Not the fastest. Just the best.

This story really starts back in September at our hockey association's "rep" tryouts.  Despite Garrett being invited to play rep (Garrett has been rated as the #1 player in his class 4 years running), we decided rec would be a better experience for him.  There were a few reasons for that, one of them was the observation that better hockey players were passed over in lieu of, well, not better hockey players.  It gave us the confidence that Garrett would be playing with solid players and against solid competition at rec (other local associations don't water down their rep teams like Sno-King does, leaving lots of good players at the rec level).

That theory was put to the test this past weekend when we put together a team of 9 rec players and 5 rep players (5 players that we knew were coachable and team players) to play in the area's premier 10U tournament: the Seattle Jr Squirt 'A' tournament.  It attracts 'A' teams from as far north as Kamloops and as far south as Portland.  Over half the teams were from Canada.  So yes, we had a roster that included 6 players who were told they weren't good enough to play rep, going up against the best rep teams from BC, Washington, and Oregon.  On top of that, we assembled our team just two weeks ago, and going into game 1, some of the players never met each other.

Fortunately, our head coach is great (yes, even better than me, if you can believe that).  He put together a simple plan, we put structure in place, we held the kids to high standards.  Almost like   he subscribes to my coaching blog :)  The rec players had two tune up games against other rep teams in the area, and they won both of those games.  So going into the tournament we felt like we would have a good showing, although we would be surprised if we won more than our first game.

And for that first game, we had the privilege of playing the best of Sno-King's 10U rep teams.  Definitely a test of my "the wrong players are playing rep" theory.  We came out of the gate strong, opening a 3-0 lead in the first period, and having a 5-2 lead midway through the third, before closing out a 6-4 victory.

At great of a victory that was, our toughest competition was still to come.  The two other teams in our pool were from Canada - Squamish and Kamloops.  We played Squamish next, and we battled back and forth all game.  We even had to defend shorthanded by two (5-on-3) for a full two minutes.  Garrett was selected with our superstar (we were lucky enough to land the top player in Sno-King, who scored 55 goals this season) and another rep player to defend.  The three, despite not playing together before, did an amazing job killing the two minute penalty, and when our two players jumped out of the box, they grabbed the puck and scored.  Squamish was a terrific team, but we played our hearts out, and with two minutes to go we held a 6-5 lead.  They pull their goalie, and in trying to ice the puck from our own zone, we score. Twice.  Unbelievable.

Kamloops was next, and it was a tough game for a while (at one point tied 2-2), until we pulled away with a 9-3 victory.

Wow, we showed up hoping to be competitive, and the next we know we are 3-0 and heading to the semi-finals.  Unbelievable.

Sunday morning we drew Portland as our opponent.  It's the semis, so we know they are a great team.  We gave up an early goal, got it back with a short handed goal, and battled our way to build a 4-1 lead halfway through the third.  Then the wheels fell off the bus.  Portland battled their way back to tie the game up with two minutes to go.  We head to OT, and with 3:20 left we get called for a penalty.  Playing 4-on-3, with Garrett out there to kill the penalty, Portland looks sure to get a game winning goal on a rebound.  But Garrett dives and puts his hand on the puck to keep it out of the net.  Good to save a goal, but that's also a penalty shot.

Rewind a little, with about 2 minutes to go, our head coach turns to me on the bench and says "we do not want this to go to a shootout."  His son was our goalie, and he played rec all year.  Not a lot of confidence from either of us of him going 1:1 against rep players.

So the penalty shot comes... and Quin makes the save!  That energized the team, and put the wheels back on the bus.  We are still on the penalty kill, with our superstar on the ice.  He starts to make an aggressive play on the puck in our own zone, our coach starts yelling "DON'T CHASE!  DON'T CHASE!"  Well he chases anyway, makes the steal, takes it coast to coast and wins the game in OT.  Unbelievable.

