Thursday, July 12, 2012

When The Lights Come On

 Am coaching soccer again this summer.

 I coached the boy two summers ago. Had a good time. I had also coached my oldest daughter, wow, it must be five years ago now. The team wore yellow. For our cheer I had them buzz like bees.
 For many many years I coached both hockey and soccer. I had a lot of success at both but especially with soccer which is ironic because I never played the game. My coaching philosophy remains the same as it was twenty five years ago. Have fun. Play as a team. Good sportsmanship. Work your ass off.

 Pretty basic stuff eh? Technically I'm no wizard but I'm great with the kids (toots own horn) and we do crazy cheers and I spend the entire game yelling encouragement until I'm hoarse. Jenn works gamedays but was able to make it out a couple of weeks ago and after the game she said that I was a natural, it just came easy to me and I looked the coach, striding up and down the sidelines, kicking over water bottles. (Ok so I made that last one up.)

 And for me its a great age (6 and 7 year olds) because the fact is that I am a pretty competitive guy and having youngsters is probably a better fit than the older kids where things, even at the recreational level, can get a bit tense. Helps me keep my more, lets say, base instincts in check, when you're teaching the most basic skills and its possible that an opposing player can score while your goalie has run off the field to get a snack. (This happened a few weeks ago).

 The season started slowly. A nil nil tie and how that happened I will never know. Have never seen that in hundreds of games I have coached. Then we got thumped four to nothing. No goals in two games and we wondered if they would ever come. But in our third game we scored two in the first two minutes and then promptly lost seven to three.

 Oh oh.

 Its about having fun but you need to win now and then too, right?

 I wasn't too worried though. The second and third games we had been rotating goalies in and out as everyone who wanted to play got a shot and so I knew we'd be better there. And it was obvious that there was something going on. We had a kid on the back end who could run like the wind, kick it the length of the field and was tough as nails to boot. When he was on the field nobody got near our goal. We had another little guy who could dribble through the entire opposition, the problem being that once he beat the last guy he turned around and did it all over again instead of going to the net with it. And we had a tall motormouth of a girl who could run like the wind and who scored the last goal of our most recent game.

 When you're playing six on the field if you can get two strong players out there then you're in great shape and if your supporting cast can play then you're going to win a lot of games, if not most of them. So by my count we had three top notch players. The problem was getting everyone involved and hopefully finding a fourth.

 Before Tuesday's game we added another player, a soft spoken little guy, I barely caught his name after asking him four times.

 My boy started in net. He's probably our best goalie, he loves it. He's a mental case, like his grandfather.

 Before the game I told the midgets that we wanted to get after the ball. I asked them if the ball had teeth and they all laughed and said 'no'. I told them to look over the field and tell me if they saw any gators or sharks (landshark!) or lions or tigers or bears oh my and they all laughed and said 'no'. Then, I said, there's no reason for you to stop running like maniacs when you a) get to the ball or b) get in front of the other team's net.

 Because this is what had been happening.

And oh my goodness friends what followed was absolutely glorious. I haven't coached much in the past 20 years or so but this reminded me of the old days. My pack of loveable little guys and girls turned into a pack of ravening ballhounds. The new hire turned out to be solid on defence but more importantly, he's an old school goal poacher. After holding our own for a while the ball was sent up and he outran everyone and put it in the top corner.

This doesn't happen at this level.

A few minutes later a ball deflected into the open and the kid with fancy footwork drove it into the net and we were on our way.

They came close, sure, but the D was solid and the boy made a handful of good saves (at this level any save is a good save really but he made a couple of difficult ones).

 At the half the message was repeated and in the second half we tore after them, it wasn't even close. The new guy scored another and then in a vicious scrum in front of their net two of our little girls rampaged through the mob, with our little motormouth scoring while lying on the ground, kicking furiously at the loose ball.

 Our goalie was barely troubled in the second half as we swarmed every loose ball, pushed their players who had run rampant just a couple of weeks before all over the field, always outside, always outside. One little girl, who had nearly scored a couple of times, charged again and again into the crowds, knocking opposition players sprawling, coming away with the ball each time. And when your smaller players are doing that you know you're golden.

 And when the final whistle blew and the kids and their parents cheered it became clear that this is going to be a very good summer for our team, a very good summer indeed.

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 Its been six years out of the playoffs for the Oilers but this summer looks a lot like the past six summers. Hope springs eternal, of course, and Edmonton fans tend to be bigger prospectphiles than most so with the kids the Oilers have there's no surprise really that many fans are predicting playoffs for sure.

 For the past few summers (since 2007 really) I've cast a pretty jaundiced eye at the Oilers' chances. Every summer I predict failure and every summer commenters rip me for being negative, for ignoring the surefire participation in the big spring fling for the Oilers that is to come.

 And every year I am right. I get no pleasure from it. But facts are facts. Oiler management stinks. The proof is in the standings.

 Now the Oilers aren't done yet or so we have to think. Rumours about a top four Dman coming Edmonton's way continue to fly and another year out of the playoffs will probably mean Tambo getting kicked out of the GM's chair so one thinks he will finally do something.

 A top four Dman would go a long way to getting this squad back where it needs to be. Presently we're looking at three top four types and one of those is still a kid (Petry) and on top of everything there is no Doughty or Chara or Weber in the trio. They're solid but not fantastic.

 So your fourth is either a kid who hasn't played an NHL game yet or a guy who couldn't make a turn last year.

