren’t for the cavemen running it!”  🙂  So, what do you think I wrote back?  I said something to the effect that Scotland hasn’t cornered the market on cavemen overseeing hockey.  Thankfully, though, that’s what keeps our mutual friend and me in demand (to solve the problems caused by those Neanderthals).

Well, that’s about all I can say on this topic for now, while it is still just a rumor.  But, I’m not the shy type once I know what’s truly going on.

*

As for the reflections…

My favorite nephew and my (only) godson contacted me through Facebook just minutes ago.  “Sweet Lou” was on the rise as a lefty pitcher in the Reds’ organization, and was at one time told he was the hardest lefty thrower in their organization.  My point:  that Lou knows sports.

Anyway, once the conversation got around to Anthony Chic, Lou thought him a late bloomer and wondered if he had a chance to play on after college hockey ends.  Hmmm…

First, I’m not sure that’s what Tony C really wants.  Oh, he likely will play a little minor pro or give Europe a try, but he also is thinking about law school (ala Theo Epstein), because his real aim is to someday work in a front office.  Ya, playing a little pro hockey would be good towards that end, especially because it would be easier for him to deal with pro players later if he had a few battle scars here and there.

Secondly, however, let me share something a pretty bright pro player told me a number of years ago, because this is something for any hockey enthusiast to really ponder…

What the pro told me was that the best time for a real prospect to leave college would be after about two seasons.  His rational was that the great practice-to-game ratio is initially good over about that span, and those couple of years give a young player time to grow and mature.

Okay, so if 2-years of college hockey can do a player good, why wouldn’t 4-years make him all the better?

Well, the flip-side of that great training ratio is that college coaches — with so much time with their players — tend to confine them to real strict systems.  In other words, with so many practices, they tend to program their players into doing things almost like robots.  And, much more than about two seasons like that is going to take all the creativity out of truly gifted player.

Again, that wasn’t initially my idea; it was told to me by a pro player.  But, I’ve thought long and hard on that for a lot of years, and I’ve yet to find an argument against it.

So, what do you think?

*

Great news, Al Gore…  We’re expecting more snow tonight and tomorrow here in MA!

Weekend Wrap-up

February 15, 2010

Well, this past weekend was a slightly slower pace than I’ve had over most of this winter.  Still, it was as interesting as ever…

*

My Team NEHI Jr HS Team had a bye in their schedule this Saturday, and I also canceled their morning off-ice session because so many kids were going away (due to the long weekend and their school vacation).

Sometimes (and I do only mean sometimes), a little time-off is good for a team.  So, I’m hoping everyone returns enthusiastically to our Monday night skills practice.

*

My Mighty Mites continued their winning ways, winning  their Saturday afternoon game, something like 7-4.  As always, those little rascals love scoring their goals.  🙂

*

With the junior high team’s bye, I had the chance to travel out to Western MA to see my grandson and his team play at Assumption College.  On this night, I thought Anthony was the best thing on the ice (and I’m not always that kind).  I could tell things were running in slow motion for him, and that he was playing with a lot of confidence.

That thing about things running in slow-mo is something that happens for a good player from time to time…  I mean, it’s as if everything around you is moving slowly, and you can just dissect or pick apart the opposition.

I doubt he’s going to catch the league scoring leader now, with only one regular season game left.  But, he’s in third place currently, and (I think) 5-points behind the leader.  Also, having broken the single season goal-scoring record for Franklin Pierce University last Saturday night, tonight he eclipsed the school’s record for most points in a season.

Oh, almost forgot to mention…  One of my long-time former students, Lance “Duke” Brady, is the head coach out at Assumption College.  He went to play in both the AHL and Roller Hockey International.  He put a bear hug on me the last time I got to see Anthony play against his team, and he and Anthony have kind of a rivalry going due to the NEHI connection between the three of us.  (Aaaah, is that awesome, or what?)

*

My Sunday morning Learn-to clinics were a blast, as usual, mainly because the young students and their just as eager young parents make this a fun atmosphere.

Then, a sign that I’m getting REALLY old, and that I’ve been around for a long, long time (’cause this is now happening almost every time I go to a rink)…  One 20-something young fellow stopped me in the rink lobby after my clinics, introducing himself as one of my former hockey school students.  I loved that, and I could envision his face way back when — when he was about 12-years old.

Yet another former student and player came to see me right after that.  I hadn’t seen Wayne P in years, but it was awesome to meet his two young sons — who are just learning to skate, and it was as awesome to see that Wayne grew to be a nice young man, and seemingly doing well for himself.

Actually, a huge young guy also stopped me after my Mighty Mite game up in Hingham yesterday afternoon.  I remembered “Hutch” too, as one of my long ago students back in the very early 80’s at Cohasset Winter Gardens.

*

Call it the highlight (or maybe even the lowlight) of my weekend, I was offered an interesting proposal to do some coaching next season.  Oh, the job offer isn’t the bad part of it all.  What does worry me, though, is the way I think hockey is going to change over the coming season and beyond, most of this having to do with what I’m hearing (and sensing).  I really can’t say a lot about it tonight.  But, I have this gut feeling it’s going to become an important topic of discussion pretty shortly.  So, stay tuned.

