Columbus Blue Jackets v Nashville Predators

Yesterday I saw a tweet from one of my favourite hockey personalities, Daryl Reaugh, in which he made a great point:

Definitely. And I’m not fully sure how to feel about these changes.

First off, the truth: when I was playing hockey as a career, I tried to avoid the team as much as possible away from the rink, save for a roommate or two. It’s not that I didn’t like my teammates, it’s just the obvious: you see them at morning skate, pre-game meal, game time, at practices, on planes and buses, in the dressing room, in the hotel, in the weight room. And, the season is long and comes with very few breaks.

There are probably plenty of you out there who like your co-workers just fine, but find 9-5 more than ample in the “time spent together” category.

Combine that with the hockey player “dude” mentality – farts and chicks, you guys – and holy hell is it nice to get a little alone time. I was occasionally chirped for reading a book while we traveled. It gets grating.

So, I get wanting your own hotel room. I roomed with one of my best friends in the world for a lotta years in college, and we’d have both happily spent our time apart on the road just to have a little space. Hell, I was tempted to pay for an extra room some nights. And I was lucky I spent that time with a buddy – sometimes you’re with the guy who likes the AC set to 30 below, sleeps with the TV on and snores. That stuff affects your play.

Still…I can’t deny it had a positive affect on my relationships with teammates. I wouldn’t have gotten to know a lot of players the way I did had we not been locked in a room together for large chunks of three days in God-Knows-Where, USA. You learn about the real people behind the dressing room masks that you normally wouldn’t take the time to get to know, and by the end of the year, you feel connected to damn near everyone, and the masks are less necessary. That’s a good thing for a hockey team.

So it comes down to what’s better: comfort or camaraderie?

In pro hockey today, there’s a noticeable shift to the selfish, and nobody is mad at anyone for that. There’s a loooooot of money on the line, and the difference between playing in the AHL and NHL is moving the decimal one spot to the right on your paycheck, and that’s worth fighting for. It looks good on individuals when their teams win, but you know what else looks good on individuals? When they play well because they feel good.

Individual hotel rooms (handed out on the road to players on their second contracts or beyond, as per the new CBA) almost feels like the final nail in the coffin of an era gone by, the Slapshot era when guys hung out and drank beer and laughed and made memories together, including the night before games (I’d kill to go back in time and play in my Dad’s era. Minus the whole “playing the Broad Street Bullies” thing. That doesn’t sound fun). It even feels like when guys “fight for a teammate,” they’re doing it because they’re paid to do it and have to to stay relevant, not because they’re actually upset somebody slighted a teammate. Things have changed.

In the dressing room, I was never a big fan of the guys who wore personal headphones before games. I liked to kick around the soccer ball with the guys, stretch it out and chat, and maybe quiet down a bit by the time I was getting dressed. To me, that’s a good time with the boys, regardless about how much we bitched at each other over the music selection. I especially liked chatting with my linemates, and bandying about some goals for the night.

Still…I can’t deny that some days talking with teammates left me pissed off at a guy or two and affected my game on the ice. That’s just the way being “married” to twenty-plus dudes goes – if you interact with them all the time, you’ll find something to have a spat about. The headphones eliminate any chance of distraction, and allow you to head into the game with the same thoughts you showed up to the rink with. If you woke up from your pre-game nap thinking “tonight I know I have to be physical,” nothing has changed for you come puck drop. You get to do you, as Lil’ Wayne might say. Without the headphones, maybe your linemates convince you that some other style game might be better, and you’re not staying true to what you want.

There are pros and cons to the way the game is changing off the ice, but the focus has undeniably shifted more to the namebar than the logo. And again, I get that. It just feels like a shame.

The days of dynasties feels dead, and the days of hockey-as-a-job instead of a passion feel like they’re upon us. It’ll make for higher quality hockey, but some may find it tougher to get invested. And, it’s all the more reason to love the guys who maintain their love for the game, and show their love for their team.