Monday, December 31, 2012

S.O.S. Snap our Slump!

  You win some, you lose some. But how good are you at staying positive when the kids are getting smoked EVERY game ? The yells from parents in the stands get louder and the applause after a game get softer. The team is in a slump and parents are feeling it too.    
   For some positive inspiration, I turned to one of the most positive coaches in the business of teaching skills, team play and fitness for competitive hockey players. Phil Simeon - Owner and Lead Instructor of NF Hockey in Oakville, Ontario, the heart of good hockey.    This is a great site if you're looking for advice on improving the game, including quick timing drills and sock puck hockey!  Good stuff.

Phil Simeon has taught programs across the North America for over 15 years

     by Phil Simeon

Youth players are effected by the moods of their coaches. If players sense a coach's frustration or disappointment they will not respond well, in fact they are more likely to regress in their performance and feel insecure about their abilities. Coaches need to recognize the importance of their influence over youth players - focus on being positive. Here are some tips for youth coaches to bust out of a slump:

Don't talk about the team's record, stats, or recent poor performance, if anything you want to distract players from this, don't over do it with the positive cheering and motivational speeches, they get tiring when things aren't going well.

Focus on the importance of hard work as a team goal, explain why hard work is important
be consistent in what you say even in tough times.

Set simple goals for the forwards (for example, as a group they have to get 15 shots on net)

Set simple goals for the defense (for example, they can never leave the front of the net open in their zone)

Recognize the team's performance against the goals you set, rather than the score of the game

Do not set goals for goalies!

Do some fun drills in practice like 'baseball on ice'


Slumps are frustrating for everyone. Losing is not fun. Everyone involved needs to be realistic about expectations. We all want our kids to be great at sports, but it's important to recognize challenging times. Start with finding small successes in performance. Identify what was done well. For example, in a close loss the team must have done some things well - talk about them and build on it. Let the kids know collectively and individually. Be consistent in your messaging and don't talk about every little thing.

Always recognize hard work and encourage it too. Boost confidence by telling players what they're doing well, and exaggerate about it too. A third of great performance is based on strong confidence, the other two are hard work and talent. Confidence and hard work can go a long way even with limited talent.

You can't necessarily control future performance, but there a couple of keys to maintaining sports' success. Be consistent in what you say, do, and expect from the team. If you get too wound up, or let your guard down too much you can expect that from your players. Your players read and respond to your behavior, messaging, and attitude. If you get angry, your players will react emotionally. If you are chilling out too much, your players will too. These reactions prevent the opportunity to succeed.

Thanks Phil and here's to slump busting!
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Phil Simeon
NF Hockey
P: 905-582-6603

Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Skates? How to Break Them In!

   Did anybody else have parents who made them walk around the house wearing a wet pair of socks inside the new skates ( with skateguards of course) you just got for Christmas?  Not sure where my dad came up with that one, and all I remember is the squishy, uncomfortable sogginess that took away the excitement of having new skates.  I'm really not even convinced it worked, but dad swore it was the best way to break them in and soften up a stiff boot.. Fast forward to 2012, and I found some much more solid advice on that does not involve any discomfort or squishiness!
Break in those new skates with a few helpful tips
Hockey Skills presented by Canadian Tire

By  Tal Pinchevsky - Staff Writer

You've got a bag full of brand new equipment and you're ready to get out on the ice to show everyone what you're made of. Just one problem: your new skates are so stiff you can barely feel your ankles.

You think about returning them to the store, assuming you can find the jaws of life to get them off your feet. But there are a few simple steps to help you break in those skates.

Buy the right skates

Always ask questions when buying hockey skates. (Photo: Getty Images)It won't necessarily make your feet hurt less when it comes time to lace them up, but spending time making the proper selection can help you out in the long term.

While buying skates online offers great convenience, going to the store in person will allow you to try on a variety of skates. In the end, you're more likely to find the perfect fit for your foot. Some stores and skate brands also offer special inserts that can help you find the right fit.

"The fit is the most important thing. Making sure the skate isn't too wide or too short form front to back," said T.J. McMeniman, Bauer's Senior Global Brand Manager. "Some players like skates that are a bit shorter so their toes are a little crunched. You want your toe to just feather at the very tip of the skate."

If you buy your skates in a specialty hockey shop, don't hesitate to ask questions and see if it's possible to get any adjustments made. Some skate shops may even throw in free sharpenings and adjustments over the life your skates.

Heat and Bake

One of the most popular in-store adjustments involves using heat. If they prefer not to do it at the store, some people use a hair dryer, which can be applied to the boot of the skate for 2-3 minutes before trying the skate on to mold it to their foot. Some specialty shops even offer to help you "bake" your skate before you leave the store, so feel free to ask about that.


More adventurous players can even use the convention oven in their kitchen (with parental permission and supervision, of course). Start by pre-heating the oven to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Prep your skate by loosening its laces enough so that you won't have to worry about placing your foot in once you're done. Once pre-heating is complete, turn off the oven and place one of your skates on a standard baking sheet before placing it directly on the center of the oven rack.

