Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Big Picture

The amazing young author, Adam Shepard, recently sent me his latest book. The inscription was one of the great compliments I have ever received in awhile. I had met Adam right before the "insanity" began in 2010 when he was at my former school talking about his book, "Scratch Beginnings". Adam's new book updating us all on his ife reminded me of the big picture... what I thought was going to be lemons, I got lemonade in 2011 spending a year in New York in 2011, and eventually back in my dream coaching position. It also reminded me to keep the big picture in mind this season.

So when do you recall the big picture? When It's 3 AM and you stare at the wall with a permagrin n your face after beating a team in a close game prompting you to climb up on the glass and high five every fan in the rink... or when it's 3 AM you are at a Quality Inn in Danville having just left an amazing loft rental in Quebec City to fly back to drive 3 hours to lose 7-1. In both instances, you try to remember how you had that same permagrin smile in a basement apartment in Regina after coming back from 3-0 down to beat Bethune in 2002 with Coach John Smith and the same awful feeling in your gut after tough lopsided losses with the Argos in 2000 with Terry O'Malley, and remind yourself that you have lived the same feelings before... although this year they get to be often felt in the same season about 2 weeks apart.

This past weekend on a recruiting trip, I got the ultimate reminder of why I am back in coaching. I got to watch Curtis McElhinney play for the Columbus Blue Jackets. While I am not sure if any of my current players will get the same post hockey career experience (it could happen...), I still get the same pride seeing other former players doing cool things. Interesting that Curtis was in nets with those losses and Adam Shaffer, the same amazing guy that got the game winning goal (on a broken ankle no less... courage!) in 2002 is now an Executive Chef. So whether it's the Shane Kellys now coaching the same Pownal Red Devils I got to coach in 2004 or the guys who might find themselves saying "keep doing what you're doing" recalling when their clueless tennis coach tried to help them, I merely hope to hear stories in the future in how my current players are saving lives in a fire (staying safe themselves), flying people around the country as pilots, or simply being great role models for their respective families.

The seasons, life and hockey, go on...

Monday, October 28, 2013

End of the 1st Period

At the crossroads and still smiling at 4 and 3...
After a tough weekend in Dayton, it was nice to get home and take a couple of more wins against Memphis last weekend. With Ball State at home and Eastern Illinois the week after, I am also adding the presenting of research at the NASSS conference in Quebec City on "Athlete Aggression" into my schedule. There is no doubt by time I reach the weekend of November 15th and looking at some potential hockey recruits in Columbus, Ohio (catching my injury riddled Habs on that Friday night), we could be sitting on the top of something special or struggling to survive. It's a fun challenge.

With the plans of EKU playing a 23-game schedule we have reached the 1/3 mark of the season. The 25-minute drives, the late nigths (3:30 AM this weekend), and non-stop thoughts about the team's progress, this is the closest things I have had to parenthood in my lifetime. For the fatigue alone, it was nice to deliver a home victory and perform an overhead "Sir Alex" clap to our crazy fans on both nights... and I would say more parents deserve this type of moment that I clearly have not had the chance to understand. This time last year I was at the Lexington Food Show hanging out with my favorite celebrity chef, Tyler Florence. This year, with the same Lexington Food Show on, I was simply too tired to do anything social. Yesterday's trip to Joseph Beth bookstore was the closest thing to a "social moment". It's all about sacrifice.

Still loving the battle... and now for Ball State. The last time I saw them live in any sport, a young Bonzi Wells was getting upset by my CMU Chippewas in MAC basketball regular season action in 1998. They did beat us in football in overtime that year. Ah, glory days. I will talk about these days the same in about 15 years.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ready for Another Hockey Weekend

After the excitement of winning our first game last Friday, it was a coaching challenge to get the boys up for Saturday. Toughest parts of blowouts is preparing the next day. While 6-3 was much closer, I was beyond happy to get the result. Of course, the best part for the players was it being club hockey, my job as a coach pretty well ended at the buzzer. I hit the hot tub and they hit Beale Street.

