Jul 02

Hockey Equipment Tips and Tricks

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Guest blogger Erin Wozniak informs readers about some helpful tips to tailor your hockey gear to perform and endure the rigors of the hockey season and beyond.

 

Once you’ve spent a good chunk of change on skates, sticks, gloves, pads and a helmet for hockey, players need to be able to get the most mileage out of their equipment. Professional ice hockey players use every chance they can to tinker with or spruce up their gear in order to get an advantage on the ice. Here’s a few ways to get the most out of every piece of gear in your hockey bag.

 

Sticks

 

From day one of a player’s hockey training, everyone learns how to tape the blade and butt ends of a stick in order to keep moisture out of the wood and retain a firm grip on the shaft. Most players, however, may not realize how you can tape a stick in different ways. Patrick Kane prefers to tape his stick toe to heel, rather than the most common method of starting at the heel and taping outward. Fellow Blackhawk Duncan Keith uses ribbons of tape layers down the entire shaft of his stick so that he can feel the perfect release point on a shot.

 

Skates

 

Tying your laces around the back of your skates represents one of the great myths of ice hockey. While some believe that this practice provides better stability, the boot actually has to flex more with each lace farther from the socket eye. Worse still, the pressure on the tendon guard that protects your heel from pucks and skates prevents you from moving your feet and ankles, diminishing range of motion. Since skates guards aren’t designed to move forward, just back to offer support, tying the laces around the back of the skate will quickly destroy the most valuable part of your gear.

 

Gloves

 

Just like a brand-new baseball mitt, a pair of hockey gloves fresh off the factory floor will feel very cramped and uncomfortable. There’s a bevy of options for breaking in a pair of new gloves, with most players electing to stickhandle for a few days until they feel soft, flexible and responsive. You can take this a step further by soaking the palms of new hockey gloves in water overnight (don’t worry about ruining the material — hockey gloves are resistant to water and sweat). Allow them to completely dry and then rub them with a spoonful of vegetable oil in order to get a silky smooth feeling. If the gloves still feel too stiff, try baking them in a skate oven for no more than a few minutes.

 

Helmets

 

For most of hockey history, players didn’t wear helmets at all. In fact, the NHL didn’t mandate helmet use until 1979 and allowed some players to continue playing without a helmet. The helmet appears to be the most straightforward piece of equipment of all: put it on and forget about it. Doing some preventative maintenance after each game will extend the lifespan of your helmet. Carry a small screwdriver in order to tighten the screws that secure chinstraps, cages and visors before or after each match. The more contact your helmet absorbs, the more the screws begin to come loose, creating cracks in the helmet or falling out entirely, a dangerous situation when you’re on the ice with pucks traveling 80 miles an hour.

 

Shoulder Pads

 

Similar to helmets, most players wear a set of shoulder pads without giving this piece of gear a second thought. While you can use one set of shoulder pads for years, decades, or perhaps even an entire career, getting the right fit first should depend just as much on comfort as flexibility. Remember that forwards want lighter pads with a good range of movement, in order to give their shot more velocity, while defensemen need larger pads that cover more area to give better protection against incoming shots.

 

Cleaning Gear


While no solution yet exists to completely clear the ubiquitous “hockey smell,” dousing your gear in bleach and allowing it to dry in the sun will kill the bacteria that make sweat-soaked gear smell terrible. Remember not to keep your gear in a hot area, such as the trunk of a car, as this only exacerbates the smell and leads to mold growth.

 

Author Bio:

 

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Erin Wozniak is the Director of Marketing for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. PSH offers new and “dented” gear to help you find what you’re looking for at an affordable price. Erin is passionate about hockey and remains a devoted Chicago Blackhawks fan.

 

 

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

Jun 24

Lawson Crouse:  Beneath the Tar and Feathers

 

With the 2015 NHL Draft approaching fast, the chatter surrounding who will have their name called after Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel is beginning to build momentum.  Of all of the names that swirl around the top 10, no player has received more tar and feathers than Kingston Frontenacs power forward, Lawson Crouse.  He has quickly become the most notorious name of the 2015 Draft, a target for lynch mobs of analysts, scouts and armchair coaches.

Why does everyone have such a hate on for Crouse?  The most common criticism is that he doesn’t have enough offensive upside to be a top 5 or even top 10 pick.  With offensive dynamos like McDavid, Eichel, and 100-plus point producers Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome, Crouse and his measly 51 points seems but a hideous eyesore at the top of the heap.

Another key ingredient to the witch’s brew is the fact that Crouse is often lauded for his strength and size—commodities that have taken a beating as the game continues to drift away from the age of cementhead hockey.  Words used to describe his game, such as “grit” and “toughness”, are scoffed at as overrated intangibles that have clouded scouts’ judgement for years, leading teams to pick players like Alex Stojanov and Alex Svitov with top 10 picks.

People are tired of hearing about the vast potential of players of Crouse’s ilk only to be disappointed when they don’t live up to expectations.  Size and strength used to be prioritized over speed and skill when selecting in the first round.  It has now become a major risk to teams picking high.  Nobody wants to pick the next Tyler Biggs or Hugh Jessiman.

Critics of Crouse are quick to reference the shift in the game towards speed and skill, something a player like Mitch Marner has in spades.  To them, picking Crouse ahead of Marner is asinine.  How could a team be so blind as to pass up 126 points?  With this in mind, it is also important to note that NHL busts don’t always come in large packages.  For every Biggs or Jessiman, there are plenty of Zach Hamills, Gilbert Brules, Alex Bourrets and Nikita Filatovs.  The fact is drafting NHL eligible prospects isn’t an exact science.  It’s an educated projection, at best.

Whether you love or hate Lawson Crouse, here are a few things you should keep in mind heading into the 2015 NHL Draft and beyond:

 

Power Forwards Take More Time to Develop

Becoming a successful power forward in the NHL requires a lot of elements to be in place.  To be successful, you need to be able to learn how to use your body to your advantage and this takes longer to master, especially considering that 18-year-old kids are still growing.  Power forwards like Brendan Shannahan, Ryan Getzlaf, Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler and Cam Neely weren’t dominant NHL players from day 1.  It took a few seasons for these guys to hit their stride.  The problem is, when we think of the term “Power Forward” we almost immediately think of Eric Lindros, who was such a dominant combination of elite skill and brute strength.  Lindros was the Wayne Gretzky of power forwards.

 

System Restraints

Crouse’s junior team, the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, were one of four teams in the league that failed to crack the 200 mark for goals for.  Crouse paced the offensively challenged Frontenacs in both goals (29) and points (51), leading a lineup that didn’t leave much to be desired.  The Frontenacs were led by first-year head coach, Paul McFarland, whose defense-first system often resulted in low-scoring, yawn-inducing games.  The system was deployed seemingly more out of necessity than preference, as evidenced by a more aggressive, attacking style that the Fronts adopted when Sam Bennett joined the club for a late season push following his shoulder rehab.

During the first three quarters of the season, Crouse’s offensive impact was severely restricted by the system.  A player like Crouse is at his best when he’s able to be aggressive on the forecheck, creating turnovers down low and working off of the cycle.  For the better part of the season, he was often forced to sit back and try to force turnovers in the neutral zone and create offense through transition.  With better linemates and a more aggressive system (which most NHL teams employ these days) Crouse should flourish.

 

If Ryan Getlaf and Jordan Staal had a Love Child…

This isn’t the first time people have been hot and cold on a player.  In 2011, it was Sean Couturier, who at one point was considered to be the no-brainer to go first overall in the 2011 NHL Draft.  Instead of going first, he slipped down to eighth overall and has still yet to find his stride offensively.  In 2003, some scouts marvelled over Corey Perry’s hands and creativity, while others gagged over his skating ability.   Perry dropped to 28th overall and has gone on to on to become one of the most dominant offensive threats in the game, collecting a Hart Trophy and a Rocket Richard Trophy along the way.

