Archive for April, 2010

Ice Hockey: The Saturday Night Tournament

April 26, 2010

After having played three sets of music Friday night and having sat through a dinner on a Saturday afternoon for my grandfather’s 90th birthday, where my dad still asked me who my barber was in order to get a cheap laugh, I set out to play five hockey games between 9pm Saturday night and 5:30am Sunday morning.

            Big Sexy called me the week before and asked me if I would be interested in entering a team in the first annual iron man hockey tournament on a Saturday night.  It took me two seconds to answer.

            “Hell yes…”

            After committing, it became necessary to amass the correct five players and a goalie to effectively tread water in such a tournament.  I started calling and sent around my text messages until I had my team.  I received a text message during my grandfather’s birthday celebration from Big Sexy that read;

            “DON’T FUCKING CHICKEN OUT, CALAHAN…  WE’RE COUNTING ON YOUR TEAM TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN…”

            While eating my scallops and spinach, I had to listen to my dad tell my kids, what an asshole I looked like as a teenager.  I smiled politely and listened to the story I had already heard at least a dozen times before.  Now mind you, my father had had a nip of something before replaying this story.  My kids enjoyed the story.  Kids always like hearing stories no matter how old they get.

            “Your dad looked like a fucking idiot… Pardon my French.  He wore combat boots, camouflaged pants, T shits that said everything under the sun and a Mohawk hair cut…  Now look at him, he still has a bad barber.  Poor bastard still can’t catch a break.”

            This was coming from a Vietnam Veteran that went from looking like Charles Manson to Beetlejuice.  I smiled politely while being roasted by my father and responded to Big Sexy in a text message.

            “WE’LL BE THERE WITH BELLS ON…”

            Big Sexy owns a pro shop inside a municipal rink and he and the park district guys who ran the rink, decided to host a tournament where by each team could only have five skaters and a goalie.  There were no substitutions allowed.  No line changes.  Whistles for icing and penalties were penalty shots.  I gathered up my team based on good feeling, comedy and talent.

            My best friend and confidant was my first choice.  I’d give you his name but he’s shy.  His nickname is Butterball and it’s not because he’s fat.  We were once playing a pick up hockey game where a loud mouthed guy from Boston kept chirping on the bench.  We got tired of listening to his goofy Bostonian accent and my best friend made a comment to the guy who acted as if he invented the sport of ice hockey from Boston, a rotund figure with mediocre abilities at best.

            “HEY BUDDAH-BAWL…  WHY DON’T YOU GET ON THE ICE AND PLAY SOME FWUCKING HAWKEE AND SHUT THE FWUCK UP…”

            Since that day my dear friend goes by the name Butterball or Buttah-bawl.  Now Butterball is poor as a church mouse as the saying goes.  Butterball had a job with a railroad company and he was let off of work some eight months ago.  He now has created a landscape company and has some accounts of well to-do people who refuse to use their leisure time to manicure their lawns.  Butterball hired my son to help him.  He didn’t have money to play but I spotted him and he accepted. All the others were without out a cent and so I spotted them all too.

            My son and his life long hockey companion decided to play along with this tournament instead of attending a party of someone who knew someone who knew someone who was having a party or just going to any drinking establishment on a Saturday night.  I had to explain to both these young men of twenty two years of age, what kind of tournament we were playing.  The concept was not sinking in readily.  They both pledged to play in the tournament for me. 

            My son Quinn and his friend Tim both had been playing minor league hockey up until six months ago when the team they were playing for, suddenly folded due to lack of money.  Both came home and resumed their lives doing odd jobs, drinking and hanging out.  Neither of them was going to do much of anything on a Saturday night and so they decided to play in the tournament.

            I needed one more skater and a goalie and so I called Andras who was the younger brother of the two South African brothers from my Canada story previously.  Andras had been playing division III hockey with another lad whom I had coached when they were in high school.  Frostie was the goalie.