So now we are in the finals.  Playing against Squamish again.  This time they take the lead, and we are locked in a defensive battle 1-1 with about 6 minutes to go.  They start slashing and checking our superstar (across multiple shifts) and the refs don't call any penalties.  Our superstar gets pissed of, and scores 4 goals in the next 4 minutes.  And we had another goal in that stretch to win 6-1.  Unbelievable.

It was a great experience for me and Garrett.  It really shows what good preparation (remember, the rest of the teams had an entire season to prepare), good players, and hard work on the ice can get you.    As a comparison, that other Sno-King team, coached by strong coaches, went 0-4 against the same competition.

I'm so proud of the players, of Garrett, and of our coaches to accomplish what we did.  The parents loved it too.  "Why couldn't THIS be our team all year?" was the most common comment I heard afterward.  Even the rep players paid to keep their Gold jerseys, a testament to the value they played on the team and the experience.

I have to say, I was really proud of Garrett (the kid in the white helmet below).  He has a history of stepping it up against better competition, and he was an absolute beast on defense, especially the penalty kill.  Just amazing what he can do on the ice and how quick his feet and hand were.

Several parents asked if we could put together the same team for some spring tournaments in Canada.  We'll see... :)

Our players weren't the fastest.  Just the best.  Congrats Sno-King Gold!

Pandemonium after the final buzzer

"Don't hurt the goalie!"

A very proud and happy team poses with their team trophy

Awwww yeah... Squirt A Champions!
How proud were the players?  Garrett and Tyler wore their jerseys and medals Monday to school!


Please RT: There is no right way to do a wrong thing #LetGarrettPlay

I figure if Alex from Target can trend, then I am giving this a try. #LetGarrettPlay

The story: Garrett is a 9 year old that plays organized youth hockey. In last weekend's game he was called for intending to injure someone, ejected from the game, and suspended another game.

The video evidence clearly refutes this. At 51:00 of this video you’ll see that another player initiated the contact and in fact Garrett (in green) was trying to avoid contact. We have attempted to appeal this ruling and have the suspension lifted. We have even escalated to USA Hockey. Those in a position of authority agree it was a bad call (“egregious” is what someone called it). At the same time all have said the same thing: “we can’t do anything to reverse the suspension. Sorry.”

So we are left in a dumbfounding situation where a 9 year old is being disciplined when he did nothing wrong. At some point those in charge have forgotten that youth sports is about the kids and having fun, instead of rules and red tape.

Thanks for reading, and much appreciated if you tweet this if you agree that USA Hockey should #LetGarrettPlay After all, there is no right way to do a wrong thing.


Changes, they are a comin'

I'll start with my prediction I made a year ago: in 10 years youth tackle football won't exist at pre-high school ages. As a coach in two sports (hockey and football) that are high risk of concussions, I've been in the trenches with parents, coaches, and leagues with increasing concern about putting kids in harm's way and risking long-term impact of head injuries. It's been noted that Pee Wee football registration has dropped due to concerns of concussions. I'm in this group. A few years back it was expected my youngest and his peers would start Pee Wee football in second grade. Instead (my son is in third grade) they are still playing flag football, and we have no plans to put him in tackle. Apparently others feel the same, as participation in flag football is up about 33% across the east side (Seattle east suburbs) this spring.

And the NFL is not done with its lawsuits. From a business perspective, the NFL can view concussion settlements as a cost of doing business and they can still be profitable. But can the NCAA? Sure the major schools can afford it, but what about the dozens of schools that already lose money on football and college athletics? So hard choices will be made in the college ranks.

Will high schools be able to afford the insurance down the road? I don't know. I don't know the economics of high school sports (other than Bellevue High School pays their HS coach upwards of $160k/yr - wow). But, I can't see how it will be possible under the high school level for any organization to be solvent. So many kids. So much recklessness. We have head-to-head collisions and concussions in flag football and hockey, and that's with kids trying to avoid contact. Insurance is so high in youth hockey that it severely limits organizing hockey games outside of an organization that has anything short of 16 hours of coach training a year.

Think I'm crazy about the sport disappearing? It's already starting. In Texas of all places.


