Sudden playoff exit leaves hockey Dad suffering withdrawal
When you go from first to worst – and out of the playoffs – in three quick games, it can be harder on parents than the kids.
My 13-year-old son has had quite a season on the high rolling Toronto Penguins minor bantam AA team; 29-3, with four ties, good enough to finish first among 14 teams in the GTHL east division and win the Kraft Cup.
Our boys beat every other team in their division, won both tournaments they entered and were by far the highest scoring minor bantam AA outfit among 31 teams in the east and west division of the GTHL.
To say that we expected to roll over the two teams we’d meet on our way to a division final showdown against the North York Knights, a perennial powerhouse that finished two points behind us, would be an understatement.
Our first victim was to be the Willowdale Blackhawks, which squeaked into the playoffs in eighth place. We crushed them 9-3 in our first game of the year, back in September, and easily beat them 4-1 in November.
As the season wore on, our boys developed the maddening tendency of playing down to weaker teams, which they always got away with, except for a few ties.
It became an entrenched habit that we were never able to shake.
Willowdale beat us 3-2 last Tuesday, in the opening game of a first-to-six-points series. They outplayed us and were clearly the hungrier team.
The shocked looks on the faces of us parents had to be amusing to the Willowdale kids and families, who looked like they’d won the lottery.
Well, the boys will have learned their lesson, we figured, and know they had to come out firing in the second game, last Saturday. It might even be good for them to play with their backs to the wall, we thought. Toughen them up.
Instead, they played their worst game of the year. They looked bewildered, hopeless, and totally swarmed. We were down 5-0 before we scored three goals in the last five minutes. The domination was in no way reflected in the final score.
To say it was embarrassing – hell, humiliating - is an understatement.
Most of the players were unperturbed in the dressing room afterward, and that’s putting it nicely. My son said a lot of them acted no different than if they’d won.
The mood among the parents before game three on Sunday was sombre. Some were still confident that the real team would finally show up, throttle Willowdale and come roaring back to win the series.
The preponderance of evidence suggested otherwise.
The Penguins came out flying and kept the play in Willowdale’s end, but still gave up the first goal. Our team tied it, but they again went ahead, even though we rained pucks on the Willowdale goalie and bottled them up.
We tied it again and it looked like it was only a matter of time until we cracked them, but the Penguins could not cash in on their chances. They got a third goal on a breakaway and it was over.
Our boys – the highest scoring team, remember - outshot them 36-16 but could only manage two goals. At no point in the three games did we have a lead. Willowdale was by far the better team and deserved to win.
The parents were stunned at the scale of the collapse, which seemed inconceivable, even after the first lost. I scurried out of the rink before the final buzzer, not wanting to meet the eyes of my fellow sufferers.
It reminded me of some advice given to me by a far more experienced hockey dad: Remember, it is just kids’ hockey. The most consistent thing about boys at this age is inconsistency. The damndest things can and do happen.
After six months of hockey almost every day, and with a tantalizing championship always just over the horizon, it takes a while to get over the disappointment, at least for this hockey dad.