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The Cornered Coach - The Long and Winding Road


Sometimes, being the father of an 8-year-old goalie can make you feel like an 80-year-old grandfather.

Time marches on, and when March rolls around a serious case of "hockey burnout" begins to rear its ugly head. Parents definitely suffer from the affliction, including the hockey moms and dads responsible for strapping the pads on their small fry goaltenders. Bending down to tie up their toe straps, making sure every buckle is snapped up just so, and tugging the tight sweater over their oversized chest protector. By the end of the process, you're sweating like a hot dog on a campfire stick and resolving to put a few extra miles on the treadmill to help you bust the belly flab that keeps getting in the way as you bend down to attach your little lad's pads. Forget about "goals against average" or "save percentage,” by the end of the season there's only one stat that floats through a goalie parent's mind.

"How many times have I slapped my kid's equipment on him, for crying out loud?"

Yes, it's just another sign of "hockey burnout.” Fortunately, my little guy's Toronto Novice Select squad, the mighty East York Bull Dogs, are playing their best hockey of the season, riding an impressive eight-game win streak. That definitely helps ease the monotony of a long hockey season, especially for the kids who are completely cranked up over their recent success. But not every team is so fortunate. For instance, I coach my 10-year-old son's Atom house league team and the poor Avalanche are in a little bit of trouble. We managed to sneak into fourth spot in the standings, landing the final playoff spot. However, we're an average squad sitting a few games under .500 as we face a sudden-death semifinal this Saturday against the first place Blues. To make it worse, our best player is away on a European Family Vacation; one of the by-products of staging part of your playoffs during March Break. It reminds me of two seasons ago when our best player, arguably the top player in the entire league, was forced to miss an important playoff game because of a Disney Cruise. Suffice to say, Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the gang stuck it to us big time, as we ended up losing by one goal; a result that almost certainly would've been different if our "franchise guy" had been in the line-up.

Fast-forward to this season, and we'll definitely need a "Miracle on Ice" to pull off an upset. But forget about rousing inspirational speeches. At practice last week, when the coaching staff informed our guys about our star's upcoming absence, one of our players summed up our plight in two simple words.

"We're dead."

Not exactly "Win one for the Gipper" stuff.

But with burnout setting in, our prospects looking dim, and our spirits drooping, we did have a fun final practice. Sensing that guys were getting a little tired and were feeling a tad down, I busted out the ol' pigskin at practice. We split the gang in half and played a roaring game of touch football — keeping the hockey gloves on, of course, so that nobody's fingers were removed in the process.

And hey!

Some guys must have slapped a little Stickum on their gloves, because we witnessed some pretty impressive catches, including a grab by one of our big boys that had everyone calling him "Gronk."

It was the perfect way to give the boys a boost at the tail end of a grueling year.

Now, if I can just entice one of the Bull Dogs parents to take a few turns putting on my son's goalie gear, and if I can convince the Blues to forget about hockey and play the Av's in a game of touch football, well… the long season might just have a perfect ending.

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