The House of Cards

It appears that over a thousand friends have thus far read my last blog post, that one titled, “Yup, I’ve Been Fired!”  If you haven’t yet, you might want to scan it, since I may be referring to that sequence of events from time to time.

I’m kinda hoping that this is the end of the morbid sort of posts for awhile.  At least one can pray that’s so.  As a matter of fact, as I finished the first draft on this post, I sickened from mentioning my firing.  It’s necessary at times — as a frame of reference, but I decided later to just label as many events as possible as happening before, on, or after that sad day as “September 1, 2012”.

I’ll have you know that I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV.  With that, most of the following comes from the way I experienced things or feel them in my gut.  I don’t believe I’ve made any accusations here, and any wrongdoings mentioned at all are purely alleged.   

As for the so-called “House of Cards”, well…

Only in retrospect can I now piece together some of the things that may have at least partly contributed to my firing.  Ya, in retrospect I now understand why several long-time hockey friends were reluctant to help with my player recruiting efforts, only looking back now can I have a sense of why there was no real outcry from the league’s Commissioner on or after September 1, and only in hindsight can I assume why so many team owners climbed on board the former TEHL train.

Yes, I did call it the “former” TEHL.

At least the way I understand things, the league’s founder gathered bits and pieces from the prior works of a business plan designed for a start-up minor pro league, and he tweaked it (with some help, I’m sure) to fit the needs of a Junior level league.  He’d call it the Tropical Elite Hockey League, and base all of the teams not too far apart in the sunny state of Florida.

I’d seen the pro version of the business plan, and then subsequent ones geared to amateurs, and I loved most of what those contained.  Moreover, I really loved some of the thinking outside the plans…  Thinking “kids first” is always a valiant cause.  Along with that was the aim to have quality coaches in place who knew how to get players ready for the next step.  And those coaches also had to have pro and/or college contacts, so they could help place their kids at those next levels.  Better yet, every organization was asked to work with the others, this to include each coach’s willingness to help place players from other teams.  As was stated numerous times in the early going, the idea was for the entire league to show a great track record when it came to ultimately helping their players make college or pro teams.

Oh, and don’t think that plopping this new league in the middle of the Sunshine State didn’t have it’s own merits.  Hey, who wouldn’t want to coach here?  What players wouldn’t want to go to their hockey practices and then take a swim — outdoors, and in dawgone January?  And, we figured the scouts would even look forward to coming down to see our games, rather than the ones played in your typical frozen northern tundra.

Besides all that, I think there were other factors that made it relatively easy to sell the league concept to potential team owners…  High on the list had to be the founder’s outgoing first impression (explained further in awhile).  Secondly, a potential owner could believe (or be convinced?) that he or she didn’t need much out-of-pocket money to get going.  Hey, the initial payment was only $5000, with subsequent payments not due until after all the team’s players began paying to join (yes, $5500 x 20+ players comes to a tidy sum).   Of course, this put tons of pressure on a team’s general manager, because it was up to him to recruit the players and basically generate all that income — in a matter of just a few weeks.  So, if there’s one thing everyone should realize in hindsight, it’s that not such a rosy picture should have been painted for the potential owners.  I still believe most of the concepts put forth for the TEHL would have worked.  It just would have taken some time, patience, and a little cash reserves.

A funny thing happened on my way to this sunny forum…  I’d only known the league founder through telephone conversations, emails and other on-line messaging platforms.  We seemed to hit it off quite well, at first sharing similar feelings about coaching the game — how things ought to be done in the game, etc.  (We met briefly during a 3-day tryout camp for the league in late June, but that was too hectic a time to really get to know one another.)   Once I became involved in the league, however, I began to hear some negatives about this guy.  Hmmmmmmmmm…

In his defense (as well as mine), it’s hard to judge some of the things I began hearing, because the founder was a long time coach.  I mean, when it comes to coaches, there are often tons of players and parents on a team who love you, and there is always at least one who hates you.  And, let me tell you, the one or two who hate you are a lot more vocal than the ones who liked what you did for them.  I’ve lived with that for 40-years, and I’m guessing that every coach (or boss in any business) knows exactly what I’m saying.  So, maybe you can appreciate me taking a few of the negative things I heard about the founder in stride.

