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.
When you were a little kid, did you ever go to one of your Dad’s games? It might have been only pickup hockey or perhaps a shop-league game (as my Dad’s league was called) but I remember the experience of being allowed to go to the rink late at night to watch him play. This was a rare privilege only bestowed during Christmas break or some other such holiday where I didn’t have to get up for school the next morning for the old guys always played late at night.
Going to such a game was quite a thrill, almost carnaval-like. Hey, these guys were almost real hockey players! They skated faster than my buddies, shot way harder than my buddies and they were HUGE with their equipment on. The goalies always had monstrous pads and their blockers and trappers were massive old brown hunks of leather and tape that looked like they’d been used a long while.
After the game, it got even better if you were allowed to go into the dressing room – until you realized that in that dressing room were a bunch of stinking, sweaty, ugly old guys. Guys that swore and yelled at each other and ribbed each other and, did i mention, they really stunk?
Even today, I can remember the funny names from those trips I took to the rink with my dad. There was someone named Sully (pretty common in every game in Peterborough) who obviously had some dental challenges , a goalie named the Meathead and the organizer was a guy named Tuds.
There was always the question about whether I played hockey too, what position I played and whether I was as good as my old man. There was always someone who would chime in that I was probably faster than my old man even now, or could shoot harder, and while I was pretty impressed they might think that, I didn’t understand the laughter that seem to be directed at my dad for those comments.
I still remember my first official goal in a real official hockey game. It may be that this memory is a sham and it never really happened this way because it is a fairly long time ago. However, I’ve been hanging on to this one pretty tight for almost 40 years so I’m pretty sure I’ve got the details correct. I was 8, and it was my first year of organized hockey. I was playing for St. Anne’s in the Peterborough Church League. It was December 27th (cannot remember what night of the week) and we were playing at Northcrest Arena. I can’t remember the opposing team but I’m pretty sure it was either George St. United church or Knox Presbyterian. We won the game 3-0 and I got the third goal. I even remember that the other two goal scorers on my team were Jimmy Allen and Greg James.
The goal was one of those Phil Esposito types where I wasn’t working particularly hard but was instead standing out in front of the net waiting for the puck to come to me. This visual makes perfect sense because I could hardly skate in my first year so there was no sense wading into the scrum to try to get the puck. Eventually, like all scrums in a game of 8 years olds (this one probably involved every other player on the ice except me), the puck squirted out front right on to my stick. I gave a wild swing and away it went into the bottom corner. HE SCORES! I neglected to go get the puck as all true hockey buffs do upon scoring their first real goal in the big leagues.
I can remember by Dad and I talking about it after the game. Like all Dad’s, I’m sure he was probably as excited as I was when his kid got his first goal. He was pumping me up big time explaining what it meant to get an “insurance” goal. Being 8, insurance was a bit of a vague concept to me. He explained that we could have won the game with only one goal, or maybe even with two goals, but, the other team could have easily scored a cheapy that would have tied us if we’d only scored one goal or they might have mounted a furious comeback late in the game and scored a couple to tie it at two if that’s all we had. But the third goal in this particular contest, that was the backbreaker. It was the one that broke their spirits and put them away for good that night. There would be no comeback and all because of that third goal that we scored – that I scored. Wow, I thought, who knew a third goal could be so important?