Luck = Preparation

This weekend had a very strange even happen in the NHL.  A zamboni driver ended up in nets during a regular game, won said game, and managed to set a few records along the way.   This was the Leafs vs Hurricanes matchup, and if you follow hockey, you have to really wonder what the Leafs have done to the hockey gods to end up where they are now.

Back on point.  David Ayres is a zamboni driver for the Toronto Marlies (AHL, one level under the NHL).  He’s 42 years old and played in the juniors.  Had a kidney transplant, and plays men’s pickup as a goalie.  From time to time, he’ll end up practicing with either Marlies or the Leafs as injuries / health breaks demand.  So while he’s a “warm body”, he’s not exactly in NHL form.

In the NHL, teams suit up 2 goalies for each game.  The backup is there in case they need to swap due to poor performance or injury.  Carolina lost their primary goalie in the first due to a fluke play.   Normally when this happens, teams scramble to find a backup based on a local short list from the home team (in this case, Toronto).  Sure enough, they get a 1 game deal sorted out with Ayres and his only job is to sit on the bench in case things go really wrong.

Things went really wrong in the second period and Caroline lost their backup to injury.  Enter Ayres on the ice, playing AGAINST the team he’s used to practicing with.  In any normal world, this would be an advantage for Toronto – a cold goalie, who is not NHL caliber, and who you’ve practices shooting against multiple times.  It’s like the lottery.

First two shots go in.  Then a wall goes up and Carolina decides to play some serious hockey.  Ayres ends up with the win and memories that will last a lifetime.

 

On one side, there’s a relatively regular guy that gets a break in the big leagues and will enjoy his 15 minutes of fame.  He was aware he was on the short list and knew it could happen, so he was ready for it and took full advantage.  Good on him.

On the other side there’s the Leafs.  A massively squandered opportunity.  There’s a very good reason no 3rd string backup goalie has ever recorded a win until this weekend.

That was both one of the most entertaining hockey games I’ve ever seen and one of the most disappointing.  Habs won at least (though they have now traded what feels like half the team.)

More Volunteering

When I was a young lad, I clearly recall spending most weekends in a hockey rink.  Either I was on the ice, my dad was coaching, or he was organizing other bits.  When I stopped playing competitively, I opted to get into coaching.  I did that for a few years, but live took a hell of a left turn and I needed to refocus.  I stopped skating altogether for about 3 years, then joined some league play and have been skating 2-3x a week since.

I make a concerted effort to not have hockey fall into family time.  The majority of my games are after 9pm.  The flipside is that my kids know I play (and watch) the sport, and they’ve been to a fair share of games in their years.  My eldest started playing 3 years ago, and I helped on the ice.  Last year I was assistant coach, this year head coach.  I figured since I was at the rink anyway, it would work out.

Which in one space that’s true.  Assistant coach is a near similar time investment as a spectator – emotionally not quite.  Head Coach, it’s about double the time.  I’m extremely grateful to have an awesome support team of AC, manager, and treasurer.  We just spent an amazing weekend in North Bay for a tourney.  The girls had a blast and progressed like crazy.  The parents stayed up late and polished off WAY to much vodka.  That we were able to experience the moments without worry is a highlight.

I’m also the webmaster for the association.  I took this on after noticing in my first year how atrocious the site was.  Updates were months apart, files were no longer valid, really important information wasn’t present.  I’m a big proponent of open & transparent communication, and I really dislike complaining without providing options.  So in the Spring, I ran a new build for the site, updated all the content, and added extra bits to help out the volunteer staff.  I also have it set up on my phone so I can make updates from anywhere.  Very happy with the results… just a ton of hours at start/end of the season.

There’s also a development stream (DS) offered through the association, but they need extra volunteers to run it.  At my level (Atom) they spent a fair chunk of time searching… and I figured my kid would be there anyways.  More volunteering ahead.

An important part here for me is that this is time I’m spending with my family, so it’s not really seen as a  lost opportunity.  The kids get to see their parents involved in the community, and hopefully they can catch the same “give back” bug when they get older.  When they age out (or simply leave) the sport, then that will be a harder decision to stick with it, or move on to other things.  But that’s not going to happen tomorrow.  Tomorrow, I need to run a game and a practice.

