JMS Hockey Blog

JMS is a pickup hockey league

Month: February, 2010

Canada or the US, who will take the gold?

by barbaragarn

Excellent matchup coming tomorrow (Sunday, Feb 28). Who do you think will win? (Or if you’re reading this after, why do you think the winners triumphed?)

The Canadians will try to crowd in front of American Ryan Miller, hoping to shut down the goalie who delivered an amazing performance during the last match-up.

Team USA is coming off a rout of Finland and feeling confident. And boy, wouldn’t we like to settle the score from Salt Lake 2002, when Canada beat the U.S. on home ice, ouch. While this is the second gold game the U.S. has played in the last three Olympics, Team USA hasn’t captured a gold in men’s hockey since the “Miracle” in 1980.

Is it that Team USA is indeed a TEAM, instead of a collection of superstars, like Canada? Or wIll the superstars do what they do: put it in net, again and again. I have heard mutterings of NHL-entrenched fussiness between Jerome Iginla and Sidney Crosby. Too many prima donnas (Crosby, Crosby, Crosby) will collapse a team.

On the other hand, this is CANADA, the world’s hockey powerhouse, bar none. This is THEIR sport, on THEIR home ice. That means a lot.

Apparently Robert Gibbs (White House press secretary) has a bet with his Canadian counterpart; loser has to wear the other team’s jersey at the next press conference.

The bet was originally based on the outcome of the women’s game (Canada-2, US-0) but when it appeared the two nations’ men’s teams would face off as well, Gibbs asked for a double or nothing. Canada has much to be proud of, not least its fantastic goalie [url=]Shannon Szebados, and of course corresponding winces at the distinctly NON-“healthy athlete” postgame celebration with booze and cigars. Crimeny.

Who will win on Sunday? Accurate predictions win a year of bragging rights…

Rob Little skills clinics

by barbaragarn

Starting in April!

Skilled and effective coach Rob Little will offer [url=]two clinics this spring: Skating and Intermediate Skills. Skating starts April 18 and Intermediate Skills starts May 2.

Rob is a fantastic coach–he is a genius at spotting the one little thing that will make your play so much more efficient. If you go, you WILL be amazed at how quickly you improve.

I tell people that it’s like a giant ball of knotty string; Rob can pinpoint the one strand that magically untangles the whole mess. Learn to skate and play smarter. With tweaks to your stride, you’ll soon be more efficient. With tips on your game, you’ll be more effective.

You should go to a Rob Little clinic. Trust me.

All the details here:

Been to a Rob Little session before? Post here so others will know how incredible and effective the coaching is.

If you're tired, get off the ice

by barbaragarn

Why do we take longer shifts when we’re tired?

I know everybody does it. I do it. I just don’t understand WHY.

It’s the end of the night, 20 minutes left in the game and people are just STANDING there, not skating, not playing, just standing. And they stay out for a monster long time.

It just makes no sense to me–and I say that having caught myself doing it plenty of times. If we’re tired, get off the ice. It’s silly; you would think we would WANT to go sit on the bench.

But instead, people do the opposite: just gliding around, orbiting the play. Is is that, in standing there (instead of skating), people are using less energy and they don’t feel “tired” enough to go to the bench? But if they’re “tired” already, they should be off the ice… I just don’t get it.

Faster skaters at my session

by barbaragarn

Okay, you said you had “3 level 3s and a level 4 at Bloomington.”

This isn’t an accurate picture of the situation. These were not “level 3 players;” several people there had perms for more than one level, and the session’s speed depends on who shows up that night. It wasn’t that level 3 players crashed the L2, it was that some people with access to BOTH L2 and L3, showed up at the BIG L2 last Monday.

You just moved up from level 1 not too long ago and I understand that at a session with more more players who are on their way out of 2 up to 3, you would have some frustration.

The guy who was at that session but also plays level 4 is an anomaly; he is a solid L3, not a level 4 player. I have decided that he skates down well enough to play one level down, L2, if he wants. He doesn’t control the game and instead has that rare ability to match other skaters. I have no doubt whatsoever that he’s able to hold back adequately at level 2, and for that reason he is the only person in JMS who has skater permissions for more than two levels at once.

Sometimes people notice other skaters doing well and tell the captain to move that person up. What people usually don’t do is take the next mental leap; it’s easy to see a skilled player and say, “He’s good, therefore he should go up.”
But, does this player control the game? Does he go end-to-end? If the person AUGMENTS the game, without controlling it, then I’m okay with that person playing down. Just because someone is “good” doesn’t mean I feel like he should be excluded from a certain level.

