Behind the Bench of AAA Hockey
A day with a peewee AAA team reminded me that parity in AAA hockey does not exist. I also learned that checking for a 12 year old is completely unnecessary in the development of the player.
I recently was invited to step behind the bench for a 2001 birth year AAA team. Playing in one of the premier spring tournaments, I thought this would be an interesting learning experience for me being that I have spent my entire coaching career behind the bench teaching high school age players. What I found were things I already knew about AAA hockey, but I also walked away with some new insights on a couple of subjects.
As we all know parity in AAA hockey is completely laughable. I had never lost a game in my life by more than seven goals but on this day we lost two games with the scores being 21-1 and 17-0. I tried to observe the morale of the players on my team as the scores climbed up. What I found interesting is that these players did not get too discouraged on the bench. While the players did not seem demoralized, my intuition told me that the parents were the ones feeling uncomfortable, in particularly the mother of one of the goalies.
I have long wondered if there was a way to balance out these lopsided scores. One idea I had in the past was to call the game after an 8 goal margin. At which point, the game would be played out by the teams after players had been traded from one team to another to create even sides. As I stood behind the bench, I realized that this didn’t feel plausible in these games. The other team’s 12 year old players who had traveled from Canada would hardly feel comfortable to come onto our bench with coaches and players they did not know. This was my grand idea to have a similar situation that used to occur when I was a kid playing at the outdoor rink. I am sure many can remember the ritual of putting the sticks in the big pile to pick teams. In this situation as kids we always hoped the teams would be even, but if they were not players would be swapped from one team to another to create parity. Funny how a group of kids at outdoor rinks can create an even game but a horde of AAA teams run by adults can’t even come close to creating even games.
With this said, I am not sure if even games are really a virtue worth seeking. As a youth player, I used AAA hockey as a measuring stick. I always wanted to know how good I was compared to the other players. It was about competition. Getting beat up by some Canadian team would add fuel to my competitive fire. I could train for months as a 12 year old just off the distain I had from getting humiliated in an AAA tournament. For the ultracompetitive players, like I was, this fits our needs perfectly. The routine for the competitive, gifted player is perfect: go to some tournament and see better players, then when the tournament is over work to become as good as those players.
The most important insight I drew from the day is that checking is really uncalled for with 12 year olds. I most have witnessed at least a dozen times in two games when players came to the bench crying because they had taken a solid body check. Some of these checks looked extremely dangerous being that these young kids cannot absorb force the way mature players can. I am really not sure why this culture of checking at this age still pervades. I can deal with lopsided games between teams but a player being put in unsafe situations really bothers me.