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Cornered Coach: A Holiday Hockey Greeting


Happy Hockey Holidays.

Or, in much more simple terms, Merry Christmas.

Actually, with minor hockey tournaments, the World Juniors and the Spengler Cup, hockey and the festive season go hand in hand. So, let's tie the two together in a shiny shinny package to commemorate the most wonderful time of the year.

C is for Connor McDavid. Just when you think no hockey player could possibly skate in the strides of Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby, along comes the next "Next One,” proving that the game is still in very good hands. The most exciting thing? Realizing that there's probably a youngster playing in a Timbits league somewhere in Canada right now who's developing the skills to one day take over McDavid's mantel as the best on ice.

H is for Hockey Books. Always the perfect Christmas gift for the puck nut in your family. This year, I've requested a pair of reads in my stocking – "Keon and Me,” written by Canada's resident hockey poet Dave Bidini, and "Bleeding Blue,” Leafs legend Wendel Clark's bio, which is co-authored by my old Rogers Sportsnet pal Jim Lang. There's nothing better than sipping a hot chocolate on Christmas morning and thumbing through a brand new hockey book while the kids busy themselves with their own jewels from Santa.

R is for Rink Rat. You might as well pass the cheese because, during the Christmas break, a lot of Canadians turn into resident rink rats. In Toronto, I've come across a ton of folks who are pumped about attending the World Junior tournament. How about Canada up against Russia on Boxing Day? Or Canada versus the USA on New Year's Eve? Those are matches made in hockey heaven. As mentioned earlier, minor hockey tournaments are also in abundance over the holidays. Our family, for instance, has a long tradition of attending the Golden Horseshoe Tournament in Burlington, Ontario. Some of the famous grads include Wayne Gretzky, Doug Gilmour and Drew Doughty, with a new set of future NHL stars sure to suit up at this year's 'Shoe beginning on December 27th.

I is for Ice. In this case, I'm referring to the outdoor variety. One of the major Christmas traditions for a lot of people, including yours truly, revolves around taking part in massive pick-up games during the holiday season. A perfect sheet of ice, the sound of steely skate blades, and excited voices screaming "Here!" when they find some open real estate. There's something special about a rousing game of outdoor shinny that speaks to the heart of every Canadian.

S is for Sportsmanship. Sure, there are times when players, coaches and parents lose their cool. But for the most part, most people are well-behaved at the arena. One of my favourite moments during tournament games? Watching my son's nine-year-old Minor Atom squad exchange handshakes with the opposition before or after the two sides do battle. It's a small gesture, but an excellent reminder of what the game is really all about.

T is for Time. It sure passes quickly. The other night, my wife and I were looking at old photos from my two sons’ minor hockey days. It seems like five minutes ago that they were wobbling around on tiny blades as they took their first, tiny strides on the ice. Now, one of them is a nine-year-old goalie and my 11-year-old has already "retired" from the game, pursuing a passion for basketball instead. Every parent with older kids can recall the excited squeals that "Santa was here!" and can remember sharing the thrill of their children's minor hockey days. It doesn't last forever, so we all need to enjoy every special moment.

M is for Mom. Hockey dads tend to get a lot of pats on the back. But everyone knows that, when it comes to most aspects of family life, it's mom who usually stirs the drink. In our family, for example, we'd never get to any of the rinks we frequent for road games if it wasn't for my wife, Kathy. When it comes to a solid sense of direction, I have the same skill set as Mr. Magoo. (Google it, kids!) Fortunately, my wife has a real knack for sniffing out those hard-to-locate and out-of-the-way arenas, ensuring that our little lad makes it in time for the opening face-off. 

A is for Attitude. Of all the many lessons that hockey teaches us, the importance of having a positive attitude is right at the top of the list. Just as in life, not everything will go your way on the ice. Sure, "The Great Gretzky" captured four Stanley Cups during his hall-of-fame career. But that means that, during his 20-year NHL stint, Wayne failed to win hockey's ultimate prize 16 times. If one of the best players to ever lace up skates came up short so often, it stands to reason that all of us are destined to face a number of disappointments. However, the important message to remember is that it's not how many times we get knocked down that counts, it's how many times we get back on our feet to fight again.

S is for Silent Night. Yes, hockey is an important part of all our lives. Let's face it; the passion for pucks is what keeps many of us semi-sane during the long, cold Canadian winter. But there are times where it's good to take off the gloves and put down the stick. On Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, take a break from checking the standings and make sure to count your blessings. We're lucky to live in a free society that gives us the opportunity to enjoy pursuits such as the game of hockey. So, give your little puckster an extra hug while you're hanging around the Christmas tree and say a little prayer for people who are struggling during the holidays. Enjoy a peaceful break and make sure to get some rest. You're going to need it so you'll be recharged to scream your lungs out on Boxing Day when our Canadian kids tangle with the Russians, right?

Happy Holidays from your Cornered Coach, and all of us at HockeyNow. 

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