So You Think You Have The Confidence of Carey Price?

It’s ironic that Montreal Canadiens’ goalie Carey Price made me reflect on hockey.  An injury to the franchise player on November 25, 2016 was initially thought to be just a “week or two” thing.  Price hasn’t seen a game since that day and isn’t sure he will before the end of the season or the playoffs, if the Canadiens make it – things aren’t looking good for him or the team.

Skate backwards twenty-plus-years to when I played roller hockey in the sunny Southern states with a group of loyal compatriots and thought that I was pretty good at what I was doing.  I could go side-to-side, change direction in a flash, skate backwards, I could go pretty fast and I damn sure wasn’t afraid to stop on a dime.  There was also the roller hockey side – I could dish, I could put the puck where I had to (ok, the roller hockey ball). I was also “that kid” out there with the ice hockey gloves, yeah I know, but I went to Pennsylvania for a wedding and made my dad go to a hockey store. Hell I even played goalie pretty damn well – my one memory is stopping a penalty shot by using my forehead to block the ball.

We weren’t organized and didn’t put money into much, just sticks and the ball when we could.  We didn’t care about wearing masks and this was before Bryan Berard  and Marc Staal had eye injuries (sorry guys!).  We didn’t know any better either, we just did it for the typical “love of the game.”

We didn’t have any ice either – the NHL was just realizing that Northern “snowbirds” were screaming for hockey in Florida so they were installing two franchises in Tampa Bay and Miami.  A kid we went to school with, thought he was going pro (we might have been a little jealous), toted around a hockey stick and ice skates because he went to a rink that was an hour and a half away to play ice hockey. None of us could afford to either drive that far away or buy all that ice hockey equipment, nor would our parents take us.  Okay we were a lot jealous.

We did have a local hockey team in the East Coast Hockey League, the Hampton Roads Admirals, that our pro ice hockey kid learned from.  That’s where I learned my love of ice hockey, that and our local cable channel Home Team Sports that showed almost every Washington Capitals game.  Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin taught me a lot about the game because they were the only ones I had to learn from.

Locally the Admirals were coached by John Brophy, the same John Brophy who melted down on the bench of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 80’s.  Good times.  He did his fair share of melting down in the ECHL.  It was quite comical.

But we played probably ten games max of roller hockey at a tennis court on the edge of town.  A nice barely used tennis court, well-lit and out of the way but the Southern sun made it ridiculous to use during the day, so we played at night.

Until one summer night when some guys came out of nowhere with trouble on their mind.  I’ll tell you, there wasn’t much to me – 5-foot-10, 150 pounds max with skates on.  It was probably 9 or 9:30 at night and we had the lights on skating and I notice them, that’s always been something that I was good at was noticing my surroundings, and I noticed these guys coming up that obviously did not have skates.  One goes up to the breaker box for the lights and I’m planning my exit the whole time.  No one else had any clue what was about to go on.  Lights go out and I’m gone like the Russian Rocket.  I don’t know if I’ve ever skated or ran faster in my life.  Ten minutes later it was over and we hauled ass out of there never to return.

We still wanted to play and we tried to play at the tennis courts at the high school in town but the one night we tried someone called the cops on us – citing the trespassing sign.  I got tossed in the back of a cop car with skates still on my feet along with my fellow hockey players.  Imagine that, instead of bringing drugs or weapons to school we were playing hockey on the tennis courts!  Priorities.

After that, the most roller hockey I played was in my driveway with a goal I built from two-by -fours and a net I bought at a sporting goods store.  I skated so many times in the same circle that I wore the wheels down on an angle and I worked on a slap shot that broke the window of my parent’s garage door at least twice.  But I had nowhere else to go “for the love of the game.”

Finnish flash twenty-plus-years to Carey Price, “I want to be out there playing the game I love.”  Price continued, “that’s been the goal this entire time, to be able to come back with 100 per cent confidence, I didn’t want to come back at 90 per cent and still have that mentally kind of shadow overcast. We wanted to come back and make sure that I can compete at 100 per cent and lay it all out there because if you still have that mental block, you can’t play at your best.”

I followed hockey for those 20 plus years, even though I was introduced to hockey by the Admirals and Capitals (and early 80’s with Macgyver’s Calgary Flames hat) I was always a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.  Being a Buffalo Bills fan I guess it’s something about the area – or maybe it’s something about lovable losers, I can say it I’m a fan.  I wrote Doug Gilmour when he was at the Leafs and was sent back an autographed picture.  I still have it to this day.  I always admired the goalies, don’t ask me why but Jocelyn Thibault has always been my favorite player (I’m ducking – I know I know but Felix Potvin was never far behind).  These days Henrik Lundqvist gets the nod, and I support Jayson Megna since I’ve seen him skate at Wilkes-Barre Scranton.  Which brings me full circle.

So after seeing hockey live, I decided maybe it was time to get back on ice skates and roller blades and see what I could do.  Looking up ice rinks it turned out that the one near Wilkes-Barre Scranton was the closest one.  My daughter wanted to skate too, at 10 years old she decided it was time for her to learn to play hockey.  Ice hockey.  So now, we’re both learning.  We both have to learn to skate – I have to “re-learn” and she has to start the process.  For me, it’s getting back and believing in myself, that I can do it.  For her, it’s believing that her skates won’t fail her, that she can stay balanced. Carey Price talked about it, the confidence – you have to have it.

There’s something about that rink, along with the smell of the ice – you know?  You look at it and first maybe you are thinking “ok it’s not so bad, all these guys and girls are doing it.”  But then you step on it and you fall.  Then you fall again.  When you are a kid it’s not a big deal you have all these years ahead to learn.  But as an adult you are thinking “I should know how to do this,” especially if when you are younger you knew how to roller blade like a champ.  But this is so different.  The ice will eat you up.  There’s nothing like getting on that ice.  It’s so intimidating.  Especially if you see other people out there skating with sticks and pucks and they make it look so damn easy.

Guys or girls your age or younger.  I skated from one side to the other and considered it an achievement until I saw a young lady skate backwards faster than I skated forward.  How the hell do you do that?  And don’t get me started on bending my knees.  How do I stay so bent?  And puck handling?  Try to shoot the puck and fall on your face.  It’s ridiculous.  I just feel like a failure.  Then I watch someone else zing them in.  Then I try to pick myself up the ice and slip again.  It’s a natural thing isn’t it?

Or go watch the NHL and they make it look so easy and get paid half as much as baseball players.  Hell, that’s not right.  I’ll never complain about a hockey player being terrible.  I’m terrible.  Don’t pay me.  Pay me to stay off the ice.  I’m awful.  They say you just have to keep going back and training and training.  I get how people with so much talent wash out now.  I understand.  If you lose confidence it’s going to eat you up.  It’s tough.  I gotta get back on the skates – I think?

Revolving Doors

It’s a great day when Sunderland wins and it’s an even better day when Sunderland manages to beat one of the top four names in the Premier League (Man U, Man City, Arsenal or Chelsea).

This past weekend they managed to do both when they beat Man U 2-1 under new boss Sam Allardyce.  Allardyce had been in charge since October of 2015, registering only 16 points for the club before being able to magically swing these points to the Black Cats.   Allardyce took over for former head man Dick Advocaat who had been on a one year contract but changed his mind on the deal and left the club holding the bag.

I don’t blame Advocaat for changing his mind, I know that he took a lot of the job to heart, the man cried when he saved the team from relegation. I’m sure his agreement to come back in the summer of 2015 saved the team from another disaster.  I can’t imagine the scramble they would have been in trying to procure someone at that stage to manage; trying to pick up the pieces and try to recruit players at the same time.  He was able to help secure some new blood into the side and give the squad some hope that going forward there would be less drama in the coming season.

I didn’t take the resignation of Dick Advocaat lightly, he was the second man to take the club to safety from the clutches of relegation however I know that at times coaching changes have to happen.  Anymore I’m afraid that Sunderland are going to have to change their name to the “Revolving Doors.”

Coaching changes occur at what seems like a frequent pace in Sunderland,  Steve Bruce left the club on November 30, 2011 and we’ve seen four managers since him, not to mention twice having caretakers in charge in the span. The door revolved from Steve Bruce to Martin O’Neill to Paolo “managing with a hand grenade” Di Canio to “the Gus Bus” Poyet on up to Sam Allardyce.

On the same day that Sunderland beat Man U, the Minnesota Wild of the NHL fired their manager Mike Yeo who had been in charge since the 2011-2012 season.  Yeo had lead the team to three consecutive playoff appearances during that span however the team spiraled out of control this year losing 13 of the last 14 games that he was in charge.  Throughout those years when Minnesota had issues they never fired him, they made a change in players and it seemed to “work” or the team would come together at the right time.

The 2013-2014 campaign was a test of management’s faith in Yeo, as the rumors swirled many times that he would be let go but the team came together as the season wore on to make a playoff push.  In the 2014-2015 season they brought in goalie Devan Dubnyk prior to the trade deadline to try to fix a record of 18-19-5 and finished 46-28-8.  Yeo however could never find a way throughout those three playoff appearances to get past the Chicago Blackhawks, getting knocked out every year by them(2013 in the 1st round, 2014 in the 2nd, 2015 in the 2nd).  Superman always had his kryptonite, Yeo had the Blackhawks.

Both hockey and soccer are alike in that not only do you need consistency at the top with management and coaching but you need the players all throughout your squad to play at their best.  You need depth and quality throughout the team from the top lines to the fourth line in hockey and from the starting 11 to your bench in soccer.

Sunderland has seen it’s fair share of highs and lows over this span of coaching changes and you can’t say it’s all been on one side or the other: players or coaches.  What you can say is that when it comes to quality and consistency the play hasn’t always been there.  The defense might have an “out of it’s mind” game with the goaltending providing stellar saves, the midfielders and attackers can’t provide enough to threaten the other side or vice versa.  Plus there hasn’t always been enough sitting on the bench to provide firepower if an injury occurred or if the game was getting away from the team.  Players get out of form and the team has been forced to play them because there hasn’t been someone to step in and take over that was of similar quality.  In many ways that has been the result of poor signings, injuries and players not living up to their abilities.  However that happens with every team, it just seems that some luck would have been nice somewhere along the lines.

With Yeo’s Wild, they had issues scoring in the playoffs once they got there.  In 2015 against the Blackhawks, who would go on to win the Cup, they scored 7 goals through 4 games – that’s not going to win you many playoff series in the NHL unless you have Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur in net (or maybe Jocelyn Thibault – hey no one really knows).    In 2014, they scored 13 goals through 6 games which was a bit more respectable, but they were facing the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.  In 2013, they scored 7 goals through 5 games against the Blackhawks who go on to win the Cup.  Obviously if you can’t capitalize on your chances and if you don’t have all four lines rolling in the playoffs you aren’t going to last long which is what we see with the Wild.

I brought up NHL.com’s team stats section on 2/16/16 prior to the Wild’s game against Calgary to fully explore Minnesota’s problem and it seems pretty evident.  Goals for per game: 2.50 vs. Goals allowed per game 2.50.  The Wild currently have a record of 24-22-10 for a .5178 win percentage and that comes after they won 5-2 in their new coach, John Torchetti’s first game in charge.  If you can’t score more than you let in you aren’t going to win, plain and simple.  The power play currently ranks 23rd and the penalty kill ranks 25th; out of 30 teams it shows that the depth simply isn’t there.  You can only change systems and tactics so much but when your top scorer has 38 points through 56 games and doesn’t crack the top 50 scorers on NHL.com you know that your team needs scoring help.

It’s not a judgement of the scouting of the Wild or the organization so much as it is to say that maybe Yeo wasn’t the one who should have been let go.  It’s possible that this team has been full of smoke and mirrors for some time and now it is all shining through.  The players the team is leaning on are either too young to carry the team or are not capable and unfortunately clubs let the coach take the fall in this situation rather than admit their defeat.  It happens all the time and it will continue to happen as long as there are professional sports leagues.

Meanwhile in Sunderland someone is trying to figure out exactly where the revolving door should be put outside the stadium.