Hockey At Its Purest Essence
By Alan Bass
“Go kick his ass!” a man screams as the crowd erupts like an active volcano. The play? A hometown forward is faceplanted on the ice after tripping over his opponent’s stick. The man? His coach.
Revenge seems not only imminent, but necessary. The player gets up, looks around, and finds his man. He makes a beeline toward the opposing player. He raises his arms to his opponent’s head level and prepares to make contact with the intruder.
In this moment, many reactions are apparent. The fans in the stands, eager with anticipation, focus their eyes on the two players about to become one. The coach behind the bench, licking his chops as if a Big Mac were placed in front of him. The referee, frozen with disbelief, can’t even begin to skate toward the scene of a crime that has yet to happen. Whatever happens next – broken leg, concussion, escape with simple negative feelings – can only be the result of a Bruins-Canadiens rivalry.
Or, you know, two mites teams facing off in a cold, dank arena in rural Pennsylvania.
These fans aren’t just any fans – they’re parents. And this coach isn’t Scotty Bowman – he’s some schmo that works in a small, heatless office building by day, yet dreams of being Punch Imlach by night. Problem is, Imlach coached NHLers. This guy coaches seven and eight year olds, most of who play solely because their parents tell them to.
This is just one example, but reveals a frightening trend in youth hockey. With dreams of professional hockey settling in the minds of the coaches and parents of these kids, the ramifications of this simple play are not even paid attention.
What everyone seems to forget is that these young kids aren’t going to the NHL. This level of hockey might be the highest they ever reach. They’re playing a game where the object is to put a piece of rubber in a six-by-four net and have some fun with their friends – not to bear down on your opponent with the fire of a Navy SEAL looking through his sniper scope at the enemy.
Yet coaches each day are telling their young players how important it is to get revenge, knock someone down, or even worse, win. At this age, no athlete in the world should even know the score of the game, let alone give a hoot about winning.
Hockey players at this age should be focused on developing their hockey skills, making some friends, and most importantly, having fun. Most likely, none of these kids will play hockey at a high enough level to even consider thinking about a career in the NHL. Perhaps this young man will be a doctor one day, saving a patient’s life. Or perhaps his opponent will become a researcher that could one day develop a cure for HIV.
Whatever they do become, neither one is going to remember the score of the game tomorrow, let alone 30 years from now. Neither will remember when the kid tripped and got right up.
But I promise you that they will both remember the night the opponent lay on the ground motionless because an overly-compensating coach and some angry parents told their innocent young boy it was okay to pull the trigger.