Ed McIlwain was one of those people who made a big impression on me when I was young. He was my house league hockey coach for at least three different seasons – both peewee years and I think one other year in bantam or midget. He was a classic old-school coach – sometimes funny and light-hearted and sometimes downright crusty, competitive as anyone who ever coached, part teacher, part mentor, part disciplinarian and yet passionate about the game. He coached with his son Brian who was by then in his late 20’s or early 30’s. While Brian was much more one of the boys, he was cut from a similar mold as his old man and as players, we liked and respected them equally.
When the phrase “back in the day…” pops into my head, so does Ed. This was not a coach who was there to help each and every player enjoy the game, win or lose. In his own words, “winning is more fun than losing”. Beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, I suspect that as much as I loved playing for Ed, there were perhaps some kids he may have driven away from the game because I don’t think his primary goal as coach was to help all players to have equal portions of fun on his team. For example, equal ice time wasn’t always in the rulebook Ed used, regardless of what rules leagues went by back then. We actually had a set powerplay unit, penalty killers and if the game was on the line late, I suspect his better players were on the ice. Instead, his focus was at the team level. Succeed as a team and each player could derive his own fun from being part of something bigger.
I admired the creativity he brought to coaching. I remember one time he felt we weren’t shooting the puck as hard as we could. He kept telling us to shoot harder. No such luck. It was driving him nuts. So what does he do? One day prior to our game, we’re all dressed and Ed tells us all to pipe down. He takes an egg out of his pocket and tells us we’re not shooting hard enough to break an egg. He’s talking real calm. He rolls the egg towards the door with one of our sticks. The egg doesn’t make it. He looks at us. We chuckle. Then he takes the egg back on his stick and says “Shoot the puck harder!” and he fires the egg against the closed door. You get the picture. Then he says “to the first guy I see who takes a wimpy shot in today’s game, you’re gonna clean up that mess when the game is over” or at least words to that effect. I don’t remember how hard we shot. I don’t remember the score of the game. I don’t remember if we won or lost. What I do remember is that the lesson that you have to shoot the dam puck as hard as you can if you wan to score and I do remember we all hit the ice that day excited, motivated and smiling. Great stuff indeed.
I have a bunch more Ed and Brian stories but will save some for future posts.