The difference with players like Couturier and Perry is that both of them were established offensive threats in junior prior to being drafted.  Crouse doesn’t have the benefit of sparkling offensive numbers coming into this year’s draft.  That being said, he isn’t the first highly ranked player who didn’t take the amateur ranks by storm, offensively speaking.  Both Jordan Staal (2nd overall in 2006) and Ryan Getzlaf (19th overall in 2003) had ho-hum numbers, similar to Crouse, in their draft years.

 

Here are the numbers  and scouting reports for the three players in their respective draft years:

Staal’s Draft Year:

 

Regular Season
Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM +/-
2005-06 Peterborough Petes OHL 68 28 40 68 69 16
Playoffs
GP G A Pts PIM
19 10 6 16 16
  

 

Central Scouting Report:

Is a perimeter forward who is an excellent skater with a wide base style that makes him solid on his skates. He has a long fluid stride with very good agility and speed, uses his tremendous size and long reach to protect the puck very well.  He possesses a powerful shot both slap and wrist that he gets off quickly and accurately.  He sees the ice very well and is able to move the puck through traffic with hard or soft passes as the situation calls for both on the forehand and backhand.  At times during throughout the season he was used on the point of the power-play and is also an excellent penalty killer.  He uses his long reach very well to block the passing lanes and gives a solid two-way effort.  He is a quiet type of competitor who uses very good anticipation and hockey sense rather than physical strength to be effective defensively.  He’s not a punishing type of player but does get involved in traffic and is able to separate opponents from the puck. 

  

Getzlaf’s Draft Year:

 

Regular Season
Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM +/-
2002-03 Calgary Hitmen WHL 70 29 39 68 121 8
Playoffs
GP G A Pts PIM
5 1 1 2 6

 

One Scout Said…

 “Moved up one spot and finished the season as NHL Central Scouting’s fifth-ranked North American skater. Versatile player who likes to use his size to create scoring chances. While he’s hard to knock off his skates, he has trouble generating speed, a fact that concerns some scouts. He can play all three forward positions and manned the point on the power play in juniors. He also was used extensively on the penalty-killing unit and was among the Western Hockey League leaders with six shorthanded goals.”

 

Crouse’s Draft Year:

 

Regular Season
Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM +/-
2014-15 Kingston Frontenacs OHL 56 29 22 51 70 10
Playoffs
GP G A Pts PIM
4 2 1 3 18

 

Craig Button (TSN Director of Scouting):

 Lawson is a ‘big’ man who can impose himself on opponents and make it extremely difficult for them. He is a strong skater with a good burst of speed and if he has the slightest step on a defender, it is an almost impossible task to regain position vs. him. Good puck skills and is a smart player with and without the puck. Developing into the type of player that can be a force at the NHL level.

 

While most of the early comparisons for Crouse have been to Milan Lucic and Cam Neely, I feel he’s more of a hybrid of Staal and Getzlaf.  He has a long, powerful stride and advanced defensive awareness a la Staal and displays the quick release  and aggressive bite of Getzlaf.

At the end of the day, Crouse will likely never be more than a well-rounded, 70 point per season power forward.  His ceiling could be Ryan Getzlaf and his floor could be Alex Stojanov, just like Mitch Marner could be Patrick Kane or Alex Bourret.  That’s the risk of selecting players who are 17 and 18 years old.  Barring any catastrophic implosion, Lawson Crouse should enjoy a productive NHL career and make all his naysayers eat their words.

 

 

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

May 25

Hockey Without Borders

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Nine years ago I was at a very difficult crossroads in my hockey career.  I was coming out of the NCAA with hopes of making my mark on the hockey world.  Over the summer I had signed with a team in the Buffalo Sabres minor league system and was that much closer to reaching the ultimate dream.  After a disappointing camp and some immigration issues, I ended up in a country I had never heard of, playing pro hockey for a team that didn’t even have matching equipment.

I was lost.  This wasn’t supposed to be how the story goes.  I’m supposed to be working my way up through the system to my NHL dream.  My roommate (Also a Canadian Import) just broke his skate blade, corralling an errant pass, and they welded it back together for chrissakes!  What am I doing here?

Frustrated and angry about my situation, I tried to take it out on everyone.  I was reckless and basically acting like a total jerk.  In the fifth game of the season, we played against a team from Novi Sad, Serbia (HK Vojvodina).  They had four Canadian import players on their team and were our strongest rival.  All game I was running around like an idiot, trying to hurt people and screaming at every player on their team.  During one of the breaks between whistles, one of Vojvodina’s Canadian Import players leaned over and said, “Hey, I’m Freddy.  Have you tried honey rakia yet?”

I just looked at him and said, “Huh?”

Freddy replied, “Ya man, honey rakia.  It’s unreal.  What are you guys doing after the game?  You and your buddy should stick around for the night and stay with us.  I know a great little pub that serves the best honey rakia.”

Just like that, I realized something extremely important.  It hit me like a truck.  Why was I so angry?  I was playing professional hockey, getting a chance to travel to unique and interesting countries and experience some amazing cultures.  Why was I wasting  this opportunity, wallowing in the fact that I wasn’t going to make the NHL?  I was so consumed with a sales pitch that had defined my entire life:  NHL or bust.  I was allowing it to consume me, hindering me from developing as a human being.

That was the day I met Fred Perowne.

 

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Fred Perowne and Dan Jacob

 

Q & A with Hockey Sans Frontieres (Hockey Without Borders) Director, Fred Perowne:

 

Q:  How did HSF come about?

 

Like a lot of ideas, it was first talked about over a few beers in Novi Sad. The original idea was a way for Dan Jacob, Marc Fournier, Jonathan Gauthier and I to keep our minds active in the middle of the long season.  As Dan says, “Being a professional athlete is boring!”  And it is.  The daily routine leaves much to be desired. The next season Murray Cobb and Paul Faucette joined us in Serbia and the project began to take off.  Murray had a masters degree in social work from McGill University and Paul had a masters degree in humanitarian studies. Both guys are hockey nuts and both were instrumental in forming HSF. Over time people have circled around the idea and given it energy.

 

Q:  Growing up, what did hockey mean to you?

 

I was born in a small town in Quebec where hockey was everywhere!  In Quebec, like in many Canadian regions, it’s a religion.  Les Bleu, blancs et rouge!  The long cold winters are met with short bursts of action out on the ponds and outdoor rinks. Quebec towns and cities to this day, do such a great job maintaining the ice for all to play.  My family moved to the prairies – and again – hockey was everywhere. The back alleys in Winnipeg are full of ball hockey come summer. There are few cars and lots of kids. This is a great formula for endless ball hockey games.  When the winter winds start to howl we all moved on the backyard rink that my dad would prepare. A real classic scene. Hockey was family, community, friends and fun.

 

Q:  Did your feelings or views about hockey change?  If so, when did this happen?  What were the circumstances?

