I was inspired this morning when watching one of my favorite rappers Killer Mike give life advice (yup, that’s a real start to an actual sentence), because holy hell, he kinda killed it. Seriously, this 2:12 is better than most fancy speeches given to graduating classes at big Universities. Give it a go:
Shut up and play
For young players coming up trying to make it, do your best not to compare your opportunities to those afforded others – just do what you can with what you’re given, shut your mouth and do your best. Players spend too much time bitching about the ice time their teammates get and complaining that the coach’s son gets more powerplay shifts or that they were wholly wronged by not being included in the group asked to go get the game-tying goal in the final minute. It’s amazing how things usually work out for the kid who shuts up and works hard and doesn’t bitch all the time. We all want those opportunities, but a coach isn’t going to stop playing his son because you had your parents complain, and pouting just breeds more resentment in coaches. All told: just f***ing play hockey and let the chips fall where they may.
Be respectful in the locker room. It’s really not that hard, man. I’m not trying to be an after-school special here, but kids are brutal and some different kid ends up getting teased ruthlessly, laughed at, and lo, the roots of hockey culture are born. All the sudden you find yourself a 30-year-old man in the room after a rec game and some hockey-saturated meathead is calling you a pussy for leaving without drinking a beer. Anytime you get a random group of 20-plus males in a room you’re bound to find a**holes. But if you’re considering being a jerk to someone who probably doesn’t deserve it, erring on the side of MAYBE DON’T can help ensure you’re not part of the problem.
Pond hockey-style ain’t bad
Don’t dump the f***ing puck in (yes, I will be swearing throughout the whole advice post. I love a lot of hockey culture; swearing is one of those things). I know your coach wants you to, but what he really wants is for you not to turn the puck over. He’s probably also just parroting everything he heard growing up, which doesn’t make it necessarily right. So fine: be careful with the puck. But if you have room, don’t be afraid to take it. That leads into my next point…
You’re better than you think, so don’t panic
This goes for every level: don’t be afraid to have the puck. Most players are under-confident because hockey breeds under-confidence, much like golf. You make 100 mistakes before you do that one good thing that results in a goal. But you gotta remember – that’s the same for most players. That’s just the nature of hockey. You’ll find that by taking the time to get your head up, when you do move it, it’s to somewhere more useful than your default chip-out would’ve been. Exhale.
Talking to teammates helps
Respect the game with proper preparation and all, but don’t let it take you to a place where you lose the human element. Because hockey has become big business worth big dollars, guys now prepare like they’re going to war. Silence, headphones on, lost in their music (is that really preparing, or just isolating yourself because it’s easier?). That’s not bad for an hour or so, but hockey really is a team game, and even though your teammates can occasionally annoy you, it’s amazing how often something helpful comes up when taping your stick, stretching or whatever. “I thought last game when we worked the puck behind the net it really opened up our high guy” can lead to doing more of the same later that night. It’s a team game, and hate ‘em or love ‘em, it’s helpful to have relationships with your teammates.
One-size (aggression) doesn’t fit all
Learn to separate the squares from the circles on the ice. What I mean by that: before playoff series in junior, our coach would put circles around certain opponent’s names, and squares others. Circles meant “This guy is at his best without pressure, without confrontation, when the game is shinny.” I’m pro-treating people well and all, but this is still hockey. Call that circle every name in the book and threaten him and make his life hell. Slash his ankles behind the play. He’ll disappear (I have Bolland/Marchand on the Sedins in playoffs in mind). But MORE importantly, there are guys who play better when the game is a war, when they’re engaged. David Backes, Ryan Kesler and so on. So don’t wake the sleeping giant. You don’t talk back to them, you take their slash and play on, you lull them to sleep. Even when you’re pissed, know what you’re gaining by getting in the bull***t, or by staying out of it.
It’s a team game
I don’t care about big celebrations, but teammates first. There might be a time and a place for a glass jump, but you’re a part of a unit that worked to create a goal. You did it, so now’s probably not the time to make them chase you around the ice. Exuberance and fist-pumps and knee-drops are great. Just keep the boys in the loops as soon as possible.
Your goalie is your goalie, act accordingly in practice
Respect the goalie in practice. They put their neck on the line enough in games, so maybe keep the puck down on a teammate you count on all season. And finally,
The happy place
The most important thing of all, to me anyway: always appreciate a clean sheet. Seriously, there’s nothing I love more in the world than skating out onto a fresh sheet and dumping a bucket of pucks. For all the negativity that can surround sports, every time you step on the ice it’s a fresh start. A clean sheet, if you will.
I could write 10,000 more words of these, but don’t want to be too preachy. What I would like, is for the community to preach to each other. Let us know a few of your pieces of hockey life advice in the comments below. Happy hockey season to everyone!