Category Archives: Tier II – A & AA Hockey

A whole lotta griping

There seems to be a significant amount of chatter over the past couple weeks on the youth hockey forum on Mlive http://www.mlive.com/forums/youthhockey about the divisional alignment within the LCAHL – particularly regarding what teams are in or out of the Yzerman division.

 

Seems to me that while every team can make an argument for why they should be in the Yzerman division at every age level, LCAHL has done a very good job of placing teams in the appropriate divisions in previous years.

 

Have there been teams in the Y that did not belong there?  You bet!

 

Have there been teams in the Lidstrom that should have been in the Y?  Absolutely!

 

Has the league done a good job in trying to reach competitive parity within the league divisions?  For sure!

 

So why all the griping?  I’m sure some of it has to do with travel.  I’m sure some of it has to do with one side of the common argument, i.e. “We belong in the Y” or “That team doesn’t belong in the Y”.  Either way, the LCAHL volunteers have done a great job of aligning these divisions and there will never be an alignment that leaves everyone happy.  Give them credit where credit is due.

 

In light of all this griping however, we could always take the approach that International soccer leagues take in division alignment.  The bottom 3 teams in the premier league (the top division) fall to the second division while the top 3 teams in the second division move up to the top division.

 

There are arguments for following this type of a divisional alignment philosophy, but there are many arguments against it as well.  The one benefit of this is that it would eliminate any question about who is in the top division and who is not.  It may provide incentive to stay with a team for the players who worked hard to move up to the top division, but it may provide incentive to move to another team if your previous team moved down the second division.  As I said, there are arguments for and against this, but it certainly would take the guesswork out of it.

 

Regardless of the approach, there will always be someone, somewhere, on some team, that believes their team got the shaft.  The bottom line is; Play your games, play at 110%, practice at 110%, and be a team player – the rest will take care of itself.

 

See you at the rink.

 

 

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And so it begins. . . .

Here I am, on August 30, sitting in a hotel room just outside Chicago for our first tournament of the year.  One game in the books and it was a thriller.  Another one today and then two more tomorrow.  Then off to Canada next weekend, followed up by a trip to Detroit the weekend after that.

BANG!

Was that just the starters gun I heard?  Off and running on another season of hockey. . . . .

And I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

The chill of the rink, the quiet before the teams come on the ice, the nervous anticipation of the first drop of the puck on a new season – wondering what will happen, how will the team play, will it be an up and down game or will it be a “grind it out” type of game?  All these things going through your mind and then you realize what must be going through the players’ minds – “let’s get it on”.

It is thrilling to see the anticipation in their eyes, the realization of another season beginning, the coming together of players to form a true “team”.  What a great time of year this is.

It may be 85 degrees outside, but inside that rink you’d swear it was 25 degrees with 2 feet of snow on the ground outside – the dead of winter – fully engulfed in the glory of another hockey season.

Enjoy it everyone!  Cherish this time – they grow up so fast and before you know it – it is a series of fond memories you’ll look back on and smile.

Let’s play hockey!

See you at the rink.

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Jumping

As in jumping teams prior to signing a roster or in some cases after a roster has been signed.  This is one of the biggest opportunities within youth hockey today in my opinion.  We have too many instances where a verbal commitment is made and then a change of heart comes along and the jumping begins.  This is something that absolutely needs to be addressed – whether that be locally within districts, state wide via MAHA or across the country through USA Hockey.

 

There are two sides to this of course – the coaches side and the players side.  Each side contributes to perpetuating the actions on the other side.  When a coach decides to bring in another “better” player after selections are made and cuts a player who was already offered a spot on the team, a ripple effect takes place as that player now begins looking for another place to play.  The opposite is true as well, when a player makes the choice to go to another team it sends the ripple effect the other way.

 

The problem I see here is that someone is initiating this sequence of events –whether it be a coach who is looking to fill out a roster or increase the skill level within his team or a player who is becomes dissatisfied with his team selection over the summer – maybe during pre season skates or maybe through conversations with other players.  Regardless of where it starts, it needs to stop.

 

I responded to a message on the mlive forums regarding this topic – my response is below:

 

All things being equal off the ice, the only reason for a coach to go back on a commitment to a kid is because he is focused on wins and losses.  That is not what youth hockey or youth sports is all about.  You held your tryouts, you selected your team – if you knew you had some “projects” on the team then step up to the challenge and teach them.

As a kid, there are many reasons to switch teams some of which don’t have anything to do with wins and losses – more friends on the other team etc.  However, it is still not acceptable once you have made a commitment to a team.

 

There should be a personal commitment, supported by integrity that would prevent this from happening.  But reality has proven otherwise.  We need to ask ourselves what values we are instilling in these young athletes when we condone and perpetuate this type of behavior.  What type of adult are we creating when honor and integrity are not priorities?

