After enduring the annual unrequested invasion of November darkness for weeks, the bright glimmer of falling snow finally greeted me this morning. A comforting and appropriate backdrop to write one more short post before a 5-game, 10-day stint followed by back-to-back 1-4 am virtual USA Hockey Coaching Clinics, which precede a volunteer coaching position at the U14 Team Austria camp, all to be capped with a 15-hour travel day to return home for Christmas break. So, join me for a blissful cup of hot cocoa while I recount a thrilling game of hockey I encountered here in Austria, not as a player, but as a coach.
A Taste of Coaching
Last weekend, several players from the Lakers joined the EC-KAC Damen team for their away game against the Graz Huskies. I am aged out of this league as an import, but the coach asked if I wanted to come along as his assistant coach again (I have assisted one time before this game) and so I did.
Quick backstory and side tangent: the EC-KAC Damen plays in the DBEL and is a women’s development team within the KAC men’s professional hockey club in Klagenfurt, Carinthia. EC-KAC has over 40 female players from young teens through women in their 40s and many, at both ends of spectrum, just started playing hockey. We often join their Tuesday practice and there’s just something about seeing older women learning to play hockey that I admire. The organization I work for in the summer, Girls4Hockey, runs a learn to play hockey program for women and the coach told me some of the participants were not even allowed to play hockey when they were kids. I love that there are organizations across the world opening doors for a generation that was once locked out of the sport. Now, back to the main story...
The Huskies scored in the first few minutes of the game and closed out the 1st period with three goals total. As a player, I always believe in the comeback, but as a coach, I strangely had a much harder time believing in this sentiment, which surprised me. I thought since I wouldn’t be stewing about unimportant in-game matters, staying positive and thinking strategy would be easier.
On the contrary, I think since I was not actively participating in the game, I felt quite helpless. It’s almost as if I couldn't give myself permission to coach because I didn’t just work and sweat for the last twenty minutes. It was similar to how I felt as a healthy scratch watching games we were losing, like wearing my gear protects me from feeling imposter syndrome. Fortunately, in any of these positions, if our team can break the ice with one goal, nothing can stop me from believing in a comeback – and this game was no different.
Although the Huskies scored again in the first two minutes of the 2nd period, they also landed themselves two penalties which EC-KAC capitalized on, cutting the score in half. Our team would go on to score three more unanswered goals across both periods for a 5-4 victory. Every backcheck, every blocked shot and every goal was met with equal fervor; the energy was infectious. You could tell the exact moment every player started believing in themselves and the team. There’s nothing better than a group of players earnestly supporting each other to a victory, especially when some are from another team and they don’t get to practice often together.
It was one of those games where you get to feel that blaze of unrelenting passion many of us share for the sport - the pure joy. I'm just glad I could still feel it as strongly from behind bench as I do on the ice. The head coach then bought us all Schnitzelsemmel's at the rink to celebrate - they were enormous, delicious and should be served in every arena.