Tag Archives: Ice-hockey

The Canadian Phenomenon known as Tryouts

25 Jan

Thanks to everyone for all the kind comments about the last post; I felt pounds lighter once I hit “publish”, although sadly, I didn’t look any different.  It’s time for another hockey post, as this year’s season is a horse of a different colour indeed.  After the sorry fiasco of last year’s tryouts, with the boys unable to do pretty much anything more complicated than skate in a straight line in a forwards direction, they were all geared up for this season’s weekend of intense torture.  Benjamin was staying in Atom as a second-year, while Christopher was moving to Peewee as a first year.  Two whole weekends written off, just like that.  There was a last-ditch attempt at “Are you sure you don’t want to go back to playing soccer?” but ’twas all to no avail.  The ice is in their blood now.

Benjamin kicked off first, and Michael brought him out to the Friday night practice of drills.  The following morning was my turn to suffer, so I stood in the viewing area and watched the drills proper.  They were exactly the same as last year; it was almost hypnotic watching him weave the same patterns on the ice.  Comforting, also, to see that he could actually do them this time, and do them well.  Christopher stood beside me, filleting every swish of the blade with forensic precision. “He should have done x here, y there”.  The afternoon was the scrimmage session; they donned their allocated jerseys and faced off against each other, determined to impress the coaches lining the rink.  There were lots of solo runs and fancy footwork.  The rink was packed with anxious parents; no parents allowed rink-side (too many batshit crazy ones) and no shouting at your kid, whether in encouragement or criticism.  The balcony was strangely silent; we stood and willed them on.  The two rinks were packed all day; the Atom kids were divided into three groups, each group following the other at hour and a half intervals.  I watched everyone watching the ice, and had a quick probe at my stress levels.  Alarmingly, I realised that yes, I was a bit stressed.  He so badly wanted to be in Tier 2 this year, and I so badly wanted him to get what he wanted.  “Great”, I thought morosely.  “I’m turning into a parent that cares what Tier their kid gets into.  It’s all downhill from here.”  Benjamin came off the ice and we headed home.  “Hey Mom, guess what?” said Christopher.  “When we were walking into the rink this morning, two of the coaches stopped us and said they remembered us from last year! Isn’t that awesome, eh?” “Well, that depends if your definition of awesome is remembering you both as the kids that spent most of tryouts sitting on their arses on the ice, eh?” Sunday kicked off with the final scrimmage, the last chance to shine.  He survived without making any huge blunders, and we went home to wait.  Teams are picked on the Thursday evening, and players generally hear on the Friday where they’ve been placed.

I woke up the next morning to an email from the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association.  Benjamin had been put into a “bubble game” on Tuesday evening.  A Tier 1/Tier 2 bubble game.  A phone call to one of our hockey friends explained it all.  The kids who were neither a definite Tier 3 or a definite Tier 1 get to hit the ice again – because Benjamin was in the Tier 1/2 game, that meant he was definitely not going to be in Tier 3.  So yes, there was rejoicing.  And relief, because we couldn’t bear to listen to him otherwise.  The Tuesday night game came and went.

I discovered Modern Family while staying with my sisters in July.  I watched the first episode in fits of laughter, and started to binge-watch it with Michael when we got back.  Binge-watching is possibly the greatest invention ever.  Ever.  We’d watch one episode after another, cursing when we realised that it was after midnight.  The episodes are addictively short; sure it’s only another twenty minutes, let’s have a last one.  We were chortling away in bed on the Thursday night, stuck to the laptop, when the phone rang.  “Who is that at this hour of the night??” said Michael (accident, death, something tragic).  I picked it up tentatively, and said a cautious hello.  “Hi there!”, boomed a definite Canadian voice.  “Nobody’s dead”, I mouthed at Michael.  Well, nobody in Ireland, anyway. “This is Benjamin’s new coach, Jason!  He’ll be on the Renegade Lightning team!”  “Oh…em, great?” I said, wondering whether I was supposed to deduce something from the name.  “That’s a Tier 1 team”, he moved on, “and I’m delighted to have him on board”.  I started pointing one finger at Michael, who was looking increasingly confused.  “Tier 1!” I hissed at him.  Jaw dropped.  “So, is it true that your boys only played hockey for the first time last year?” he asked.  “Yes, yes”, I said, dying to go in and jump all over Benjamin in the bed.  “AWESOME!” he bellowed.  “See you at the parents’ meeting next week.  I’ll email you!”  I hung up, gently, and sat on the side of the bed.  “Tier 1”, said Michael, astonished.  “I know.  Do you think we’re ready to be Tier 1 parents?”  We absorbed the heavy responsibility of that thought for a moment.  And then woke Benjamin.  Who shrieked and then couldn’t sleep all night.  All. Night.  Christopher woke up to the news in the morning, and instantly descended into a swither of stress.  Tryouts starting that day and his little brother in Tier 1.  The pressure was on.

