By PATRICK STROHECKER
Too often in sports, we tend to only look at the outcome of games, rather than the big picture of teaching athletes how to become better.
We leave those teaching moments to youth coaches to instill into the minds of children just starting out on the playing fields or taking their first steps on a court or a rink.
Once kids get to high school, those teaching moments still remain part of the picture, but they sometimes take a back seat to winning and losing. Sure, there can be lessons taken from each and every game or match, but all that really matters in the end is whether you won or lost. By the time that kids enter their teen years, typically playoffs enter into the equation in most leagues, and they become the main goal of teams striving to win it all.
However, the playoffs are not for every team. They usually learn that the hard way by going through rough patches that can impact a team’s morale as the losses continue to mount.
That was the case with the Central York ice hockey team during the first four games of this season.
After the Panthers’ lone goalie opted to play junior hockey instead of high school hockey, the team was left without a goalie on the roster, and it showed in the team’s first four games. In those four games, Central York was outscored 39-11. Needless to say, its record reflected the poor defensive showing at 0-4.
The Panthers cycled through three different goalies — none of whom ever played the position — in those four losses. With each loss, the frustration grew for the players on the team, while their confidence plummeted at an equal rate.
“We weren’t very optimistic as players,” Central York coach Rick Lefever said. “We weren’t energetic and we were pretty much in the dumps.”
At the high school level, coaches will do anything within reason to better their teams. That’s what Lefever did, bringing in Adam Kimball, a ninth-grader from Elizabethtown who also plays for the York Devils Bantam-AA team, to backstop his team and give it a chance to win games. Since his arrival, Central is 2-2-1.
But Lefever did it at the expense of the Panthers being eligible for the playoffs.
See, in the Central Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League, better known as the CPIHL, there are three different levels of competition — Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3. In Tier 1 and Tier 2, all teams have to be pure, meaning that only players from a respective school can play for a specific team, or else they risk being disqualified from playoff contention, or having to move down to Tier 3, the one division where combined teams participate when schools can’t field a full, pure team.
“The kids quickly realized, look we’ll play out the season and it doesn’t really matter if we make the playoffs because the way we’re going we’re not going to make the playoffs anyway, or if we do, then we’ll be bowing out early,” Lefever said.
It hasn’t always been this cutthroat for teams in the CPIHL that didn’t have a goalie. In the early years of the league, when goalies were hard to come by for teams, the CPIHL had a goalie pool, where goalies who played on their normal school teams could put their names on a list as alternative options for other team that didn’t have a regular goalie. That way, teams could field competitive teams, but not sacrifice a playoff berth because it was no longer pure.
Central York has been a Tier 1 team for nearly a decade, never struggling to field a pure, competitive team, and routinely making the postseason. While it has the skaters to compete at the Tier 1 level this year, next year Central could become the latest team impacted by the lack of younger players getting involved with school hockey. A large senior class will move on after this season for Central.
The Panthers won’t be the first or last team to search for players or goalies to make up a pure team because it’s something that has become a common theme within the league, one that Lefever believes needs to be addressed.
“If you look at the scores this year, there’s a lot of lopsided games,” he said. “Something needs to be done to take away that persona in the league. Whether it’s combining schools or setting a combination of schools, or whatever it needs to be … Because it’s embarrassing.”
Sure, there’s a pride aspect that goes along with being a team made up of only players from your own school, but it can come at a price. And that price is being humiliated to the tune of getting 10-goaled on a regular basis.
So, if there’s one thing that you can take away from this CPIHL season, take a look at what Lefever and Central York did. His team knew being eligible to compete for the Viola Cup, the Tier 1 championship, wasn’t realistic and certainly not worth being humiliated on a nightly basis.
Instead, it focused on establishing a new sense of pride when it takes the ice by becoming a team that is competitive and winning some games along the way.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com.