Category Archives: coaches

Peterborough’s Snofest Tournament

Peterborough’s annual Snofest High School Hockey Tournament, which I think lives on, was traditionally held around the first week in January.  It was part of a winter-carnaval thing the city did and I remember they also had snowmobile races around the track in the fairgrounds outside the Memorial Centre, the High Cathedral of Hockey in Peterborough.  Anyway, it was a treat to play in the tourney because we were the host city and playing at the Mem Centre wasn’t something we got to do very often.  (The arena is still the home of the Pete’s and has one of the most unusual shapes of any arena I’ve ever played in with almost square corners).

I remember one year (I think I was in grade 11) when our St. Pete’s team made it to the semi-finals where we played East York Collegiate from Toronto.  They were a very good team, as were we, but I recall we were hurting a bit and they were a very big team.

Prior to the game, I remember having serious trouble doing up my skates because I had one of those nasty hip pointers, a bruise right on the bone that is so sore when you move the joint, you just don’t wanna move the joint.  Bending at the waist to do up one’s skates was pure torture.  Anyway, I also had the flu with a screaming sore throat and headache, which didn’t help matters.

Now, as one of the smaller guys who really didn’t like the heavy going when it got really rough, East York wasn’t my idea of a fun team to play against.  However, I was no chicken either and played in my share of rough spots over the years and wasn’t one who ever asked a coach to sit me out for any reason.  I always wanted to play.

On this day though, with a really sore hip and just feeling really tough in general, I remember asking coach Dave Bowen something about either reducing my ice time or scratching me from the lineup altogether.   I remember him very clearly telling me we were missing some guys and I had to play.  (Knowing this, perhaps I was a bit chicken and he was calling me on it).

Anyway, my stay of execution was not to be….and this term is fitting because very early in the game, (I cannot remember if it was my first shift or not), the puck came around the boards in our end to me on the right wing.   It was the perfect storm.  I was too sore and sick to handle any aspect of the play correctly.  I got there late, was flat-footed, had my head down (although having my head up wouldn’t have helped) and was about 70 pounds light.  Their guy saw all of the above and came in with bomb doors full open.  Angels sang, trumpets sounded.  He filled me in but good.

I can still feel the hit.  I can still hear the hit.  Really I can.  I’m not sure if I was concussed because I don’t think we checked such things very often back then and I had a good headache before the hit.  I went down hard though.  The play was stopped and I had to be helped off.   It’s really quite funny to me now – I remember getting to the bench, sitting down and just putting my head down slowly, not sure if it might just roll right off.  Gawd, I ached.  Down the bench, ol’ Mister Bowen looks down to me and says I needed to sit out the next shift.   I remember nodding.  That’s it.  Just a nod.

I played the rest of the game.  We lost 2-1.  I went home, layed down on the couch, took a lot of aspirin or tylenol or whatever my mom had in the house for pain and flu and just didn’t move.  It’s funny what you remember at times like this.  I remember my parents went to Saturday night mass and I was home alone, really, really glad not to be moving.

I wasn’t much better on Sunday and I did not go to school on Monday.  It was the first day of high school I had missed in three years.  I remember Mr. Bowen smiling on Tuesday when I attended his history class asking how I was and acknowledging, with what seemed to me to be genuine surprise, that I really must have been sick.

 

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Hockey and British History

I’ve written previously that my high school hockey coach was a man named Dave Bowen from Peterborough.  A fabulous coach.  A student of the game and someone who just dripped passion for it, he really made it fun for me and was one of those people who, looking back, pushed me to be more than I thought I was capable of.   One of my fellow high school players, Dan McDougall, who was a pretty fair hockey player and played for a lot of different coaches in his younger years says Bowen was hands-down the best he ever had.

Anyway, “Mr. Bowen” as he was known to us back in high school, was also a history teacher and from my perspective, really, really good at that as well.   It wasn’t about facts, dates, places.  No, he wanted us to think.  His signature phrase became “so what?” when one of us would toss out something as simple as a fact, a date or a place.  I ate it up.   I’ve always loved history and that is in part a tribute to the way he taught it.

Anyway, this all serves as background to one of the great one-liners I recall from my high school hockey / history days.  We were at an after-school practice one day at the Kinsmen arena.   I don’t know what the setup was but at one point, talk moved to that day’s history lesson in “Mr. Bowen’s” class and it had something to do with some element of history involving the British.   I seem to recall it had something to do with the British coming down hard on someone, with the requisite amount of physical violence that often shapes history.

I remember Bowen being in the dressing room at the time and at a point where someone need to step in and show the lesson had left its mark on us intellectually, young growing minds that we were, Rod McGillis, who was a bit of character, summed things up nicely by chirping  “man, those British guys were something else eh?!”  Indeed Roddy.  No “so what?” needed there.   I still laugh every time I think about the smile that crossed Bowen’s face when Roddy said it.

On a similar note, I remember Bill Wasson who like McGillis was a year older than I, chafing at the fact that he had lost marks on his history essay on “Henery VIII”.  Yes, in the age when spelling and grammar checkers were the grey matter attached to the hand attached to the pen writing the essay, Bill’s own eye had neglected to catch the spelling error (which he had at least spelled consistently throughout the essay) in the subject’s name.

I don’t think Wasson or McGillis were ever threats to win a Rhodes Scholarship but they were solid parts of “Mr. Bowen’s teams”.   Wasson was a hard-nosed defenceman who could score and was a leader.  He had character and when we were in big games, he wanted to win.  McGillis was a very talented player with a really heavy shot.  Funny as hell and a free-spirit in the room, he too was pretty serious about winning on the ice.  I hear his name from time to time via friends and family in Peterborough and he is still associated with the game.  He had several brothers who were also great players.

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Leaf Coach Criteria

I had to chuckle at Brian Burke’s comment in an interview I saw yesterday on why Dallas Eakins wasn’t considered the big job.  Burke said “Eakins has never coached a playoff game in the AHL”.   After 5+ years of seeing Leaf players heading to the golf course at the end of the 82 game regular season, years where they have been lead by coaches with play-off experience, I’m not sure this one makes a lot of sense to me.

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Ed and Brian

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.

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