 

Where I am at now, my feelings are back to the core values of family, community, friends and fun. Somewhere in between, the focus changed. There was a long period where hockey was more about an end goal and less about enjoying the moment and having fun.  There was a lot of pressure during this period of time.  For me it was AAA minor hockey, then on to U.S. prep school, NCAA and then pro hockey in Europe. At the end of my third season in Europe, I had had enough. I was tired physically and mentally. I was at a standstill. It was at that time I decided to go back to school and get another degree. I wanted to exercise the mind, so to speak.  I followed this path with hopes of gaining some understanding after living and traveling in post-conflict Yugoslavia.  It was a gold medal educational program and a perfect change of pace. Training on the ice and in the gym was replaced by reading and writing in the library. I did not even look at my hockey equipment for two years.  When I finished the course work, the phone rang from HK Vojvodina.  It was with a different perspective that I returned to Serbia to play and coach and enjoy the life & times in the Balkans. Some seasons later,  Dan, Marc and I got our citizenship played for the Serbian National team.  We ended up winning a gold medal at the Division II World Championships.  It was a special time; a time that led us to enable others to have a meaningful cross-cultural experience. HSF is that bridge for us to give back to those communities that gave so much to us.

 

Q:  You have traveled the world growing HSF.  Is there a powerful moment that sticks out in your mind the most about the whole experience?

 

There are bunch of powerful moments that stick out.  Living in the Balkans in particular and travelling in general brings an understanding about living in the moment. In the west this concept can sometimes be lost on us amid the hustle and bustle. Staying in the moment slows things down to allow for small but precious moments to stick out. For instance, this past winter in India, a young kid in a Shyok village crafted a homemade stick with his dad because he heard some coaches were coming to run a hockey clinic. It was amazing!  The photo of that kid is now on the wall in Marc Fournier’s office (Who works as a regional sales representative for Bauer).  Marc works with all the top pros, so you can imagine the hi-tech sticks he is dealing with. It is a good reminder of the world we live in.  Everyone is not too far away from each other for the first time in human history. We live in an exciting and important time. Having people connect and share ideas and experiences is more important than ever.

 

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The Homemade Stick

 

Q:  Tell us about your team at HSF.  What is the makeup of your staff?

 

HSF is a volunteer organization which partners with local clubs to help create healthy hockey communities. We are at a point now that the idea of HSF is a valid one. 22 coaches have volunteered in non-traditional hockey communities primarily in the Balkans.  We are now engaged in a process of formalizing the organization here in Canada.  Thankfully good people are coming to us with important knowledge and experience because they believe in what HSF stands for.  They see the important place sport has in children’s lives and have also value the opportunity to change the focus in youth sports in order to develop great kids and better citizens.

 

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Q:  What is your future vision for HSF?

 

We have had another great year. Last winter 8 HSF coaches were in the Balkans. Also, HSF volunteer coaches visited Mexico City and three small villages in Northern India. So the sky is the limit. We were skating at 13,500 feet last winter, in the Himalayas.  My vision for HSF is that more and more connections and cooperation takes place between people.  It is about bringing people together to share ideas and experiences. With that sharing, it will bring a million possibilities and opportunities. This is the exciting part of it all.

 

Q:  What is the message you want to send to kids coming through hockey today?

 

Hockey is so much more than just a game. The end of the journey is rarely about winning the Stanley Cup or Olympic Gold. Of greater importance is the fact that every day you can achieve small victories that, one day, amount to a wonderful life with hockey being a big part of it. That said, hockey is a part of you, not all of you. Use it to meet new people, make new friends, keep in shape and have a laugh. It’s all about the journey, not the destination.

 

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What is “Hockey Without Borders?

 

Our Mission

Hockey Without Borders is a registered non-profit organization established to affect positive change in the lives of children and youth by using the values of hockey to promote health, development and peace.  We believe that sport can foster health, integration, volunteerism, leadership and cooperation which are essential to the well-being and development of children and communities.

How it works?

We develop our partnerships by creating personal relationships with local organizations in the host community. We travel to those communities to meet everyone involved and determine if it would be a suitable arrangement for our coaches. Then, our team actively recruits young, qualified volunteer coaches for the available positions.

Why Hockey Without Borders?

Our approach is unique in that it is hands on. Instead of sending equipment or money, we focus on sending coaches abroad to live and volunteer in the community where they organize grassroots initiatives, and engage in local clinics. They become community leaders, mentors and friends to the participants in the local program. We believe that in the long run, this will have a much more profound impact.

 

More than hockey

Although our primary focus is placing qualified volunteer coaches to help support and develop local programs, we are constantly looking for ways to enhance the value and impact of our program. One way we do this is by building relationships which in turn help break down barriers.

For example, our coaches organize exchanges between the players from Serbia and Bosnia for weekend tournaments. We hosted six of our friends from Subotica, Serbia in Montreal for a hockey camp where they lived with local Serbian families, met Novak Djokovic, toured the city and made many friends. This initiative emphasized the notion that this program is about more than just hockey.

 

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For my information on this amazing organization check out:  http://www.hockeywithoutborders.org/

Follow Hockey Without Borders on Twitter:  @HSF_HWB

 

 

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

May 22

Mike Babcock Hiring About Much More Than Coaching

 

With the Babwatch frenzy behind us (Thank God!), the focus has shifted to 360 degrees of scrutiny.   From, “The Leafs are going to win the cup,” to, “Babcock’s an overrated bum,” everybody has a take on the Toronto Maple Leafs record-breaking signing of the world’s most highly coveted coach.

Here’s my take.

If you’re going to drop kick NHL coaching salary standards into the stratosphere (Mike Babcock signed an unprecedented 8-year, $50 million deal with the Leafs), you better have a pretty good idea of what the expected value is going to be.  The Toronto Maple Leafs do.  This isn’t Pat Quinn’s Leafs (Win now, the future be damned!), or John Ferguson’s Leafs (Head shake, face-palm), or Brian Burke’s Leafs (Draft and develop?  Who needs that?).  This is Brendan Shanahan’s Leafs.  And Shanny, who has been true to his word so far, has made it abundantly clear that the Leafs are in the midst of a full-fledge rebuild.  He’s made it clear that the vision in the organization has to change if we’re ever going to see sustainable success.  This is why the Babcock signing is so important.  Mike Babcock gives this rebuild credibility.

In order to execute a proper rebuild, you need to start with culture.  What better way to develop a sustainable, winning culture than to bring in the guy who has been at the center of the best culture in hockey for the last 10 years.  The Detroit Red Wings, under Babcock’s watch, haven’t necessarily had the most talented teams over the last 10 years, but they have been the most consistent.  The Wings haven’t missed the playoffs in the last 26 years and haven’t strayed from their successful model of building through the draft and prioritizing development.

230 miles east of the Ambassador Bridge in Leaf-land, poor draft selections and player development have been the Achilles heel of a franchise that has been to the playoffs only once in the last 10 years.  The lack of player development is clearly evident in the fact that only 7 of the 24 Leaf players to play 20 or more games during the 2014-15 season were selected/ signed and developed in the Leaf system.  In contrast, franchises like the Chicago Blackhawks (14 of 21), Los Angeles Kings (14 of 21) and Detroit Red Wings (20 of 23) continue to embrace the value of building sustainable success through strong development.

Why did the Leafs need Babcock to be the face of the rebuild?  Why couldn’t it be a guy like Dan Bylsma, who won a Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009, and coached a team that was built on successful development?  Or why not Todd McLellan, who led the San Jose Sharks to six postseasons in seven years and apprenticed under Babcock for three years, winning a Cup in the process?  The answer is “Star Power.”  Mike Babcock is a rock star and to coach in Toronto, where the media is going to attack you from every angle, you need to carry a big stick.

From the CIS to the World Junior Championships, World Championships, Olympics, and the NHL, Babcock has won everything.  When you have a hardware shelf like Babcock’s there’s not much people can say to pick you apart.   When you win everywhere you go, it means you’ve figured something out.  It also means you are driven to succeed and open to challenges and let’s be honest, the next three to five years are going to be a big challenge for Babcock and the Leafs.