            As you all know who know the sport of ice hockey; it takes a special mindset to want to have people fire pucks at you while you’re dressed like the guy from the movie, The Hurt Locker.  When I coached Frostie, he was five feet tall and looked to be eight years old.  He was a Darren Pang type of goalie and was very good for his height.  I had not seen Frostie for two years and he suddenly was seven inches taller and went from having a buzz cut to really long hair and looking like one of the brothers in the boy group called The Hansons (not to be mistaken for the brothers in the movie Slapshot).

            We stepped out on the ice with two college players and two minor league players and lost to a bunch of slow footed, once a week players by the score of 3-2.  In the locker room, there was a lot of finger pointing and animosity.  I summed it up as best as I could with an analogy they could all understand.

            “It was like challenging your father to a fist fight and knowing that you are stronger and faster, took him for granted and he stepped up and handed you your ass…”

            They all thought about it and agreed I had hit it on the head.  I gave them the best advice any coach could ever give a player.  It was probably what Mike Babcock said to the Detroit Red Wings after a humiliating loss in Detroit on a Sunday when they could have won their playoff series and moved on;

            “Quit fucking around with the puck and just fucking shoot it…  There’s no reason to be the fucking Harlem Globetrotters with fancy fucking passes.  Use their defensemen as screens and just fire the fucking thing.”

            This discussion went on at a TGIFridays restaurant while we drank ice water and ate nacho chips with salsa in our hockey equipment.  Frostie the goalie wore everything except his helmet, catcher, blocker and chest and arm protector.  He walked into a restaurant with skates and leg pads on and they sat us in a corner where nobody could smell us.  We discussed the whole rabbit and tortoise thing and we’re ready for the rest of the evening.  We only had four more games ahead of us.

            The second game was against a team full of beginners.  We were leading the game five to nothing with only three minutes into the game.  I had to rein the boys in and tell them to play keep away  until the end of the game.  We fired blistering slap shots over the head of the goalie and wide just to not insult the other team entirely.  Next we  then took on the hosts of the tournament who came in stacked.  We came from a 2-0 deficit to win the game 3-2.  My son in the whole process had almost gotten into two fights and trashed talked from beginning to end.  He still has not figured out that rough play against him is more a sign of respect than intent to injure.  We then went on to face a team of mostly blue collar cop/firemen/Italian players that thrived on extra curricular activity.  Within two minutes, a small Italian cop with an attitude a several beers in him, put the body on my son and got the stick up high.  The rest of the game, my son said things personally to get under the skin of the man with a Napoleon complex.  Things such as, you suck, you’re old, on my worst day I never was as bad as you and so on.  We beat that team 4-0 and nearly had a full team on team fight when one of their guys slew foot Butterball in front of our net.  Butterball, for as even tempered as he was, was going to beat down the man who swept his feet from behind and caused his head to bounce like a bowling ball inside his helmet on the ice.  I tried to be the voice of reason with the other team.

           “Boys…  You’re just upset because you lost and lost even though you tried to cheap shot us the whole fucking game.  Go get a beer and watch us in the final…”

            My mother was verbally assaulted and I was invited to have sex with myself and so on.  I smiled and went to the locker room to sip on some water and have a snack until the Zamboni had cleaned the ice for the grand finale.

            At five in the morning after having had played four games and having sat around wearing smelly hockey equipment for eight hours, after having watched highlights of professional hockey games and baseball games on ESPN, the final came.  We promptly scored three quick goals.  My son got into it verbally with a young guy with an ample amount of testosterone on the opposing team and they took to playing bull and matador with each other throughout the course of the game.  When the dust settled, we had won the match 3-2.

