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There is No Game You Have to Win

By Dan Bauer, Contributor, 11/06/23, 9:00AM CST


Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in Lockroom Logic are solely those of Dan Bauer and do not reflect the opinions of Wisconsin Prep Hockey or its partners. Dan presents his opinions based upon his lifetime of teaching and coaching experience and we present them unedited.

“It was like getting called into the principal’s office and you’re not sure what it’s about until they hit play,” said Dallas Stars coach Pete DeBoer.  It was that often cringe-worthy, eye-opening moment, when we get to see what others see.  

It was all thirty-two NHL head coaches, eyes glued to a big screen, not dissecting the newest penalty-kill system, but holding their breath, hoping the next video clip wouldn’t be a humiliating tirade of them on the bench during a game.  The video montage was delivered by Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s senior vice president and director of officiating.  And along with it the not-so-subtle message from commissioner Gary Bettman, “Sometimes it gets heated, but let’s tone it down”.

The long overdue message is one that desperately needs to trickle down to all levels of hockey.  It needs to encompass not just coaches, but fans, parents and players.  With the staggering attrition rate of officials now creeping into coaching, it is time for everyone involved to take a hard honest look at their behaviors during games.  

Time to steal a page from Progressive Insurance and throw that challenge flag.   

LA Kings head coach Todd McLellan suggests coaches, “Have your video guy film you during a period — just film you.”  Maybe that is a job we could assign parents to keep the camera off their own kid.  Lightning coach Jon Cooper turned the camera on himself, “It was crazy. You look at your body language and things you’re doing on the bench, like, ‘Oh my gosh. I don’t want that to be seen,'” Cooper said.

Even in minor hockey today there is a high percentage chance that any such lunacy will be captured by someone’s phone.  However, more importantly these transgressions are seen live by everyone in attendance, most importantly your players.  Dean Evason, the intense and boisterous head coach of the Wild, knows teams take on the personality of their coach.  To no surprise, his Minnesota team was the second most penalized team last season, behind the Anaheim Ducks.  Interestingly, the reigning Stanley Cup champion Las Vegas Golden Knights, were the least penalized.

Simply telling your players they must respect officials isn’t enough, modeling it is required.  Ditto for all the ill-informed parents that believe screaming at officials is acceptable.  It isn’t.  As Norman Vincent Peale described it, “Nothing is more confusing than people who give good advice but set a bad example.”

Keith Bauman, former WIAA official of eighteen years, tells the story of a high school game when two players got tangled up and fell to the ice.  As one of the players was getting up, he cross-checked the other’s head to the ice a couple of times.  As the guilty player headed to the penalty box his coach, with one foot on the boards, was screaming his displeasure in the call.  According to Bauman, “I calmly asked him to step down to talk to me,” he recounted.  “I said, coach, every player and fan in this rink saw exactly what your player did.  Is defending that action really the kind of message you want to send to all of them?”  

While coaches abusing officials is a concern, sixty percent of minor officials say the reason they left the game is verbal abuse from players and fans.  Fifty percent of first year USA Hockey officials don’t return for year two.  If you do the math, that comes down to adults, who should know better, verbally abusing children, who have the courage to join the officiating ranks.  You don’t need video footage of this to understand just how vile and irresponsible it is.  The truth is a young official missing an offside call is no more critical than your own kid forgetting to feed the dog.  In both cases everyone will be fine.  If you melted down on a child like I have seen at rinks, anywhere else in public, you would likely be arrested.

Youth coaches, players, parents, and fans, here is a dire message you need to understand, “There is no game you have to win”.  Translation, there is no missed opportunity, debatable call by an official, mistake by a player or decision by a coach that should send you into a state of such disarray and anger that anyone feels compelled to capture it on video.  This is amateur athletics, and the score of the game is no more important than the price of the concession stand popcorn.  If your kid has what it takes to play beyond high school, no loss at the squirt state tournament or unearned penalty or missed shift is going to prevent that from happening.  

I know common sense has been kidnapped by fantasy-world terrorists, but take a breath, and let that statement soak in, “There is no game you have to win.”  None, never and under no circumstance you can conjure up and try to rationalize in your head.  It is a short step from I must win this game to I will do whatever it takes to win this game.  It is an ultimatum that too often leads to disaster.

Every game is filled with mistakes by all involved.  It is how we learn to be better players, coaches and officials.  Beyond high school they continue to chase the Holy Grail of a perfect game through instant reply.  There aren’t any actual games they “have to win” either, but unlike youth sports, wins and loses can significantly impact the lives of those in the arena.  In amateur athletics the impact is largely driven by the reactions of the adults in charge.

As a coach or parent, is this really the hill you want your personal character to die on?  A questionable tripping penalty, a short shift, or an unexpected Bantam loss.  Swallow your pride and chug your misplaced anger, both will taste better than the regret of a YouTube video you can never live down.

Peter DeBoer summarized it quite nicely, “I likened it to being at a family wedding in the summer and overindulging and making a fool of yourself on the dance floor and you convince yourself it wasn’t that bad. Your kids tell you how bad you looked, and you convince yourself it wasn’t that bad — until you actually see it in video.”

Repeat after me, “There is no game you have to win.” 

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Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at

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