Moncton Times and Transcript
By: Brent Mazerolle
|Front row, left to right: Olivia Hebb, Thomas Lipton, Matthew Lecocq, Devan Fayle, Kaitlyn Landry, Pia Massaro, Mia Cameron. Middle row: Dawson MacDonald, Jayden MacFadyen, Denika Diotte, Aiken Bloedow, Brianna Babineau, Alyssa Rawline, Isaac Kielly. Back row: Head coach Steve Cameron, asst. coach Glenn MacFadyen, asst. coach Jeremy Babineau, manager Derrick Hebb, asst. coach Neil Kielly. Photo by Sam Cormier.
Can a warm, supportive team focused on gender equality and fair play make it in hockey?
You could say the Riverview Icewolves played like a bunch of little girls this year, and you wouldn't be wrong, since the majority of the atom team's players were, in fact, nine and 10-year-old girls.
You could also say the Riverview Icewolves played like a bunch of little boys this year, because, in fact, a significant minority on the team were little boys.
But if you really wanted to get it right, you'd say the Icewolves neither played like a bunch of little girls or boys.
They played like a team.
In fact, the team's name comes from the kids, one of whom learned in school that wolves have both an alpha male and an alpha female, an image of gender equality they kind of liked.
And the story of this one little team in one little town in one little corner of one little province transcends sport.
Or perhaps more correctly, it validates sport at a time when sport, and especially minor hockey, could really use the boost.
Most will tell you the atmosphere in arenas has actually improved over the years, thanks to public awareness campaigns and efforts from within. However, it only takes one 13-year-old referee having to call for police protection from a rowdy parent in Saint John or one coach in British Columbia tripping a kid and breaking his wrist during the end-of-game friendly handshake of all things, and it feels like all the work hockey organizations have done has been for naught.
There are times when a concerned parent or a thoughtful coach might even be tempted to give up on hockey.
The problem is, you can't give up on kids. You give up on them if you walk away from the sport, but you also give up on them when you don't stand up and challenge the things that are wrong with the nation's great game and embrace the things that are right.
The den mothers and fathers of the cubs in the Icewolves' pack seem to agree coach Steve Cameron, whose daughter Mia was an Icewolf, was one of those volunteers who consistently stood up for their kids' right to have hockey be fun.
And the way to make it fun, and to be successful too, is to teach the kids to be a real team, not just the grouping of players of varying abilities that every minor hockey team is in October.
'Steve deserves the credit for teaching that,' said Andrew Diotte, whose daughter Denika was on the team.
If good coaches steal good ideas from other coaches, this article steals its core idea from coach Steve.
'The lesson … was this is a hockey team. You aren't boys and girls. You're hockey players,' he said this week.
Coach Steve, who had a whole stable of other dads helping behind the bench, rejected the talk that he deserves the bulk of the credit for the year they had.
He also rejected the idea it was just the dads behind the bench.
'It takes a whole village to raise a child,' he said, citing the Ethiopian proverb and saying everyone - players, coaches and parents - must work together to make a team work.
The support was there throughout the rink. As hockey mom Alesha Fayle recalled, 'the parents were cheering more for the good plays than the scores.' At the start of the year, there was a conscious experiment to make the team all girls, even amid a lot of concern they would be 'too weak' to compete with the boys.
In the end the Icewolves had eight girls and six boys donning jerseys. It was not because the girls needed a few male ringers to get them on the scoreboard. It was that the hockey daughter demographic in atom house league was just too small.
Hockey dad Marc LeCocq was man enough to admit this week he was initially one of the naysayers.
'I didn't like the idea at first. I wasn't too sure how this would work out,' he said.
Mostly, he wondered how his son Matthew would react to being in the minority and how he would react if the season went sour.
His son, however, wasn't concerned at all, and that made a difference.
Of course, if Marc had thought to ask Devan Fayle, the girl who eventually became the Icewolves' stellar goalie, she would have set him straight.
'I think girls are just as good as boys,' she said yesterday, adding, 'I really want to play all my life.' Devan was better than many boys this year.
During the Sidney Crosby shootout competition, sponsored by you-know-who in his hometown of Cole Harbour each year, Devan was one of 16 goalies. She was the only girl and she won the whole shooting match, stopping 44 of 48 shots.
While she took home top goalie honours, her teammate Thomas Lipton scored the most goals and won the whole thing for offensive players, setting the new record in the event.
'I have this move that I use every single time,' he explained yesterday.
Only once did he fail to score, and that one hit the post.
Whether or not Thomas is a young star in the making, what he said of his year this week was 'it was more about teamwork than winning.' The Crosby competition was a good example.
An event completely separate from the tournament the Icewolves were playing, Thomas and Devan nevertheless had their whole team and all the parents in the rink to support them, even as the many lovely distractions of the Halifax Regional Municipality beckoned outside the arena doors.
Steve said the ultimate measure of the team was obvious when a little girl on the Icewolves came up to him after Devan and Thomas's amazing individual achievements and said, 'I can't believe WE won the shootout!' In the end the team people feared would be weak had a record of 38 wins, six losses and two ties. They won two tournaments, lost in the final of another and to top it off won the A division of the Southeast Hockey League.
'Our goal was to teach the life lessons, but the fallout is we ended up winning,' Steve said.
The way the season played out, their last game of the year didn't count.
It was a game against a Dieppe team, and if you haven't been to a rink in a while, there has occasionally been a bit of bad blood between Acadia's largest city and Albert County's biggest town.
With the referee's approval, the two coaches played a shortened official game, and then swapped players around for another game where each team was half Riverview, half Dieppe. Who won that game? Hockey.
Summing up the whole year, Andrew Diotte said, 'I don't think the kids even realize yet how great a team they were.' Years from now, even when the kids on the team are adults and have become hockey parents themselves, maybe especially when they become hockey parents, they are going to, as coach Steve hopes, 'remember the Icewolves.'