Duncan Pike - Editorial

“Fair” Does not Always Mean “Equal” and “Equal Does not Always Mean “Fair”

Editorial by Duncan C. Pike, Dip. P.E.
Head Instructor, S.P.S. Power Skating,
B.A. (P.E.) Candidate
HCOP Level III Official
HCCP Intermediate Level Coach
© 2004, Duncan C. Pike, Dip. P.E.

I 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.

In 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 seconds is.

Before 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.

In 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.

I 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.

I 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.



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