One thing I do know, though — again in retrospect, is that a lot of my long time hockey friends were standoffish when I asked them for help — like when I asked them to point me towards some good Junior-eligible hockey players.  Some even hinted at being leery about sending players to a league that “that guy” was running.  Of course, it still meant nothing to me at the time, when a few of them said something like, “Let me get back to you on that.”  Of course, they never did get back, nor would some of them answer my subsequent emails or telephone calls later on — many of them to guys I’d known for years.  ???  I say again, though, that I never really put all those pieces together (I guess I was too darn busy scrambling my buns off).

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I did a lot of work from home in Massachusetts for a few months.  So I didn’t really start getting to know the founder and self-appointed Commissioner until I arrived down here for good in Kissimmee, Florida on August 1.

At the start, I found him to be a friendly kind of guy — sort of a big, cuddly bear of a man.  Amid the shared laughs, though, we didn’t agree on a number of things.  I just had a vision of how a league — and a league office — should run.  And none of those things seemed to be getting done.  Even when I just casually mentioned a few more things, those seemed to fall on deaf ears.

As an aside…  You might find me a little odd when it comes to discussing a touchy issue, because I’ll only go to the point where I feel it’s a real give and take.  Very much connected to this is something I heard my dad say a few times, in that, “Once someone feels the need to raise their voice, you know they have nothing to REALLY say.”  (Ya, think about that one, because you probably know someone who is just like that:  They start to rant and rave as soon as they don’t have a real explanation.)

I’d like you to also understand the above because I think it entered big time into our relationship.  I’d ask about something, we might start to discuss it, but it wasn’t long before the guy’s voice would lift, or he’d just change the subject.

With that, here’s something else you need to know about me…  Even though you might tune me out, my stance isn’t going to change one iota, IF I feel I’m in the right.  Rant all you want, but that doesn’t win the argument, nor sway me.  If anything, it shows weakness on your part, or an unwillingness to really get to the right answer.

I think anyone in their right mind would agree with one of my earliest recommendations, to have a league website up and running, even if it was at first a WordPress or Blogger freebie.  I was having recruits and the parents of recruits constantly asking me if there was a website they could go to, and I had to each time tell them it was coming — for like a couple of months.  As anyone reading this knows, today is a new age, and customers are now used to being able to visit a company’s site for added information.  What I was worried most about, however, is that a site would have given us a little more credibility (more on this a little later).  Adding one more thing in retrospect, there’s a good chance the absence of a league website — and the occasional loss of players because we didn’t have one — at least partly cost me my job.

I also doubt that anyone would argue the need for daily — and maybe sometimes hourly — communications, from the league office to member teams.  When this got particularly tricky was just before September 1, when it would have been helpful to know which of my recruits had submitted their contracts and deposits, and thus belonged to my team.  Nothing complicated, really…  The Commissioner (or his wife) picks up the mail in the morning, and then hours later announces to all member teams, “John Smith, a defenseman from Timbuktu, has been signed by the Daytona Beach Blaze.”  Hey, this guy was supposed to be overseeing a major undertaking down here, an awful lot of blood, sweat, tears — and money — was being invested by countless people, and it just seems as though everyone deserved to know what was going on.

I also heard often that stray players were contacting the league office, looking for a place to play.  If that was so, it would have been nice to see that constantly adjusted list on a daily basis.  (Right up until September 1, I still hadn’t had a single player pointed my way — oh, except for goaltenders, once I’d already signed two.)

Anyway, since much of this post involves my looking back at some things that didn’t initially strike me as odd, I know now that by never bending in my stance — about the right way to do business — I surely didn’t endear myself to the Commissioner.  And, when I did get fired, it makes all the more sense why he never wrote or called to even say he was sorry (never mind offering to help me out in some way).  No, it’s quite possible he felt I was on to him, or on to what we’d all learn just days later.

Yes, days later…   Ever since the TEHL was first announced, the owner of a popular Junior hockey website started bashing the league — or, so we thought he was bashing the league.  More often than not, he was undressing the new league’s Commissioner.  What we were told — by the Commission and his wife — ranged from it being a personal thing to the fact that the TEHL was not advertising on the guy’s website.