The Babcock signing also represents a major shift in the balance of power in hockey.  We’re now seeing a situation that we haven’t seen since the days of Toe Blake and Eddie Shore.  Mike Babcock is the biggest star the Leafs have.  If Phil Kessel or Dion Phaneuf were to approach Brendan Shanahan and say, “Either Babcock goes or I go,” it’s not going to be Babcock.  I can’t think of another situation in the NHL today where the same can be said.  With presence comes respect and when you are respected throughout the industry the way that Babcock is, it’s much easier to solicit engagement and buy-in.

The Detroit Red Wing connection goes way beyond Mike Babcock.  As the leader of the Maple Leaf rebuild, Shanahan has preached the importance of building a winning culture and drafting, developing and exercising patience—everything the Detroit Red Wings have been about for the last 26 years.  Shanahan experienced this model first-hand as a member of the Wings during a 9-year stretch where he won three Stanley Cups and, based on what we’ve seen in his eventful tenure as team President, he’s serious about using the same approach to build success in Toronto.

When you think of the Red Wings, from a historical standpoint, you think about Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay winning four Stanley Cups and Scotty Bowman and his influence on Steve Yzerman, propelling him from offensive star to well-rounded champion.  What most people forget is that in between the glory there was a very dark time in Hockeytown.   In a 17-year span from 1966 to 1983, the Detroit “Dead Wings” made the playoffs twice, winning only one round, while misfiring on high draft picks and opting for aging has-beens (Sound familiar?).   In the 31 years since, they’ve missed the playoffs only twice.

While it’s been a long time since Frank Mahovlich and George Armstrong lifted the Cup while donning the blue and white, it’s only been a decade since the Leafs enjoyed a stretch of 10 postseason births in 12 years.  If Shanahan can successfully carry out his plan to rebuild the Leafs, it’s possible that we may just see history repeat itself.

From Dead Wings to Hot Wings and Crumbling Leafs to …….?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

 

 

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

May 20

5 Reasons Why Auston Matthews Should Play in Europe

 

Quietly, amid the excitement of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and in the shadow of McDavid-Mania, Jack Eichel’s huge World Championship showcase and Babwatch, there is a potentially ground-breaking story developing involving the next Connor McDavid—U.S. uber-star, Auston Matthews.  The 17-year-old phenom torched the USHL this season, breaking Patrick Kane’s scoring record in the process, with the U.S. National Under-18 team, while dazzling on the international stage in the World Junior Championships and World Under-18 tournament.  With his credentials and explosive talent, Matthews would be a sure-fire top-5 pick in this year’s NHL draft.  The problem is, he’s not eligible for the draft until 2016, meaning he has a very big decision to make on where to ply his trade next season.

 

The Options:

 

Most kids in Matthews’ position would have two prominent options:  major junior or the NCAA.  Matthews was drafted in the 3rd round in the 2012 WHL draft by the Everett Silvertips and can handpick any school he wants in the NCAA.  For any kid in his situation, this is a tough choice.  Patrick Kane picked the OHL.  Jonathan Toews picked the NCAA.  For the most part, you can’t go wrong with either path when you’re as talented as Matthews.  The thing that makes Matthews’ situation unique is the emergence of a third option:  professional hockey in the top league in Switzerland.  This is unchartered territory for North American players, which makes it so unique.

 

Here are 5 reasons why Auston Matthews should become a trailblazer and set off on a Swiss adventure:

 

  1. Talent Level

 

Auston Matthews is one of those elite talents that come along once in a while, much like McDavid and Eichel.  At this point in his development arc, he’s too good for major junior or college hockey.  For him to best challenge himself, given his draft status and situation, he would need to find a league that was better than the two aforementioned levels, but not quite as good as the NHL.  This is what makes the Swiss league a perfect breeding ground for players with Matthews’ advanced talents.  The top Swiss league is considered a “European Elite” league.  Typically, North American imports need to have played games in the NHL or had prolonged success at the AHL level to receive interest from teams in this league.  Simply put, the Swiss league is a really good level of hockey.

There has been a lot of uproar about the possibility of Matthews’ spurning the WHL and NCAA to play pro in Switzerland.  Like anything that is different, most of these arguments are based on the fact that it’s “not normal.”  The fact is that it is normal practice for ridiculously talented teens in Europe to play in elite pro leagues like the top Swiss league or the Swedish Elite League.  Players like Victor Hedman and Nicklas Backstrom greatly benefitted from playing in these leagues prior to their NHL Draft selections, easing their transition into the rigors of the NHL.  Teens in pro hockey in Europe are able to finish their schooling, while playing less games and learn from seasoned pros who have played in the NHL.

 

  1. Age

 

If Matthews was born two days earlier, the conversation surrounding this kid would be about whether to select him ahead or behind Jack Eichel.  He would likely be in a position come the fall to push for an opening day roster spot for an NHL team.  It is important to keep in mind that Matthews was born in 1997, just like Connor McDavid and most of the 2015 NHL Draft class.

 

  1. Money

 

The rumoured amount of money that is being offered to Matthews to sign in Switzerland on a one-year contract is 500,000 Euros.  That is a lot of money.  In the case that something terrible happened or he became a bust, this amount of money provides a security blanket for Matthews.  This would easily cover all the costs of a university degree and then some.  Knowing how fragile a career in hockey can be and that there are no guarantees with projections, it makes a lot of sense to grab the money and run.

 

  1. Coaching & Development

 

The Swiss team that has been linked to Matthews is the ZSC Lions, located in Zurich, which is coached by Stanley Cup Champion and long-time NHL coach, Mark Crawford.  Last year’s team boasted a lineup with 6 players who played over 250 games in the NHL, including Marc-Andre Bergeron.  Crawford, known for employing an up-tempo style of play, would provide Matthews with guidance to develop his game in the mold of a player with his sights set on an impactful transition to the NHL the following season.  Anyone who has played at high levels can tell you the immeasurable value of being surrounded by guys “who have been there.”  Living day-in and day-out with guys who have played a significant amount of games in the NHL and gleaning off of their leadership and experience is a huge benefit.

 

  1. Future Options

 

There is a major benefit to signing a one-year deal in Switzerland that will trigger options for the following season for Matthews and that is the opportunity to play in the AHL if he isn’t ready to play full-time in the NHL in the 2016-17 season.  Currently, due to an agreement between the CHL and NHL, junior-eligible players (prior to their overage, 20-year-old season) are not eligible to be sent down to the AHL.  This only applies to players who have signed CHL contracts and doesn’t apply to players who play in European pro leagues.  This means that by choosing the Swiss league option, Matthews would open up the option of playing in the AHL if he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL the following season.

 

At the end of the day, who knows where Auston Matthews will decide to play next season.  There will be a lot of pressure for him to choose one of the traditional options (CHL or NCAA) simply because it’s what you’re “supposed to do.”  In reality, Matthews signing in Zurich would be no different than European import players signing with CHL teams.

From a business standpoint, the CHL and NCAA are praying Matthews doesn’t cross the pond.  If he does, this will surely pave the way for others to choose this option in the future.  The CHL and NCAA want to do what they can to retain their McDavids and Eichels.  Losing your headliners is just bad for business.

 

 

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Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

May 11

5 Ways to Address Minor Hockey Flaws in North America

Minor Hockey

From rising costs to heartbroken children, there are many flaws that currently plague the minor hockey system in North America.  As we transition into a new era of holistic development, how can we help change the system for the better?

Here are 5 ways we can address major flaws plaguing minor hockey today:

 

  1. Change the Vision

Mission statements aside, the vision of today’s minor hockey system is focused around selling the NHL Dream.  There is nothing wrong with dreaming big, it’s what kids do best, but, we need to remember or realize that the NHL dream is a 1 in 1,000 shot.  It’s a lottery dream.  The problem with making this a focal point is all of the negativity that comes along with it.  From an obsession with winning and statistics to status and fights over playing time, everything that is negative about minor hockey can all be linked to the pressures of chasing what is essentially a pipe dream.

