The picture you see above features my American League roommate/ECHL teammate Micheal Haley (#32), less than a year ago. He’s played in 52 NHL games, compiled 163 PIM, and has scored one of the prettiest goals you’ve ever seen during his time with the New York Islanders and Rangers. The dude can flat-out play on top of being Rocky on skates, I assure you that.
However, he can’t play play at an NHL level if he’s not willing to muck it up. He’s a 5’10″ physical assassin with fine hands, but he’s not fast enough to be an effective offensive player at the top level, and not big enough to be a full-time heavy there. So when he gets his shot, he’s gotta take it with whoever’s ready. He knows his role. And so, we get to the picture you see above. He’s looking for someone, anyone to engage him during warmup.
As he should.
Coaches love what Haley’s doing there. He’s drawing the line in the sand between us and them, he’s making it clear that tonight is going to be no fun for the Bruins when he’s out there, and he doesn’t want to be friends. He’s talking to the opponent, but with a purpose.
The thing is, not everyone shares Haley’s thirst for blood. Some of us actually quite like our opponents. But for the love of god, Bourne, please stop smiling and joking with other players. Get your hate on.
So, what’s appropriate interaction between opponents on game day? Hockey is a small world, and if you’ve been around in the slightest bit, you’ll know a minimum of three guys on the other team. If you’ve been around any substantial length of time you might know 10, especially if you’ve swapped jerseys a time or two.
Hell, here’s Bryzgalov and Yakupov from last night on the right – is that okay? (Hint: yes.)
If a call-up skill player’s caught talking to a friend on the other team in warm-up he might not see a shift. If a lifer veteran is caught burying beers mid-game at center ice the coach probably won’t flinch.
And so, the unwritten rules, as I understand them.
Time of day
You’re usually allowed to meet with opponent-friends (fropponents?) in the hallway after the game to catch up, and you’re always more eager to after a win. However, both teams can’t win, so there’s always going to be at least one angry coach (whether it’s your fropponent’s or your own) looking to make the “laughing after a loss, eh? You clearly don’t give a s***” point, which usually ends in some small punishment like a depth chart demotion.
Before the game? Nooooo. No no. After morning skate is fine, but before the game, you’re going to battle. Who cares if you were that guy’s best man last summer. YOU’RE A WARRIOR, HATEHATEHATE FOCUS.
In-game…totally depends. Players talk during the game because there’s things to discuss. Tell Jones I’m going to tomahawk him in the face, etc. Occasionally guys smirk or laugh, and coaches loathe that, because again – you clearly don’t care, nobody can both smile and try hard at hockey. That dumbass logic led to me developing the personal goal of making my opponent laugh while keeping a straight face at faceoffs. Hockey’s fun.
You have way, way more leeway in the NHL, because the players make more than the coach, and are more important to the franchise than the coach. It’s such a breath of fresh air that as you move up the ranks, you’re mostly just asked to be a pro. They care less about what you do and how you carry yourself as long as you perform. So an NHLer can BS on the ice without repercussion (well, most guys can, we’ll get to that), while guys farther down the ladder…woof, good luck.
If you’re not in the NHL, you’re at your coach’s mercy. He controls the ice time and linemates, which means he controls your future. There’s a good chance he doesn’t think “happy-go-lucky chit-chat pants” is the most effective comportment of a pro hockey player. So ECHLers, college players, juniors players…get dat game face on and keep to yourself. THIS IS WAR.
The rules aren’t the same for David Booth and David Backes. John Tortorella wants to murder the former, so there’s no chance he’s cool with him chatting between the whistles with old friends, or having a post-game chuckle after a loss in the hallway. Backes, on the other hand – captain, most serious human on earth, American hero – can likely do whatever the heck he wants in St. Louis.
Most players know where they stand with the coach, and if it would be cool if they interacted with the other team.
There’s an age in the NHL where people basically stop telling you what to do. So if you’re an NHL coach, you can’t yell at your superstars, you can’t yell at your veterans, you can’t really do much player managing at all, so….young guys? Oh boy, you’re getting the brunt of the attention. You should probably refrain talking to your old junior roommate as you lineup for that draw.
Fighter? You’ve gotta talk to work. Grinder, agitator? Same. Captain? Chat away. Young second line scoring winger? YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH WHEN YOU’RE TALKING TO ME.
If it’s not already clear, I hated being told who I could talk to and when, because I was going to do my best when the puck dropped regardless. I wasn’t gonna pull up on any hits (actually, I tried to hit my friends harder, because I knew it would come up in the summer), and I wasn’t going to get distracted between the whistles – it simply didn’t matter.
But for coaches, this is a thing. They don’t care who you know, because if you’re such good friends, it can wait. And they’re right about that. But it just doesn’t affect anyone’s game, so…what’re we doing here?
If you see two guys chatting amicably before puck drop in the NHL, check out who they are. Good chance they’ve got the status to be allowed to do so in their back pocket.