I'm not exactly sure why, but a pic of Craig Conroy playing the Avs seems like a fit for this post.

I’m not exactly sure why, but a pic of Craig Conroy playing the Avs seems like a fit for this post.

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.)

Comments (6)

  1. Justin, that’s a great article and I fully agree. Sometimes there’s just a guy in the locker room who makes everything gel, who may not (not saying anything about Rycroft here) be the most talented guy.

    I played semi-pro soccer here in England when I was younger (if you take the EPL as Level 1 – I was Level 6/7, which is still pretty respectable in what’s known as the pyramid system) and sometimes a half-talented bunch of guys just has that thing, the je ne sas quoi, In fact we call it a ‘crazy gang’ spirit. I remember we once played a team from the fourth tier (so 3 below Manchester United etc) who should’ve really wiped the floor with us but their guys just weren’t interested. Some guys just played for themselves and a potential move to what is the big time. Even at my meagre level I soon realised a lot of blokes were just after themselves and motivated by greed etc. Not saying that’s a bad thing, but it is (and especially hockey) a team game.

    There’s an anonymous EPL footballer here who’s something of a media sensation named ‘The Secret Footballer’ who had a regular column in a respected newspaper and has released his own book about ‘the beautiful game’. I find the look into the lives of these millionaire guys fascinating and would love to read a hockey version from an undercover player. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I think a guy like Bissonnette (ok, not his Twitter handle) would be fantastic for this. I’d really love to hear about Crosby etc…. TSF (Secret Footballer) is by his own admission the footballing equivalent of a third/fourth liner but in many ways that makes it more unique than a star who probably doesn’t understand things that come naturally to him kinda thing…

    Anyway, thanks for keeping this Englishman entertained at work everyday guys. Keep it up!!!

  2. These are the articles that I love to read that not many other blogs care to write about so thank you. I would definitely agree, I never played hockey at as high a level but I can say that I’ve been on teams where we were outmatched player for player but found ways to win because of our chemistry and been on the other end playing for teams with a sick roster and losing early in the playoffs to teams less talented wondering what the hell happened. Any team can beat anyone on one given night but to do it over the course of a few playoff series shows its not just a fluke there really is something to it.

  3. Bournie, yer a beaut. Further to yer beautness, I think there are varying degrees of how significantly chemistry can affect team performance, based on the particular sport. A sport requiring short bursts of focused, solo performance (BASEBALL) tends not to be as affected by voodoo sorcery as does a sport with constant player interactions, decision making and fluidity. This may be why it’s become Vogue for baseball bloggers to poo-poo nebulous qualities that cannot be measured in units.

    God I wish you’d have beaten Parkes in the NHL94 tourney.

  4. I agree with you 100%. I never played hockey as a kid, but played lots of other sports.

    One of my friends got recruited to play soccer at a small state school. They hosted an indoor soccer tournament where the recruits could either play with each other, or bring their own team. He ended up bringing a bunch of us up from the high school soccer team. We were a very small school (graduated with 53 others), so we were all friends.

    We ended up winning the tournament, fairly handily (like score 3 times as many goals as the other team handily). Part of it was that we were used to playing with each other. I’m sure that all of us being friends and playing for each other, rather than to impress the coach, really had something to do with it as well.

  5. It’s just amazing to read these older articles of yours, and see how far your writing has come!

    Sounds like a back handed compliment, I know. It’s not meant to be. This was a great article, but you’ve also really grown as a writer and that’s commendable.

  6. Great piece, I sent it to my managers to read. Building team chemistry is important is most workplaces

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