coached a PeeWee D (2nd Tier House League) team in 2002-2003.
We came from a 1-2-1 preseason to win our league playoffs and two
tournaments; we won every competition we were in.
I am wholly in support of the general principle of equal ice time
for all players, especially at that level.
That said, I do believe there are times when it is acceptable to
put your big line out, and I believe that at almost all levels of minor
hockey, i.e. Atom House and Bantam AAA both included, those are the same.
Here are some examples.
the final of our Christmas tournament, with under four minutes left, my
team was losing by two goals. I
kept the lines rolling through evenly.
With about two minutes left, I pulled the goalie and we scored to
make the score 2-1. With 1:45
to go, luck smiled on us as the referee called a penalty against the other
team. I immediately put out
my best line, which was not one of my regular lines, including a sixth
attacker. We scored again
with 16.1 seconds left. We
won in a shootout. Now, in
this situation, I'm not talking about the last five minutes of a game,
because I am a firm believer that rough situations make for unlikely
heroes. I'm talking about one
line missing a shift. I
doubleshifted those six players; one other line would have had forty-five
secnods. Had was scored with
45 seconds or a minute left, rather than 16.1 seconds, I would have
changed the line. I always
hated getting pity shifts as a player, and that's exactly what 16.1
sending that final line out, a player who felt he should have been on that
line complained and I told him it was "time to eat one for the
team." That might sound
harsh, but it had good results, one of which intended and one of which was
a wonderful surprise. I do
not think that, for the sake of one shift, (again I'm talking about only
one shift; two shifts at the end of the game is too many to sit) sitting
out for the sake of the team in a crucial situation teaches a bad lesson
or is truly unfair. There are
a lot of times in life when you have to take one for the team, whether it
is sports, school, business or anything else.
My players were always aware that I never made decisions like that
on "repuation" and I tried my best to hold to that.
That same player, who was one of my Alternate Captains, though not
one of my best players, went out the next few games determined to prove to
me that next time, he deserved to be in that situation.
He did prove it to me. A
few weeks later, I had meetings with each of the captains and I told him
that I was impressed with that and that I had immense respect for him
because of it. Shortly after
that, there was a similar game where I had a hunch to put him on the ice
near the end when we were losing cery closely, but I again put out my
"best line." They
gave up another goal, putting us down by two.
I made a point of telling that player afterwards that I had a gut
feeling to play him but chose to go against it and that it was a mistake
and he should have been on the ice.
our league final, we were tied at one goal, we had a power play, and I put
out the "top line" again, hoping for a quick goal.
It didn't come, and at the first opportunity, about thirty seconds
into the power play, I changed the line.
I put this same player on the ice and decided to leave him for the
duration of the power play, even if it meant double shifting him.
This is a player whose wrist shot could be pretty suspect.
He picked up a loose puck at the top of the crease, saw the goalie
stacking the pads and roofed it beautifully, putting us ahead.
That goal proved to be the game winner, and in that case, the
banner-winner. That player
learned to seize his opportunities when they came and that the best way to
be successful was to give everything he had to give whenever he was on the
ice. So, looking back, I
still think it was a good decision to play the "big line" in the
Christmas tournament. I made
a mistake later on by not holding true to my policy of rewarding hard work
and playing my better players a few weeks later.
It was important to communicate with that player and admit when I
had made a mistake and apologize for short-changing him.
I believe that the whole parcel of events has helped not only to
make him a better hockey player, but a stronger person and it made that
goal that much sweeter.
mentioned above that I have a policy of rewarding hard work and a good
attitude. When a player is
clearly putting his heart and soul into a game above and beyond what the
other players are doing, I'll put him out for that critical situation.
If a player slacks or shows me a bad attitude, I will bench him a
shift and he probably won't get out in a tight situation, no matter who he
is. I don't think there is
any problem with sitting a kid in the last two minutes and saying "I
can't put you out there as long as you're down on your teammates" or
"If I can't count on you to show up to practice, how do I know I can
count on you now?" There
are things other than fun that kids should get out of hockey.
It should be a positive part of their development as people.
can't eliminate the fact that I do and will continue to make mistakes and
that they will almost invariably be unfair to some of my players.
I also don't think that any of my players over the course of the
season, ever left a game thinking they didn't have fun, with the possible
exception of our 11-0 loss. If
you create the right atmosphere on the ice, on the bench and in the room,
you can still have fun despite everyone's mistakes, including your own.