By Randy Uens
Christmas time is always a time for reflection for me. A time to recharge and think about “what’s next” or “what is important to me. 2020 was a tumultuous year for me, as it was for almost everyone I know. It started out bad and only got worse in a lot of ways. Like everything in life you have to take away the positives. Be resilient and be better for the experiences.
I lost my mom at the beginning of the year and it ended with losing my first lacrosse coach Lou Burley. I walked away from a business relationship that wasn’t working, and like everyone, dealt with a global pandemic that ripped away lives, livelihoods and demeanours. 2020 sucked.
Just before Christmas I got on a Zoom call for a few virtual giggles with non-virtual beverages with some old and dear friends. We have known each other since we were 6 years old. It all started with lacrosse and hockey and has carried on ever since. Reminiscing and catching up brought us to the topic of Coach Lou. And it really made me remember the significant impact that coaches have on you over your life. Both positive and negative experiences make you what you are and how you react to difficult times in your life.
Lou was a funny guy… intense but nonetheless funny. He used to taunt us at 8 years old about the “Belleville Two step”. It was his way of letting us know that we weren’t engaging in the battle. We were dancing around looking pretty but not taking the ball to the “dirty areas” when the game was on the line. His positive demeanour as a coach and that message has stuck with me forever. Lou, his wife Rita and their son Doug, daughters Kim and Kelly moved from Belleville around 1976. We stayed in touch over the years and I even billeted at their house in Guelph for a few months. Condolences to the family.
The passing of Lou made myself and my Zoom call buddies reflect on all of the great coaches we had, and even the not so great ones. So many great coaches that instilled knowledge and confidence while teaching us many skills, not only in the rink but also in life.
Lionel Botley, former Belleville McFarland, like so many of the former Macs, coached us as well as many other teams in Belleville. Many of those former Macs have left a tremendous legacy within the hockey community. Lionel’s calm demeanour and old school horse sense always kept our bench calm even in the most dire of circumstances when we were getting pummeled by Peterborough. The message was always never give up, take your licks with class, and be better the next time you play them. And we were.
In midget minor a new group came in and took over our age group. Not much hockey experience but had convinced the BMHA that change was needed in this age group. Belleville had dropped down from AAA to AA that year. Not the right thing for development but the change in our team was just a reflection of this “movement” inside Belleville minor hockey. The two twins and myself were told we were too small to compete in midget hockey and promptly cut and sent to the midget “B” team. Our spots were filled with various characters but the theme was clear. Size before skill.
The “B” team coach was a guy named Gary Miller. Not a huge hockey background. Best known for his involvement in softball and baseball around town. The B team was made up of all midget major players and the three little minors, me and the twins. Season started a little rocky. Lost a few games, lost a few players, all of whom were called up to the major midget team.
The 80’s and 90’s was all about size. If you weren’t 6’0 by the time you were 15, you probably weren’t on anyone’s radar for the next level. The B team was indicative of that sentiment.
We were the throwaways. All too small by the definition of the hockey establishment. I don’t remember any mind-blowing strategies that coach Gary developed or any particular on-ice skill he enhanced, as Gary wasn’t much of a skater. But what he did do was instill a confidence in us that we could do whatever we put our minds to. He pumped each and every one of our tires all the way to the provincial championship.
He still is considered one of my favourite coaches I ever had because of all that positive vibe. Saying that, I also owe a thank you to the guys that cut me. There were a lot of “no’s” for a couple of years. Every year I heard I was very skilled but still considered too small. I had a medical condition that slowed my physical maturity. Opportunities seemed to fade but my belief in my skills instilled by Coach Miller and others kept me going. The “no’s” just made me more determined to prove them wrong.
Often it wasn’t anything more than someone showing confidence in you and saying “you can do this” gave me the fortitude to keep moving forward and not giving up. Various junior coaches in hockey and lacrosse all had positive influences. It was just one comment from legendary coach Dave King that gave me the opportunity to play in Europe. Without it, I would never have had the confidence to do it.
Dave King probably doesn’t even remember me as I was just a filler in his practices; but his positive comment made all the difference. You take a piece of every coach with you.
Floyd Crawford ‘s legacy is intertwined with almost the entire Belleville hockey community either through his own coaching or via that of his passionate hockey family. Those legacies are what’s important.
I look at the level of coaching the kids receive now. It truly is tremendous the talent available. When we were kids midget major was the CHL draft year, and yet the guy chosen to lead us that year, … yes who cut me half way through the season after an injury, was previously not a hockey player but a wrestler in the WWE. True story. Not great for hockey development but still makes for great laughs on Christmas Zoom calls.
All of these coaches, good and bad provided life lessons. Like these trying times we are in, we need to take the positives from them. This may be one of the best years for skill development for all of our young hockey players. Working on skills as opposed to games, as difficult as it may seem now, may pay benefits in the long term. And no matter what sport or what life path our kids take forward, living through this time will make them stronger for it, or at the very least provide a few giggles for the Christmas Zoom calls.
Thanks coaches everywhere, for all that you do. Coaches in every sport have had to adapt and react to the difficult situations the pandemic has created for the players, teams and families. Keep up the great work.
TIP OF THE WEEK!
Hearing rumours of an outdoor rink being built by the city of Belleville, near the new YMCA. Tip of the week goes out to the mayor and the city council. Build it in front of the Quinte Exhibition Raceway grandstand so that we can use it for outdoor games for youth hockey and even promotional games for Dukes/Golden Hawks and Baby SENS.