Determining to allow your son (or daughter) to try out for a showcase team comes with a few decision points: how much- time, energy, expense? What will be missed- school, work, end of year events? What type of planning will it require- other children, schedule shifts, work deadlines? Can a competitive team of mostly never-played-togethers be developed in a relatively short time to highlight player’s skills in a way that makes them valuable to other teams? Are the other teams going through the same process to determine their teams? Will the emphasis be on winning or spot lighting player’s abilities? In the end, one would weigh these against the benefits of participation, among those: skill acquired, ice time, and experience to new coaches/teams/players to determine the true return on investment.
As a second-year parent to the process, each year I debated the same pros and cons, noting that different players and coaches are involved, much is left to factors out of the organizer’s control and trusting that the intent of the showcase would be maintained. As I observed the planning, preparation and execution of the event, a few things became very clear, those being: The coaches assigned to train with my son and the team cared- about his development and about him.
The development being offered was about far more than skill, speed and endurance. A successful team is not necessarily the team that makes it to the finals (and, no, that is not always something a losing team says).
From the get-go, the players were reminded that they were to be self-sufficient and think ahead. Coach Nikita Alekseev reminded them, “be professional, play smart.” Coach Mark Rosengard encouraged them that they were of age and responsibility to take care of themselves, “Breakfast is at 9 a.m., the bus leaves at 11 a.m., the game is at 1 p.m. If you think a gut bomb covered in chocolate is going to be a good idea for lunch and at 4 p.m. you decide that you have not had a decent meal, do not come looking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It is your responsibility.”
As difficult as it may have been for moms to step back and watch this all roll out, player self-preservation won. Through the experience, color coded calendars, moment by moment changes to those schedules, team meetings, eating times, early alarms, games, curfews, and bus schedules, the team arrived. No one was left, no one had to be hunted down (well, maybe a little hunting went on for the 3AM bus for the airport). As the logistics of keeping everyone together, fed and well rested were fine-tuned, leaders emerged- “Who is carrying all the sticks in one bag? Do we pass out the sticks from the bag because it makes it lighter? Do we carry the bag together?” It did not take long for Senior Defenseman Josie Davis to recognize there were wheels, and take action: “we roll the bag.” Teammates worked together to find efficiencies, support and motivate one another.
Equipment was packed, music was played and celebratory hugs at the net commenced. On the bench, Goalie Troy Burkhart supported his team with good job pats as they came off the ice and repaired the gate while cheering on his playing counterpart, Junior Daniel McCarthy on the ice.
It was not long before word was spreading among scouts and parents were being told that scouts who were not planning on coming were showing up to see the likes of Katz and Miranda, “two players who must have been playing for years together” (one year to be exact).
Lines developed from tried and true teams were quickly strengthened by adding talent like Junior Demitri Samarkos’ quick, smart playing to the mix. Plays were changed mid game to accommodate worthy adversaries- both strong strategies to overcome minimal preparation time and combining of players from all over Central Florida. As much as the team was being watched by other teams and scouts, Coach Tom Garavaglia told the team, “you are being noticed- even the hotel staff are pulling us aside to comment on your behavior and attitude compared to other teams.” Opposing teams rode together to and from the games. While the opposing coaches from other teams balked at getting on the bus with a team they had just lost to, players small talked about the weather, home states and team logos.
Our own Coach Alekseev, who could have easily found other activities to keep him busy was the one offering suggestions for in between activities and then taking the lead on navigating, motivating and enjoying the results of a bonding experience between young men who were originally tired and somewhat ambivalent to anything outside of going back to the hotel.
After winning every game, did it sting because other teams were advancing who did not win every game? Yes. Did it make sense? No. Did we think our players were stronger and better? Yes. Did our sons leave as better players, men and friends? Absolutely. Coach Alekseev could not have said it better when he told the team, “In my heart, we are champions.” In short, the long-term benefits far outweigh the upfront investment.