*

I just posted an article over at CoachChic.com tonight, this about the fact that some youth coaches are evidently encouraging (or teaching) their kids to take dives on near penalties.  So, another Master Coach, Stirling Wright, and I really had our say on that topic (and how).

I also submitted another article on the way NHL-ers tie their skates differently than most (but very much like some of my NEHI-ers).  Sorry, but you have to be a member in order to have access to THAT kind of information.

*

Well, that’s it.  I hope all my on-line friends had as nice a weekend as I did.  And, a very Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

A Bit of Family History

February 11, 2010

I have a feeling that snow shoveling is good for my hockey shot.

Ya, that’s right, I finished some on-line work with CoachChic.com at one in the morning, and I was up and heaving snow at 7am.  Actually — and despite the lack of sleep, I like the fact that I’m getting an early start on the day.

Thankfully, I now have two straight days without outside hockey teaching commitments, which means I’ll be able to stay with a project or two without much distraction.

Oh, and I was only half joking about shoveling being good for a hockey shot.  Check this for yourself, because I think most of us hold a stick, a shovel and a push-broom in the same way.  So, while the actions aren’t exactly the same, I’ll suggest that grip strength is enhanced, at least for young players and adults (or for those who aren’t engaged in a progressive strength training program).  Come to think of it, that kind of hand strength would also be good for goaltenders.  (All that said, I can still see the smirk on my grandson’s face when I tried to make the connection between his hockey shot and raking leaves around the yard.  “Ya, sure, Gramps.  Ya, sure.”)

*

While checking email this morning I opened an update from my high school’s alumni association.  And, following the link contained within, I got a warm and fuzzy feeling as the home page page opened.  I felt that even more so as I jumped from page to page.  Funny, but my old high school means a lot more to me than my college.  I think some of that might have to do with their relative sizes, as well as the fact that I probably changed the most during my teen years.

A bit of history…  My grandmother came to America from Italy before 1900, and — get this:   she came here alone, at the age of 12.  (Can you imagine that?)  She married and lived in Revere, MA until my grandfather passed away (when my dad was only about 10-years old).  With that, she moved her family to Whitman, MA, and purchased a house that was actually the real Toll House.  Now, I’m not talking about the world famous eatery, or where the cookie of the same name was made famous — that was just up the street.  But I am talking about the place where tolls were collected back in the early 1800’s, and the place for which the restaurant was named.  So, that makes the generations having lived here in Massachusetts’ smallest town (area wise):  my grandmother (1st), my dad (2nd), me (3rd), my son (4th) and my grandson (5th).  Kinda neat, huh?

If you look on a map, you’ll see that Whitman is located about 20+ miles south of Boston (and an eternity if you take a Massachusetts highway), and it’s right next to a small city, Brockton.

Sports fans might recognize Brockton as “The City of Champions”, as in Rocky Marciano and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.  Rocky used to run through the farm roads of my hometown when I was young.  (Thank God our dog was tied, ’cause she really wanted a piece of that stranger running past the house.)  I played semi-pro baseball against Rocky’s younger brother (and I stole a kzillion bases against the oft sulking catcher).

Oh, one other thing, in the event some young Whitmanites might read this…  When I was young, the west side of town was all farmland.  No leash law back then, a collie dog used to follow me everywhere.  I used to help the guys across the street herd their 200 head of mostly holstein cattle back to their barn on summer nights, and I used to play in the middle of the single lane road that most now know as a high speed Route 14.

Someday, when I get a chance, I’ll tell you a little more about Whitman’s history, and about a lot of pretty famous people who actually grew-up in my little hometown.

*

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it…

February 11, 2010

As I said a little earlier tonight, I hate it when a storm threatens, but then is iffy.  I also said to my NEHI Jr HS Team parents when I wrote them tonight, “A hockey coach would be fired for being wrong as much as a weatherman is!”

Actually, I think ALL of the meteorologists in the Boston area came away with egg on their faces today…  They’d been talking 10″ to 16″ of snow on the MA South Shore for a day or two, then suddenly started to hem and haw as the storm arrived.  Not only  that but, the snow didn’t start falling until about 5- or 6-hours later than they’d predicted.  And that meant that I had to make a call (about our mid-evening practice) before it really started coming down.

All in all, though, I guess I did the right thing in calling-off the skate.  Oh, we’d have probably all made it TO the rink; but I think it would have been pretty nasty when all my families got out of there and tried to make their ways home.

About 6″ or 8″ is what it looks like out my window right now, and I’m not looking forward to getting up early to clear that stuff.  (Have I asked before if anyone knows of a nice rink with palm trees hanging overhead?  🙂 )

*

By the way…  Although I know my 4000+ friends on Twitter get the word on my latest posts, as do my 400+ friends on Facebook, I want to remind others that you can subscribe by using a feedreader.  Bloglines will let you know at the moment something new is posted here, as will many other fine services.