My morning post on J.S. Giguere’s comments about his team (something along the lines of “guys have mailed it in and that’s frustrating”) took me to Twitter, where I found myself in a few discussions about the concept of character in a dressing room, if it matters, what affect it has, and so on.
I don’t have a black-and-white answer here, and neither do you, but hopefully I can shed some light on the subject by sharing one of the first things I ever wrote, a post called Chemistry Experiment #39, about a teammate of mine when I was with the Utah Grizzlies, Travis Rycroft (brother or Mark, the ex-Avs player who now does commentary for the team).
The post was written on January 22nd, 2009 about a month after I broke my jaw playing for the Idaho Steelheads, so I was holed up in my apartment in Boise in wires.
Today I wrote a draft on life as a hockey player, what it’s like and what it does to a guy. I wrote that every winter you were immediately handed 20 new friends, of which I usually got along with about 19, genuinely liked 5 and found 1 gem. In my college years, I was thrown into a dorm room with 3 other guys I’d never met, and that dorm room was a mine chalk full of those gems. My college roommates are some of my best friends today. I couldn’t have lived through 4 Alaskan winters without these guys (my college life partner Charlie Kronschnabel, girlfriend Nick Lowe, and good friends Chad Anderson and Brandon Segal). I’d have lived in Siberia if I had these guys for company (when you already live in Alaska, finding an awful exaggeration of cold is hard). So when I went on to play pro, I knew I was in for a change of lifestyle. And I was. There’s no stability, no constant housemate, and you can be gone in the drop of a hat. But man, did I have amazing luck that first year in Utah. There were some duds, but my stall was in a lively corner, and I’m thankful I got to play with the guys I did (Ford, Dwyer, KJ, Serty, shut up Hart). But I’ve never met anyone quite like Travis Rycroft.
Talk about passion for the game. Ryks lived and breathed this stuff. A Dave Matthews die hard, Trav wrote and played his own music at team parties. He was a motivator. He never quit. But most of all, everybody liked him. I mean everybody. And that doesn’t mean he liked everybody. In fact, if I had to guess I’d say my figures of 19-5-1 would be a little high for him (minus the 19, he probably got along with 21 of every 20 guys). He literally says “you betcha” when he agrees, and isn’t being the slightest bit facetious.
So I got to thinking…. How important is team chemistry? Our team in Utah was about an “okay” out of ten on the talent scale, but managed to go deep into playoffs as a scrappy, hard working team. To start this season, I was in Reading, PA, where all we heard was how good we were going to be. The dressing room was garbage, a bunch of guys interested in self-promotion who’d have worn their jerseys backwards had it been allowed. A game into the season I was headed to Idaho thinking, man, it sucks that that group of guys is going to be successful. They’re dead last in a 30 team league.
There has to be a certain level where talent trumps chemistry. I’ve never been a big believer in team chemistry, thinking that if a talented team with a good coach were to hate each other and play, it wouldn’t matter. But the more I think about it, the more skeptical I’ve become of this idea. Rycroft (4 year team captain) never got his chance at the next level, but he had to have been close. Scouts today could care less about something like character, but maybe it isn’t so invaluable. Rycroft missed some playoff games with a torn mcl (after being an iron man the previous season, never missing a game) and called the team in for a meeting without coaches to talk about that nights game. He cried. He was so busted up he couldn’t play, he cared that much. You don’t think that motivates a group of people who like him? Of course it does. Some guys were playing for contracts, but the focus shifts a bit when you see something like that. Something about it just sets you straight.
The Dallas Cowboys are a poster for the team I had been thinking of, all talent and no chemistry. They were a huge disappointment this year. I’m starting to take this theory a little more seriously. All I know is that when I leave this game, I can take something from Ryks. For one, he’s a good friend, but two, that this sort of stuff matters in any job. No matter what it is you do, if you dread seeing your boss or co-worker, it’s miserable. But if you’re pumped to see them, any day can be decent, and your job can be a treat. I know I didn’t enjoy everything about being in Utah (bite tongue bite tongue bite tongue), but Trav made it fun. I know which co-worker I wanna be. And for that little tidbit that should have been picked up in grade school, I say thank you. Go. Grizz. (not really Steelheads fans, chill, it’s an old insincere joke).
(I’m #12 in the video below. Brief cameo.)