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Stop Saying, “It’s Just House League!”

I live on one of the best streets on earth in terms of partying, friendships, and road hockey. My son (9) and daughter (12) are part of 9 neighbourhood children aged 9-15 who love to play real hockey in the fall/winter and road hockey in the spring/summer. Furthermore, this past season, of the 5 families, 1 dad head-coached, 1 dad helped on the bench, 1 dad did both, 1 dad was a manager and my gorgeous wife was a league convenor. To say hockey is important on my street would be a gross understatement. When the puck dropped for real last September, of the 9 neighbourhood kids, 6 played house league.

This past Saturday and Sunday was the NMHA House League Championship weekend at the Walter Baker Sports Centre. The NMHA finals were held Saturday, and if you won that, you played the Kanata Champion from their organization for the Grand Championship.


Liam’s U15A “Aces” lost in a shootout 1-0 on Saturday night.


Cam and Hugo’s U11A “Coyotes” won their NMHA Final 6-2, only to lose 3-0 to Kanata in the Grand Final Sunday.


Diego’s U15B “Hellcats” won their NMHA Final 4-3 and then cleaned up the Grand Finale with a 3-2 double-OT win over Kanata on Sunday. It should also be noted that the Hellcats are coached by my next-door neighbour and helluva great guy, Coach Tarcy.


My family and I were at all 3 games Saturday because it is Canadian law to watch your family/friends in their playoffs once yours are over.


A few things struck me this weekend as I watched the finals for all 3 teams.


Emotion


The stands were packed for all 3 final games. Every family brought extended family and friends to the game. The crowds were loud, engaged, and vociferous. They cheered loud for goals, jeered the refs for bad calls, and panicked with every breakaway and penalty kill. There were signs, noise makers, and even some players eliminated in early rounds out to watch. Every hockey stereotype was there too. Grammas who are proud regardless of the outcome; grandpas who are angry regardless of the outcome. There were moms who were dressed for a night out on the town and Barrhaven Dads who just can’t seem to match their 20-year-old jeans to their 18-year-old shoes. You knew it was a championship because the energy was palpable.


If it is “just house league”, why then was there so much emotion?


Coaching


As a coach myself, I am always watching the other coaching staffs to see what kind of engagement, theatrics and strategy they have. Coach Tarcy and I talk head-coaching all of the time so naturally I watched him. Needless to say, he did not disappoint. I could feel his anger at his Hellcats after they laid an early Easter Egg in the first period. I then shared in his exuberance as his Hellcats scratched their way to a 4-1 lead after 2. Finally, I watched him try and out-step his Fitbit as he paced nervously through a stressful 3rd, where he finally won the league championship.


I couldn’t attend the Grand Finale on Easter Sunday where his team beat the first-place team from Kanata in a thrilling OT victory. In talking with him Monday, he was still beaming with pride. “Waldo, we still can’t believe we won. We were a bottom team all year but we just found a way to do it.”


If it is “just house league”, why are the coaches so invested and so proud of their players?


Agony and Jubilation


The winners of the games threw their sticks in the air, rushed their goalies and buried them in a team dog pile. The losers were devastated, some of them crying, while others could barely stand to watch the other team receive their trophy. The winning parents and families took pictures and beamed with pride; the losers left the stands early, truly crushed for their children. Some of the losing players were crying as they left the ice while the winners partied in the dressing room after.


If it is “just house league”, why then was there such a dichotomy in post-game reactions?


The answer to all 3 propositions is obvious: For the vast majority of players, families and coaches, it is hockey, not house league hockey. There is a scoreboard, referees, penalties, emotion, and intensity - sounds like real hockey to me.


I wonder if it is the arrogant parents in the hockey world who denigrate the value of playing house league hockey?


Coach Tarcy makes me laugh every year with the amount of dads who come to him and say, “You know, my son should not be in this league. He was the last cut from competitive and it is all the politics of competitive hockey that are forcing him to play here.” The fact that Coach Tarcy coaches “House B” means that not only are these “last cuts” victims of the tyrannical political forces in competitive hockey, they also couldn’t cut through the bureaucratic red-tape of corruption better known as “House A sort-outs”. Maybe your kid isn’t good enough and belongs where he/she ended up?


As a player who has been cut from competitive hockey, I can assure you that my talent, not politics, was the reason. As a coach who has had to make cuts for competitive hockey, I can assure you that not only are the decisions made with excruciating analytics, they must be documented and supported by independent evaluators. It would be foolish of me to suggest that the system is perfect and that corruption/biases aren’t a factor, but this is by far the exception, not the rule.


Coach Tarcy’s time is just as valuable as any competitive coach’s. Dedicated house league coaches like him (and Coach Nick from my daughter’s house league team) should be celebrated regardless of level or societal-prestige. They are crushed when they lose, proud when they win, and take it personally when players and parents do not show the same level of commitment to hockey that they do.


There is an old saying, dating back to the 1600s, “At the end of the game of chess, the kings and the pawns end up in the same box.”


House league or competitive, unless you make it to the pros, we all end up in beer league hockey. Remember that the next time you are ready to lose your mind on a coach for cutting your child. If your kid is a fringe competitive player, chances are beer-league, not the pros, is their destination. Minor hockey times-out at 18 years old; Hellcats memories last way longer than that.


Coach Waldo | Minor Hockey Magazine


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