Three years of cord cut

It's been three years since we ditched our DirecTV in favor of streamed content via Netflix and Hulu Plus. In fact it's been so long that DirecTV stopped mailing us their weekly "please, please, please come back!" brochures. I don't miss a thing. Really. Football? NFL Rewind, which due to time constraints I like better than watching on Sunday. NHL? That's what NHL Gamecenter LIVE is for. Or hockeystreams.com. College Football? ESPN on Xbox One. TV Shows? Hulu Plus. Crappy Movies? Netflix. Good movies? Buy them off Amazon Instant Video. News? Really? Does anyone take the news seriously anymore?


Another career change

Jeez, no blog posts in two and a half years? Maybe I should thank twitter :) In one of my many "my wife told me so's," I left Amazon last week to pursue an opportunity at Seattle's hottest IPO, zulily. I'm really excited to get in at the ground floor of a company that already has a proven formula. Suffice it to say I learned a big life lesson (be careful taking a job for just the money) in going back to Amazon. I'm putting that behind me and looking forward to building a team that will deliver personalized experiences for zulily's website and mobile apps. I start next Monday - woot!


Heading back to Amazon

After talking with a team at Amazon for the past several months, I finally make the move tomorrow back to Amazon to take on a new challenge. I'm excited. While Microsoft was good to me in many ways - including working a dream gig in the Xbox org - I realized I missed Amazon's high expectations of its employees, its relentless focus on the customer, and it's data-driven approach to making decisions. While I worked hard to instill such values at Microsoft, my successes were few and far between. I'm excited to be heading back. I left three and a half years ago due to work/life balance, my biggest challenge will be ensuring I can have a life outside of work and still be successful at Amazon. Even a bigger challenge given our kids schedule is 10x more busy now than it was then. Wishing myself luck, I think I'm going to need it.


I heart my Roku

I have seen the future of TV.

Last year as ESPN was launched on Xbox and Hulu picked up more and more shows, I did some research to figure out how to stream content to my tv. What started as looking at software packages to route content through my laptop and to the tv, ended up in me finding a Roku HD Streaming Player and ordering one for $60. It's a small device that connects to your home network via wifi, has HDMI output, and provides a UX to browse online "apps" or "channels" to watch content. Channels include Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Video on Demand. You can also subscribe to channels such as NHL, MLB, and UFC (and if you're paying a subscription you'll actually get to view the content :) ).

Another perk is that Roku supports a plethora of media and photo sharing sites. So I can stream Pandora through my TV, and it also has a SmugMug plugin so I can view my photos and videos straight from my SmugMug account. It also has support for Picaso, Facebook photos, Flickr, and other photo sites.

Six months ago Amy and I decided to dump Directv (and the $1000+ we flush to them every year) and use Roku exclusively. Haven't regretted it once. It's enabled us to discover shows we wouldn't have found otherwise, and we've used the savings to fund NHL and UFC content. We were able to watch March Madness and the NHL playoffs. For sports on ESPN, we switch over to the Xbox. Admittedly, I will be SOL come NFL season since NFL Sunday Ticket isn't an option.

A few friends have made the switch as well with the same results: no regrets.

Why do I think this is the future?

  1. No more "record show" mentality. All content is on demand.
  2. Because of that, trying out new content is easy. All shows are at your fingertips.
  3. High quality. I had assumed that quality would suffer streaming. In fact, Amy can watch Roku and I can game online over Xbox Live and neither one of us can tell that the other is online.
  4. Innovation. One cool thing about Roku is that the number of channels are limitless. And there's plenty of independent content providers and developers building apps and content.

The downside is finding content across apps. I watch to watch Harry Potter. Is that in Netflix? Amazon VOD? Another video service? Don't know until you search in each one. Awaiting the aggregator to come up with cross-app search. You know, like Google, eBay, and Amazon did in their respective spaces.

Beyond Roku, we're Hulu Plus subscribers. Love watching TV on my Roku, iPhone, iPad, or Xbox. And it being smart enough to know if I start watching something on my iPhone and I stop, it will pick it up on the next device I fire up HuluPlus on.