Wednesday, June 19, 2013

HNA Finals - Piranhas - 2013

I drove into Toronto Thursday. I never left the US, so driving across the border myself was exciting for me, but it turned out to be really uneventful. I was the first Piranha in Toronto Thursday evening because of delayed flights. I stretched my legs, got a bite to eat and relaxed in bed until some others got in. A few of them wanted to go out right as they got in because they were hungry. I joined them, and got to bed at about 2:00. I had breakfast in the hotel, and a lunch at a Greek place. The first game was early Friday evening.

It was decided earlier in the day because of a lack of bodies, that someone would have to jump back to play defense. I was that guy. I was more nervous than anything because I had only a couple of games at this level playing defense, and these were the best teams of this level.  I was going to play with Jimmy, a good friend, and a player I've watched play defense regularly for a while now.

Game 1 - Toronto

I had started out very nervous but acted just as if I was playing on the Coyotes. I made sure to keep my shifts very short, and would do so all weekend. I think it worked out better because my forwards were more talented than the Coyote forwards. I could trust them a little bit more, and not have to worry about a turnover. At about the middle of the second period, I was playing very well, and said to myself that I was playing well, and I should capitalize on it. I tried carrying the puck more, pinched a few times, and it seemed to work out for the best. I was able to get the puck deep, get a scoring chance, and join the rush. I had to be aware because this team had their two best players hanging out at the red line for an easy break away. They got no one on one chances. There was one where I was caught flat footed, and he skated right past me at my blue line. I hooked him to the ice as hard as I could, hauled him to the ice, and got called for a penalty. I'll take it.

I was reading the play well as it is much more predictable than a Coyote game. It lead to multiple keep ins, and shots/passes from the point. One actually tipped off my center's stick, so I had an assist. We would win 6-5.

That night we went out for a team dinner, then I went right to bed. It sounded as if my roommate was amused with how fast I fall asleep once my head hits the pillow. I was up the next morning getting my normal walks in, went out and grabbed some things for the team and breakfast from some coffee place.

The second game was Saturday at 1:00. An hour before the game, I grabbed my stick to retape it. I inspected it and noticed a small crack in it. I put a little stress on it, and it snapped at the crack... And just a few days after the warranty was void! I played with my backup stick, and played defense again as the team really liked me back there. It was more of the same, but less chippy and cherry picking. I continued to keep the puck in their zone, and put pucks on net. I had two goals this game - all because of traffic in front of the net. I don't have a hard wrist shot, nor were they good shots. They just were quick, quiet, and in an area of traffic. I was reminded to watch the score as I was trying to get too aggressive with a multi-goal lead. We would win again, but I can't remember the score off the top of my head.

I bought a new stick that was very close to my old one (I hated my back up). I cut it down, got it ready and tried to get ready for game 3 at 7:00 Saturday night. I couldn't do it. There wasn't enough time to eat, sleep, get a new stick, and travel.

The third game I was just exhausted. Our opponents seemed fresher, they wanted it more, and knowing we were in for Sunday, I don't think we wanted the victory as much as they did. I tried to battle my hardest, and played mediocre. Jimmy and I had had multiple miscommunications, were conflicting with each other, and so forth. Mostly because I didn't have the energy to think. We would lose this game.

I got back to the hotel, ate something and went right to bed because game 4 was at 9:00 am Sunday. I didn't sleep well. I woke up angry, unrested, and just sluggish.  I felt better once the game got going. I felt this team was just as good as the Piranhas, minus one player. I tried to focus on him, but he was deceivingly good. I'd try to knock him off the puck, tie him up, or take away his pass and didn't do so successfully. We were saved by goal posts a lot, and we had a couple of ugly goals, to be up 2-0 after the first. Then we were up 3-0. Then I made a huge mistake. Their top player came down the middle of the ice. I went to take the puck from him, and tripped him. Our opponents would score on their resulting power play. They didn't let up after that, and I became more stupid with my aggression, and didn't have the success I needed to make a difference. I felt I still played above average for me, but the other team was just more skilled. We would lose, and be eliminated from the tournament, in the semi-finals.

The team went back to the hotel, cleaned up, and some of us went to lunch before I started my drive home. What was funny was I drove home, while others were going to fly. I still made it home before them - but they got to spend more time in Toronto than me.

The tournament was a blast, and I obviously left out a lot. I can't wait until next year. Pictures to be posted later.

2012-2013 Season in Review

The season, the playoffs, the Toronto trip are over. It is all done for the 2013 season. No more late night games, no more circling dates on my calendar, or refusing plans because I have a game.

Who am I kidding? Hockey season is never over. I'm going to keep playing, staying up late and looking forward to my next ice time. I've made numerous friends while playing, and had even more fun times on the ice this year.

I started out the season with a handful of goals on both the Piranhas, and the Coyotes. Each of them were based on what I viewed my role is on the team, what I felt would challenge me, but is still obtainable. I reminded myself after every couple of games to make sure I was on track to complete these goals.