Benjamin 3 on 3 medal

Winner’s medal

Benjamin 3 on 3


The fact that both of them woke up with sore throats that morning didn’t help matters much.  Isabel and Nicholas headed off to school, while the rest of us sat through the hell of the walk-in clinic’s waiting room.  Eventually we made it to the inner sanctum, to discover that they both had viral infections.  “He has tryouts this evening”, I said, pointing at a wan-looking Christopher. “No problem!” beamed the doctor (young, male, sporty-looking).  “He’ll be fine.  Good luck, eh?” Fist-bump on the way out the door and we were good to go.  Peewee has completely different drills to Atom, so Friday night was spent practicing those, and then the real thing was evaluated the next morning.

Christopher faded fast as the day went on, until eventually the afternoon scrimmages were over, and he came off the ice, sweating and wheezy.  “I don’t like the look of you”, I declared, and carted him back to the walk-in clinic.  I started preparing him for the fact that he wouldn’t be going to try-outs the next day.  “But I have to!” he howled. “If you don’t go to tryouts, you’re automatically in Tier 3!”  “I know, sweetie-pie, and that’s just terrible, but look at you!”  We were called in eventually, to be met by one of the nicest doctors in this clinic.  However, he’s a former Olympian athlete, so the conversation didn’t quite go to plan.  He examined my wretched-looking son, and gave his verdict.  Chest infection – in need of antibiotics, liquid steroids and an inhaler.  I was horrified. “So, he has tryouts tomorrow; do I just need to contact the coaches and let them know that he can’t make it? Do I need a note from you?”  “No, no, not at all, he’ll be able to do the session.”  SERIOUSLY? Is there actually a doctor alive in Canada that would advise skipping a hockey tryout?  Or does that only happen if your legs have fallen off?  Christopher wheezed his way back out to the car, the Tier 2 dream still alive (Peewee has two tiers, 3 and 2, and then a whole separate league called Citywide, for the top kids in the city).  I rang one of the coaches to fill him in and ask him to keep an eye on him on the bench.  He struggled through the session, admitting defeat about 15 minutes from the end, and went home full of the woes of a bad tryout.  This whole hockey thing was getting way too stressful for me and Michael, and we still had four days to go before the teams were picked.

Monday morning brought news of a Tier 2/3 bubble game, and so he hauled his coughing and spluttering ass onto the ice again, while I stood on the bloody balcony and mentally recited the Rosary.  Some of the lads on the ice were huge, towering over me in their skates as they lined up waiting to get onto the rink.  An hour and a half later, we were done, and the only thing left to do was wait.  Or, in Christopher’s case, over-analyse every wrong move and failed attempt at goal and then descend further into miserable anticipation.  On Thursday evening, we were all settled into the sitting room in front of the television, when the call came.  Tier 2, thank God, and staggering relief all around.  How do parents do this every year?  It was definitely easier the first time around, when we had no idea what tryouts involved and even less of an idea about how seriously they’re taken.

Parents’ meeting were next.  Last year, this was a casual, 10-minute affair in the dressing room before a practice.  This year, not so much. Benjamin’s meeting kicked off with introductions all round, and then descended into a technical conversation that left me clueless at my end of the room.  “So, Coach, what’s your three-minute policy?”  “What about the penalty kill line?” “The power play?” There was talk of out-of-town tournaments, teams fees, 7am skates on Tuesday mornings, 9am skating outdoors on Sunday mornings.  I left the room with very little idea of what had happened and what the upcoming season entailed.  “We are definitely not ready to be Tier 1 parents”, I announced to Michael when we got home.  “What’s a penalty kill line?”  Blank look from him, and eye-rolls from the boys, who started complicated explanations of various rules until Michael and I tuned them out.