The problems come with players who are NOT able to match their speed and play to the other skaters. These guys can be far rougher than they should be, or are totally unaware of the extent they’re controlling the game, or unable to have any speeds besides “stop” and “100 percent.” For these guys–who are the VAST majority–skating down is NOT an option.

But there are lots of reasons why someone would play down, and I think carefully before granting permissions–though of course I don’t post the reasons on the site, hoping folks will trust my decisions. People off the ice for a long time, or just recovering from an injury, often ask to play down and I have no problem with these requests. But I won’t (and shouldn’t) make an announcement to every person who is going to skate with these exceptions, divulging and justifying all private details.

I won’t split up teams before the game–the captain is there to balance them out and it sounds like he did a good job of this last Monday. The session skewed fast, as happens sometimes, but Randy kept it even, so in my mind it was a success.

Why don't you have Level X in my neighborhood?

by barbaragarn

Stillwater and Woodbury are definite no-go. There just aren’t enough JMSers out there to make it work.rnrnI don’t have time to write out what I have before about the factors that go into a session, but do know a few things:rnWhile you want this session, I’d need many more people to make it work. Not just 16 so we can play five-on-five with three subs, or 22 so I can break even on icetime. Because to make a session WORK, I need a much bigger pool of skaters; one week we’ll miss some regulars due to sickness, injury, working late, car trouble, out of town, etc. We need people who can fill in when those folks are gone. rnrnTo make a session successful, I need AT LEAST three times the number of skaters, because on any given week there will be more people not skating than sign up. Having a dedicated pool of about 70 people, skaters and goalies included, who are committed to skating regularly, is what I need to make a new session work.rnrnWhile one person–or even five people, or ten–can be very dedicated, that’s only a start. I can have ten friends who are super excited about having a session at a certain rink, but as you know that’s not enough for a game… and that assumes that none of them are out for the reasons listed above.rnrnAnd that’s not even getting into booking the ice. Figuring out 1. a day, 2. a rink with 3. available time not to mention 4. early enough, is really hard. Some people are unwilling to drive more than 15 miles to play. Or some won’t play after 10 p.m.–makes things hard in this state of hockey where youth associations eat up all the early times. And of course, day/rink/start time issues will mean some of our eager skaters choose not to play, thus lowering the critical mass available to make a session work.rnrnI want to empower you to help make a session work in your area. Given the factors above, what do you think you can do to help make it work?rn

How many skaters are you talking about? I’d need more than just the basic 16 to make it work–I have to cover ice costs (which does mean right around 22 bodies), and I have to have a big enough skater pool to draw from so that when James is sick, Bob takes his spot, or when Katie has to work late, Elsie wants to skate. It usually works best when I have about three times as many INTERESTED people in the pool as I need to skate on any given night, because other people will be otherwise occupied.

Because I keep level 1 for TRUE BEGINNERS, the skater pool for that level is rather low. People learn relatively quickly and move on to level 2.
But this means that there aren’t enough folks to hold multiple level 1 sessions around the Twin Cities. I try to book as centrally as I can, so everyone has to drive a reasonable amount. That’s just how level 1 is; you’ll drive a while, but then when you move to level 2, there are more options, and at level 3 even more than that. But level 1 with its limitations is something everyone has to go through–so please know that, while it is a further drive than Bloomington, it is not forever.

Solution is not to let everyone from L4 play L3 (which ruins…), it’s to get enough L4s to have their OWN skate.

Combined sessions

by barbaragarn

While you may feel that combining sessions will get more skaters, this also brings a greater variety. How then is JMS different from any other pick-up in the area? The whole point of JMS is managing parity so everyone on the ice is at roughly the same level. People tell me again and again how much they appreciate finally being able to touch the puck and make some moves. Getting rid of the parity by opening it so wide that it doesn’t matter… that just gets rid of the whole reason for JMS.

I’ve worked very hard to separate into distinct tiers and combining levels just throws all that work out the window. In a combined L3&4 session, how do people know what it will be like? You know from attending JMS on different nights that sometimes it’s a “fast L3” and sometimes a slow one. Now think about all the variety there would be between the bottom end of level 3 and the top end of level 4. That is too much, people would have no idea what a session would be like. That won’t help encourage folks to sign up–what people like about JMS is knowing what they’re going to get and that it will fit.