 

We have all seen the examples of this type of selfish approach in professional sports.  The athlete who holds out for more money, when millions of dollars are already on the table in compensation for playing a game they supposedly love to play.  The dissatisfied player who doesn’t play to his abilities or refuses to play because he is unhappy with management, the coaching staff, the team etc.  Browse any forum on these topics and you’ll see the negative comments associated with this behavior.  If that is the case, why do we condone this type of behavior from a child and why do we set this example for these children as a coach?

 

The answer is to lead by example through our actions and words to teach these athletes the importance of honoring your commitment.

 

See you at the rink.

 

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Hockey in the Michigan Economy

8.5% unemployment rates.

 

Michigan near the top of the list consistently for home foreclosures.

 

Glut of homes for sale on the market.

 

Families split up to take jobs out of state.

 

10 out of 12 industries in Michigan posting negative employment growth.

 

There is no doubt that the economy in Michigan is one of, if not the worst in the nation.  Manufacturing jobs are disappearing, the big 3 are all suffering, and many are forced to leave the state to find work.  It’s a tough situation out there and the impact is being felt across the board, but how is this impacting youth hockey in Michigan?

 

I dare say it is having a profound impact in many different ways.  There is no doubt that the number of youth hockey players in Michigan has declined.  You can take a look at the Mlive hockey forums and see many teams posting messages about openings on their teams – looking to fill out their rosters.  I have to imagine that some of this is because of the decline in the number of players.  I’m sure there are other reasons, but much of this can be traced back directly to the declining numbers due to the economy and the mass exodus of people from Michigan in search of jobs.

 

We have also seen more chatter this year than in years past regarding the amount of travel.  I posted previously about travel, but the reality is that many people in Michigan simply can not afford to travel as much as they used to.  I’m sure some families have decided to cut hockey from their list of activities simply based on the cost of travel alone.  It’s a shame, but I believe it is a harsh reality in our great state at the moment.

 

I know there are some associations out there that have scholarship type programs available for families with children that want to play hockey but can not afford it.  My fear is that these programs will begin to dry up as participation and sponsorship decreases leaving kids without the experience of playing this great game.

 

The positives (if they can be found) are that there is some areas of growth in Michigan and there are particular metropolitan areas that are showing better growth than others:

 

Grand Rapids is at 7% unemployment

Kalamazoo is at 6.9% unemployment

Extreme Southwestern Michigan is at 6.4% unemployment

Ann Arbor is at 6.3% unemployment

 

We are also seeing some growth in Professional and Business services, Information, as well as Education and Health services across these same metropolitan areas.  This is good news that hopefully will continue and ultimately stabilize the economy to the point where it can begin positively impacting things like youth hockey.

 

Let’s all continue to do our best to keep this great sport flourishing in Michigan!

 

See you at the rink

 

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Fight!

I went to see the fight and a hockey game broke out.

 

We’ve all heard that one at some point, right?  And while it is meant to be funny it does point to an aspect of hockey that is a fairly divisive subject.  Some folks enjoy a good hockey fight, while others are repulsed at this spectacle on ice.  Of course, for the vast majority these opinions apply to the professional ranks of hockey possibly extending down to the Junior levels.  The fact is, at these levels there is a place for fighting in the game and eradicating it from the game would be a mistake.  All players need to understand there are consequences for running a star player or intentionally delivering a cheap shot on another player and that this consequence will be delivered not by the officials, but by an opposing player.  But again, this is at a different level – not at the youth hockey level.

 

At the youth hockey level, fighting is not and should not be tolerated.  There is no room for this at the youth hockey level and the consequences for engaging in this are justifiably stiff.  But it happens – each and every year it happens and like it or not it will continue to happen.  With all apologies to girls hockey teams – it is no wonder this happens when there are teenage boys, hormones raging, skating around trying to knock each other’s heads off with many talking smack to each other.  It’s a recipe for a fight and it takes the utmost discipline to stay out of it and that discipline applies to not only the players, but the coaches and parents as well.

 

A recent experience I’ve had:  Last season after a player grabbed an opposing player in a headlock, threw him to the ice head first (which knocked him unconscious) and proceeded to push his facemask up and punch him in the face (while he was unconscious) he was congratulated in the lobby of the arena by his teammates, by his parents and by his teammate’s parents.  Not only that but both players – the one doing the punching and the one knocked unconscious (when he came to) were given double minors for roughing (but officiating is another topic).  This complete lack of discipline displayed by the player, coaches, teammates and parents is reprehensible in youth hockey.