 Now if that's your bottom pair and Sutton is your seventh and you have an honest to goodness top four guy added to the mix then you know what? This team, with some luck and good health, might make the playoffs.

 After the D the biggest issue is the goaltending. If Dubnyk takes a step back then its a lost year. If he can provide quality for 55 plus games then things look good.

 Except for those other 25 games.

 Up front there are a lot of ifs as well but they are a lot fewer than in years past. Finally. But there are still plenty. Will Hall be alright after surgery? Will Hemsky rebound? Can Yakupov play? Will Paajarvi or Hartikainen take a top nine role and score fifteen goals or more?

 One day the light is going to go on for all of these kids and there will be enough veterans surrounding them (if management does their job) that they will be a force to be reckoned with. But unless a couple of more moves get made I don't think this is the year yet.

 Not yet.

13 comments:

Max Powers said...

If Klefbom has a spot this year we're drafting in the lottery again.

Bring in Streit and get lucky with injuries? 8th spot.

Roszival (or the like)? 9-11th

My guess on biggest regression of the year goes to the Hawks - I don't think they make it next year.

My guess for improvement is the wild make the playoffs this year.

Love the personal flare you add to each piece, Pat. Makes your articles memorable... I made my wife read your article on your dog passing - very touching stuff.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Max I appreciate it.

I'd agree with your analysis. I think if they add a top four guy and Whitney is the Whitney of old and the kids progress - nearly all of them but especially Petry and Dubnyk - then they make the playoffs no problem.

But I don't think that's likely.

I think Hawks are better actually. They have some great kids on the way. My guess for regression? Detroit in a big way, Nashville too.

I think the Wild may be in the mix but they, like the Oilers, need a couple more years for these kids to mature.

calgarysucks said...

I don't think playoffs are guaranteed by any means this year but I think this is the year they are at least in the hunt until the end of the season. That would still be a huge improvement over previous years.

IMO the D issue has more to do with balance and talent than name. Having a big name on the roster doesn't guarantee anything, and by the same stretch look at what Carolina beat the Oilers with in '06....their blue was basically a bunch of cheap no-names but give them credit, they got the job done. Regardless, I do agree with you that more needs to be done to improve on it.

A lot of questions have to be answered but the same can be said of most NHL clubs at the end of the season.

Jana said...

I coached U14 boys with my friend one summer for her son's team and then 4yr olds this summer on another friend's son's team.
The U14 boys were fun because they were competitive and "got" the game but teaching the little kids skills and seeing them improve was so much fun!
I am sure we're shopping Omark pretty heavily and Gagner has value but I don't hold my breath on Mr. Dithers making too many decisions before the new season.

Black Dog said...

Jana - yeah I've coached that entire age range and each age has its own rewards and challenges. The youngsters are definitely a lot of fun/ Less attitude too.

Omark's surely a goner but he's not bringing back much. Wouldn't be surprised to see him go back to Europe and get dealt next year.

Calgarysucks - I agree entirely. I wouldn't turn down a Chara or Keith or any of those guys but in their place a solid sextet would do just fine for starters.

Anonymous said...

screw the oilers. what was the final score in the game?

Black Dog said...

lol 4-0 it was beautiful

Anonymous said...

"...striding up and down sidelines, kicking over water bottles. (Ok so I made that last one up.)"

...begs to differ.


Joey - ahh the good ol' days of soccer domination.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or are you talking a "touch" less about masturbating as your kids grow older. I certainly am not suggesting you aren't partaking as much:-)
Will

rpk99 said...

I am not the coach...but the assigned re for my bouy the last two years in soccer and its probably the most fun I have.

I coach the boy in hockey, just turned six, so thats lots of fun, but for soccer I lay back a bit and let him have a different experience without dad telling him what to do all the time ;-). And that it is....the two dads who coach the team could not be any more unathletic...but they have a good time and that is all that matters. We play 3 on 3 (this coming spring will change to year 4 on 4) without goalies, using a small 4x6 net. It is a BLAST, I am going to use the teeth analogy for sure with my boy, his tentative nature is the biggest hurdle he needs to conquer for sure.
As far as the oil, god please one more D, but even without, I see us getting 9-11 range, the offence is going to be solid 6 deep, the kids we know are going to be able to start taking on sopme tougher minutes and I like my chances with the horcoffs of the world playing a lot of tough minutes and watching the other light em up.
I agree though a goalie will help push us over.
As for the rest of the west I got it, in no particular order,
LA
SJ
DET
MIN
VAN
STL
NAS

But I am worried about the stars edging us out, does Jagr help them with 3 more games than last year?

Darren said...

Pat, if you are teaching 6/7 year olds the only advice you need is this.

Give them all a ball, and make them run with it until it's natural. Nothing else matters at this stage.

And then they will be hooked cuz they are better than the rest ;)

Black Dog said...

Joey, no kidding eh? But I have mellowed, really! ;)

Will - more of a function of not enough time to talk about anything, definitely not a conscious decision lol

Black Dog said...

Good stuff rpk99.

Honestly I have no idea how it susses out once the season starts

You could probably make a good bet on those seven teams being playoff teams but there's Chicago as well.

Jagr will help Dallas too.

Thing is if its a short season then things may be very interesting. It will be a sprint, not a marathon and so teams that get a lot of puck luck early (like Minnesota last year) will ride that right into the playoffs.

Darren - thanks for the advice, I appreciate it. The league is very unstructured, there's not a lot of practice time so anything helps.

Will put that into practive next time we hit the field!