And so combining sessions dilutes the quality of JMS, and participation suffers. I have done combined level 1&2 before, and combined Level 4&5. NEITHER were successful; the higher skaters got frustrated at the lower players, taking the puck from them and essentially ignoring them and playing around them, and they got tired of it and stopped signing up. And the weaker skaters got frustrated too–they were used to having a bigger part of the game, they can’t catch the speedier folks, so they get hacky and the entire game becomes way chippier and people just don’t have fun. And THEY stopped coming. And the session failed. Again, this isn’t guessing, this is hard data from previous experiences.

A regular level 3 session can have a wide range of abilities– people who just moved up to 3 from 2 but still have L2 perms but then also people who play L4 but are recovering after an injury and playing down a while. That’s a lot of abilities to have on the ice, and by opening it to more than two levels, I would then have skaters with perms for level 2 through 5 on the same ice. This isn’t just a “sometimes” thing, it’s a “usually” thing. It is a management headache on the ice.

You probably aren’t aware of this, but there are a LOT of folks who feel they should be playing higher than they are. We love our fellow skaters, but I’m sure you can realize that for some, their PERCEPTION of ability does not match their ACTUAL ability. We feel ourselves to be gods upon the ice, and even video will not shatter this illusion. You know the kind of skater I’m taking about–one who thinks he’s great but absolutely is not. Say one of those guys is a level 2 and just moved into level 3. He goes to a level 3&4 and decides he “did okay.” (What does it mean to “do okay”? In their minds, frankly, anything short of spending every shift lying flat on the ice.)

And so these folks play in a combined session and feel they “did okay” and should therefore be allowed to play the next level up. Trust me, this happens ALL THE TIME when I run a combined session at the X. The faster skaters have to slow down the game to include the weaker ones, and when they do, and make a pity pass to the slower folks, the slower folks don’t realize it was intentional generosity and feel it means they have been able to “run with the big dogs.” They don’t realize it was a charity pass while everyone else held off and let the slow guy have the puck. It’s a terrible headache and I do not like to have to keep explaining it to people–which is what I would have to do if I had more combined sessions.

This disillusioned skater will see his participation, his mere presence and “showing up,” at a combined L3&4 as absolute justification that he SHOULD be moved to Level 4 RIGHT AWAY. I’m not saying this MIGHT happen, I’m saying it WILL happen, because it has before. And these guys are relentless, e-mailing me constantly, using the combined sessions to “prove” that they are actually as good as they dream they are inside their heads. I’m not going down that road.

I hope this makes sense. I know folks speculate about what I do–truly, there is always a thought-out reason behind my actions, even if it’s not immediately apparent. I think the levels–loose guidelines as they are–are important and even though they’re not hard and fast, we do our best to keep them as homogeneous and reliable as we can.


Wakota is strong and I’m glad to see it. Some of the mixed L3/4 group may have thought it was fun to play together, but I had MANY e-mails from TRUE level 3 skaters who were sad that their session was being overrun by faster players. The true L3s asked me why I wasn’t delivering the parity I advertised. I’m sure the big group of friends didn’t care about what these other people were feeling, but I did, and I’m the administrator–it’s my responsibility and my mission to provide parity hockey.

It concerns me that the group skating at Wakota now is so incredibly set against me actually delivering what I advertise: parity hockey. Everyone wants me to organize JMS to fit their personal situation (ie, be the best one at a session, or close to home, or with friends who started playing hockey ten years earlier, etc.) and I just can’t do that.

I wish the people at Wakota would stop the fearmongering–I know what they’re saying, I get e-mails about it. If they want to leave because I’m doing what I advertised, if they want to leave because I’m making a session fair for the lower level people who actually belong there, then that’s their choice. I’m sad their vision is so narrow, but I can’t change it and I won’t waste time trying.

Olympic Hockey

by barbaragarn

Opening ceremonies tonight!

The women start playing tomorrow (Feb. 13) and Team USA takes the ice on Valentine’s Day, playing China. The men start on Feb. 16, when Team USA takes on Switzerland.

I remember the pre-Salt Lake matchups back in 2002; the national teams played one another at different venues around the U.S. and one of those was at St. Cloud State. We watched China play (and noticed their fans in the stands kept buying nachos, but eating only the chips and leaving the dip)– a Minnesota paper had run an article that I think said there were only three rinks in China at the time, and there were more high school girls hockey PROGRAMS in Minnesota, than there were Chinese female hockey PLAYERS. I think that’s what it was–doubtless things have changed since.

