By Jason Menard
A group of Manitoban hockey coaches have been put on ice following a display of exceedingly poor sportsmanship. But while the issue has heated up discussion on fair play in sport, unfortunately it’s the kids who are getting frozen out.
Last week the coaches of Westwood Collegiate, participants in the Winnipeg High School Hockey League, pulled their goalie during a game against College Jeanne Sauve. Normally, this is a sound strategy and has been part of the game forever. Normally, however, your team’s not ahead by a goal when your netminder heads to the bench.
Westwood, up 3-2 against College Jean Sauve at the time, pulled its goalie in order to allow its opponents to score the two goals it needed to win the game. The reason? Because a Westwood loss would bump the team into a more favourable matchup – a rematch, in fact, with Jean Sauve – in the playoffs, avoiding regular-season champion Oak Park.
In the end, the coaches were suspended, the league allowed a one-game play-in against Westwood and Oak Park for the right to face Jean Sauve in the semi finals. And all appears to be right in the world.
Well, except for the kids who have been forever tarnished by pulling on the Westwood jersey. On the scoreboard, and in life, these kids were made losers by the actions of selfish and short-sighted coaches.
We’ve all heard the stories. Adults, trying to live vicariously through their children or their on-ice charges, lose all sense of perspective once the puck drops. A game that’s supposed to be fun becomes an opportunity for these adults to relive past glories – or create new ones – all at the expense of the kids’ experiences.
Now, the kids on Westwood said they didn’t want the game thrown and were reported to have been fully supportive of the tie-breaker game. But they shouldn’t have been put into that position in the first place.
Some would argue that the kids should have ignored their coaches’ directives in the initial game, but that’s asking a lot of children who have had it drilled into their minds that they need to listen to the coaches. In addition, these kids should have had every expectation that their coaching staff would be working in their best interests. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Throwing games goes against everything that sport is supposed to be about. You’re supposed to play your best at all times out of respect to your opponents, the game itself, and – most importantly – yourself. High school athletics also should carry the added expectation that these kids would learn valuable life lessons. They’re playing for fun, not for funds, after all.
There’s nothing wrong with learning how to lose with grace. There’s nothing wrong with being beaten by a better opponent. And there’s nothing wrong with learning that, sometimes, the underdog can rise above the challenges. Who is to say that Westwood wouldn’t have played the spoiler and beaten Oak Park? The recent loss isn’t a fair representation of what could have happened as the team played without its coaches and likely with heavy hearts.
And for what? So a few glory-hound adults couldn’t let go of their pasts long enough to see what damage they were doing to their kids’ future? The suspension is a good start. Some may call for a permanent ban of these adults from coaching in this league again, but I wouldn’t go that far.
After all, why not use this situation to teach these kids another lesson – adults aren’t perfect, they can make mistakes, and should be given an opportunity to atone for their actions.
The empty net was just a symptom of their coaches’ empty heads. In playing games with the sport, these coaches made their players exactly what they were trying to avoid – losers. Now it’s time for the real coaching to come to the fore and let them teach the kids the much more valuable lessons of humility, respect, and the value of an apology.