            So there we were, five skaters and a goalie sipping cheap beer in a smelly locker room littered with tape and other debris on the floor as the sun was beginning to light the eastern sky, minutes before the figure skaters would be diligently stretching out in the lobby and taking the ice.  We had won the championship of a tournament where by we won nothing more than embroidered fleece sweatshirts and free pass to the next tournament, while the rink workers were cleaning up all evidence of the hockey tournament.  I said nothing sappy or nostalgic to any of the boys in the room.  I thought to myself that at a point in my life where I was younger, I was the coach of the goalie and three out of the four other players besides myself and Butterball.  We were able to have fun and win on a meaningless tournament in a suburb of a big city in North America on a Saturday while people in the world starved, hunted for fresh water and tried to avoid being killed in the cross fire of war.  The hectic pace of life and necessity of having to slog through the day to day world of working and making ends meet, will take precedence an importance over a ice hockey tournament on a Saturday night.  Someday I will run into all of them even though it may never happen collectively again the way it was last night and we will reminisce about our championship victory.  We will laugh about the things we said in the locker room to one another and going to a restaurant with all our gear on and how we walked to our cars as champions as the sun was coming up and birds were chirping on a spring morning.  Guys never say to other guys that things such as a tournament make life more worth living.  They just ask… “When are we playing again?”

Ice Hockey: Everyone is a NHL Prospect

April 18, 2010

Anyone who has ever waited to take to the ice to play hockey after figure skaters and stood around with their bottom half of their gear on possibly wearing a wicking type of shirt that fits like casing on a sausage and glared through the glass at the girls and that one guy or two, doing the same spins and same jumps over and over again before the Zamboni cleared away any evidence of them, you’ve probably had similar thoughts as I.  Very simply I have asked why.

            If figure skating would have been my thing, my chances to make the Olympic team for the United States as and a male figure skater, would be roughly one out of one hundred million.  I stand a better chance of winning the lottery, being hit by a satellite or lining up four double diamonds at one of the slot machines at the Greektown Casino in Detroit (the Greeks have done better off of me than I of them) than making it to Olympic glory.  Some who figure skate might say that they do it because they love it and are passionate about the sport.  I understand that very well.  As a grown man with grown children, I still play ice hockey four to five times a week because I love it and I am trying to find fun ways of keeping my percentage of body fat down while having a good time.  Having scoffed at figure skaters and their Joan Crawford-esque mothers who dedicate hours and hours and dollars upon dollars paying washed up former youth figure skaters who have become coaches who too were once Olympic hopefuls, these coaches go on to run the dog and pony shows at every rink, everywhere in North America. Sadly, ice hockey parents are on a similar track.

            If the 2008 stats are correct or even if they are skewed a tad, 768 Americans make their living playing the highest level of professional hockey.  I know of a two or three people that have made it to the NHL and hoards of others that went on to play college, juniors and various levels of professional hockey.  Not too many make the big game.

            When you take into account that there are only 35 million people in Canada, one’s chances of making the NHL are much higher coming from a Canadian youth system as the Canadians still make up 52% of the NHL.  Many will say that the European style of play is more current and intelligent than the North American style of play.  Canada winning the gold in the men’s and women’s categories was a pretty strong statement for the youth development in Canada.  United States posted silver in both which is not bad except that the pool of people from which to draw from in Canada is about 10% of the United States.

            The Americans make up roughly 20% of the NHL after Canada’s 52%.  The rest of the pie is split among Russians, Czechs, Slovaks, Swedes, Fins with a few from places like Belarus, Ukraine, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Kazakhstan.  The Czechs, Swedes and Finns combined are close to the same percentage of Americans currently playing in the NHL.  The combined population of those three countries is about 25 million.

            During the Olympic telecasting in the United States which was carried on MSNBC, the commentators discussed how in the Czech Republic and Slovakia would be

virtually shut down to watch the Olympic Games.  Tiny Slovakia nearly showed up Canada in the semifinals of the Olympics and failed to medal after a loss to Finland.  Most people with access to a television in Slovakia watched the final game for the bronze medal between Finland and Slovakia.  The United States against Canada game was finally covered on NBC instead of MSNBC and suddenly hockey was of interest as it was in 1980.  The final score in overtime showed that the game could have gone either way and either team could have won the gold.  Great suspense rather than watching an ass beating without any drama and many Americans may have considered putting their little man or woman in a local park district ice hockey program after that day.  That is what most hockey enthusiasts wanted is for the whole country to see that the game is not just morons fighting a la WWF with no thought or strategy.  The intensity by all countries that participated was unparalleled except in NHL playoff games.  I went to work bleary eyed from watching hockey until four in the morning during the Olympics as did a quite a few other hockey fans that I am acquainted with.