Thinking on Your Feet

Blizzcon is in 3 weeks.  Typically the “hate train” lasts only 2 weeks in the collective consciousness of the internet mob.  Interesting to see where this ends up, and who gets sucked into it.  (Related: I do believe in ethical purchased, but ethics are personal… so to each their own.)

I was at the rink the other day watching some kids take a practice, talking to another coach.  I also played a couple times this week (another tonight), then took a pint with the guys afterwards.  For anyone that’s played any sport at a competitive level, there are points of reference in a game where you know people understand the fundamentals, or they understand the meta.

I’ll use hockey here, but this applies to any sport.  There are rules that govern how the players participate – # of players, positions, timing, offsides, points, and so on.  Anyone can learn those rules.  Then there’s the skill level of the sport, how fast can you move, your level of agility, or reaction time.  Elite athletes spend 12 months a year on this, close to 6 days a week.  It’s a job, and there’s always someone hunting to take it from you, so some motivation!

Then we get to vision.  I’ll take a sidebar here and discuss chess.  The really good chess players have memorized key positions and plays, and they reference them with each turn, selecting the move they think best fits.  It isn’t just one chess piece, they are seeing 5-6 into the future, setting up their long term plays.    It may seem to be a long game, but most times you know who’s going to win after 10 moves and the rest is just playing out the game to it’s natural end.

Back to hockey (or any other group sport).  There are key positions and plays that exist, and the coaching staff has a preference for their team.  Some prefer a stretch pass game, where they beat on speed.  Others prefer a 2-1-2 game of passing for an open one-timer.  Dump and chase.  Drop passes.  The somewhat new 1-3-1 PP.  Then there’s the defensive structure to counter those plays.

Hockey (soccer/rugby/basketball too) are fluid games, in the sense that the amount of time you have to adapt to a play is very small.  This makes the game generally more dynamic, and inserts a level of randomness compared to something like US football.  For people who understand the sport at that level, they can see plays coming well in advance.  Not so much a goal (since the goalies have a say in that) but in the opportunity of scoring.  Without that understanding, people still have a sense of awe to what happened because a clean play transcends a sport.  Who doesn’t appreciate a long-ball alley-oop in basketball?

Gaming

A lot of games have this reactionary model.  It’s why team-based competitions focus so much on practice of plays, and paying attention to their opponents.  True, actions-per-minute have a dramatic impact on success, but the wisdom to read a play, adapt, and execute a counter is amazing to watch.  The hiccup here is that a game has a limited shelf-life, or for the longer-term ones, the rule sets change over time.  The level of expertise/wisdom for a game therefore only lasts a short window (LoL/DOTA are a different conversation.)

It’s hard to build a game with the level of depth required to stand out.  Battle-chess can never really stick around because it’s not player driven, and the strategies are extremely limited.  FPS games have inherent limitations due mainly to map memorization, they need more horizontal options to add that complexity (see Titanfall).

Now there’s a ceiling and a floor for this concept.  The floor is the minimum understanding required to participate.  Games with incredible complexity often require a serious amount of player knowledge to even play (most CCG, EvE, or P&P RPG).  That limits the potential playerbase.  The ceiling is the point at which good players are separated from amazing players.  The closer that spread, the shorter the ceiling.  There aren’t a whole lot of games out there with low floors and high ceilings, which would cast the largest potential net of players and spectators.  Say what you want about Fortnite, but the floor/ceiling in that game is a WIDE spread, and adaptive play is essential for people to success (without aim bots).

Game design is hard.  Great game design is a rare event, that requires a spectacular team and vision.  And like a great sports play, by playing a great game you just know from a quick look that it’s going to be a good time.

Out of Midfield

I like sports.  I’ve played most of them.  I still play hockey at a “competitive” level.  Have for 30 years.  I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of a beating – more than enough times.  A few streams of thought.

The Women’s World Cup is underway now in France.  World’s largest sport, great stage, awesome that we can see more of it.  Hockey is in a similar boat, where the global talent pool is only just emerging.  It takes at least a generation to build a base, and that includes a massive investment in infrastructure.  Elite athletes are not born, they are bred.  And depending on the country, a particular sport may be more attractive than another (see Usain Bolt).  The gap in hockey is dramatically larger than football – but it’s similar enough that there are plenty of wash outs on the international level.