After midterms, it was Fall break and for me a little Canadian Thankgving. I was quite happy to back in the city where the coaching dream once fell short in 2001 but that on a cold night in 2012 on a Tuesday night in West Ottawa that I remembered (in the middle of an evening community skate) the joys of giving back to my community in my favorite way. The weekend featured family time and a look at a potential recruit playing some Junior B hockey in the EOJHL.

Getting two wins under our belt was huge for the team and I am hopeful for that little spark of a sign of things to come. I am not going to lie: I certainly sent out many emails on Monday and Tuesday after our Memphis weekend to potential recruits. With the latest story coming out last week talking about how schools with high tuition rates use sports as a method to attract students willing to pay good money for “the experience of playing college hockey”, I think we are doing just that. Between practices, dry land training, and access to the many of the same facilties as our NCAA D-I athletes, I am quite proud of the things we are doing in a very unique sporting situation.

My other favorite part of taking two on the weekend is the congratulatory moments you have with other coaches, some of who make a lot more money than I do doing this. The professor job certainly pays more… but nothing beats the passion from coaching.

My repeated mantra has been “we area work in progress”. Our practice last night indicated we still have a lot of work to do… the first and sweep in the history of the program isn’t the reason why I took the job. Looking for more of the same things to come in Dayton this weekend.

And finally... in the category of "things that stay off the blog" and will continue to do so in recognizing Eric Cantona's famous words, I wanted to mention that I made it six straight yesterday as in "Six. Straight. Positive. WRITTEN. Performance. Evaluations." Regardless... Thank you for that paid trip to New York between 4 and 5.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

A Night of Firsts...

Biting into the game puck...

On a night that featured many firsts (i.e. guys with their first goal of the season/career, first points, etc.), on a personal level, I think my Facebook post described it best: ... the last time EKU won a hockey game, I was living in New York. The last time I won a hockey game, Memphis, tonight's opponents still loved their (former and now the current UK) basketball coach. Time for me to open a steakhouse?

First win, hopefully of many, in a new era. New adjustment is the whole new media. Between tweeting out the results, posting to Facebook, I still have to call my mother in the morning.

Hoping for a sweep.
Today's plan is a light jog, stretch, lunch, rest and head back to the rink. With our captain back on the ice with us tonight, hoping for more of the same.

Note: completed the Sweep on Saturday with a 6-3 win. Drive back through the rain and a busy Monday morning... more on the "Sweep" later. Happy Monday!! - JC 10/7/2013

Monday, September 30, 2013

Getting Ready for Memphis

Finding my old UNB scribbler... "lotsa work to do!"
Happy to say that my previous blog title, "Jumping Off the Ivory Tower", followed by a tough blowout loss did not lead to my jumping off any tall buildings (besides the $230.00/month apartment rental, the best part of not living in New York is how this is much easier to avoid). The score line was... "what it was" and I knew we might be in trouble in warm up. On a night we lost 8-1, it is hard to believe there was a moment that we were up 1-0. As for the atmosphere... the fans didn’t stop the whole game. Even harder to believe is that in Kentucky, it was on a night when we lost badly, I was involved in some of the best atmosphere I have ever seen as a coach. No exaggerating!

It was still tough on the ego despite the great noise from our fans. By time I was licking my wounds on Sunday, I had the sound off the TV watching NFL football. I had plenty of time and much to reflect upon last Sunday. In my "real job", class discussions have focused a lot on lately on how recruiting impacts coaching as a whole no matter what the sport is. I can only say that I buried my soul into the 5 weeks leading into the first game. The best part has been re-finding my UNB scribbler (the same scribble I found after 18 months in storage in Massachusetts last year). Mike Johnston's PHE 2283 class still has some "cutting edge" stuff in it that a lot of coaches still haven't picked up on 20 years later. We'll continue to work with what we've got: Good kids who work hard.