Sunday morning practice

Sunday morning practice

Christopher’s parents’ meeting ran along much the same lines.  It began, however, with the announcement from the coach that he doesn’t “do crazy parents”.  A wise way to start, I think, given some of the stories I’ve heard about how insane some parents allow themselves to get.  There was more talk of tournaments, fees, 7am skates etc., and the realisation on my part that I was going to need a Mom calendar with gigantic spaces for each day.  And so it transpired. My calendar for Fall looked like someone vomited on it in multi-coloured ink.  Two completely different hockey schedules for Christopher and Benjamin.  Early mornings and late evenings on the ice. Swimming lessons for Nicholas and Rebecca.  Trampolining classes for Isabel and Nicholas.  Science Saturdays at the University for Nicholas.  Junior Zumba for Rebecca and Girl Guides for Isabel.  Oh, and school.  Michael arrived home for lunch every day to be issued his instructions for the evening.  He would go in one direction with x amount of children, and I would drive around the ice rinks with the other pair.  Or vice versa.  The fact that neither Christopher nor Benjamin could remember all of their gear all of the time added to the lunacy, with repeated return trips across the city bearing jerseys, gloves, helmets etc.  and a clip around the ear for the forgetful eejit. We had the occasional evening off, where we hid in the house and prayed that we wouldn’t get a last-minute email gleefully announcing the procurement of extra ice.  Ice-time is a rare and precious commodity here; not enough rinks and a constant scramble to pounce on any sessions that might become available outside of the assigned schedule.

Sunday scrimmage

Sunday scrimmage

Rebecca moved from being a Salamander to a Crocodile to a Whale in swimming lessons, and Nicholas swam his way to Level 5; there are so many levels of swimming proficiency in Canada that I’m destined to spend an evening a week at the pool for all eternity.  Spring sports beckon, with Isabel and Nicholas still dithering over the myriad options available, and Christopher and Benjamin signed up to be goaltenders in lacrosse (another mysterious sport that we know nothing about).  Lacrosse is rumoured to be even rougher than hockey, with the goalies being in the most vulnerable position, so it should be an interesting couple of months.  Rebecca has opted for soccer, so we shall be back to swarm-of-bees mode, with lots of little ones frantically chasing the ball en masse.  Spring is coming, no matter what the weather outside thinks.

Snowy recess

Snowy recess

Skating at recess

Skating at recess at the school rink

Snowy school

St Angela School in the snow


15 Sep

“Football’s not a matter of life and death….it’s more important than that” – all of you nodding sagely along with Bill Shankly’s famous quote have obviously never come into contact with the world of ice hockey.  Or just plain hockey, as it’s called here in Canada, because clearly no other kind of hockey exists, or matters in any way.  Hockey is like a religion over here; it’s deeply embedded in the DNA of most Canadians, and Christopher and Benjamin have decided that this is the sport they want to have a go at this year.  So, we registered them, got them kitted out, and waited to hear about the tryouts.  Kitting them out is not as simple as the phrase might suggest.  It was up there with school supplies shopping.  I don’t think astronauts have to don as much gear as someone venturing onto the ice with a hockey stick.  They needed helmets (with cages), mouth guards and neck guards.  Their chests, shoulders and upper arms are encased in a padded vest thingy, and they need elbow pads as well.  They wear shorts with a cup, and padded hockey pants.  Underneath these are massive shin guards and over these go huge hockey socks (which are held up by the velcro on the jockey shorts).  Their gloves look like something a boxer would wear.  They need skates, a hockey stick, and a gigantic bag to keep the whole ensemble together.


I got the email about tryouts last week.  I don’t know exactly what I’d envisioned, but I thought we’d toddle along to a rink for an hour and the coaches would divide them into the three different tiers with their league.  Christopher and Benjamin are playing with the Atom league, and the tiers run from 1 (the best in the age group) down to 3.  God forbid that tryouts would be that casual or flippant.  It’s like a full-scale military operation.  Their tryouts were to take place on Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning – 75 minutes each time.  The 75 minutes doesn’t take into account the previous 60 minutes of trying to help them into all the gear, and the subsequent 20 minutes of hauling them out of it again.  This is tortuous.  I spent forty-two years biting my nails, and finally had my first manicure ever last week, only to realise that pretty nails are not an asset when trying to lace up and unlace the bloody skates.  I can’t believe that no-one has invented an alternative to laces yet.  They have to be tightened bit by bit all the way to the top and then loosened all the way down again.  The laces are hard and rough and then wet and cold when it comes to taking them off.  I hate them.

