Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Guest TigerBlog - "Hey Coach"

If you saw the documentary "When The Game Ends," then you were moved by the story of Chuck Dibilio, who suffered a stroke that ended a seemingly limitless football career but who has come back to Princeton and will now earn his degree this year.

The movie was the work of John Bullis, whose day job (and night job and weekend job) is creating video and assisting in the videostreaming efforts here in the Department of Athletics. 

Bullis earned a degree in film making from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he also played on the hockey team. In addition to his work here, John has stayed close to the ice, including playing lunchtime hockey at Baker Rink. And, this past winter, coaching the club hockey team to the league championship, with an overtime win over the College of New Jersey in the final.

TigerBlog offered John the floor for a guest blog, in which he talks about his role with the team, his experience as a head coach and the emotion of winning it all.

Today's guest TigerBlog, from John Bullis:

On a recent Sunday morning, second-seeded Princeton and crosstown rival first-seeded TCNJ, faced off with the CSCHC championship on the line. It was our third matchup of the season between them, having split the previous two.

And those loyal Princeton parents, a few alumni, Debbie and Nick Macy who were in attendance were in for a wild ride. Before that, though, I want to take a second to establish who Debbie and Nick Macy are to the program.

Steve Macy, Princeton’s previous club hockey coach, passed away in May 2014, succumbing to cancer. Debbie, his wife, and Nick, his son, supported Steve as the head coach of the club team for 15 years. Steve was with the program since its inception, driving up from Philly for late night practices and games - all strictly on a volunteering basis.

Before I explain the feelings and emotions obtained from my first year as head coach of Princeton’s club hockey team and winning the first league championship since 2005, I should establish some background on our program.

“We have who we need” is the quote around here. While some of the other teams in our league pay substantially hefty fees to play, we are blessed with having Baker Rink as our home on campus and have insanely low fees. To put into perspective, other teams in our league hold try-outs during preseason where 40-65 players may attend and the coaches make cuts. These teams carry travel players and have healthy scratches taking game notes while they watch. Through talking with some other head coaches in the league, I learned that those kids may have paid up to $2,500 per year to play or take notes, however you see it. Yes, they have cool team track suits, nice jerseys, team managers,  but fear not. Princeton club hockey “has who we need,” and we pay 1/10th of what they do.

Our team is comprised of a core group of players who are dedicated to one another. Our practice schedule mixed in with the varsity teams, intramurals and other club sports only allows us to practice twice a week, at 9:30 at night. Numbers for those practices consists of those core 10-12 players. However, in recent we have averaged 1 practice a week with an average of 6-8 players. I get phone calls or texts, one hour before practice saying, “Hey coach, this project is killing me and I need to finish it,” or “I’m so behind on work, I’d really appreciate if I could skip practice.”

I understand the student-athlete lifestyle, but nothing in the realm of how they deal with the rigors of Princeton. I respond with “Take care of what you have to do and try to go to Stephens for a jog or bike ride, see you next practice.” Not because I don’t want to deal with what they do, but because I feel its necessary in keeping the atmosphere balanced between winning and fun. I’ve discovered that is not an easy task to do in life, let alone as a coach.

I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far, but with credit to how awesome my players are. It is not a thankless position, because they are vocal towards my assistant coach, Colin McCollough and me.

Comments like, “thanks for just being here” or “thanks for being so understanding” don’t go unheard. Besides all the mushy stuff you get from coaching, I’m teaching them higher level systems that allowed us to put together a 10-3-1 record in regular season play with two and half forward lines and sometimes three defensemen.

Back to the championship game, where we had just over three forward lines and five defensemen, it was not all easy sailing through this one. TCNJ would score, then we would score. The entire game was a ping-pong match going back in forth in the favor of TCNJ. As the clock wound down to five minutes in the third period, freshman Drew Bennett took off on a fast break. He dished a pass to Kelly on the back door, who willed it past the netminder, cancelling a one-goal deficit for the fourth time in the game. Regulation came to an end, sending the game into a sudden death overtime period. In between ice cuts, I told them “They literally just handed us the game on a silver platter and we capitalized on their mistake, now it’s our time to finish it. That goal is what we needed. They’re broken and we're not because we have more heart, passion and want than they do. This is it, lets go finish it and bring home the cup”.

That’s exactly what we did.

We were given the chance we needed and we translated that into stealing the trophy right out of their hands. TCNJ applied heavy pressure, matched their top players, but junior Graham Turk smothered rebounds and made enormous saves. Then, six minutes in, Bennett picked up a pass breaking along the wing. He carried the puck wide into the zone. After getting denied on the initial shot attempt, he got his stick on the puck to jam it over the goal line, emptying the Tigers’ bench as the team piled on Bennett in celebration. As I looked into the stands to see our fans and parents cheering, I saw Debbie and Nick Macy. I walked over to the glass and demanded they come down to be in our team celebration photos. Had it not been for their love of the game and their support of our late great coach Steve Macy, we wouldn’t have been able to share that championship experience together. Senior club president and captain Matt Kelly accepted the championship trophy and the league sportsmanship award (given to the team with the fewest penalty minutes). Drew Bennett was awarded the playoff MVP honor, having tallied 4 goals and 2 assists in two games.

For my last closing thoughts I say, words cannot explain how happy I am for the players on my team. I’m happy to be looked up to, to be trusted in my knowledge of the game and happy that I have have all the players buy into the system. However, nothing can compare to being seen by players on campus and hearing two words “Hey coach!”

Not sure if I’ll ever get to used to it, but it does have a nice ring to it.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice post, Coach! We had a great season and you deserve a tremendous amount of credit for imparting your hockey prowess to a great team of scholar athletes. Looking forward to next year! Coach Colin