            Not to poo poo anyone from ever trying to aspire to something such as the NHL because the odds are so heavily stacked against making it.  I believe that anyone and everyone should have a dream and a goal.  I still do at my age.  The problem I see is that the dream more often than not is adopted by a young player after being prodded by their parents.  All things being equal and parents being barred from arenas, many above average players in the United States and Canada, are equipped to make it to the highest level.  The missing ingredient is usually drive.

            In 1998, in the summer, in Minnesota, my son and his team were invited to a prestigious AAA tournament of pee-wees from Canada and the United States.  A team from Duluth was the team to watch out for and so the parents and coaches from my son’s team, watched the Duluth team play a quicker and smarter brand of hockey than our boys were capable of despite the fact that they were on the ice eight hours a week in addition to two or three games on the weekend.  The parents all marveled at the Duluth boys until we faced an unknown team from the Ukraine.

            The Ukrainian boys came into the rink without a smile on their faces.  They didn’t have hand held games nor did they engage in tag or other horse play.  Their equipment was shoddy at best and they simulated shooting on their goalie prior to the game because they did not have pucks.  The team had one coach who arrogantly went outside to smoke a cigarette while his team warmed up with no pucks.  When the game started, it looked as if our boys were walking on the freeway.  The speed and accuracy of the passing and positioning was so ahead of what our boys were capable of that they were almost rendered useless for about an entire period.  The final score was a double digit loss and our shots on goal were under five.  In the third period, the Ukrainian coach once again left the bench to have a cigarette leaving no adult or coach in charge.  It didn’t matter.  The coach never spoke to his players the entire game and the players changed every thirty seconds like clockwork without one word of direction.  The doors to their bench opened and closed like a beehive. 

            After the game, the parents from our team made various comments to each other on how and why our boys could have been beaten so severely.  We did find out that the team was handpicked from Kiev and that hundreds tried out for the Ukrainian team and if a player was chosen he was tutored by a traveling teacher as the team traveled the world in search of elite tournaments to participate in.  The coach’s job was dependant on him placing his players in American colleges or North American junior programs.  Many of those young players understood that if they were not successful at ice hockey, coming home and slaving away in a factory for the next 45 years would be their future.

            Ice rink parking lots are filled with Suburbans or minivans with stickers of colleges from the eastern United States, AAA programs or prep schools. The parents of most hockey players in North America spend thousands a year on ice time and equipment.  The sport in the United States and Canada favors the rich over those living check to check.  Some will make that sacrifice for the love of the game but if you’re hungry, it’s really hard to eat a puck.  Most North American players understand all too well that ice hockey is not their only ticket to a life worth living as was the case with the Ukrainians or is often the case with inner city African Americans who wind up playing professional sports.  You’ll be hard pressed to ever poll the parents of any ice hockey player in North American player and find out that their son or daughter has to make it in ice hockey or face a life of drab toiling until retirement.  Driving automobiles, dating, drinking, love making, working and then again not working at all are all things that could steer away a high school age ice hockey player from making the decision to put all else aside for a dream and a way of life that means more to them than most anything else without a nagging parent with a whip in their hand.  I’m sure there are many things to do in Finland or Slovakia and with money in hand life sure is easier to live.