 

So what constitutes a fight in youth hockey?  The definition seems to be widely interpreted depending upon the officials, coaches, players and parents point of view.  I believe fighting is generally when you have two (or more) people attempting to hit and/or hitting someone else – whether they have their gloves on, their masks on etc. doesn’t matter.  But what about those situations where the other person is not a willing participant in a fight?  What happens if the other player turns away but is repeatedly hit or does not attempt to hit the other person?  Is that a fight?

 

I’ve personally witnessed many instances where punches are repeatedly thrown by one player while the other does not swing back.  I’ve seen the non-participant thrown out of the game for fighting and I’ve seen that player stay in the game – maybe a minor is assessed – while the other player is tossed.  Seems to me an instigating penalty of some sort (or something similar) should be adopted into youth hockey with a stiffer penalty associated with an instigation and fight as opposed to just fighting.

 

The penalties – missing the next game – the double jeopardy rule in league play are stiff penalties, but those players that are instigating fights should be treated more harshly than those that are coaxed into the confrontation.

 

I don’t think we will ever get rid of fighting completely in youth hockey, but I do think we can institute rules that will curb the behavior and need to continue to encourage non tolerance from coaches and parents.

 

See you at the rink.

 

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Games vs. Practice

There’s a few different ways of looking at this topic and I’d like to focus on two of them.  First up:

 

Time on the ice

 

There is no question that any hockey player at any level of the game is going to get more time on the ice during practice then they are during a game.  If anyone questions that think of this:

 

During practice – the entire team is on the ice the majority of the time and engaged in some type of drill the majority of the time.

 

During a game – A max of 5 skaters are on the ice at any given time.  Consider a team with 3 to 4 lines and it’s a pretty easy equation to determine that there is less time on the ice in games.  Let’s not even consider the coach aspect (1st, 2nd, 3rd lines) of this equation at this point.

 

With that fact out of the way, now consider the differences in coaching styles.  This is a huge factor in what happens during a practice.  A coach that is utilizing his ice time its max is prepared with a good practice plan that involves every player in drills without much standing around.  Fast paced, high tempo practices with skill work intermingled.  Have a coach that comes prepared in this manner ratchets this up another notch – now not only are you getting more time on the ice during practice, but you are also becoming a better player at the same time – not just another kid that is in shape and can go hard during their shift.

 

So with that said, it definitely makes sense to keep practices at a ratio relative to games that produces high quality, highly skilled hockey players.  It can’t be all about number of games and tournaments you play.  If you want improvement – there is a balance between games and practices that is essential.  Something to look for when you decide what team to hitch your wagon to for the upcoming season.

 

The Next way to look at this topic:

 

What you do with that time on the ice

 

How many times have you gone to your son or daughter’s practice and noticed a consistent lack of effort by one or more members of the team?  Have you ever heard your son or daughter tell you that they don’t like doing drills with this player or that player because they can’t pass or can’t skate or don’t try hard?

 

The fact is that you won’t get 110% effort from every player in every practice.  But on average you expect to get 110% effort as a coach.  That’s the way you prepare drills and the expectation you want to set on the ice with your team.  The effort given by the players is in many ways tied to these expectations, but is also a product of preparation by the coaching staff.  Good drills, high tempo drills, organized practices, flow drills – all these things set the tone for the players during practice and must be there if you have the expectation of getting 110% from your players in practice.

 

The other side of this is the players themselves.  They must be willing to give 110% on the ice during practice.  There’s an old saying that I’m sure everyone has heard:

 

“Practice makes Perfect”

 

I completely disagree with this statement when it comes to hockey – and for that matter any sport.  Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Here’s a version of this statement that I heard many years ago:

 

“Practice makes permanent”

 

Now that makes more sense.  I can practice a skill for hours, days, weeks, months and years and get very good at it.  However, if I’m not practicing it properly I’ve developed bad habits and potentially restricted the skill level I might have attained had I done it properly to begin with.  This is where quality coaching plays a big part.  But let’s turn that around to the player – If I practice at 75%, what am I going to do during a game?  If I don’t backcheck at 110% during practice, what happens when I’m tired at the end of a game and there’s a turnover in my offensive zone?  I haven’t practiced backchecking and because I’m tired instinct takes over and I simply give my 75% effort to get back and play some D.

 

Most players I’ve encountered that don’t give 110% in practice will tell you; “I can turn it on in games” or “I’ll have more jump when it matters”.  And my response to these players has always been the same:

 

“Practice makes permanent”

 

See you at the rink.

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Then there’s Travel Responses:

I wanted to represent some of the responses that have come across the Mlive forum since the last round of the travel debate has raged on.

 

Some were succinct:  “This *is* travel hockey after all.” And others were a little more involved.  Here’s a couple straight from the mlive forums:

89704.4.2. Thats makes as much sense

by PhilDCooler, 8/5/08 9:02 ET

 

. . . I understand that it is travel hockey but in the strict sense of the word but so are the house leagues now. There are very few true house programs any more. Almost everyone travels.