I am also happy to note that, despite the insanity of my schedule last week, I was able to get my second year self-evaluation porfolio done and handed in on time on Friday. My portfolio can be summed up in one word: "Grateful". It doesn't take re-reading my blog for some of the hidden meanings in my past writings to know this. However, I do think the current Volleyball Graduate Assistant summed it all up better than any thank you message I received and included in my portfolio: Great to be a Colonel!

Speaking with hashtags is a new thing these days when communicating on Twitter. While it would be nice to #beatmemphis, I am merely hoping for a great weekend. Practice tonight, dry land tomorrow night, and a big practice on Wednesday before getting ready for travel on Friday. If the guys are as ready as their coach, it should be a great weekend. The process continues.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Jumping Off "The Ivory Tower" and Back into Coaching

36 hours until the return of Coach Joel
Where was it? Somewhere around the time I was walking back from the market one day in 2012 during the the cold winter of Ottawa and I said, “It’s time to get back to our passion… coaching hockey.” I missed New York (still do) and it was my focal point for a long time, but when it failed to come back into my life, I knew the logical step.

But first, there was an adventure still yet to happen since I last wrote on here. By time Neil Diamond’s “Spring became the summer” in 2012, I needed a full-time position and the interview tour of United States began in April. Still being wrongly labeled in my career (not in writing), late in the summer of 2012 there were some changes that happened in my previous place of employment allowing for my name to be cleared. After 9 campus visits, there was only interview left. With my name finally cleared, I got an offer on the table during the interview from Eastern Kentucky University.

And so I went to Kentucky, and with much relief, back on the tenure track. Knowing my story, some may say getting a tenure track position was a comeback. I am not so sure. As aspiring writers, we all search for superlatives when the conversation turns to extraordinary deeds involving comebacks (paraphrasing here... loved that line by a writer* describing the 1999 Treble won by Manchester United). In sport, a big part of my life, I recall the cold-eyed overtime winning instinct of the Montreal Canadiens in 1993, the aforementioned Manchester United’s never-say-die comeback in 1999, and the Pownal Red Devils, the never-say-die hockey team I coached to an Atlantic Championship in 2004; recalling each and every one of these instances often gives me hope that anything is possible. The doctoral dissertation to finally capture my Ph.D. was a personal solitary battle but it didn’t involve coming from behind the way I did. From now I will also recall the day I got the job offer at EKU but only knowing it wasn't a comeback as it swept beyond the limitations of that term. It was a resurrection. But I wasn’t finished, yet.

Socially, it was a tough first year in Kentucky. Culture shock aside, anywhere after New York living was going to be an adjustment. In my effort to avoid going stale, more comebacks have come along. And keeping that promise I made to myself on that cold winter's day, I am now back pursuing my passion again as the Head Coach of the Eastern Kentucky University club hockey team... the same level I coached when I began this blog in 2005. Besides my usual teaching at the undergrad level, I am now also teaching graduate classes in Marketing and Finance. Things that just wouldn’t have happened without my time in New York. In an epic battle, you don't look for external rewards through other people or careers. But what a reward I was giving in 2010. Interesting that I have been indirectly invited me back to teach a class next summer in Massachusetts. I plan on writing this all down. It’s probably a best seller... under a pseudo author name!

The thing that I forgot about coaching? Time consumption was known ahead of time. So it wasn’t the drives to the rink, the practice planning, the late hours or even the dedication to recruiting. It was how it consumes your soul. I totally forgot since my last game in New Mexico in 2006 just how much coaching hockey was part of my “raison d’etre”.

Besides the renewed passion, the one thing that I am liking about coaching 7 years later? Group communication much simpler now (group text to let people know practice time changes much better than a "phone tree") and teaching hockey systems with a classroom with access to youtube and instructional graphics. How did I not do this before?

So I am back officially tomorrow behind the bench, yes, a midnight Saturday game, back behind the bench and back on this blog getting ready for EKU Vs. Cincinnati. Hopefully finding that hope and beauty... not at a New York City piano bar but in a ice hockey rink in Lexington.

*James Lawton Daily Express as quoted via http://www.manutdtreble.com/quotes.htm