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.

Comments (19)

  1. great article. i remember my high school coach telling me, “you play for the logo on the front, not the name on the back”

    • The Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL just tried to make the “you play for the logo on the front, not the name on the back” point by removing all of the nameplates for a couple games. They were fined by the league.

      • When the NHL first made the namebar mandatory, the Leafs were so opposed to the idea that they simply used letters the same color as the sweater. The League was not amused, and that’s why there’s official language in the rulebook that the numbers and names have to use a contrasting color.

        • The only reason they did that was because the owners feared it would hurt program sales. If fans could see the names they might be less likely to buy one.

  2. How old are you Bourne? Because you just started dropping the “good ol days” rants… Did you have to walk up hill both ways to the ice rink? Watch out, pretty soon the Mrs.Bourne will want more than just kittens!

    Good article grandpa!

  3. Thank you, as always, for the insight.

  4. I don’t really get the separate rooms thing, that was always the funnest part of road trips. But I understand the need for privacy and it seems like that’s what the players wanted, so if it makes them perform better then go ahead.

    The players individual pregame/warm-up style complaint is bogus tho.
    1) Nobody had Ipods 10+ years ago and the team “CD player” was the only option for music in the dressing room. Now everybody has Ipods and their own taste in music, so why not listen to what you want if it gets you pumped up?

    2) Same goes for the warm-up routine. Every player is different, and they should do whatever they have to do to prepare themselves the best way possible. Whether that’s loosening up with a soccer ball, listening to an Ipod, or eating a PB&J sandwich – do what you gotta do. If a player goes out and scores a hat trick or a goalie posts a shutout to help the team win, do you think anyone’s going to complain that they didn’t participate in the soccer game earlier? I doubt it…

  5. Anybody know what the WB3 on the sign means?

  6. I read an article a couple weeks ago from yahoo’s puckheadlines about how some of the guys on the sabres have asked to share a room on the road. One guy said it was too quiet/lonely and the other was a head case and said he needed a roommate to make sure he didn’t miss a bus or team meeting.

    • I can see coaches/management making strong suggestions for certain players to room. Especially in the case of the head case type players who need to be hand held. Or those that just need some adult supervision…. *cough* Kaner *cough*

  7. Article just published today about this same issue:

    From the article:
    “You know what, it’s lonely at times, for sure,” Bieksa says. “But we kind of made a little bit of a pact among the D-men that we watch out for each other and we have already met in each other’s rooms a bunch of times just to kind of keep that contact, just little hot stoves to get together and discuss things so you are not sitting in your room by yourself all night.”

    And if that sounds a little like a defensive slumber party, you’d best not mention it to defenceman Keith Ballard.

    “Don’t be too creepy,” says Ballard.

  8. Someone forward this to Ryan OReilly

  9. I thought the single room thing might have been one of the things that came out if incorporating some of the Canucks’
    new sleep science stuff into the CBA. If so, while I share your nostalgia, it is probably better for the team and players overall. No conflict between the logo and the name.

  10. Love it when you write pieces like this JB. Good stuff.

  11. As a friend on my team told me when I complained of age while turning 30, “30 is just a bad dream. Now, *50*…”

    Thanks for another interesting, human-interest-side-of-hockey story, “Mister Bourne.”

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