Should a red flag have gone up?  Probably.  But those down here battling for what we believed in banded together instead.  I for one — despite disagreeing with many of the Commissioner’s business methods — was as worried about my own duties as all the other guys.  For the most part, those of us responsible for teams had to ignore the attacks and just press onward.

Only days after September 1, the house of cards started to sway.  Quite obviously, the rest of what I know is mostly hearsay, because I was no longer a part of the league.  I was, however, still plunked here in Kissimmee, trying to figure how I was going to survive, and only hearing bits and pieces of what was happening with TEHL affairs.

I think that a couple of new and damaging articles on that Junior hockey website contributed to the cards shaking some.  And it’s hard to know whether they contributed to a few league owners having some questions in reference to the way some things might be going on in the TEHL office.  (Just so you know, owners had already submitted their $5000 deposits, $500 from every player application went to the league office, and a larger payment was due from the owners very shortly.  So, one can’t blame those owners for wanting to be sure the league was on solid ground.)

The rest of what happened I kinda know, but I don’t think it’s fair to share it here.  Hey, I wouldn’t feel right if I explained things even a tad incorrectly.  Nor would it be ethical on my part to try to share what I believe others were thinking.  So, let me just say that the final outcome to things is that the Commissioner ultimately volunteered to step aside for a time, likely pending further investigation into the handling of some league affairs.  I guess, though, that the temporarily stepping aside thing is moot now, based on the following…

For, on the heels of all that came the word from AAU that the TEHL was no more.  And along with that, seven teams were basically told that they were on their own, or basically cut adrift to fend for themselves.  (My sarcastic way of saying it is that, it’s up to the remaining teams to now sink or swim.)

One sad way to look at all this is that a bunch of people had been dragged far from home — and invested not a little bit of money — on a promise of building something rather unique, something rather special.  And, within less than a day, a great many of those aspirations were pretty near gone…  Poof.

As the TEHL cards came tumbling down, I had some personal thoughts.  I was still stuck here in Central Florida, out of work, and still itching to somehow immerse myself in hockey again.

My initial reaction was that — although I wouldn’t necessarily call it my dream job, I wouldn’t mind acting as an interim commissioner and try to right that ship.  For sure, I’d seen plenty of things over the previous months that should have been done, and I had plenty more ideas looking forward.  Hopes of doing that were quickly snuffed, however, as soon as the league was officially disbanded.  Again, it was now just seven teams scrambling to stay afloat.

Then…  Oh, boy, then…  Despite the way I was previously handled and then dismissed by the St Cloud owner, I have always put business before emotions.  And think along with me here:  I had arranged everything around totally dedicating myself to the St Cloud job, including finding a house almost within walking distance to the rink, I was even paying extra for a room I could use for my video work and such, and I had already started getting around the St Cloud community to create some buzz.  Right about now, I envisioned my former owner — and shrimp boat magnate — dead in the water, or without a rudder.  Moreover, I suspected that, having finally arrived in Florida — long after September 1, she’d discovered that the true challenges down here weren’t as easy to handle as she thought.  With that, I drafted a pretty long email describing all the things I might do for her, and I sent it along with the subject line, “Maybe Burying The Hatchet”.   A few days later I received a rejection.  No big deal, really, especially with her explanation that she couldn’t afford me.  On the other hand, the reason she gave for axing me is something she’ll likely regret someday.

Okay, so the TEHL no longer exists.  Worse yet, all the good things the former commissioner had hoped for the league had also vanished.  And this is no small thing…  I see the possibility of two elite level coaches remaining, and there could be a third.  I see one true hockey man in a front office.   Worse yet, there’s really only one guy left among the remaining teams with contacts to college coaches and pro scouts.

The way I see things, my value won’t be realized by anyone in the league until probably mid-season, which will be too late for me, or too late for my efforts to matter…

Besides the normal day to day things that keep a hockey team functioning, players need to be polishing certain areas of their game that will endear them to the scouts.  Trust me, that I’m a master at that.  So am I a master at solving player problems (I designed a team-play teaching format that has awed NHL coaches, I invented a skating device that cures a skater’s stride in no time, and those things only tend to overshadow the new drills I create nearly every day to solve some player’s problem.)