Ice Hockey: The Favorite Team

April 3, 2010

Anyone who has ever coached any sport can tell a story about a team or a player or a particular game that stands out enough to be worthy of a story.  I have several.  One was a mite AA team that I coached that only had six skaters; a good goalie, one fantastic scoring forward that scored 80% of our goals and a tiny Filipino girl that was talked into playing on the team by my daughter so that I could alternate the players off of the ice to get a breather and a squirt of water.  The team lost in the playoffs and received a standing ovation by the opposing team’s parents when our undermanned team lost in over time.  The little Filipino girl , who didn’t even know how to skate very well, happened to blindly center in a pass from the boards for an assist.  She had to explain to her dad that the assist was as valuable as the goal.  The dad had never wanted to watch a hockey game before watching his daughter, who was dressed in my older son’s old equipment, tottering around on the ice.  The mites were a cute story of note but not the one that really touched my soul as a parent, a man, someone who played the sport and as a coach of ice hockey.

The director of the youth club in Evanston, Illinois, asked me if I would be interested in forming and coaching the first midget AA team for the club.  In years past, nobody involved in the club’s board, was interested in losing Evanston High School players to a midget team.  The goal was to pull in players from mostly Chicago high schools that did not have a high school hockey team.  In August, it was looking like it was not going to be possible.  I had six skaters and no goalie.  The director had heard of a program on the west side of Chicago where some guys had volunteered their time to teach inner city African-American kids to play roller hockey and ice hockey.  The director had been approached about taking three skaters and a goalie.  A man that was hired to round up the four players and bring them to Evanston three times a week for practice, found a job at a nursing home and so my job as a coach became to also round up four different players at four different locations on the west side of Chicago and transport them to practice.  I would then conduct the practice, load them up and hit a fast food restaurant on the way home since they would not have otherwise had anything to eat.  I would then get home and lay out all their equipment in my garage floor and try to unwind at home at about 1am.

At the time that I committed to coaching this particular midget team, I had separated and gotten divorced.  My son at the time was playing midget AAA for the Chicago Young Americans and my daughter was still playing with the boys in Evanston on the other team I was coaching which was a bantam AA team.  I moved out and my daughter opted to move with me, leaving my older child, a son, to stay with his mother.  My days consisted of getting my daughter to school, working out, going to play pick up hockey at Johnny’s Ice House in downtown Chicago, and working at my hockey pro shop in the afternoons and evenings (when I wasn’t coaching).  My daughter was with me every afternoon and evening and in fact she had her own following at the shop of customers that liked the way she sharpened hockey skates at the ripe age of thirteen.  My coaching two teams and running the store left me very little time to watch my son practice or play.  His mother went with him to Detroit every other weekend and all the tournaments in Ontario.  My son’s diminished playing time and role on his team seemed to coincide with the break up of our familiy.  My problem was that with coaching two teams and running my own store, I did not have the flexibility to travel with my son and stay in touch the way I should have as a father.  It got so that he was ready to quit the highest level of hockey possible in Illinois for a boy his age.  Many young guys my son was playing with at the time, were scoping out junior programs and my son was ready to hang it up.

I asked my son to come out and help me with practices with the midget AA players that I was coaching.  The boys were all his age but not quite his caliber.  Most of the players respected my son’s speed, his shot and his exceptional hands.  One of the black players did not outright.  I will call him Richard since I did not ask him ahead of time if was cool with me using his real name.

Richard was a tall and wiry kid who smiled even when there was nothing to smile about.  His house was the only house on the block.  All other structures had been long since demolished.  He had fourteen brothers and sisters and his mother was two years younger than me.  At the time, I was 38 years old.  A woman of 36 years of age hand fourteen children and the oldest was 21 years old at the time.  Richard never complained about life nor was he angry at the world for the hand he was dealt.  Richard was low keyed off off of the ice and stood by listening more than talking with a smile.  Richard had the speed of a wide receiver and the ability to check like a safety hits in football.  Richard’s claim to fame was his perfect timing of the lost art of the hip check.  Many a player cart wheeled from his hip checks.  In fact Richard had clipped my son in a scrimmage while my son was trying to beat him up the boards.  My son later lined Richard up and sent the snot flying around his helmet and mutual respect was born.  My son gave me one word answers and chose not to look at me too much back then and it was understandable.  From his point of view, I not only left him at a time in his youth when he needed me most, I took his little sister with me.  My son was not very verbal about how he felt but it reflected in the types of fights and penalties that he was drawing at his games.  The players that I was coaching didn’t understand why my son was so angry and surly.  Most probably never figured it out to this day.  To my players, I was an involved coach who was still capable of keeping up with them in scrimmages and could execute what I expected of them as well as a surrogate father.

