Losing leads to bad attitudes which leads to more losing which leads to finger pointing which leads to more losing. It’s a cycle of self-cannibalization for teams, and right now the Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to decide who to eat first.
From the player’s point of view, being at the rink becomes a misery. You can’t joke around during practice, and if you have a particularly surly coach (see: Ron Wilson), chuckles in the dressing room are frowned upon too (literally). You obviously don’t care about winning if you can laugh during a losing streak, right? So, paint on your determined face and get back to work.
I always hated that more than anything about being a hockey player. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to work hard and commit to winning the next game – I did – it was just that I knew that some mornings the possibility of a good day at the rink were basically nil. There’s not a whole lot of jobs out there where that’s going to get the best out of people.
The deeper the hole gets, the more the environment becomes toxic, until you get to the point where all you want to do is leave the arena as quick as possible (especially with the media circling), and now you’ve got the start of the snowball effect. Instead of hanging around the rink bullshitting with your teammates, instead of doing an extra couple reps with the guys in the gym, you just get the hell out of there, and everyone is worse for it.
It snowballs on the ice in practice too. You know your testy coach is desperately trying to figure out what the problem is, and somebody has to become the next scapegoat, the next guy to find himself wearing a suit during the next game. It seems like every cross-ice pass is hitting bumps on the way over and nobody can go tape to tape, it’s seems tougher to hit the net, and the quiet during practice has everyone on eggshells.
All you hear are pucks, sticks, glass, and guys calling for passes.
The most frustrating part is that sometimes your team just isn’t good enough. Sometimes your personnel isn’t equipped to handle the top teams in the league, and guys are trying their bags off during games despite repeatedly coming up with the short end of the stick.
But it just doesn’t matter. Don’t you dare smile at practice tomorrow morning.
It’s simply the wrong environment for getting out of a hole, especially in the case where your team doesn’t have the talent. Those mornings were a few of the times I remember wanting to fast-forward parts of my life just to get to the next puck-drop so I could have another crack at winning, another crack at bringing some sense of normalcy back to my daily routine.
Knowing how bad that sucks, I offer this advice to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have one win in their last 11 games:
They need to remember that this is their team for this year, and they can still make playoffs. This isn’t about who to blame, it’s about pulling together (call that corny, but good teams/captains/coaches find a way). While serious practice is a must, it wouldn’t kill for Wilson to chuck out some tennis balls after practice and let the guys relax for a hot sec. I can’t remember that last time I saw a player on that team having a good time. Their dressing room reminds me of Mordor.
But, tennis balls and tomfoolery are not going to happen in Toronto – they’re too busy taking bites out of each other to decide who’s tastiest. Everything with that Wilson-led group is the World’s Most Serious Thing, and today is no different. The only thing that will make life better for those guys is straight-up success.
I still don’t miss those mornings they’re enduring one bit.
It’s an age old mantra in our game – winning cures everything, and right now the Toronto Maple Leafs need medicine more than ever.