Not nearly as many players got dealt at the NHL’s trade deadline this year as we’ve seen in season’s past, but still, there were some moves. Names like Paul Gaustad, Cody Hodgson, Johnny Oduya and Sami Pahlsson are among the list of people who have to walk into another team’s dressing room, put down their bags and start shaking hands. It’s now their dressing room too.
But, like a new pet that’s been brought home to a house that already has a few, there’s a learning curve. Certain territories need to be respected before everyone can get along amicably.
I’ve joined a few teams during the middle of a season myself. After my NCAA career ended I needed to stay in Alaska to finish my degree, so I joined up with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL with a few games left in the season, a team that had their sights set on a Kelly Cup. I got called up to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL after Christmas the next season. And the one after, I got traded to the Idaho Steelheads early on in the year.
It’s not easy. If it’s not right at the start of the season, cliques have already formed (and in the NHL where some guys have been with one team for over a decade, some are set before the season starts). Hockey romantics like to refer to “The Room” like all 20+ guys are homies (yeah, I said homies), but you have to be realistic. You’d be hard-pressed to assemble 20 people in the world that you could put in one room and have them all genuinely like each other.
So, you have to find out where you fit in. (I wrote this about cliques awhile back, if you’d like to go deeper into that.)
But before you do that, here are the rules for your average new guy joining a team that’s been together for awhile.
1. Shut up
The worst thing anyone can do on their first day is be overbearing. You never know what unique rules apply to each dressing room, so it’s best not to step on any toes out of the gate.
You’re going to be spending a lot – A LOT – of time together, so you don’t have to display your full personality to everyone on the first day. You’ll all get to know each other in time.
2. Befriend the equipment guy(s)
These guys are dialed in to the inner workings of a locker room. You don’t want to be that guy asking a thousand questions to your stallmate and forcing him to be your one-man welcoming committee – if you want to know the rules (“Can we walk on the logo here,” “Where do the medical guys keep the Sudafed,” “Which coach am I allowed to fully ignore” etc.), it helps to have one of the staffers on your side.
3. Study the nameplates
I can’t imagine playing football, what with the sheer volume of humans on your team. I imagine you’d end the odd season having no idea what certain guys’ names are (“Why hello, Mr. Backup Punter sir”).
Hockey provides you with a tough number of teammates, with their usually being 23 guys or more in a dressing room, all of whom you actually interact with. That’s no small amount of names. And with constantly being in close proximity in hockey (especially when travelling), you’re going to need to know every one of them at some point. And, you’re just one guy – they know yours. Learn. Those. Names.
4. Avoid doing anything showy for awhile
Hockey’s unwritten motto has always been “Nobody’s bigger than the game,” which is why someone like PK Subban – clearly talented and likable – got such a hard time around the League as a rookie. He demonstrated zero humility.
Until you’ve proven yourself, until you’re respected, until you actually know the guys on your team, it’s usually good to avoid anything from the All-Star Game trick shot contest in practice. It doesn’t mean you can’t do skilled things – it’s just good to Keep It Simple Stupid until you know your teammates and their respective games.
5. Don’t complain
The room is fine, the stall is fine, the line I’m on is fine, everything is fine. You can’t trudge into a room like some dissident – you never know how attached guys are to their logo, so you never know who you’re going to offend.
As in most walks of life, people just want to know that you have your shit together and can handle yourself like a pro before they really get to know you.
It’s not easy walking into a new dressing room in February. Unless guys talk to you, you keep to yourself a lot. But, it is hockey, and that means there are a lot of good dudes who’ll go out of their way to make you feel comfortable.
Sometimes players struggle after joining a new team for awhile. Things just don’t quite feel natural yet.
The hope for teams like Nashville are that they’ve got enough time to get comfortable before playoffs. Jeff Carter hasn’t tallied a point in two contests for Los Angeles yet, but with his buddy Richards there to help him along, I have no doubt he’ll get used to things pretty quickly.