Now the six white kids had come from broken homes too for the most part.  One child had a mom and never knew his father and was told that she had sex with a man casually for the purpose of having a child.  That boy tortured his mom after receiving that information.  He was bounced from two high schools and was forced to clean up his own shit in a stairwell at a hotel by the Toronto Police for a prank that involved defecating over a railing from eleven stories up.  Shoplifting and small time dealing of pot were also things that caused his mother much grief.  I told his mother that he would grow out of it.  I hope he did.   There was another young man who had the Goth look and resembled Johnny Depp in the movie Edward Scissorhands.  The kids on the team all called him Eddy even though it was something else.  Eddy’s mom was a trust fund baby that looked like Cruella Deville in the movie 101 Dalmations and even smoked cigarettes from a holder.  That boy’s father split some years back and the mom was trying to keep him in hockey and from quitting school.  Another player was the son of a union electrical worker that was injured and out of work indefinitely.  He hated his dad for being a blue collar, lazy, television watching, opinionated asshole.  I thought the dad was an asshole but never told my player this.  I just told him that I still hated my dad and the he many not ever grow to love his dad either.  That gave him some solace.

Another caucasian player moved from western Michigan with his mother who decided to get braces on her teeth and go to art school in her mid thirties with a son in high school.  This poor kid also had no dad and felt like his mother was too flighty to be left to her own devices.  He was forever calling home to make sure that his mother arrived home okay from school or dates.  They were supported by his maternal grandfather and so the mother never grew up and the son became a worrier.  My last two white players had a mother and a father and came from a family of twelve.  They immigrated to Germany from South Africa and then onto to America.  Benedict was what Hitler may have had in mind for his master race.  He was tall and strong and blonde.  On more than one occasion, Benedict took an opposing player out of the game with a strong, well timed check.  Benedict played defense with his younger brother Stefan and Edward Scissorhands.  Benedict yelled at his little brother on the ice in Afrikaans when they were defensive partners and directed Eddy in English.

I had an unconventional team and I think that I was an unconventional coach.  I did not believe in getting to the rink an hour ahead of game time in matching warm-ups or a shirt and tie for all of the players.  The kids on my team had sagging jeans with boxers showing and looked like they were on work release from prison.  I thought that element would scare the hell out of the opposing team’s mothers and leave the opposing coaches to think that we were completely disorganized.  Well we were off the ice but on the ice, we trapped beautifully.  We ran a 1-2-2 and forced most teams to whip the puck all over the ice.  Most midget teams carried between 16 and 20 skaters.  My team had nine.  There were many times that Benedict and Stefan or Eddy, had to skate the entire game on defense because we only would up with seven or eight skaters.

The state tournament came around around and we had become a solid team that understood we had to conserve.  We dumped until we had a power play and trapped religiously.  Our team of nine skaters finished fourth in the state of Illinois in 2004.  I had promised the boys all season long that we would take a trip to Toronto to play in a tournament in the spring if they could stick to academics and stay out of problems with the law.

One of my black players whom I will call Bam, lived in a home for boys in the west part of the downtown section of Chicago not far from where the Blackhawks plays.  Bam was told by his caretakers at the home that he lived at that he could go to Canada with me and the team if he raised his grades at St. Gregory High School in Chicago.  Bam had been cutting school and failing all year.  The caretakers had known that going to Toronto meant so much to him that they put the task before him.  In six months, Bam received recognition from the school principal as the most improved student in the entire school.

