This post was submitted for Happy Hockey Day by Suzanne Hebert, Head Coach of the Dover Stars Girls, U12
It was the second round robin game of the Turkey Tournament. One of I’m sure many youth hockey tournaments surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday across the US this past weekend.
The girls U12 team was playing a known team, one we had beaten, shut out actually, earlier in the season. What made this game different was the fact that it was a tournament game - a first tournament game for a few of the younger players on the team. My pre-game locker room spiel started with, “anything can happen in a tournament.” After skating to a 0-0 tie for 2 periods against a team they thought they could easily beat, they were learning what I meant when I said, “teams that have never beaten you before, can beat you in a tournament.” Although we were not officially losing, we weren’t winning either.
Emotions were high on the bench. If you’ve never seen a U12 age girl’s hockey bench, it’s an experience. The line up includes 12 year old players that are 5’5” tall to 10 year olds who don’t even reach 4’10” with their skates on. Pony tails hang down from helmets, pink laces, pink gloves, green laces, green ribbons woven into helmets, pink sticks with purple polka dots, even some mascara and eye liner.
We were keeping the puck in the offensive zone, getting as many shots on net as by the net but their goalie had kept even our strongest shooters scoreless. There were shots from the point that hit the opponent’s shin pads two feet in front of the shot, rebounds that didn’t connect with a stick, and passes that went through the crease untouched.
The third period started and we were getting a bit panicky. Finally, a beautiful pass from our winger, to the center who got off a good shot, a rebound that the other winger got her stick on and slide it past the goalie. Danielle is a first year travel player who I’ve moved around all season. She’s played defense, she’s been a winger. Today she was our right winger and she was the one who put the puck in the net for us.
Another highlight moment for the tournament came a few minutes later. We had managed to hold onto our 1-0 lead and were feeling good. The other team, in a desperate move, pulled their goalie. At the face off, we controlled the puck and got it down to their end. Now, it’s not as easy to score an empty net as one would think. A couple of our stronger shooters had chances they were unable to capitalize on. With just over a minute left in the game, Avery, my youngest, smallest, least experienced player on the team got the puck on her stick, evaded the D and pushed the puck into the empty net giving us the insurance we needed. All 65 pounds of her came straight up off the ice eight inches into the air. I can still picture her –surrounded by her teammates, hugging her, patting her on the helmet. I can still hear their shouts of joy. I remember jumping on the bench, my hands thrown up in the air, at the same time her gloves were raised high on the ice. I can feel the emotions of a game clinching goal for nine-year old.
We went onto the championship game, finished second in the tournament. But what remains the best part of the entire tournament for me is having my two youngest, least experienced players put the puck in the net in their very first tournament. I hope they carry the joy and the confidence of the moment with them for a long time. I know I will.