I’ve spent the last few days, scouring minor hockey sites from Prince George, BC, to Fort Myers, FLA and there are a lot of similar themes.  Almost every home page has pictures of kids celebrating victories and championships.  Some of the overarching organizations are promoting graduates currently in the NHL, with posts celebrating the careers of the 0.001%.  I totally get it.  We’re selling the dream, and it’s dreams that keep us motivated.  But, is this really the best model?  The business analyst in me can’t help but look at the vision and see the flaws. Why can’t we change the vision to be more inclusive and celebrate the transferrable values of youth sports.  Why can’t we celebrate the fact that individuals from all vocations can use the tools and values they learned in minor hockey and successfully apply them to everyday life?

The fact is kids are being setup to fail in a system that sells the NHL dream as its main focus.  Even reaching the high levels that I did in hockey, I was extremely disappointed in myself because I didn’t reach the NHL.  It is an all or nothing mentality that is a major part of the culture of hockey development in North America.  It wasn’t until much later that I understood the hidden transferrable values that hockey had given me—something that just wasn’t a focus and still isn’t in minor hockey.  It’s a backwards approach.  It’s a quantity-based development model when it should be focused on quality.

 

 

  1. Align Development with Priorities

Every year I get asked to coach AAA minor hockey in my community and every year I politely decline.  When asked why, I simply state, “Firstly, my wife would kill me (it is a huge time commitment).  Secondly, the way I would run it would piss too many people off.”

“What do you mean?”  He replied.

“Well, I would hold a meeting at the beginning of every season and tell all parents the following:  I am a big believer in developing all players so everyone is going to play in different situations and have fun.  Everyone has a right to learn and develop and it’s my job to make sure each kid has fun, develops on and off the ice as a well-rounded person, learns valuable transferrable skills and values, and plays with peak confidence.  My priorities are:  Fun, Development, Respect, and Teamwork.  Winning is a by-product of development.  Winning is not a priority for me.” I said.

He replied, “You can’t do that, man.  It’s AAA.  You have to promote your top guns and play to win.  Winning has to be a priority, that’s why it’s called competitive hockey.  If you want to play everyone, you should coach house league.”

To me, that is such an old school mentality and is debilitating to youth sports.  I hear dozens of stories each day from people about kids coming home crying after playing two shifts of a game.  When I was 13 years-old, my coach told my dad he should stop wasting his money and pull me out of rep hockey because I was never going to do anything with it.  I used to be the kid who was the “grocery stick” (sits in the middle of the bench between the forwards and the defencemen and doesn’t play).  I sat and watched 16 other kids play, game-in and game-out.  21 years later, myself and two other kids on that team played professional hockey.  The fact is you never know when kids are going to peak.  To promote some and not others is short-sighted and detrimental.

 

 

  1. Fix the Ratio

I’ve mentioned this before in other articles.  Kids are playing far too many games and not practicing enough, in comparison.  I asked a parent of a AAA peewee player how many games his son played during the winter season last year and he said with tournaments, exhibition games, regular season games and playoffs it was around 65 – 70 games.  He said they practiced on average twice a week, usually 3 games a week and sometimes travelling three hours to games on school nights.  During his minor midget AAA season, Connor McDavid participated in 88 games during the winter season.  These numbers don’t even include spring or summer hockey games, which a large portion of kids partake in after the winter season.

The biggest complaint I hear today about minor hockey is the cost.  Annual winter season registration for AAA is between $3,000 – $5,000, not including additional costs like equipment and travel and accommodation.  After a season, it’s not uncommon for families to be out $10,000.  One way to help reduce this is to reduce the amount of games played and tournaments entered.  As it stands, the only league in the world that plays more games in a calendar year than AAA minor hockey is the NHL.  Games cost more than practices, yet it’s in practice that kids develop more.  Reducing the games played from 70 to 40 and scaling back from 5 tournaments a year to 2 or 3 will drastically reduce some of the associated costs and allow more families to afford to put their kid into competitive hockey.

Hockey is still packaged and sold to families as a “blue collar” sport.  Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby came from blue collar families, rose up and achieved glory and riches beyond their wildest dreams.  This view is all a big part of selling the dream.  Unfortunately, most families today are being priced out of the sport.  Not too many families can set aside $10,000 a year for recreation.   This is all due to a quantity over quality model.

As a development specialist, I see a lot of burnout today in hockey.  I see highly-stressed parents, worried about status and finances, and I see kids who are under an enormous amount of pressure.  I hear the word “investment” a lot when it comes to minor hockey careers, a word that should never be tied into youth sports.  Financially, minor hockey has reached a serious tipping point.  Something’s got to give.

 

 

  1. Develop Partnerships

Hockey in North America is big business.  This isn’t going to change anytime soon.  With the growth of hockey development, we have seen a meteoric rise of hockey development companies.  More and more families are purchasing the services of these companies for skill development clinics, power skating, private lessons and other specialized hockey services.  Many young players now have advisors or mentors and are engaged in off-ice training.  The three-sport athlete is fading and the emergence of specialization is the new rage (whether this is right or wrong is an article for another day).

These companies have joined in the marketplace and have begun going head-to-head with minor hockey associations.  These companies greatly capitalize on the “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.  If Johnny Superstar is going to XYZ Hockey School, then everyone else will follow suit.  This new era of development has pulled strong coaching candidates from the minor hockey coaching ranks. Why coach for peanuts and deal with constant headaches and pressures when you could make more money, commit less time, and run things the way you want without restrictions?

If these hockey development companies aren’t going anywhere and provide good services, how can we make it work so that costs aren’t going through the roof?  The answer is partnerships.  If minor hockey associations start partnering up with these hockey companies to provide high-level development services, you will see a stronger, more integrated development experience.  The fact is, most volunteer coaches (all great people) aren’t usually equipped to handle high-level specialized skill development.  For years, goaltending development suffered in Canada due to the lack of expertise in minor hockey organizations.  By partnering up with a hockey development company, organizations can benefit from a roving goalie coach who works with all the goalies in the system throughout the season, limiting the need to shell out thousands of dollars on the side for private lessons.

Another way to help reduce overall costs is to create partnerships between youth sports organizations within the community.  When I was playing pro hockey in Europe, I was amazed at how they conducted business when it came to youth sports.  In many areas in Europe, there are “club” organizations that include multiple sporting teams spread across several levels.  For example, I played pro hockey for HK Partizan, which was part of the Partizan sporting club family.  Partizan had pro teams in hockey, soccer, basketball, and handball, as well as youth sports levels under the Partizan umbrella all the way down to tyke.  It was much easier to secure major corporate sponsorship through this model and allowed families to register their kids in multiple sports throughout the year at reduced costs.

 

 

  1. More Transparency and Accountability in Governance

Too many people are able to play God in youth and amateur sports.  From league convenors to coaches, it’s far too easy to be sleazy.  The amount of corruption and abuse of power I have seen over the years in minor hockey and at the amateur junior levels is enough to make me swear my kids away from ever playing hockey.  It has to change and the reason it hasn’t, despite knowledge of the corruption, is due to the “ol’ redneck judge and jury” setup.  It’s an old boys club and everyone has each other’s back.  It’s a broken system and needs more transparency and accountability.  From the selection of teams to the way grievances are processed, there needs to be more transparency and a formalized process in place that ensures objectivity.

 

Hockey is a great sport filled with many great benefits.  Check out how hockey’s key values translate to the workplace in “Hockey to the Workplace: 10 Transferable Competencies”, and take a hilarious ride through hockey’s back roads in “Tales from the Bus Leagues”.

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Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

May 06

Welcome to the Colgate Inn

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(Sample story from “Tales from the Bus Leagues”)

One of the quaintest towns in central New York state is Hamilton. Hamilton lies in the Chenango Valley, just south of the headwaters of the Chenango River in Madison County. It is plush green in the summer and pristine white in the winter. The colonial houses line the tranquil streets surrounding the picturesque campus of historic Colgate University. As soon as you set foot in Hamilton, N.Y., you develop a sudden craving for tea and crumpets and readings of the works of Robert Frost and Leo Tolstoy.

Colgate University, which accounts for 50 percent of the village of Hamilton’s population, was one of our conference rivals when I played at Clarkson University. Colgate lays claim to several NHL alumni, such as Mike Milbury and Andy McDonald, as well as all five members of Broken Lizard, the creators and lead actors in cult comedy hit movies “Super Troopers” and “Beerfest.” Starr Arena is a small shoebox of a rink, but it holds one distinct advantage over many of the other arenas in the ECAC, a bowling alley practically right outside of the visitors dressing rooms.

Every time we went to play at Colgate, we stayed at the Colgate Inn, which is a Dutch Colonial-style inn that opened in 1925. The inn is known for its elegant ballroom, stylish parlors and cozy rooms. It is a haven for highbrows, scholars and artisan travelers. It was hardly typical of the Red Roof Inns and Courtyard Marriotts that we normally stayed at.

The first thing I noticed about the historic inn was how narrow the hallways were. The rooms themselves looked like they belonged to Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. I half expected to open the door and find a 90-year-old lady knitting an afghan in front of a well- stoked fire while watching reruns of “Murder She Wrote.” All of the furniture, from the side tables to the chairs and beds, were teak. Rumors were that the inn was haunted, and it wasn’t implausible to see why.

After unpacking some of our gear, my road trip roommate and I decided to flip on Sportscenter and relax. There was only one problem. When we flopped down on the beds, the mattresses engulfed our bodies like waves and our legs hung over the end of the bed. These “Bert and Ernie” single beds were only five and a half feet in length.

Just before the Sportscenter Top Ten came on, my roommate went into the tiny bathroom to get ready for bed. Ten minutes later he came out, just in time for the Top Ten, after which we shut off the TV and lights and went to bed.

The next morning, at about 6:35 a.m., our phone rang. I looked at the clock, saw the time and ignored the call. Our wakeup call was set for 7:30, so obviously someone had the wrong number. After ignoring the call, the phone began ringing again. This time I picked it up and groggily answered. The person on the other end of the line was a frantic inn employee. “Excuse me, sir. Is the toilet overflowing in your bathroom?”

I asked them to hold on, put down the receiver and went to the bathroom to check. When I opened the door, I saw that the floor was covered in poopy water. I woke up my roommate and said: “Hey! You clogged the shitter last night, man. Look! It’s all over the floor.”

Apparently, the water had been running all night and had pooled under the tile in the bathroom, leaking down into the ceiling of the ballroom below us. Our team breakfast was cancelled on account of a shit storm!

When we went downstairs, we were met with quite a sight. The pristine ballroom ceiling was bowed down with a massive pocket of sewage. Plumbers, wait staff and bellhops were hastily moving tables and clearing off glassware and cutlery. One particular maintenance worker was on a ladder just beneath the pocket of filth, removing an elegant chandelier.

The next time we played at Colgate, we stayed outside of town at the Red Roof Inn. Hockey players, you can dress them up, but you can’t take them out.

For more stories like this one, check out “Tales from the Bus Leagues” by Jamie McKinven

 

 

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Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

May 04

The Legend of Gunner Garrett

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(Sample story from “Tales from the Bus Leagues”)

For those of you who have read my first book, I may be repeating myself a bit here. In, “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey,” I spoke briefly about Kenneth “Gunner” Garrett, the legendary minor league trainer. Considering this, I hemmed and hawed about including Gunner’s story in this book until realizing that not including Gunner in a funny book about minor league hockey would be criminal and sacrilegious. Anyone who has had the pleasure of encountering the cantankerous old codger can attest.

The first time I met Gunner, I was sleep-deprived, hung over and in a furious rush. I had just driven 22 hours straight, through the night from Augusta, Ga., to Amarillo, Texas, and I was about to make another four-hour trek to Odessa for my first game as a member of the Amarillo Gorillas of the CHL. When I walked into the Amarillo Civic Center, one of the first things that caught my eye, before I ducked into the dressing room, was a large black banner with a helmet, two crossed hockey sticks and the name “Gunner” embroidered in large bold letters. Immediately, I figured it was a memorial to a former player who died.

After being redirected several times amidst a mad rush of players getting ready for a road trip, I stood nose to nose with the Amarillo team trainer. The man in front of me seemed to have all the prerequisites of a minor league trainer:

Grumpy? Check.

Sarcastic? Check

Quick-witted? Check

Gruff? Check

He reached out his hand and said: “You must be Janine McMuffin. I’m Gunner, the team trainer. Welcome to paradise.”

I grabbed Gunner’s hand firmly and shook it: “Nice to meet you, Gunner but my name is Jamie.” Gunner glared at me, cocking his head to the side: “You look more like a Janine to me. What position do you play?”

“I’m a defenceman,” I replied.

“Oh ya? Well you don’t look like much,” he scoffed while looking me up and down.

“I could say the same about you, but I bet you’ve already been told that,” I jabbed back.

Gunner immediately dropped his grumpy façade and let out a low, bellowing laugh: “You might just be all right, son. Now grab your frickin’ gear and come pick out some sticks.”

“Hey, Gunner,” I asked. “What’s with that morbid banner out front?”

“Son, you wouldn’t believe it if I told ya. Those bozos thought I was dead and had a banner made up for me,” he replied, referring to an incident that occurred during the 2005 season when Gunner was the trainer for the Austin Ice Bats.

Gunner suffered what was thought to be a fatal heart attack at the rink in Austin. He was rushed to hospital and word spread that he had died. Not knowing that he was actually alive, ownership had a large banner made up that was to be hung from the rafters during the next night’s game in memory of Gunner. When word came out that he was indeed alive, the banner was given to him as a keepsake and reminder of the close call.

Gunner was a very interesting character, to say the least. He represented a unique perspective. He was straight out of the old guard. It was almost like having Don Cherry walking around your dressing room in a skin-tight Stanfield’s hockey underwear jumpsuit, throwing chirps around at all the players and talking about how it was back in the good ol’ days.

Gunner’s training and equipment managing career spanned 48 years, from 1961 when he started out with the EHL’s Johnston Jets right up to his last season with us in Amarillo in 2009. Early in his career, Gunner suited up for 22 games with the New Haven Blades of the EHL over five seasons. Back then, teams usually only carried one goalie and the trainer served as the backup. During that span, Gunner even recorded back-to-back shutouts.

Being plugged into the pro hockey culture for so long meant that Gunner, like all of the players he loved to razz, was a creature of habit. And, like all of the players, Gunner’s superstitions and routines were as head- scratching and face-scrunching as anything you’ve ever heard of. For example, some people say that they love hockey so much they basically live at the rink. In Gunner’s case, he actually did live at the rink. In our stick room—a long stretch of open space located under the north-end bleachers—there was an old, fluffy couch with a grungy old blanket and pillow. This was Gunner’s bed. A coffee maker, mini-fridge and hot plate served as Gunner’s kitchen.

One morning before practice, I got to the rink early in order to prep some new sticks. When I walked into the stick room and flipped on the lights, Gunner nearly bit my head off. “Turn that fuckin’ light off before I wrap your nose around the back of your head,” he barked while throwing a pillow at me.

Another routine that Gunner had was to wander around before games, chirping players and engaging in playful banter. He especially loved to drift in and out of the medical trainer’s room to cut guys up who were getting treatment. He would spit out lines like: “What’s going on, son? You tear some heartilage?” or, “What’s wrong with him, doc? He tear his motivator cuff?”

Chirping is a major part of the camaraderie in the hockey culture and Gunner was an avid practitioner. It was how he showed his affection for someone. If he was ripping on you, you knew he liked you. If he didn’t rip on you, you knew he wasn’t a fan.

One of Gunner’s funnier peccadilloes was how adamant he was about certain things and how lax he was about others. For example, Gunner was the only trainer I’ve ever met who didn’t give a shit about the sticks. He literally left the stick room door open all the time. This was unheard of. Usually that room is locked up tighter than Fort Knox.

Players would file in and out of there with bundles of sticks under their arms and he wouldn’t even look up from his newspaper. On the flip side, Gunner would fight you to the death and piss on your dead carcass if he ever caught you stealing the 20-year-old, raggedy, used undershirts and long underwear he kept under lock and key in a cabinet beside his desk. It was the weirdest thing. Those raggedy Stanfield’s undershirts were from his days tending the end of the bench for the P.E.I. Senators during the early ‘90s, and he guarded them like it was his daughter on prom night.

One of the reasons Gunner might have been so anal about the long underwear and undershirts might have been the fact that it was all he ever wore. Throughout the entire season, I only saw Gunner in two outfits: One was a matching set of navy blue long underwear and long-sleeved undershirt; the other an Amarillo Gorillas nylon tracksuit (which he wore on the bench during games). You might hear me say this and think, “Well, Jamie, Gunner couldn’t have worn that stuff when you went out to restaurants on the road or at fancy team parties,” and I’m here to tell you that he certainly did. I still remember the day when one of the guys gave it to Gunner for wearing his tight long johns into an Olive Garden on the road one day: “Geez, Gunner, have some decency. No one should have to see you walking around wearing that. I can see the complete outline of your junk for chrissakes!”

A funny little thing about Gunner was that he absolutely loved ice cream drumsticks. After every game on the road, before bussing out to the next dusty town location, we would stop at a truck stop to gas up. During the pit stop, I would always grab Gunner a drumstick. It was great to see his eyes light up when I’d hand it over to him. He was a like a little kid.

Gunner also loved Christmas. It was the only time I’d ever see him be cheery. He took a lot of pride in putting up decorations and making sure the radio was on a 24/7 Christmas station. He even had his girlfriend make Christmas cookies, which he’d put on display on his desk and promptly slap anyone’s hand who tried to sneak in for a quick grab-and-dash.

One day, I told Gunner that he gave my best friend from home, Jordan Reid (who grew up in P.E.I.), his first job as stick boy for the P.E.I. Senators (the AHL affiliate for the Ottawa Senators during the early ‘90s).

Gunner snapped back at me: “No I didn’t!”

I said: “Gunner, I haven’t even told you his name yet.”

Well, what is it?” he angrily replied.

“Jordan Reid,” I said.

“Ohhhhhhhh, I know little Jordie! He’s Tom Reid’s kid. What a great family. Why didn’t you say that’s who it was?” he said, with a jolly bounce in his voice.

Confused, I replied: “Ummm, I did, Gunner.”

On bus trips, Gunner always sat in the tour guide seat right beside the bus driver. He’d even sleep sitting in that thing.

One trip, the heater on the bus broke as we were driving through the Colorado Rockies and the windshield was beginning to get caked in ice. Gunner sat beside the bus driver all night with a heat gun pointed on the windshield, creating a visible window of one-foot by one-foot.

On another trip up to Fort Collins, Colorado, Gunner had a pretty serious scare. Just before dawn, Gunner woke up in hysterics. He didn’t know who he was, where he was or what the paper items (money) were in his pocket. Gunner was taken to hospital and it was determined he had suffered a mild stroke. Hours later, against stern advice from the doctors, the stubborn old bastard was at the rink, sharpening skates and tossing around chirps.

It’s nearly impossible to keep hockey players on the shelf if there is any way that they can play. Grumpy old hockey trainers are no different.

For more stories like this one, check out “Tales from the Bus Leagues” by Jamie McKinven

 

 

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Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

Apr 29

Das Boot (Sample Story from “Tales from the Bus Leagues”)

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(Sample story from “Tales from the Bus Leagues”)

Throughout my career at Clarkson University, I was fortunate to have access to a car. During my freshman year, I was driving a cherry red 1993 Chrysler Concorde. It wasn’t the nicest car on campus—most of the kids came from pretty wealthy families and found Hummers, Beamers and Range Rovers with personalized plates in the driveway on the morning of their sixteenth birthday. I was just happy to have some wheels.

I drove that car for the first two years I was at school and it acquired a few nicknames in the process. There were pretty self-explanatory nicknames like, “The Boat”, “The Red Cherry”, “The Cherry Blaster”, and then there was my personal favorite: “The Squealer”.

The reason my car got the nickname The Squealer was because, for the longest time, I had a loose fan belt that I was too cheap and too mechanically uninclined to fix. For the first two minutes after I started the car, it would make this high pitch, blood-curdling, unbelievably loud sound that was not unlike nails on a chalkboard through a megaphone. I would fire up The Squealer in a busy parking lot and everyone would immediately look at me with a mixed expression of: “I want to kill you with a chainsaw” and, “I just accidentally ate poop.”

Teammates used to tell me that they would be walking to class, a mile away from where I parked my car on campus and could hear The Squealer starting up. They would turn to one another and say: “There’s Jamer. I wonder where he’s going.”

It had gotten to the point that I didn’t even notice it anymore because I had gone so long without getting it fixed. There were times when it wasn’t as bad as others. For example, on the really cold winter days it didn’t squeal as much because the belt was constricted by the freezing cold air. It was always the worst when the weather turned warm.

One time, I was going out on a date with a girl for the first time and I went to pick her up in The Squealer to take her to a movie. I pulled up to her dorm and she nearly ran back inside. All of the dorm window lights started popping on and people were lurking about at their windows trying to see what was making that god-awful sound. I jumped out of the car strutting over to the passenger door to open it up like I was “The Fonze” and this poor girl was mortified.

During my first season at Clarkson, I had a lot to learn about possessing a car on campus. On the very first day, I went out to my car and noticed that I’d been given a parking ticket. The ticket was for $10 for parking in a university lot without a permit. I told the fellas about the ticket and asked where I could go to buy a permit. One of the veterans quickly interjected, telling me not to waste my money because Campus Safety doesn’t know who owns which car unless you register and they never try and track down rogue cars. They just give out tickets and assume people will pay them.

So, the rest of the year, I threw every ticket I got in the garbage. Sometimes I would put them on a teammate’s car to mess around. By the end of the year, I estimated that I had thrown away at least 90 to 100 parking tickets. At $10 a pop, that was a pretty hefty sum.

During my junior year, I was able to finagle a free parking pass from someone I knew who worked in the student council office, so my bad boy days were coming to an end. I was also driving a different car: a 2000 maroon Chrysler Concorde (another hand-me-down boat from my dad), more affectionately known as, “The Black Cherry”. This car didn’t have the clearly audible attributes of The Squealer but she was definitely not lacking in character.

Early on in my sophomore season, one of our freshmen, David Leggio, came in to the dressing room one day and asked where he could buy a parking pass. Remembering the sage advice I had received as a freshman the previous year, I put my hand on his shoulder, shook my head and told him not to bother. I repeated the reasoning that was passed on to me a year earlier. Leggio nodded his head and smiled.

The rest of the season, Leggio tossed away tickets left and right, laughing, as I had, in the face of authority. There was a competition going to see if he could break my parking ticket record, a feat that he easily achieved, and then some.

A year later, Leggio was a sophomore, passing on the advice to the next group of freshmen on a stroll out of the rink one day when he noticed something different about his GMC SUV. Affixed firmly (we tried everything we could do to pry it off) to the wheel of his SUV was a big, yellow car boot—Das Boot. Apparently, unbeknownst to any of us, the University had done an audit during the summer of 2005 and realized they were missing a lot of uncollected revenue from unpaid parking tickets. They were trying to track down vehicles that had large sums of unpaid fees by coordinating with the New York State Police. They had also invested in two car boots to help them recoup unpaid fees and, apparently, two vehicles where No. 1 and No. 2 on their lists. No. 1, with a bullet, was a cherry red 1993 Chrysler Concorde with Ontario plates and no. 2 was a GMC SUV with New York plates (Leggio’s ride). Since The Squealer was no longer in commission, collecting moss in a car graveyard somewhere, they moved onto public enemy no. 2, and Leggio’s SUV got Das Boot.

It was a shitty situation because Leggio had accumulated a crazy amount of parking tickets that had amounted to somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,200 to $1,500. Coupled with the fee to have the boot removed, Leggio was looking at around $2,000 to get his car back. I remember sitting around at lunch one day and we were trying to figure out if Leggio should just let the university keep his SUV instead of paying the $2,000 to get the boot taken off. In the end, they worked out a deal where Leggio had to pay a largely reduced fee and Das Boot was removed.

For more stories like this one, check out “Tales from the Bus Leagues” by Jamie McKinven

 

 

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

Apr 23

Keys to Dealing with “The End” in Hockey

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There is nothing more terrifying than the concept of “The End.”  While the end can mean many things, negative or positive, it is the former that is often first manifested in our minds.  We are conditioned to fear and prepare for the worst.  The end of a path.  The end of a dream.  The end of a life.

In hockey, like in all sports, the end is an inevitable certainty.  There is no way around it.  Whether you finish up in midget, junior, college or pro, your career is going to end and you’re going to have to find a way to pick up the pieces and move on.  The reality is, when that final game comes and goes, most aren’t prepared to say goodbye and take that next step.  Most aren’t able to transition and see the value in what they have accomplished and how the skills they’ve acquired and lessons they have learned can continue to pave the way to future success.

One thing I learned after 25 years in the game of hockey is that the end means something different for everyone, no matter what level you reach or how long you play.  I’ve seen kids with two years of junior experience bawl their eyes out and fall into deep depression when the lights go out on their career.  I’ve also seen 14-year pros, with NHL experience, shrug their shoulders, walk away and never look back.  It’s important to refrain from assumptions.  Just because someone retires with millions in the bank and Stanley Cup rings on their fingers doesn’t mean they will take it any easier than someone who finishes up after 12 junior hockey games, or vice versa.  What I’ve learned is that everyone is different and the end of a dream affects everyone in different ways.

I’ve seen players grind through a career, suffering horrific, life-changing injuries; lose families, fortunes and their sense of self-worth.  With growing awareness of the lingering and debilitating effects of concussions, we’ve seen an uprising of courage from former players to speak about their post-career struggles, tearing down the walls of stigma.  Players like the late Steve Montador, who took up the fight to create awareness for mental health, and his friend Dan Carcillo who dropped the guarded, tough-guy image to open up in an emotional revelation, have shed much needed light on the struggles faced by players when their career ends.  These guys are heroes.  True warriors.

While the weight of the end hits everyone at every level differently, there are common themes and lessons that can help lessen the blow of reality.  Things that benefit everyone while dealing with major change and transition in life.

Here are five important things to remember as you prepare for “The End”:

 

  1. You’re Not Alone

 

The most important step to climbing out of a dark place is to reach out for support.  Too often, especially in hockey, a sport governed by an unwritten code and represented by a certain image, players will conceal their wounds, both physically and emotionally, and try to “tough it out.”  You don’t want to show weakness, so it’s better to suffer in silence or use other coping methods.  You don’t want to go down this road.  If you’re suffering, reach out and get the support you need before it snowballs into something you can’t get out of.  Be courageous and drop your guard.  You’re not the first athlete to admit they need help and, hopefully, you will pave the way for others to feel safe to do so.

 

  1. Recognize the Transferrable Skills

 

I touched on the value of hockey players and their transferable skills in another article (Hockey to the Workplace:  10 Transferable Competencies).  Whatever level you reach in hockey, you have learned some invaluable life lessons and acquired a transferable skill-set.   From the value of perseverance to proactivity in the workplace, hockey provides a strong base of skills and values to build off of as you transition from one stage in life to the next.

 

  1. Understand the Value in Your Accomplishments

 

One of the issues I had during my playing career was that I never recognized the value in what I was doing.  This is mostly because players are coached and bred to never be satisfied and always reach for something more.  It wasn’t until I retired, took a step back and decided to write a book, that I began to see the intrinsic value in everything I had accomplished.  The biggest value I was able to take away from my career was the relationships I built and the experiences I had, both good and bad.  Most of my best friends in life have come from the hockey world.  Hockey paid for my university degree.  Hockey allowed me to travel the world and experience different cultures.  All of these amazing positives dwarfed the fact that I never made it to the NHL and that I was often a healthy scratch in college.  Always look to the positive value in anything you do to help you understand the purpose.

 

  1. You’re Somebody’s Hero

 

I recently spoke to a mother of a child with down syndrome who spends her Saturdays during the winter in cold rinks watching single-A bantam hockey games.  They don’t have a relative playing in the game.  One of the players is a classmate of the child with down syndrome; someone with a kind heart and a love for the game of hockey.  For this child this player is a hero.  The player will likely never play beyond the age of 16 or 17, likely never reaching a level higher than rep hockey.  When they do hang up the blades, they will see a smiling face in a small crowd in a cold rink on a Saturday.

After hearing this story, it made me realize that no matter how far you go in hockey or in life, there are always people out there counting on you, rooting for you and caring about you.  You don’t have to play in the NHL to be somebody’s hero and when you stop playing the game, it doesn’t mean you stop being the hero.

 

  1. Take Your Time

 

Most players I talk to, and this was always my biggest problem, are always worried about an imaginary clock ticking away on their window of opportunity, their career and their life.  In hockey, there is an obsession with this clock.  People put deadlines on everything.  Parents often say, “If Johnny doesn’t make AAA by minor bantam, he’ll never reach his dreams.”  There is an obsession over the OHL, WHL and QMJHL drafts.  Parents will say, “If Johnny doesn’t get drafted, he’ll never reach his dreams.”  And, when you’re done playing, there is a pressure to hurry up and be instantaneously successful in something else.  For me it was, “OK, you have your degree so go out and get a high-paying job right away.”  When it didn’t happen like that, I was devastated.  I felt like a complete failure all over again.  First, my hockey career failed and now I can’t even get a decent job.  The clock was ticking and I was a slave to it.

The reality is that the clock is a farce.  If you don’t make AAA by minor bantam, you can still reach your dreams.  If you don’t get drafted in the OHL, you can still reach your dreams.  If you don’t get a great job within a year after your playing career ends, you are normal.  Don’t rush.  Most mistakes in life are made in haste.  You probably didn’t decide to make your lifelong dream to be a hockey player in the first moments of your life and you shouldn’t expect your next step to be any different.

 

 

 

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

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