Let it bake for six to eight minutes and watch the skate for any breakdown or splitting of the material before removing it. When you take it out, the boot should be noticeably softer when you squeeze it.

"We highly recommend when you purchase our product that you have the local retailer heat up the skate for a couple of minutes in the oven and let the skate mold on your foot for about 15 to 20 minutes," said McMeniman. "Don't walk around, you just want to sit there and let it mold to your foot to give it a customized fit."

Bear in mind that too much heat can potentially result in a premature breakdown of the boot of your skate. Some players also just prefer to break in skates the more natural way.

The Hard Way

As with most tasks, there is no substitute for hard work when it comes to breaking in new skates. There are a few short cuts, but there's nothing quite like molding a skate to your foot by simply lacing up and taking the ice, which is ideally what you want to do anyways.

The first skate will definitely be arduous and your feet will likely feel sore both during and after. But by your third skate you should notice greater ease when putting on and using your skates. By the time you've enjoying about a half-dozen skates, you should notice a clear difference when it comes time to finding a snug fit when you lace up.

However you decide to break in your new skates, you should start noticing a difference with a few basic steps. Then you can worry about more important things, like winning hockey games.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hockey Tributes to Sandy Hook

“I feel so sad, and I want to show how much I care.” The words of my eleven year old hockey player who wants to combine her love for hockey, with her desire to help honor 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults, the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School. There are some amazing examples for her to follow, starting with the Greenwich and Darien girls ice hockey teams. In a heartfelt tribute, the girls wrote “Newtown” on one side of their sticks and a victim’s name on the other side. They also played their hearts out in memory of the tiny victims.

Then there’s the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, a team that plays about 30 minutes from Newtown. Their hearts are heavy, and to show their compassion, commemorative patches and stickers will be part of the uniforms, to be worn for the rest of the season. And in an even more extraordinary gesture, for the next seven home games, players' names on the back of their black alternate jerseys will be replaced by names of  Sandy Hook Elementary students. The names of the six adult victims will be shown on the center ice scoreboard throughout the entire game.

I’ve always been touched by our local hockey community’s response to tragedies and outpouring of support when someone is hurting or in need. The Syracuse Blazers Squirt team is carrying on that long-standing tradition. The team is dedicating the next ten games between December 30 and February 2 to raise money for the Sandy Hook School support Fund, started by the United Way of Connecticut. They’re accepting pledges per goal and donations. Here are the details.

1) Pledge a donation per goal

Pledge any amount ($0.50, $20, etc) for each goal scored by the Syracuse Blazers Squirt team. We will post a running total of goals scored during the 10 game period on the Blazers Squirt team website ( On February 2nd, the total goals will be posted. Pledge payments will be due by February 9, 2013.

Example: If you pledge $1 and the team scores 10 goals between December 30, 2012 and February 2, 2013, you would owe $10.

2) Regular donation

If you do not want to pledge per goal, you can donate a set amount. No amount is too large or too small. Just see any parent, player, or coach from the Syracuse Blazers Squirt team. We will start collecting at our December 30th games. The last collection date for regular donations will be February 2, 2013. All players and parents of the Syracuse Blazers Squirt team will be given donation sheets. Therefore, any member of the team would be happy to assist you in your donation.
Showing compassion and support is a part of our hockey culture. It’s what we do.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Juggling Hockey and the Holidays

What words come to mind when you think of the holidays? Peace, love and joy? Or travel, tournaments and stress? Hockey families execute a delicate act of balancing school events, holiday parties, family gatherings, practices, games, tournaments. It's as stressful as a one goal lead in a game seven playoff.

The holidays are a lot like hockey in another way: Winning efforts come to those who plan. So here are a few tips from my life and the lives of my hockey friends:)

Having a visual game plan can be one of the best ways to keep the family least a little bit more sane and organized during crazy holidays.

I use a dry erase calendar to keep my home team in line. Place it in the kitchen or the family room. That way your family can see what’s coming up, when to say no, and work as a team to tackle the many tasks of the season. Mark down work, school, hockey and family commitments and schedule holiday shopping, baking and even gift wrapping.

You can count on conflicts in the schedule, so setting up a car pool might be the next best thing to Santa's sleigh. Parents are always willing to pitch in and help shuttle the kids to their destinations. Make sure you return the favor.

Make your list, check it twice and as my hockey mom friend Caroline Stanistreet suggests, do the mom and dad timeshare. One parent goes to the tournament games and the other stays home to clean or cook. As long as you are both there for the championship game, your kids will understand.

I admire Skaneateles hockey mom Shannon Proud too, for always finding unique gifts at shops near the rinks. Her kids get their practices in, and she painlessly gets to whittle down the holiday wish list. A little online shopping on on the phone during intermissions can give you that home team advantage.