The Coyotes are a lower level team, and I play defense for them - a position that I wasn't fully comfortable with at the start of the year. I felt I was one of the more experienced and skilled players on the team, and as a result, I expected a lot from myself on the blue line. I wanted to be a good example of playing both ways because so many guys just want to score goals. I got paired up early on with another guy who has just as much experience as me, and is a very smart player. I really felt comfortable playing with him, and it was great having confidence in him, and him having confidence in me. He got hurt, and then I went into a span of a few games where I was average. I didn't do a good job of contributing in the zone, or keeping control of the puck. I got paired with a friend who I've played with for a while, and we really worked on verbal communication while playing. I also felt he wanted me to start being more aggressive in the offensive zone, and using my speed. It created a problem for a period or two, but we both felt comfortable enough with each other to help each other out. Toward the end of the season, I didn't like how I played this year, and I knew I was capable of much more. I turned up the aggression, and had finished the season on a string of really strong games.

From the second game forward, I had the chance to play with arguably the two most talented individuals on the roster. The logic was I had the speed to keep up with these two and my game would compliment their free wielding style. It worked out really well. Any time us three were on the ice together, there was a good chance we'd get a scoring opportunity. Once we were set up in our zone, a scoring chance was a sure thing. Typically, I was staying in front of the net, creating traffic and room for those two to do their thing. I lost count how many times I was covered by a defense men (or two if they collapsed really low) causing a screen, which would help out in a goal. It doesn't mean I got a point on the play but I know I helped out. We also had a really good cycle going of keeping the puck away from the opponent because we all battled harder than our opponents. I played one game on defense, and two in the center position and felt I did fair in all of those games. In fact, I had very few poor games this year with the Piranhas.

I wanted to win a championship with both teams, but was only able to do with the Piranhas. I know that my expectation was to win it with the Coyotes based on the teams in our division, but two other skilled teams were added to our division, and we were not able to overcome them in the playoffs. I wanted to make sure I had a positive +/- with the Coyotes, and with the exception of a game or two, I never had a minus rating in a game. On the Piranhas, I did become a point per game player, and really felt like I solidified my position on the team. I'm really pleased with how both seasons went, despite the Coyotes not winning the championship.

I believe the great success I've had can be tied to many different things. I didn't stay up late watching pro hockey games because of the lockout. I worked in the off season with the Phantoms on small ice. I did many stick and pucks early on weekends. I did a few sessions at Puck Pros to grasp the mechanics of skating better, and I eliminated a lot of unnecessary stress  from my life at various points of the season. Most of these remind me that preparation is key. I also cannot discount the fact that I felt much more comfortable around my teams as the season went on. Having them gain confidence in me was a big boost. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Puck Pros Training - Brian

I hit the surface probably 30 minutes early. It had been longer than I wanted since I've been there, and I wanted to familiarize myself with the surface again, and just work on my skills myself. It also helps to warm up as well. I felt like I was flying out there. I felt like I was handling the puck well and skating well.

Brian called me over, and we chatted for a bit. We decided to work on skating. He immediately reminded me of the three things I need to do with my skating stride that I don't do - full extension of my leg as I push off, bend my knees, and keep my chest up and out. It is difficult to break those habits. I don't know if it was because I was hearing it for the 100th time, or because it was someone different, but I felt like it clicked much better. There were a couple of times where I slipped, but I'm OK with that. I felt I did a really good job of putting all of my weight onto one leg as I skate. I normally don't do that well, but I have been focusing on improving my leg strength, so maybe that had a part in it as well.

The Brian wanted to make me run through a few drills to get me to stop thinking, and I felt like it all clicked. It started out with some quick feet, then full strides, into a few quick turns, accept a pass and put the puck on net. Go behind the net and pick up a puck, skate back through the slot, tight turn carrying the puck, stick handle through the pucks, cradle the puck on my forehand, bring it over, then backhand. Got that? Yeah - I felt overwhelmed when he was explaining it, but it just made sense. The first thing he wanted me to correct is in a tight turn to keep my feet in line, rather than side by side. Then he noticed I handle the puck like it is a bouncy ball.

He gave me a great idea that I absolutely loved. When going from side to side, you're supposed to cradle the puck on your stick, even on your backhand, which I never thought to do. I tried to cradle the puck but still couldn't do it. While I thought I was using my top hand to control my stick, he said I wasn't. He grabbed a small piece of PVC pipe and put it over the shaft of my stick, made me hold the PVC piece, and this made me unable to control the stick with my bottom hand. It forces me to rotate my top wrist. It is a damn good drill, so after trying it for a few minutes, I noticed an immediate improvement. Going through the pucks was much easier.

Towards the end, he asked how my one-timers were. I laughed. He asked about my slap shot. I told him I tried it a few times in practice. So I did it naturally how I thought it should be done, and he noticed I golf right away. I brought the stick back behind me, bent my right elbow, rotated my hips and transferred my weight well.But he made me keep the stick square with my chest, no bringing it back. He made me take a very wide grip with my stick. I noticed it was a little bit more consistent, but felt very different. I had a hard time NOT bringing the stick behind me because it is so natural from golf.

That was it for the session. I felt much better. I'm very pleased with the session I had, and I can't wait to try it out later this week.

The session was over, and I went back to practice by myself. I worked more on my hands and my feet. I felt more and more comfortable asking for help, slowing down and practicing things on my own. That PVC pipe was really great, and I'm going to get my own to try out. I should be back next Sunday.