The US beat Thailand 13-0 the other day.  Opinions abound.  The aspect of this particular tournament is that goal differentials can make/break the way forward.  The men’s cup often sees this occur.  Combine that with the fact that the players on the team are all actively competing for a starting position, there are only a few games, and there’s ample reason to see why the US did not let up.  Anyone who has played at the competitive level where points scored mattered in a tie breaker understands this.  Be mad at the people who made the rules, not the ones who follow them.

Where a bit more nuance applies, and gameship, is in the way the US acted as the game progressed.  I don’t mean in a technical sense but in the personal sense.  In hockey, there’s an unwritten rule where you simply stop celebrating goals when you’re clearly dominating.  That’s really super evident in the lopsided international events where games can reach 10-0 and there’s barely a smile after a goal.  I can’t recall anyone celebrating an open-net goal to clinch a game.  I would hazard to say that this is a holdover of the Canadian “sorry first” mentality that permeates the sport. (US mainline sports do not have this, since baseball, football, and basketball are never managed on a points scored system.  It’s purely win/loss.)

Watching the US players celebrate their goals really got under some people’s skins, and effectively makes them look like villains in this tournament.  Villains in the sense of international eyes.  How the home crowd views this is really a microcosm of the global sport.  At no point do I advocate them not scoring plenty of goals – again that’s the way the tournament is structured.  Fill the net.  But perhaps lay off the major celebrations on goals 8+?  At no point did anything thing Thailand had a chance, so what exactly is being celebrated?  That you were able to beat someone that has half your skill level?   Yay you?

(For those watching NBA finals and wondering about the classless Toronto fans, hear me out a second.  When we (Canadians) see an injury, it is a real visible injury – e.g. blood, knock down, etc…  Hockey players end up in the finals with no ACL/MCL… so there’s a certain toughness in sport that’s expected.  KD stopped, and walked to the side to sit down, barely made a face.  That does not look like an injury.  The Raptors and replay were essential to communicate that it was indeed a serious injury.  When that was understood, the fans completely changed their response.   I don’t think it had any bearing on the game past that point – that was a horrible 2nd half for both teams-  and the game changer was the oddly called time out.)

Canadian Weekends

Ultra stereotype, but this weekend was spent entirely dedicated to a hockey tournament for my eldest daughter.  From Friday at 8am until Sunday at 3:30pm, she played 6 games.  I’m one of the coaches, making the stress levels a tad bit higher than when in the stands. Throw in a family party for 6 hours, and it was an exhausting weekend.  The great news is that they wont the tourney, took home some hardware, and a pretty large banner.  I am extremely proud of what those girls accomplished.  Was an amazing feeling to share that event with them, the other coaches, and the parents.

I am extremely biased towards hockey.  I spent the most of my youth winters either playing or being in a rink watching others play.  Ball hockey started on the street once the snow melted.  It is a stupidly expensive game, and requires subsidization for those that could get the most benefit from it.

Team sports in general provide tremendous benefits, in particular ones that can be played from childhood until you retire (or beyond).  Generally, team sports focus on bonding since it really isn’t possible to win all by oneself.  There may be dominant players, but they are not always actively playing.  It builds interpersonal skills, tolerance for others, the ability to work together to solve a problem, and just basic chemistry between people.

It provides a framework for a work ethic, in that you get out what you put in.  Practice and effort can provide tremendous output.  The main message is that continual improvement is an overall goal.  Even the best players/teams continue to practice.   In specific cases, that you can succeed even if you make mistakes.  That you can lose if you make none.  That the outcome of a game, or a tournament is not the outcome of a season.  It build personal confidence in one’s abilities.  Personal experience and subjective anecdote – people who stop team sports, will stop for this particular reason above all others.

It provides an environment to have fun while doing something strenuous.  As hard as the game can be, or the moment-to-moment action, you should be able to enjoy it before, during, and after.  There’s a reason they call it a game.  It provides a focused environment where the rest of your life doesn’t matter, only the game.  Being able to see through all that and still have a smile.

It includes fair play.  Nobody cares what you look like, what you dress like, who your parents are, where you live.  All hockey players are judged on their ability to play hockey.  It isn’t about injuring the opponent, it’s a test of skill.  It isn’t about dominating a weaker team.  When the game is over, you shake hands.  As an adult, you may end up at the pub with them later on.

These values permeate through team sport into nearly every other aspect of life.  School, work, personal growth, relationships…I still meet people on a regular basis that I’ve connected with prior through sport.   It isn’t to say that all hockey players are like this, or that this particular skill set is only found in team sports.  At the larger trend level, you’ll simply find more of this in team sports, otherwise the sport itself wouldn’t work.  And for the best coaches, success isn’t measured in the game, it’s measured in the growth of the players.

I love this game.

 

Rink Building Time

Winter is nearly a month early here.  The first snowfall stuck, and it’s consistently below freezing.  That means that it’s time to build the backyard rink.

The first year I had a tarp.  Last year I had boards.  I made sure to number them when I stored them for the summer months, making the setup a whole lot easier this year.  It’s more like legos… if legos had screws.  Better news is that lessons learned from last year were applied.

  • Layout of tarp on the most level part of the yard.
  • Layout of the board components and braces.
  • A bag to carry the screws and joints.
  • A fully charge power drill!
  • Tighten the tarp as much as possible to avoid folds/ripples
  • Set up before the snow

What took close to 6 hours last year was done in about an hour this year.  Including having an 8 year old on the drill this year.

 

Filling in the rink is the perennially painful part.  The most level part still has a near 1 foot drop from one corner to the other.  It takes a surreal amount of water to fill that in. A slightly different take this year is to wait until there’s snow, which generally auto-levels itself.  Then apply the old-school misting of water to build a foundation of ice.  The downside to this is that it has to be at least -10C for the water to freeze in a reasonable time and not melt all the snow.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  It can’t snow during this time (usually a few days).  You can’t stand on it for a while, let alone skate.  And it’s been snowing nearly every single day for 3 weeks now.  Not exactly easy to get rid of the snow to put more water… keeps breaking the ice.  But I’m about 75% of the way now, with 2 more nights of watering to go.

The tarp would be a whole lot more useful for a really level ground.  I could fill it 2 inches and let it freeze and be done in a night.  Some engineering work for next year.

If things do work out, I should be able to run the rink until mid-February.  Considering my kids were on it 5 nights a week last year, that’s a whole lot of use considering the effort to create/maintain it.

Plus, you aren’t really a Canadian unless you play on the outdoor rink, right?

Olympic Fever

I’ve been following the Olympics for a while now, something my better half gets a significant amount of joy from watching.  Igloo-world is a winter Olympics country and we usually do pretty well.  Summer… let’s not talk about summer.  It only lasts 2 weeks here anyways.

The “traditional” medal sports here are hockey and curling.  Not that other events have not been medal contenders, but those two have for 20+ years been gold/silver conversations.

Hockey this year is a bit different, at least for the men. There’s no NHL players, so North American countries are a much lower caliber.  OAR and a few other european countries are in a better spot and taking Canada to town.  Women though, nothing much changed.  The US (gold) and Canada (silver) have dominated for 20 years.  There’s still a long way to go for parity.

Curling was dominated by Canada for nearly 30 years.  Just complete washes.  Over the years every country has gotten better, helpful for a sport that isn’t physical but mental instead.  The Canadian women played horribly, and the men just weren’t at the level needed to deliver.  Curling is measured by %shooting, or just rather accuracy.  Medal players shoot in the 90%s.  There were some odd shot choices, and mistakes that typically do not show up at this level.  That, combined with other nations consistently shooting above 80%.

With both of those traditional sports not delivering, it’s opened up eyes to other events.  Ice Dancing, moguls, downhill, speed skating, bobsled…lots of fun to watch events events with some interesting twists. The snowboard big-air competition was something else.   Watching Esther Ledecka win gold on downhill, and unable to believe it is my go-to story for this run.

It’s really something to see both the combination of athletic development (skill) and the ability to report on it (technology).  Some of the replays and art used is quite impressive.  We’ve come so far from tape and 10+ minutes of review.  Even Ice Dancing has a clear on-screen marker for technical score, updated while the skaters are on the ice.  Not to mention I can stream everything from my phone through an official app.  The exposure is great.

It’s also a nice thing to see the country being able to produce a record amount of medals (27 as of this morning) without the traditional ones.  Even those in 4th or 5th are better than the 7,600,000,000 other people on this planet.  Even qualifying is an achievement.

Hope other people are getting as much fun out of watching this as I am.