So, on Friday evening we started the whole process.  Michael and I helped them into all the gear, loaded their bags into the van, and off we went to the rink, which is right behind Costco, and which, apparently, I “couldn’t miss”.  Canadians are such an optimistic race.  Round and round we drove, until I eventually pulled into a gas station and headed inside to ask for directions.  There were six men at the counter.  Six. And they all looked at me blankly when I asked them where the ice rink might be found.  Off I went again, into a nearby Subway, where a very enthusiastic Riders fan sent me back up the street with instructions to turn left and then right.  I found myself driving around the huge car park of the Credit Union Centre, with no ice rink in sight.  We finally spotted a lone truck driver at the far end of the lot, and he redirected us to the rink, which might as well have had an invisibility cloak tossed over it for all the notice the locals take.  It was packed.  We battled our way through the doors with the bags and into a jammed locker room, which was stuffed with padded kids and sweating parents on their knees, trying to lace up their damn skates.  Fathers were issuing advice, none of which I understood, and the atmosphere was loaded with nervous excitement.  Their time came, and the doors to the rink swung open; off they glided on to the ice, where black-clothed referees and coaches were circling nonchalantly, clutching cups of coffee and making skating look like the easiest thing on earth.

Now, I know that the term “ice-rink” should have been a clue, but I almost died of hypothermia sitting on the benches and watching the drills.  My breath was frosting in front of me, and I couldn’t feel most of my limbs after the first thirty minutes.   I took the occasional stroll outside to warm up (it had been 30 degrees all day) and then returned to see what horrors the next drill held.  Some of the kids were amazing; they knew all the drills and were completely at home on the ice.  Every time a new drill started, the coaches would send them off first to show the rest what needed to be done.  Christopher and Benjamin managed fairly well until about the fourth drill in.  They were supposed to skate all the way to the end of the rink, then skate backwards towards us again, then skate to the end while dropping repeatedly onto one knee, and finally back to us again while jumping over the markings with both feet.   They started well, got to the other end of the rink, and then couldn’t get the hang of going backwards.  It was painful to watch.  One by one, the other kids passed them, while my sorry-looking pair floundered on the same three feet of ice, going nowhere fast.  One of the coaches came to their rescue, and showed them how to carve large semi-circles in the ice, while waggling their hips.  They struggled to the end, and then attempted the bending of the knees bit.  I was drinking my tears laughing at this stage.  They knelt, fell over, pirouetted inelegantly, got up, tried again, same thing…..got to the end, turned, and came back towards me, jumping with two feet, splatting onto the ice, scrambling up, same thing again….

Eventually one of the coaches couldn’t take it any more, and took them aside to show them how to stop, and how to skate backwards.  They learnt more in thirty minutes than they had all winter on the rink beside us.  The session ended, we spent twenty minutes back in the smelly changing rooms, and headed home to get some sleep before Round 2.   The next session was where they evaluated the drills; this time around they managed to do them all without making a show of themselves, and the afternoon session was a scrimmage game.  They were divided into two teams and played two 30 minute games.  This was great to watch – the five players on the ice changed over every couple of minutes, and the rink was full of whirling figures in red and green jerseys.  The referee circled constantly, while the evaluators watched from the bench.  The last session, another scrimmage game, was this morning, and the teams will be announced this evening.  I don’t know how good a fist we’ll make of being hockey parents, but we’ll try it out for this year, and learn the rules as we go along.

In other news of the week, I’m down 20 pounds since last Tuesday, and had my first photo-shoot the same day.  More about the photo-shoot later – what an amazing day :-). The first article in the Star Phoenix appeared yesterday, and the blog that I’m writing about this experience also appeared.  Here’s the links:



Saskatoon Blades Ice Hockey Game

16 Feb

Last Saturday night we loaded our unsuspecting kids into the car and headed off to the Credit Union Centre for its 25th Anniversary celebration.  The Saskatoon Blades were playing the Lethbridge Hurricanes, and were on a winning streak. The tickets were only $2.50 each for the children, with a hot dog and “pop” only costing another $2.50.  There were lots of prizes promised, a 50/50 draw, and a chance for one fan to try to win $250,000 during the interval by scoring on goal.

