In Dale's words...
I have played this sport we love since I was 4 years old and was lucky enough to have played at some very decent levels. No, I didn’t go pro and even though I like to believe I had a shot, it wasn’t in my cards. But I was basically raised in a rink. My dad ran our in-house program, and I therefore would skate with every team from 6am-12. And it was exactly that, skating. The main skill needed to play hockey. As I moved on to local travel teams and then elite travel programs, it was my skating, positional play and knowledge of the game that carried me through. When I wasn’t in the penalty box.
Fast forward to having a daughter, who at 4 years old started to ice skate, and then at 8 said why can’t I play hockey. I didn’t have an answer. So, thanks to Sidney Crosby and his learn to play hockey program here we are 7 years later, with our daughter Marli trying out for 16u teams next season. Marli brought me back into hockey with a new perspective. She started with an in-house program that was co-ed 10u at 8 years old. We were quickly approached by the girls coach at our organization and asked to join the girls 12u “travel team”. At that point I also volunteered to be an assistant coach. The girls 12u program consisted of 9–12-year-old girls of varying skill level and did not have a tryout. The program at that point was tied to the inhouse program, so you had one on ice practice with the team, a joint inhouse “skill” based practice once a week, and usually an inhouse game and maybe a travel game within a week. Just let them have fun was the moniker of the girls’ team. However, sadly fun was one of the least things they had. They went 0-16, suffering defeats of 17-0 and being outshot in a game 84-2. Our goal differential at the end of that year was 4 goals for and 144 goals against. But winning isn’t everything, you’re right it’s not, but being competitive and playing the sport properly goes a long way in the having fun department. I started to look at the organization to see what the same boys, Marli was playing with at in house were getting that the girls weren’t. They had different jerseys, with their names on them. They had additional power skating practices. The had practices which included learning the game of hockey, such as positioning and puck movement. They had what every hockey player should expect to have. Unless you were a girl.
I took over the team the next year. I implored the board to make the girls team as relevant as the boys’teams. I insisted on jerseys with their names, equivalent practices, and the addition of the power skating. It worked. The day our girls got their actual jerseys, was like Christmas. They were floating. We had a winning season. We made the playoffs. Then we repeated that the next year. My coaching staff and I made a point to not just coach them like the boys. But to coach them like hockey players. Starting with fundamentals. I literally had practices where I walked them down the ice in their positions. I did zoom meetings with hockey concepts. Forechecking ideals. Defensive zone alignment. We reviewed game tape. We emersed ourselves in hockey and the girls responded, big time.
The sad part of this was the inhouse program that we came from then, separated the girls onto their own individual team to play against all the boy’s teams. Stating that “they all want to play together”. Those teams once again didn’t win a single game. And at points the organization asked for some of girls to play a couple games with them to try to get a win. They knewthey shortchanged those girls and keep doing it to this day. I was even chastised for reaching out to the board by our director of girls hockey. When I asked for the previous changes.
Marli went onto play both girls and co-ed at 12-u for her final year, and again for her first year of 14-u. Our 14-u co-ed team ended up in the playoffs and went to triple overtime against the number one team. We surprised people in the organization, being a rag tag B level team, to even have a winning season. But we coached them all to play hockey. I had girls and boys alike with varying skill levels, some who had just started, and we made hockey players out of all of them. This past year every player I had moved up at least 2 if not 4 teams for the current season.
I encountered many organizational hurdles through the years. And have probably created a name for myself in some circles due to my passion and commitment to wanting to help these players grow. I always pushed the envelope and sometimes my passion got the best of me or was interpreted poorly. However, loud, or passionate I may have been, my heart and desire was firmly rooted in the belief that everyone deserved an equal experience. To start that fire in their bellies, to thirst for growth and development. To give the confidence to set goals to make the higher team, or the next tier.