Of course, Team USA was training at the Superrink in Blaine all summer; that and three Minnesota players sure makes this feel like a hometown team: Natalie Darwitz of Eagan, Gigi Marvin of Warroad and Jenny Potter of Edina. Wisconsin also has three players on the team and Massachusetts has four.

I like watching not just because they were trained here, but also because this no-check game is the one we play. It’s amazing to see it at its very highest level by athletes who know it so well.

What to watch for: Last Olympics, Sweden dealt a terrific upset to the world of women’s hockey. For many years, it was a North American fight for the gold, with Canada (usually) coming out on top after a tough battle with Team USA.

While it was sad to see our athletes take third, it was exciting to realize that women’s hockey has grown enough that other nations can vie for higher medals. We should have been prepared for the “Damkronorna” (“Lady Crowns;” the Swedish women’s team)– they took the bronze over Finland in 2002.

For women’s Olympic hockey, the home team gets placed in the games if they like. This meant the Italian women’s hockey team played in 2006, in Torino. But this year, with the Olympics in Canada and that team clearly a medal contender, this frees up a spot for another country’s women’s hockey team to jump onto the national scene.

The main players return this year: Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Finland. Russia has made all three Games, though never placing higher than fourth (2002). Germany played in Salt Lake and Torino, but didn’t make the games this year. Kazakhstan was in Salt Lake but hasn’t played since; China missed the 2006 games but is back for Vancouver. The last two spots are taken by Switzerland and Slovakia, the former returning after placing seventh in Torino, the latter making their Olympic debut (does Marion G have a sister??).

I’m super psyched and the Canadians are too–as well as the embassy staff members from different countries. Check out [url=]this neat article about how foreign nationals in Canada will be cheering for their teams.

My predictions for women’s hockey: Canada is solid and I think they’ll take gold again. The U.S. wants silver BAD after Torino and I think they’re likely to get it. Winning a silver in Torino really elevated the profile of women’s hockey in Sweden, will it be enough to win another? Or will they end up fighting off Finland for the bronze?

[url=]First games:
Feb. 13: Sweden vs. Switzerland at 4 p.m. and Canada vs. Slovakia at 9 p.m.
Feb. 14: U.S. vs. China at 4 p.m. and Finland vs. Russia at 8.30 p.m.

Backyard rinks

by barbaragarn

I bet the weather has been a challenge for anyone struggling to maintain a backyard rink this year. If it wasn’t a thaw, we had several inches of wet, clumpy snow that froze into a bumpy mess.

I have always wondered about a backyard rink. While it seems like it would be fun, I wonder if it would actually get used enough to be worth the trouble. And, not that I care about “lawn,” but doesn’t it leave the grass all smushed down and create a giant torn-up mudhole? Which I suppose could be fun in its own regard.

Do you have a backyard rink? How much hassle was it to put in? How often do you (or your kids) use it? Is it worth it?

While temps for the next week are solidly in the 20s, we’re getting close to the end of weather cold enough to keep a backyard rink viable. WITHOUT starting a discussion of human-prompted climate change (all screeds will be edited or deleted), do you think the season has grown shorter for outdoor ice, or stayed about the same?

PLEASE post pics! We all want to see your backyard rink! Stories are great too–did you stage a neighborhood game? Do the kids all come over on Sunday for hockey and brunch? Share your vignettes.

Stick flex

by barbaragarn

I’ve been around adult players, mostly on the new-ish end, for a while now and I’m pretty sure most people are using a stick that’s too stiff for them.

Rob Little told me once that most adult rec players should use 100 flex at the very stiffest. Since the men have more upper body strength, and I do not, I opted for a 65 flex on my [url=]Black Beauty “Warlock” (yes I know it sounds like Harry Potter or D&D, but it’s a nice stick with a great low [url=]lie).

Amusingly, the product information states, “Any player between the ages of 11 and 14 who wants to realize the full potential of their game…” (Sadly, I am 12 in Hockey Years.)

I’m not short, but this “intermediate” stick has been a very good option for me. I didn’t need to cut it at all, and as a result it’s very whippy.

I hadn’t realized this but of course it makes sense: cutting down a stick INCREASES its flex rating. If you buy an adult stick and then hack six inches off it, you’re making it even stiffer than before. The shorter the stick, the harder it is to bend (think about breaking a new pencil versus a little stubby one, which is more difficult?). So buying one where you DON’T have to cut is a very good option.

I’ve really liked my 65 flex, I can bend it easily and still have control. I was really surprised at the difference this stick made. I won’t ever go back to cutting down stiff adult sticks.

What do you use? Do you like it or not, and why?