 

Travel hockey does not need to mean that I have to drive my son to Grand Rapids for a league game. I understand that those on the west side want to play in the league [snip] . . . but there needs to be a separate division. [snip] . . . we’ll see them in the playoffs.

And another response:

89704.5.1.1. No perfect system….

by killjoi, 8/5/08 9:12 ET

 

. . . Maybe one solution is to limit one outstate team to each division to limit the trips, but again one could argue how is that fair if a west side team has to come over to the Metro area two or more times per month. [snip] . . . . the bottom line is enter the league, pick your preference (competitive or geographic)and then accept the results. There is no doubt that there will be unhappy people, but this isn’t and will never be 100% perfect for 100% of the teams.

And finally a response that surprised even this blogger. This was posted on the Mlive youth forums on August 6, 2008.  I would not call this representative of other’s views toward the LCAHL (Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League).

89773. Thing is the…..

by BigArn2, 8/6/08 9:17 ET

SE Michigan teams don’t NEED to drive great distances to get games with good competitive teams. [snip] . . . The need of the out state teams in not the problem of the SE Michigan teams. It isn’t the SE Michigan teams’ responsibility to play games with the out state teams or to travel to their locations for games. The “that isn’t fair to those teams” arguement is stupid. It is the SE Michigan teams responsibility to set up games so that they have the best competition for their teams [snip] . . . If we decide to travel to GR, TC, Kazoo, Midland, Bay City, Saginaw to play fine, we’ve made that decision as a team. We shouldn’t be forced to travel to those locations, any more than they should be forced to travel here. The problem is that LCAHL has forgotten that they exist at our pleasure. They have adopted the mentality that they are the be all and end all for youth hockey, they aren’t. Heck we don’t need a league to play in, we can schedule scrimmages games all year. Our team is a member of an association that gets to send a representative to districts. That is more important than the LCAHL.

We are all entitled to our own opinions for sure, but my feeling is that the LCAHL has done a tremendous job in promoting youth hockey in Michigan using *volunteers* to get that job done.  Suggesting that “youth hockey” turn their back on this league is a mistake that could be very costly to the state of youth hockey in Michigan.

 

I would also state that the vast majority of youth hockey players that I have coached, managed and spoken to would much rather play in a league where their perception is that the games “mean” something rather than being an independent team playing nothing but scrimmage games.

 

Finally, as is mentioned in this response – we all have choices – who to play for, who to play with, what team to play on , what association to be a part of, what league we play in, what level to play, and how far we want to travel.  We should all simply exercise our option to choose and this argument is dead in the water.

 

Showcase idea

 

An idea that hasn’t received a bunch of airplay on the mlive forums is the concept of showcase weekends.

 

Other leagues are doing this to alleviate some travel concerns – albeit farther than any LCAHL team is traveling – how about a Grand Rapids area team having to go to Nashville for 2 league games?  Yikes!  But hey, Nashville is a cool city.

 

Could kill many birds with one stone with the showcase approach.  At the Bantam and Midget levels – could use it as an opportunity to bring in some junior and college scouts.  At the other levels – the league could send some representatives to assess the level of play – competitiveness of the games etc.  Not to mention the obvious advantage of playing 4 to 5 league games over the course of a weekend.  If setup properly, in a division with 11 teams (20 league games total) you could satisfy the 10 home games with a couple of weekend showcase events.

 

The co-op option

 

Another option to address these concerns is to actually work together to come up with some solutions.  I’ve done this in the past – working with other local teams to coordinate ice times and dates to allow a couple of teams to make the trip and get 4 games out of the weekend.  It’s good hockey, it’s making the most out of the trip and it builds good working relationships between teams.

 

The argument to many of these comes from the viewpoint of the coach not wanting to pack that many league games into one weekend.  I can understand that viewpoint – injuries, conflicting schedules etc could have a significant impact on a weekend full of league games.  But the bottom line is there is not perfect system and you either manage the travel or come up with a solution that limits travel without limiting the league.

 

The original statement was made:

 

“I believe that is 1/2 the reason the sport of hockey is on the decline.”

 

I’m assuming that this statement was specifically about the decline within the state of Michigan.  If this is truly the case – that the “excessive” travel is causing a decline in the number of participants in youth hockey – what do you think it would do if there were suddenly geographic boundaries for the LCAHL?  So in other words, no team outside of said boundary can participate unless they are willing to have all their home games schedule within the boundaries.  I’m guessing that would have a fairly negative impact on the number of participants as well.

 

There is a common ground here.  We all just have to work to find it and not let the zealots at either end of the argument rule the day.

 

See you at the rink.

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