With five players in the first year of hockey and only nine skaters if they all show up, our Millbrook House League team looks a little different than most minor hockey teams. Usually by the Atom level, players have mastered skating and their knowledge of the rules and are working on developing puck handling and shooting to raise their game. I have to admit on Day One, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this team. Fast forward to January, and we all want to be better players, and have improved skills to prove it, but what stands out is that these players have some of the biggest hearts I have seen at a young age.
After the skills competition at the Atom Liftlock Tournament last month, our team sat in the middle of the pack and were looking forward to competing in the games. Bad news came on Friday when we learned that one of our second year defenseman was down with the flu. This left us with a very short bench of only three spares. Both Friday games were hard-fought battles, and we stayed even until half way through the second period when our legs and lungs began to show their fatigue. This set the stage for our Saturday morning game at the Memorial Centre, where the players would sit on the same bench and play on the same ice as the Peterborough Petes.
At the end of the first period, we were down by a goal against a Peterborough team with three full lines of players. Motivated by the knowledge that a win here would give us a shot at the semi-finals, our players put it all on the line, but a bad check shortened our bench to two skaters. It was hard to tell tired players that they could not come off the ice because there was no one to replace them, but it soon became clear we would not be able to keep up with our opponents for the entire game. With a minute left and no hope of winning, our team just won’t ever give up and chipped the puck past the defense for a break, netting our second goal of the game. It was a great finish to the game, followed by high fives all around and cheers in the locker room.
While the scores did not live up to our hopes for our team’s big tournament, through the experience our players built their love of the game, their respect for each other and friendships that will last for years. The players have taught me that coaching is not about picking the best players and winning it all, but about teaching kids to love and respect the game the way I have since I was five years old.
On the bench our team was supported by trainers Steve Robbins and Ryan Ellis as well as our team manager Jennifer Robbins, who provide role models for our players with their long hours and dedication to our team.
By Coach Dwayne Mackey