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Recognizing Unsung Hockey Heroes

By Paul Antonenko, 02/03/21, 12:45PM CST


Why do we need to practice so late (or early)!  Why can’t we have more solo ice sheets?  Why do the boys’ teams always get better ice?  Why can’t they just lay the entire season out all at once so we can plan our vacations!?  What do you mean our game schedule is not done yet?  It can’t be that hard, can it?

Sounds familiar, right? The fact is, this is a universal topic of conversation whether we like it or not. 

Ultimately, nobody is really looking for answers when these questions are asked; they are simply a frustration or complaint that comes out as a question around a process that we think should be simple but is simply not.  They are the result of a lack of understanding of what needs to be done by those selfless souls who keep us organized with ice.  So, let me help with some perspective…

When you think about scheduling from the perspective it seems like it should be so easy, but the core of the problem starts with this: There’s only so much “good ice”, especially during the week. If a practice or game starts at 5:30 pm or earlier on a weeknight, many parents have to leave work to get their kids to the rink. If you start at 9:00 pm or later, players aren’t getting off the ice until 10:00 pm, which may mean a bed time of 11:00 pm or later.

That leaves about 2-3 hours of “good ice” on each week night, or about 10-15 hours per week. If the association has two sheets at their rink, they get as many as 20-30 good hours. Many mid-sized associations have 15-25 travel teams, which means in the absolute best-case scenario your team may get two decent practice times a week if every hour is shared between two teams.

Then you start adding in the various wrinkles during a season caused by coordinating those ice times with other associations for games, practice-to-game ratios, adding high school game blocks, home and away tournaments, different rinks, districts, regions, etc. Utilizing weekend ice helps, but it’s not always available and the combinations and permutations of the challenge gets enormous in a hurry (yeah, you might have to look up combinations and permutations again… I did.). Here are a few more variables schedulers face each year:

  • Not having your Mite/8U or Squirt/10U teams practicing at 9:30 on a Tuesday night
  • Managing the number of practices/games for each team within a week, month and season
  • Having enough solo sheets to make your older teams feel like they can work on some full-ice concepts and systems (occasionally, even though there STILL needs to be WAY more focus on skills, particularly through the bantam levels, but that’s another topic for another article.).
  • Factor in the multiple arenas and locations many associations use and trying to balance out travel for practices.
  • Then you have resource limitations, budget constraints, and length of the season to consider. 
  • Oh, and let us throw in a global pandemic too just for kicks and see how rescheduling half the season multiple times works out!

Honestly, the questions that should be asked are: Who is the silent servant who is managing this jigsaw puzzle while working a full-time job and running their own kids to and from the rinks and how I can appreciate him/her/them? 

How thankful are we that we have people who care enough about the hockey community to spend hours and hours working on scheduling and re-scheduling, and then re-scheduling the re-scheduled practices, games, and skill sessions?

Do you know who your ice scheduler is? It is a person. Really. It’s not a ‘they’, ‘them’, or ‘it’. Is their name Fred, or Beth, or Erika, or Kara, or Todd? It is more difficult to cuss about, argue with, and maybe even get angry with someone for whom you have not connected a face with a name. I have seen the firsthand work, stress, and concern that our ice schedulers face every year, knowing that they cannot do it perfectly for every team, coach, or family.

As we move forward into 2021, and into what I hope will end up being a normalized year for this great game, please take a minute to recognize, thank, and maybe even praise those selfless individuals who are doing the thankless job of getting our kids on the ice at the right time, at the right rink, and for the right reason… which, after all, is to have fun.


Paul Antonenko is a USA Hockey Level 4 Coach, USA Hockey Level 1 Official, former Hockey Development Director for Armstrong/Cooper Youth Hockey, former Coaches Board Chair for Orono Youth Hockey, and has coached teams of all ages and skill levels since 1993, from Mites through high school: boys and girls.

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