The Re-Invention of the Hockey Player

Posted: April 3, 2011 in Hockey, Sports
Tags: , , , , ,

There comes a point in the career of most aspiring hockey players where you realize that you just aren’t good enough anymore.  You realize that the level of play has exceeded your meager skill-set and that this is the highest level of hockey that you’ll ever play.

You sit in the dressing room after the game, sweat dripping from your matted hair.  Your jersey, shoulder pads, and helmet are strewn over the bench beside you.  You feel distraught, your dreams slowly fading.  All around you your teammates are talking about the game, about the sick deke, the goal scored, or the hit delivered.  But you just sit there, knowing that you, unlike those for whom the dream remains alive, have reached the pinnacle of your hockey career, that your skills just aren’t good enough.

However, it’s not the end of your hockey career.  At least, not if you so choose.

There is still another path open to you: that of the fighter, the pest, the enforcer.  At one point, the players that fill these roles were top-liners, but eventually they hit the peak of their skills and were forced to reinvent themselves to remain in the sport they love.  It was either that or get a real job…

No one starts out wanting to be a fighter.  No one starts out wanting to spend their career annoying opposing teams.  People want to score; they want the spotlight.

Derek Boogaard: he's had more penalty minutes than the population of Vatican City.

But, for the players that are to salvage their careers by becoming fighters, this kind of transition happens fairly early in their career.  When players get to the major junior level and/or the American Hockey League they have already transitioned from being a good hockey player with a tough side to being a tough guy with a hockey side.  Take Derek Boogaard as an example.  He played 147 games in the Western Hockey League before being drafted by the Minnesota Wild.  During that time he scored a measly 21 points, only three of which were goals.  He did have a whopping 670 penalty minutes in the same time span.

These stats clearly point to a player who has decided that their career path lies in a different direction than that of Sidney Crosby or Henrik Sedin.  Heck, Boogaard even promotes this kind of reinvention to young kids through the fighting camp he runs with his brother Aaron.  He teaches young kids to fight, giving them the skills they’ll need to reinvent their careers at a young age and encourages them to use those skills.

The hockey player has become two different species.  There is the player who actually plays the game, regardless of being a first- or fourth-liner.  These players’ sole focus is to play the game, to score or prevent the other team from scoring.  Then there is the fighter, whose job is to, well, fight.  They aren’t there to play, except when the puck accidentally touches their stick.  Through reinvention, the defining traits of each species have been separated and distilled to forge the two specialist styles we see today.

But whatever happened to the player that could do both things effectively?  What happened to the Bob Proberts of hockey that could use their hands to score both goals and TKOs?

The reinvention of the hockey player has become less about adding additional skills to fulfill different roles within the game and more about becoming an entirely different kind of hockey player altogether.  And the Boogaard school will only continue that trend.  Kids will learn at a much younger age that it is better to specialize in one area of the game (i.e. fighting) and make it to the big time than develop an array of all-round skills and be stuck playing second-tier hockey for their entire lives.

This isn’t a good thing.  We are teaching people to sell out.  We are teaching them to compromise and become something different in order to salvage a tiny shred of their dreams.  Instead of nurturing them to become better people or learn positive skills that will help them achieve their full dreams we are giving them the directive that if at first you don’t succeed, go become someone else and then try again.

From this pattern of reinvention we get hockey players who sit on the bench for 50 minutes of a game, skate around looking for a fight for five minutes, and then spend the remaining five minutes in the penalty box.

What we don’t get are players who can skate around for twenty minutes scoring goals and then beat the snot out of the guy who just slashed them.

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