I had rented two full sized vans to make the trip from Chicago to Toronto.  I was getting ready to gather up the west side guys for the trip when I got a call from one of the night caretakers of they boy’s home that Bam lived at.  He called to tell me that Bam could not go on the trip because he had attacked another caretaker during a pick up basketball game in the gym at the home.  I had notarized permission from the director of the home and did not feel that a bad day should preclude Bam from six months of hard work.  I argued with the caretaker and was finally told that if I attempted to cross the border at Detroit/Windsor with him, I would be arrested.  Being a single guy, I was willing to take the risk.

I picked up three of the players at Richard’s house.  Bam was holding his ribs and wincing as he got in the van.  I asked him what happened several times and finally he told me that while he was waiting for me to pick them up, two Chicago cops asked why he was standing on the corner.  He told them he was waiting for his ice hockey coach to pick him up and take him to Canada.  The police thought he was being smart and so they got out of the car and worked him over a little with their night sticks.  I offered to leave Bam behind and he told me he was going with even if he couldn’t play.

While I was on my way to pick up the fourth black player from his grandmother’s home on the far west side of the city, I noticed three Chicago Police vehicles parked in front of the house.  Bam recognized one of the caretakers standing with the police and as the car was rolling at ten miles an hour, he jumped out of the back door of the van and scampered away.  We told him to wait in the alley and that we would come back to get him.  When I pulled up, the caretaker reiterated that I would be arrested for transporting Bam to Canada and then demanded that the police search the van.  I promised the caretaker that if I ever saw him anywhere on the street that I was going to beat him unmercifully for interfering with the trip for Bam.  I still have not crossed paths again but if I do, a promise is a promise.

The Chicago Police and the caretaker followed me to the Indiana border.  Bam had to stay back in Chicago since we could not pick him up.  Bam hooked up with friends from his old neighborhood where he lived with his mother, before he had become ward of the state and held someone up at gun point.  Because of his age, he was sent to Cook County Jail and served close to a year.  I made a point of letting the the director know that one man’s quest to punish a child, brought about the crime that was committed.  Had Bam gone to Canada, he would have played in the games, swam in pool, watched cable television in bed and played video games, gone to Wayne Gretsky’s Restaurant and visited the hockey hall of fame.  Instead he stayed home and got busted for armed robbery.  Was it bound to happen?  Possibly but it would not have happened that weekend.

The rest of the boys with my son included, won the entire tournament as the only American team in an all Canadian tournament.  The boys skated around with the three foot trophy like it was the Stanley Cup.  It was our last game together as a team.  Our success as a team caused the Evanston youth hockey board to dismantle the team and petition the state hockey board to assimilate any and all high school players without a school hockey team to play for Evanston High School.  The state board did not want a civil rights case on their hands and so they made the exception for my players to play for the high school team.

I was exhausted from driving twenty hours in a weekend, coaching six games in three days and then driving back home.  All of the boys loved the trip including my surly son.  Nearly all had never been to Canada and some had never left Chicago.  Seeing the Ice Hockey hall of fame and taking a picture with the Stanley Cup in an old bank vault next to two armed guards was like a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The boys mostly slept on the way home but I noticed Richard out of the rear view mirror.  He looked out of the van window in deep thought.  When I dropped him off at his home that was the only house on the block as the spring sun was about to rise over the shores of Lake Michigan, Richard began to cry.  Like most men crying in front of other men, we turned our heads away as we both fought off tears to the point of having a lump in our throats.  We hugged each other without saying anything.  I walked back to the van full of sleeping people and nobody saw the tears streaming down my cheeks.  Nobody who knew me had any idea what that team meant to me and what that team meant to every boy boy played both black and white.  All of the boys could have made a turn for the worse that year and  could have wound up dropping out of school or going to jail.  They all finished the season and were rewarded with a first place victory on the only vacation many of them ever had.  When people ask if coaching is worth it, I don’t go into detail about that season because most wouldn’t understand.  I answer with a yes.  There is little in life that beats running into a former players who greets you with a hug and a smile.  The players make an impact on a coach’s life and a coach makes a strong impact in the lives of their players.  We shared something that will live with all of us forever.