Some people really enjoy spring hockey. Other folk put their gear away for a while and participate in other activities. In this article, I will provide the reader with some thoughts from my personal experience as a goaltender and presently as a goalie parent.
Growing up in Saskatchewan I played hockey all the time during the fall and winter. If not organized hockey, I played all afternoon and evening under the lights of the local outdoor rink. I then skated home on the frozen roads. I never played spring hockey. When my team was eliminated in the play-offs, I put my gear away in the basement. I played recreational softball, baseball, soccer and competitive tennis all summer. There were no goalie schools at the time but I did go to a few boarding hockey camps, as I got older. When fall arrived, I was excited to get back to the rink.
For today’s goalie and parents things are seemingly more complicated. There are goalie March break camps, spring try-out camps, summer camps, weekend and PA day clinics. There are also many spring hockey organizations that will, for a significant amount of money, take your child to the most “elite” spring, summer and pre-season tournaments all over North America and Europe. It can become extremely expensive and time consuming. Nevertheless, some parents believe their child will fall behind the competition if they do not participate in this intense environment 24/7/365.
If you decide to let your child participate in spring hockey ask yourself the following question: What is the most important consideration here? The answer should be development and fun!
My eldest son, presently playing Bantam ‘AAA’ at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, played spring hockey only on two occasions. We only had ten skaters and one goaltender. You may say, “Wow… what a short bench!” It’s true but everyone got a lot of ice-time and all the parents were happy. My son played every minute of the twenty games. We reached two championship games out of four tournaments and won one of them. The next season we only entered one tournament and won an exciting championship game, which I still have on DVD.
Subsequent to other seasons we have been contacted to play for other teams as part of a standard two-goalie system. I always declined the offer. My decision was based on financial investment and what my boy wanted to do. I took into account the cost of gas, food and accommodations and the fact my son would only be getting fifty percent of the starts. When I did the math down to how much it was costing me per game (and the number of shots per game) I decided to go in another direction.
I decided development was still the most important consideration. We decided the money could be spent more effectively on private training. I am certain over time the money spent on private lessons has added up to more money, but all the time was productive and the instructor was entirely focused on my son. I also brought out older local ‘AAA’ players to shoot on my son and provide him with a greater challenge.
Another option we took over the years was to participate in Canlan Classic tournaments in Ontario. This organization presently also operates tournaments in three locations in the United States. For $100 CDN I could register my son for weekend tournaments several weekends over the spring as an independent player (i.e., he had no team for which to play). The tournament organizers would put independent players together based on age and make up teams so the kids could participate. You were guaranteed five games per tournament. This got my cost down to $20 per game. We would stay at the local community college for $80 per night and bring a lot of our own food in coolers. A lot of people like to camp or stay in their trailer or recreational vehicle. This will reduce your costs significantly! The independent teams were usually poor (compared to stacked spring teams) so my son faced a lot of shots and got cheap development. The boy understood it was about playing (i.e., the process) and not winning (i.e., the outcome).
Yet another option is four versus four or three versus three leagues. The idea for the goaltender is straightforward. There is a lot of open ice and your child will face many shots. Try to have your child play with older and better players so they face a more difficult challenge; However, do not put your ego ahead of your child’s safety by putting them in a situation where they can get injured or their confidence will be destroyed (“Goaltending is based on confidence and concentration. Confidence may be an overused word, but it is a key word for a goaltender” –Mike Vernon).
The final option is to go back to the simple days of my childhood. If you read the LTAD model articles, you will hopefully agree that you are not holding your child back by leaving the arena for a while. After a long winter of hockey, some people (like my son and I) grow tired of the “hockey scene” and need to regenerate themselves and their enthusiasm for the game.
My son swan almost to lifeguard level, played baseball, soccer, still plays ball hockey and received his first-degree martial arts black belt prior to leaving for Notre Dame College. I am certain you know that Wayne Gretzky and John Tavares played lacrosse during the summer. Did you know that former New York Ranger Dan Blackburn did not play hockey all spring and summer as a boy? Did you know that Carolina goaltender Cam Ward did not really do a lot of off ice training until he reached the major junior level? How about Tiger Woods? Every day Earl Woods would drag Tiger away from the driving range and get him away from the sport for a little while. Earl understood that by setting limits, Tiger cam back the following day with renewed vigour to work hard and improve.
In conclusion, there is nothing wrong with spring hockey. You should make your own decision based on what is in the best interest of your family and your child’s own wishes. Just remember there is more to life than hockey and it’s a good thing to develop other interests and athletic skills.