Sometimes you just don’t want to do it anymore.
Whatever that “it” is varies for a lot of people – a relationship, a job – but in my case, I reached a point where I just didn’t want to keep living The Hockey Player Life. Being a pro athlete requires a lot of self-discipline, and I’ll be the first to admit that self-motivation (to be the best, anyway) wasn’t my strong suit.
I packed it in after the 2008-09 season, but really, I had quit the summer before. I turned down a second invite to an NHL camp that August – again with the Islanders – because I knew I didn’t put in the work during the summer and didn’t want to embarrass myself (or my family, for that matter). For me, the pilot light was extinguished, and no blowtorch in the world was bringing it back.
But, I was in too deep. I slogged through another year.
I still love hockey. I love the guys in the dressing room, I love a clean sheet and a bucket of pucks more than I can express, and most of all, I love owning goalies. But now that the games don’t matter, I play similar to a Don Cherry “Euro” stereotype.
I thought of all this when I read a quote from Daniel Alfredsson yesterday, who spoke with Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun on Tuesday. If the NHL nukes the entire season, he’s not feeling the whole “go try hard in a league I don’t care about” thing.
“I’d play some games, and just have a great experience. I’m not looking to go to a Swedish league or the Russian league, I don’t think. The way I feel now, I don’t think I would be motivated enough, if they cancelled the season, to really do a full push there.”
Alfredsson went on to tell Brennan he’d go play in “Italy or France or somewhere,” which processes perfectly fine in my head. If his heart isn’t in it, he wants to play somewhere he doesn’t have to train to excel, where he can enjoy the sights, food and culture, and re-adjust his priorities. A paid vacation with upscale shinny, really. Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?
Before I got hurt mid-season and quickly found myself a writer, I was in a similar frame of mind. I thought I’d take a deal in the Netherlands (which paid well, was just hours from great European cities, and took care of my living expenses), where the hockey isn’t particularly great (as evidenced by Dale Weise’s stats - 0 goals and 8 assists in 78 NHL games vs. 15 points in 6 games in that league), and basically not care about the team or winning.
As I said, I got hurt and changed courses before doing that, but I soon learned I wasn’t alone in that desire to tone down the hockey-centric competitiveness, and step up my engagement in the other facets of life. Not all hockey players are are puck-focused with blinders.
That a player can reach a point where he’s just “over it” has always been a huge reason I’ve been opposed to ridiculously long contracts. Some players need that motivation year in, year out, and unless you’re certain you have a guy packed with unbridled passion and the desire to be number one (like Sidney Crosby), banking on a guy to give his all on the ice and in the gym while under a decade-long contract isn’t a good bet.
Here’s what Daniel Sedin had to say on contracts just last week, from The Province:
“We’re already taking it year by year right now. We have a year and a half on this current contract and then mentally I think it will be easier if we go year by year after that.
“Mentally, when you get to this age, to be able to perform, you have to be there. I really believe if you sign a long term deal it will be tougher to perform on a nightly basis.”
You need to find a way to keep that pilot light lit so when it’s time to go to battle, you’re able to ramp up the fire.
For some, like Alfredsson, you worry that the lockout will extinguish his. Enough red wine in Rome would be more than enough to douse mine, of that I’m sure.
If you’re a Sens fan, you can take Alfredsson’s comments any number of ways: maybe he’s wiped out but will give it one last push for another paycheck. Maybe he cares so much he knows he couldn’t muster up the same drive for any other team. Or maybe it means nothing. The fact is, the lockout will affect players towards the end of their careers differently, and fans just have to hope their old star isn’t coming back to grab a couple million dollar cushion for their bank account.
In the NHL – hell, in the NBA, NFL or MLB – sometimes, inexplicably, players have a change in priorities, but continue to play anyway. It happens, and it’s a reminder that sometimes athletes simply realize there’s more to life than playing their game.
(Stick-tap to Pro Hockey Talk)