Worse yet, most team owners aren’t going to notice they’re missing anything until they try to find places for their guys to go.   True enough, that all one needs to do is pick up a phone and ask for a pro scout or college coach.  Whether it gets answered on the other end is another matter, and whether the guy on the other end of the line believes you is yet another.

Spilled milk left to dry, I’ll stop my crying and get on to some predictions.  For, a lot of people will be watching and wondering what will come of the different stray teams left over from the house of cards.

On the day before the cards came tumbling down, there were seven.  Why seven teams?  Ya, surely an odd number, and one that never set too well with me.  In my gut, it was a hint of greed, or an opportunity for the league to collect more team membership fees and more player deposits.  (Actually, if you want to read about what I think happened, go to Amazon.com and grab a copy of my good friend Richard Neil Graham’s book, “Wheelers, Dealers, Pucks & Bucks“, to get an even better understanding.  Within those pages you’ll discover how another great idea also tumbled down like a house of cards.)

Of the seven, I see only one proving to be all that was promised many months ago, and it just might do better than that.  I see two teams perhaps not playing this season, but most likely coming back to challenge the first one in 2013-14.  I’m betting that two of the remaining four will never, ever play a game.  And, of the last two, I see the likelihood of only one surviving to play a second season.

Those remaining two play out of the same arena.  Grrrrrrrrr…  From the very start I called that, “Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!”  Why?  It’s partly because one is owned by the rink, and the other is ultimately going to feel like an ugly stepchild.  From a coach’s perspective, want to have a closed practice for your powerplay or whatever?  Ha.  And from a business standpoint, the two teams are going to be vying for fan attention, press attention, sponsor dollars, and more.  Hey, most rinks are surrounded by 360-degrees of opportunity, where those two teams are sorta relegated to 180 each.

My old team just happens to be the stepchild, with the other owned and operated by the rink.  I see no intentional problems there in the start — the rink people are as nice as can be, but the situation is always going be what it is.  Without a doubt, I see the rink owned team surviving for years to come.  I even see my old owner being a tough enough buzzard to make it through this season.  Only time will tell if she has the staying power to create an elite organization (perhaps in a new facility) for the future.

As for me, I’ll join my son’s team in Daytona Beach, but only on a special assignment basis.  I’m going to do some freelance hockey writing, I’m making myself available to local youth hockey programs, as well as continuing with my many on-line businesses.

A fleeting thought I’ve had over recent days is to start my own team.  Somehow I can’t see 40+ years of hockey knowledge and experience going down the drain.  I’ll also have the benefit of sitting and watching the remaining teams, to learn from their successes and failures.

*

PS:  My good friend, Brenda V, is from Montreal, Canada, and she is perhaps the rosiest personality I have ever encountered.  Anyway, true to form this morning, she sent me a reminder that, “Life has good surprises also, not just bad ones…”  With that, I will once again hope this is my last morbid post for a good long while.

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3 Comments on “The House of Cards”

  1. carlincomm Says:

    Wow, Coach, that’s one bitter pill! Hind sight is always clearer is how I’ve always felt. After, you always see the loose threads, but its like dating I think, you are too dazzled to notice things sometimes. Been there way too many times myself! Lets hope the next post is a good one again!

  2. McDonald Says:

    Coach Chic,

    Interesting story. I know Florida has its appeal, but was actually disappointed to have heard that you decided to leave Mass. Was hoping to introduce our six year old son to you this year and have him receive great skating instruction, like I had with you. Please let me know if you ever make it back North. In the mean time, if you can recommend someone in Mass. who offers good, quality skating instruction around Needham, it would be much appreciated. Enjoy the warmer weather down there.

    Sincerely,

    Bill, Hobomock AAs

    • Coach Chic Says:

      Bill, thanks for those kind words, and it’s awesome to hear you’re still close to the game!

      While I am missing my long running Sunday morning program for beginners “back home”, I think I’ve found a new home here. (Unfortunately, there are probably only four people in this big state of Florida who don’t respect what I can do, but they controlled my destiny — at least in the short term.)

      As for a good beginner program around your area, please let me think on that for awhile.

      Thanks again, buddy. It truly is great hearing from you.

      Coach Chic


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