This post originally ran in USA Today in 2011.
The 2013 edition of the NHL draft has come and gone, with the next crop of potential stars being divvied up between the league’s 30 teams, each with his own personal goals heading into the upcoming season. Some will make the big club, some will stay in junior, but all will be indoctrinated into the ways of their organization over the course of this summer.
The steps each kid follows might be slightly different from team to team, but most will follow a simple path to next season that looks something like this: Read the rest of this entry »
In the wake of Tyler Seguin getting traded to the Dallas Stars, the stories quickly started to come out. “Off-ice issues” was the theme, and all the loyal Boston scribes traded out adjectives like “promising” and “talented” for “immature” and “irresponsible.” We heard stories about him showing up to morning skate in Toronto during playoffs for three straight days wearing the same clothes, we heard someone was hired to make sure he stayed in his room on the road, and we heard general jokes about him running amok in the great state of Massachusetts.
Whether those stories are true or not, I have no idea. I’m definitely on the side that’s been having fun adding sarcastic quips to the pile like “Wait, that rich, single, good-looking 21 year-old professional athlete has been going out past what some of us consider bedtime? Bring me my fainting couch,” but at the same time, I realize you can only give a party player so much rope before he hangs himself with it.
So let’s leave the Seguin example in the dust because who the hell knows what he’s been up to and why the Bruins decided to give up on him, and talk about the player who parties too much and how his “off-ice issues” affect the group. We’ll loop back to Seguin at the end.
In my experience, the player who goes out too much isn’t necessarily some disliked “bro,” and he isn’t necessarily missing practices because he’s unconscious somewhere, he’s just never quite what he can be, and it’s infuriating. Read the rest of this entry »
Call-ups apparently don’t get to chose their number. Go Ovi, I guess? (By the way, Marc Danis stuff this deke with his left toe against the right post)
If I’m being honest with myself, a slapshot to the face probably didn’t end my hockey career. It probably gave me an out.
It’s not that I didn’t want to continue playing hockey for a living, it’s that it’s really f***ing hard to be a pro hockey player if you aren’t born with the talent of Alexei Kovalev. It’s a ton of physical work for the lessers.
Every summer after the hockey season guys take off a certain amount of time, depending on when they’re eliminated, before talking themselves into returning to the gym and getting back to work. As much as the guys who went deep in playoffs need the most rest days, they get the opposite, because the next season is upon them quickest and I’m telling you, you cannot go to training camp in bad shape or you fall behind the eight-ball. You look unimpressive, you drop down the depth chart, and you start in a hole that feels like the bottom of a well, and you’re staring up at the light trying to figure out how the hell you’re going to get back to level ground.
Something like this happened to me, which is why I say a puck to the jaw hardly ruined some bright career. When I realized the NHL was not a league I would be playing in, I went into self-sabotoge mode during the summer of 2008.
Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a moment when you’re walking away from the arena you just frequented for the better part of a year with your gear slung over your shoulder where you’re really not sure what to think.
The circumstances are never the same from year to year, but there’s rarely one dominant emotion. Are you coming back to the same team? Did the year go how you wanted? Did you leave with better relationships or worse? Will you ever be back, do you ever want to be back, did you win, did you lose… It’s just you and your bag over your shoulder and a loose plan for the summer, with uncertainty on the horizon.
Since you rarely know when your season is going to end exactly, all you know is that when it ends you’re going to go home, you’re going to do nothing for two-three weeks, then you’re going to start working on next season.
The only universal feeling for hockey players in that situation is relief. Read the rest of this entry »
The NHL’s injury reporting has become a well-established joke around the hockey community. Player injuries are described based on whether they’re north or south of the the waistline, and that’s where the detail ends. A player could have a ruptured testicle of plantar fasciitis, and either way all we know is they have a lower body injury. A torn ab is equal to a concussion is equal to a snapped clavicle – “upper body.”
The idea behind this is to protect players who are tough enough to play through their injuries, but not smart enough to protect themselves (I kid, you gotta play through some pain). Hockey is one of the few sports where you don’t just have to deal with the pain to be at your best, you also have to deal with the vultures. If you can talk yourself through the pain in baseball, you’re generally free to go about your business. Same with golf. Basketball, for the most part, is also a matter of you versus the pain. Football allows for your opponent to give you an extra shot if it’s convenient, but in hockey you carry a weapon and can really pinpoint an opponent’s problem area.
Is the secrecy necessary? Do players really want to hurt one another?
Yes, and yes they do. Read the rest of this entry »
After the first period of Game 2, the Boston Bruins must’ve filed into the dressing room, plunked down in their stalls and exhaled a sigh of relief like a tornado had cruised through their town yet somehow skipped their neighborhood (fittingly, an actual tornado had done something similar during the first game). They had been outshot by a whopping margin, 19-4, but only found themselves down a goal thanks to the splendiferous goaltending of one of the league’s best, Tuukka Rask (“Two u’s, two k’s, two points,” as Bruins’ announcer Jack Edwards likes to say in the regular season).
As the Bruins emerged from their storm cellar to play the second period, something started to happen. The clouds thinned and parted a bit, and the play started to shift. The Bruins out-shot the Blackhawks 8-4, 8-5, and 8-6 respectively in the 2nd, 3rd, and overtime period, and eventually left the state of Illinois with a satisfying split.
If Generic Goalie A is in net for Boston, that likely doesn’t happen.
I have no idea if the phenomenon I’m about to describe happened to Chicago, because speculating on the mental state of an entire hockey club from my desk in another country is borderline ridiculous, but it did cross my mind when watching: Tuukka Rask might’ve “stopped” some shots in 2nd, 3rd and OT by discouraging players from ever taking them with saves earlier in the game. Read the rest of this entry »
The concept of defensive “layers” is not unique to the Boston Bruins; in fact, it’s pretty ubiquitous around the NHL at this point. I first came across the system in the ECHL when I played for die-hard layer afficianado Davis Payne, now of the Los Angeles Kings. As far as the terminology goes when it comes to explaining it, the language of hockey is not universal, so it often feels like one coach is teaching something different when that’s not the case at all. Some people call a delay an escape, some people call a mid-lane drive a net-lane drive, and some people call layers “stacking,” or whatever the heck they feel like. Either way, variations of what we’re about to talk about (with different points of emphasis) exist all over.
The Bruins execute using layers particularly well, so I figured today would be a good day to explain the concept so you know what you’re looking for tonight.
On its face the idea is basic: just because a player on your team gets beat one-on-one doesn’t mean your opponent is free and clear. Without layers, that’s how it was for me in Junior B, the BCHL, and the NCAA. You had your responsibility, and if you blew, you were giving up a grade A scoring opportunity. You were killing the team.
As a right winger playing that older style, the left d-man was my responsibility. Black, white. I was to be within a stick’s length of him when on the strong side, and he was not to get a shot through to the net (mild exaggeration below, but you get the idea).
He often did because I was really not that fond of getting hit with frozen hockey pucks, but I faked doing my job pretty well. Read the rest of this entry »