I wrote on Blake Comeau and being a healthy scratch over over two years ago, and thought of that post when I heard about Keith Ballard’s woes. If you’ve ever wondered what a day in the life of a healthy scratch consists of, come along for a tour.
“I’ve been through this before. It’s up to me to be a good teammate, to be positive, to work and to make sure that I’ve done everything I can on the ice and in the gym — I’ve watched a ton of video — and to make sure that when I do play, I’m ready to go.”
So what’s Keith Ballard doing with his days, you ask? (I don’t care if you didn’t, I’m telling you.) The answer is “nothing all that fun, with a dash of chest-tightening anxiety over your place on the team. Let’s dive in!
That you’re pressbox bound is rarely something you know in advance. More commonly, the day will start out like any other – you show up to the arena for morning skate and see what colour jersey is in your stall. (If the trainer doesn’t hand out the jerseys until guys are there it’s fun watching him run around the room with sweaters, looking at the paper the coach gave him with the lines on it. It’s like the rose ceremony on The Bachelorette. AM I GOING TO GET A FIRST-LINE ROSE?)
If you’re the odd man out that day, your exile begins.
Healthy scratches need to A) stay in game shape for when they do get the call, and B) do a little something extra to show the coaches how bad they want to get back in the lineup. Also, C) would be “stay the hell out of the way.”
This means getting out on the ice early and working on something – puck handling, shooting, something skill base. This means actually going balls out in morning skate while the guys on the top few lines play stress-free and casual on their way up to a sweat. This means…. bag skating.
Often an assistant coach will stay out with the guys not playing that night and put them through the paces after practice, something with a lot of stops and starts and not a lot of smiles.
The work part is fine – the problem is once that’s over….what do you do with the rest of your day?
The team is going to eat pre-game meal, then shut it down for a nap. You may find yourself in a hotel in some town you know very little about with nothing to do from 11a.m. until game time.
You do a lot of mall walking those days. If you’re at home, that usually means X-Box time and a lot of checking the clock.
You still have to halfway prepare – you never know when someone may have an emergency reason they can’t play, and you still have to do a workout when the guys head out on the ice (I secretly think this is just to prevent guys from day-drinking up until game time, as I most likely would’ve done if not for looming workout number two).
Mentally it’s hard because you feel like an outcast. Coaches don’t want the scratches around the guys that are playing in case they’re a distraction, so you can’t even really go into the dressing room unless you immediately go into the gym. It’s even worse if you’re a call-up and barely know anyone.
It’s a whole day where you feel awkward – you don’t have a jersey that means “on a line,” you don’t talk to the team all day, and you know you’re not in coach’s good books.
So all you can do is think the type of thoughts that keep you up at night, only during the day – what does this mean, where am I heading, what did I do wrong, am I getting traded, failure, failure, failure. I sure wish I could have that play at the blueline back from last game…
In hockey, nothing ever feels static – things are going great, or they’re going awful. Not getting the right jersey at morning skate on gameday is a shove in the wrong direction. Just ask Keith Ballard.