Lose the guilt, and cheat! Go ahead and cut corners during this crazy season. If the holiday tournament calls for parents to supply food, don’t feel guilty about picking up a couple of pizzas or buying one of those family sized frozen macaroni and cheese dinners. Doctor it up with a little seasoning and toss it in a crockpot. You'll satisfy a hungry crowd, save time and make money for the team. A lot of planning and a little compromising can go a long way. Wishing you and your family peace, love, joy and an insulated stocking full of great hockey for the holidays!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Off-ice Team Building

By Mike Staff Writer

Before individual accolades and team championships at any level of organized hockey, coaches and parents have a responsibility to help instill some sense of unity and pride within the group.

Only when that foundation is achieved can a team take their goals to even greater heights. Part of building that foundation is becoming acquainted, not only via team drills on the ice, but through various exercises off the playing surface.

"One thing we always try and do is build that trust factor by doing some type of teamwork off the ice," said Jon Greenwood, the director of hockey development at the Maritime Hockey Academy in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

Hockey mom gets team building

Christie Casciano Burns not only is a proud hockey mom, but author of two books based on her experiences as a hockey parent.

Her most recent children's book, titled "Haunted Hockey in Lake Placid, The Puck Hog Volume 2," is currently out on bookshelves. The stories, according to the mother of two, are based on her accounts as a hockey mom in the trenches and falling in love with the sport. Additionally, Burns writes a monthly advice column for USA Hockey Magazine. caught up with Burns, who also serves as a news anchor for WSYR-TV in Syracuse, for her opinion on the importance of team-building exercises off the ice for young players.

"We had a bottle and can drive campaign to help raise money for trips, so we picked neighborhoods and knocked on doors and asked people for spare bottles and cans that we might be able to recycle and earn money," Burns told "Not only did we raise $700, but it was great having the kids earn something, too. They need to know that things aren't just handed to them.

"Kids learn skills like how to approach people, how to address them, politeness and how to organize a project," she continued. "It's cool to watch them strategize."

-- Mike G. Morreale

"Whether it's relay races or making the human pyramid, any type of thing working in a team environment is essential to building that trust and that foundation," he said. "The business world is doing a lot more of that, too. You always hear of these retreats that companies conduct outside the office. It has gone from the sports world into the business world and is extremely important."

Former NHL forward Steve Webb is well aware of the impact team building exercises might have on a team. Last year, Webb served as an assistant coach under Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine for the Long Island Royals' Under-16 Tier I National championship team.

He recalls one of the special moments his team shared following that championship season.

"One going-away thing we did was a food drive," Webb told "We went to three shopping centers, and kids wore their jerseys. Here they were, just having won a national championship, and two weeks later they're standing there asking people to donate.

"They would later bring the items to a food shelter in Huntington Station [N.Y.], and I think that was one of the greatest things we did during the season. It put a stamp on how far we had come as a team and the respect we had for each other."

P.K. O'Handley, the head coach and general manager of the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League, can't stress enough the importance of team-building exercises at any age of development.

Team building is an ongoing thing," O'Handley told "We immerse our guys in our community and that doesn't sound like team-building, per se, but it is. It forces smaller groups to go out to people they don't know and communicate about themselves, about our program. Those are great experiences for young guys that we mandate they do. It helps our team understand the sense of pride in what they do, day in and day out, for the city of Waterloo and the community here in the Cedar Valley and the Black Hawks."

O'Handley said the coaching staff enjoys breaking the monotony of a long hockey season by having the players indulge in other activities, including paintball, meals at a teammates' house and frequent team meals at local restaurants.

"Those are things that we try to do to really give the team cohesion, but it's also good for our players to understand that this is just a stop in their career … they need to invest of themselves and in each other and rely on each other to learn to communicate, be a pro, and be a good citizen," O'Handley said. "To do all those things that are important and hopefully can come together and put you in a good spot at the end of the year."
Similar to Webb's experience with the Long Island Royals, Greenwood has also made it a habit to conduct plenty of team-building exercises for his youth teams.

"The major midget team I coach here at home had a weekend off, so we went paddling," he said. "We took the team out onto the water and had two teams of 10 with coaches on each team -- it was a paddling race.

"Team building is an ongoing thing," O'Handley told "We immerse our guys in our community and that doesn't sound like team-building, per se, but it is." -- P.K. O'Handley, head coach and general manager of the Waterloo Black Hawks

"It's good because you get to see guys in their comfort zone and out of their comfort zone, and generally it's not the top hockey player who becomes the top paddler. You get to see different leaders step up as well. Who's going to step up in this boat where no one knows what they're doing? Who's going to say, 'Guys, let me call out the strokes' and take charge of that boat. It was fun, but you also see the competitiveness really shine."
Jim Johannson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director of hockey operations, was a part of team-building exercises as a youngster growing up in Rochester, Minn.

"I recall how coaches taught you how you had to be in line with how you carried yourself," Johannson told "In Rochester, I remember feeling like you feared the coach, but I never had a coach who raised his voice or really screamed or yelled. They were firm, direct coaches who reminded me of my dad. I never wanted to cross my dad, but he never yelled at me. They taught you respect and to respect others while having an appreciation of all your achievements."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale