If you didn’t think that minor hockey and politics go together, here’s a story to back up my claim.
A couple of weeks ago, my son’s Bantam “A” team made it to the finals of a tournament. After our Sunday morning win to take us to the finals, our team managers went scrambling to bring in take-out pasta to a dining room designated by the organizers and the wait began which would take us to our final game.
And that’s when word started circulating that our team might be disqualified for the improper use of a goalie.
Two Goalies, But One With Two Teams
Our “A” team has, like most Bantam teams, two goalies, but at the beginning of the season, there was a goalie shortage on one of the lower ranked “B” teams. Our minor hockey association asked one of our two goalies if he would also play for that team – and he agreed. And so began an email trail to get it signed off by our provincial governing body, Hockey Quebec.
Since this particular tournament was close to home, both of this goalie’s teams were competing – in two different divisions. The roster for the tournament showed him as a goalie the “B” team but for our “A” team – his real team – he was designated as a substitute. Our head coach, Coach Guy, knew the story – he’d been asked to give his blessing before the player was even asked. As for the player showing up on the roster as a substitute, Guy assumed it was a computer thing, a system in place to make sure you didn’t incorrectly attach a player to more than one team — even if they were in different divisions.
The other team knew nothing about any deals or computers. All they saw was a goalie on the roster, designated as a substitute. As per tournament rules, our team had spent our limit in our use of the substitute. If he was played, our second goalie could be on the bench but not dressed to play, but for a final game, that was an option Coach Guy didn’t want to entertain. A win – or a loss – still meant a banner and photo opportunities for 1st or 2nd place – and Guy wanted his entire team to be a part of that. As the rumour mill went, if Coach Guy decided to play him, with a fully-dressed goalie on the bench, the other team would demand that the match be forfeited.
For the next two hours, Coach Guy was running in circles, trying to prove our goalie’s legitimacy and to ensure that this boy — and our team — was not penalized for him having taken the position of a “B” player at the request and permission of the league. As the clock creeped closer to game time, none of the parents knew what was going on – if he was a goalie or a substitute, if he was a “B” player first or an “A” player first. And few knew that something much greater was at stake, which was this boy’s future in hockey. He felt he’d been sold down the river, promised one thing and then given another. He was this close to packing his bag, going home and hanging up his pads forever.
This story has, of course, a happy ending. Before the puck dropped, our goalie’s legitimacy was confirmed by all the minor hockey associations necessary — and with a confirmation email with a letter attached to it, signed by Hockey Quebec. That letter gave our team’s coach his choice of net minders to put in goal for the final game.
Coach Guy opted for our “A + B” goalie who, all told, stopped 38 of 40 shots. Between the 2nd and 3rd periods, the other team protested the game, as expected. The organizers showed them the letter from Hockey Quebec, validating our goalie’s status, and the game continued.
It was a hard-fought victory.
There’s a lot more to this story than the small version above. If it had been in the hands of the players, I doubt if any fuss would have been made of whether or not a player was eligible to play: kids just want to play. Sometimes parents are so quick to play politics to ensure that their vision of justice prevails. Sometimes computer systems help us make assumptions that are wrong. If we’re honest with ourselves, this boy should be praised for being a hero: if he hadn’t agreed to be goalie for that “B” team, there would have been 13 girls and boys unable to play hockey this season. As everyone knows, if you don’t have a goaltender, you can’t have a team.
Instead, his reputation – and our team’s – was called into question, something that might not have happened if the computer system was allowed to do something it was programmed not to: let a player be on two teams at the same time.
Never Stop Believing
At the end, Coach Guy never lost his temper, which is admirable because of the stakes at risk. He never stopped believing – in that boy, in the agreement that had been made and the people behind it, in our team – and that it would all work out.
As for how it all worked out, none of us knew how that would be until that final whistle blew. We may have had a 2-point margin in our 4-2 win, but the game was closer than the scoreboard indicated.
I don’t know about the players on his team, but as for Coach Guy, he was next to me as we drove home and I know he smiled all the way. After all, you don’t often have more than one victory on any given Sunday.
And Guy had had three.