We arrived to queues of cars and lots of parking attendants.  The kids had realised what was going on, and were dying to get inside.  We piled in, met June and followed her to our seats.  We bumped into a couple of people we knew on the way, and it was the most bizarre feeling.  “We’re at a hockey game in Canada, and people are waving hello at us”, I said to Michael as we wound our way through the crowds.  It’s a small city, but still, what are the chances?

We found our seats, settled them in, and I headed out with Isabel to get the hot dogs and pop.  We were aiming for total Canadian immersion.  The queues were long, but moving fairly rapidly, so we got our tray of dogs, our tray of pop and headed to the condiments section, which had all the pickles, onions, mustard and ketchup.  It took ages to unwrap them all, ketchup them, re-wrap them, re-stack them and balance our way back through the crowds to our seats.

The evening kicked off with the local dignitaries, club officials, Mayor etc. all lining out for short speeches and then we all stood for the national anthem.  I looked down the line at the children, Michael, June and Eddie, all standing with the crowd while a young woman sang “O Canada” and, oddly, felt quite emotional.  The children sang along, as they do every morning in school, and the crowd stood together, from the very young to the very old, and chimed in at the end.  The Canadian flag waved on the big screen, and then, to wild applause, the teams glided out onto the ice.

I shall confess from the start that I had absolutely no idea what was going on for the next couple of hours.  They skated, hit the puck, hit each other and hopped incessantly in and out of the team bench.  I eyed the solitary Canadian man sitting on my left, and decided he looked ripe for interrogation.  I nudged him.  He turned to me with a deer-in-headlights expression on his face.  I smiled reassuringly, and whispered “why are all the players going back out onto the bench all the time?”.   “They change over”, he said. “Like, every couple of minutes?” I asked, doubtfully.  Apparently so.  In and out they went, until my head was spinning and I couldn’t even work out how many players were supposed to be on the ice at any one time.  According to my new friend, it’s five.

Every so often, the play would stop, and loud music would pound through the arena, with the crowd stamping the feet or clapping.  A man travelled around the stands, getting each section to dance, and then throwing t-shirts at them.   The Blades scored, and the roof nearly came off; Rebecca was disgusted, and stood there with her hands over her ears, yelling “I want to be OUT OF HERE!” over and over.  I removed her from the scene, with my needing-to-pee Nicholas, and we went to the toilets and then for a wander around the stadium.  This is who we met:


The second period of the game saw boredom setting in for the two littlest ones.  I was trying to keep them amused and keep an eye on the game, so I didn’t know what was going on when I glanced up to see gloves sailing across the ice.  “What are those things?”, I thought, just as two of the players started to circle each other with their fists up.  The noise of the crowd was swelling, and the referees were warily skating around the pair of them.  They started taking swings at each other, and eventually the Blades player connected well with the other lad, and in rushed the referees to break it up.  I have no idea why they waited till the punch connected, but I’ve no doubt it’s in the rules somewhere.  The kids thought this was the best thing ever, of course, and the crowd seemed to think the same thing, judging by the cheers.

Another interval, and the third period started, with some seriously antsy kids.  It finished up with the Blades winning 5 – 2, so everyone was happy.  We sat there until most of the crowd had dispersed, and then headed for the exits, with Michael hauling an extremely disgruntled Rebecca in his arms.  So then we bumped into this guy again:


The kids were delighted.  Next time though, I think I’ll send Michael with Christopher and Benjamin, and keep the girls and Nicholas home with me.  It was worth it for the atmosphere, the music, the Mexican Waves and the excitement of the goals, but it was too long for the littlest ones, and Isabel was fairly underwhelmed by the game itself.  The older pair saw themselves playing on that ice in the next few years; I don’t know what they’re going to do with themselves when Spring comes and the rinks melt, as they spend every spare minute they have out there.  We didn’t win on our 50/50 ticket, unfortunately, so no unexpected riches yet.  The pot was over $120,00; half for the ticket-holder, and half for the chosen charity.  The fan didn’t win the $250,000 either.

Spring is coming, by the way.  I’m steadfastly ignoring all those Saskatonians who tell me that it won’t be here till April. The first of March is my deadline for it, and it better comply.  Or else.  Here’s the highlights of the game: