Nov 25

Message to the Minor Hockey Grocery Stick

Grocery Stick

Hey you.  Yep, you, the one who is probably going to play about three shifts today and spend the rest of the game freezing your butt off in the middle of the bench.  Hockey’s not that much fun right now, is it?  Well, I know exactly how you feel.  For three solid years, between the ages of 12 and 14, I spent most of my time as a competitive youth hockey player watching my teammates play while counting the lights hanging in the rink.  During that span one coach told my dad to quit wasting his money and get me out of hockey because I was never going to do anything with it.  I also spent a lot of time doubting myself and building an inferiority complex that would plague me the rest of my career.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Well, I guess the reason is that I wish I could go back and do it all over again, knowing then what I know now.  The first thing you need to do, right when you start feeling down, knowing that you’re going to be driving three hours on a bus to play three shifts, is to ask yourself the most important question there is: “Do you love playing hockey?  I mean really, really love it?”  If the answer is unequivocally, “yes”, then I would tell you to move forward and focus on these invaluable guiding points about persevering in youth athletics


1) It’s a marathon, not a sprint


It’s something that I’ve mentioned in a couple of my other posts, but I can’t stress it enough to kids and parents involved in youth sports.  Don’t become consumed by the imaginary clock.  The clock probably took about 5 years off of my life from stress alone.  There are so many different ways to reach your goals.  Don’t read Sidney Crosby, Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux’s autobiographies and expect that a career is supposed to progress in the way that theirs did.  More often than not, the path to success looks like a plate of spaghetti.  The kids that are superstars at 10 or 11 years-old might not be superstars at 14, 15 or 16, and the superstars at 14, 15 and 16 might not be stars at 19, 20 or 21.  In fact, in my experience, most of them weren’t.  Relax and try to find ways to enjoy the ride.


2)  Build confidence with small victories


Whether you’re playing as much as half the game or as little as three shifts, try to help prevent your confidence from going in the toilet by focusing on small victories.  Small victories for a player who is rotting on the bench might occur in practice or on the outdoor rink.  Use short-term goal-setting to help you accomplish small victories.  If you’re about to perform a shooting drill in practice, try and score on 50% of your shots.  If you accomplish your goal, take time to enjoy that small victory.


3)  Practice is where true development occurs


Building off of the last point, understand that practice is where you improve the most.  It’s where you get the most puck touches, the most time on the ice and where basically all of your skill development takes place.  Practice is where you can try new things and expand your skill sets, and where you should be able to development without fear of failure.  Anyone who says you develop more in a game than practice hasn’t really thought it through.  So, since there are no bench warmers in practice, take full advantage of this valuable time to grow your desire, confidence and skill set.


4)  Be proactive with your coach


Most of the toxicity that exists in youth sports begins with adult interactions.  More specifically, animosity between parents and coaches is what tends to sour the experience of youth sports.  It makes sense, really.  If a coach decides they want to play their best players to win games, the parents of the kids who don’t play are going to be rightfully upset.  Often, it’s how this situation is handled between adults that can worsen the situation for the kid, either through escalated stress in their parents or scorn from their coach.

One thing I would have done differently as a youth player, as daunting as this may seem, would have been to be courageous and proactive and talk to my coach one-on-one, tell them how I felt and ask for guidance.  Anyone who has coached can tell you that when a player respectfully engages you about their situation, it puts the onus on you to be a leader and be more accountable in the development of that player.  If anything, it makes you feel a little bit guilty, like you’re letting them down.

Best case scenario, the coach will commit to doing a better job of giving you opportunities and focusing more on developing you as a player.  Worst case scenario, you’ll get some feedback and hopefully some honesty about why they aren’t giving you the ice-time you feel you deserve.  Either way, you’ve respectfully brought your feelings to the surface and let your coach know that you have a strong desire to play more.


5)  Don’t worry about status


This point goes hand in hand with the point about it being a marathon, not a sprint.  It’s easy to get caught up in the obsession with playing at the highest level of rep hockey.  The AAA kids get the coolest gear and jackets and they dance with all the popular girls/boys at the school dance.  I get it.  Adam Banks was pretty cool in The Mighty Ducks and The Hawks definitely had better uniforms than District 5.

The fact is, though, kids develop at different stages and you’re not always going to get better playing against the best competition.  Sometimes, you need to think about which situation represents a better way to grow as a player, both physically and mentally:  playing three shifts of tense, ultra-safe hockey per game at the highest level or playing quality minutes of confident, worry-free hockey at the level below.

The turning point in my career can when I was cut from AAA, played a season of A hockey and had the biggest growth in development of my career.  I went from three shifts a game of banging pucks off the glass to playing key minutes of confident, shackle-free hockey.  By the time the next season rolled around, I was leaps and bounds ahead of more than half the players on that AAA team I was cut from.


6)  Take time to celebrate the good moments


Don’t ever forget the main reason anyone plays hockey:  Fun!  Hockey is fun!  Enjoy all the great moments the game has to offer, from great plays on the ice, to funny pranks off the ice.  Savour the anticipation of that first cold day when the outdoor rink opens to the mini-stick games in the hotel hallways during tournaments.  There are so many moments away from the actual game itself that make hockey such a great experience for youth athletes.  When times get tough, focus more on the great moments that keep that fire burning deep inside you.



Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at
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.

Nov 20

Being a Healthy Scratch Sucks


There is nothing more frustrating or humiliating in all of professional sports than being a healthy scratch. Getting healthy-scratched is like having the most important person in your life tell you that you suck, kick you in the balls, and then laugh at you as they walk away. Unfortunately, throughout my career I was all too familiar with this feeling.

The first time I ever got healthy scratched was in college. I was fresh out of junior and extremely green. I thought I knew it all and was stubborn and resistant to changing my game. I heeded bad advice from the wrong know-it-alls growing up who told me all I needed to do was focus on getting points and I was a mile behind the pack when I made the jump to the next level.

In college, we used to find out who was playing each night during or after the morning skate. Usually one of the coaches would pull you aside during the skate and say: “You’re not going tonight, kid. Keep your head up and keep working hard. You might be in tomorrow night.” Sometimes the coaches might wait until after the skate, while you were getting undressed, and call you into their office to deliver the punch to the stomach. On even more painful occasions, the coaches would tell you to take the warmup that night because one of the regulars was hurt and might not be able to go. They would tell you to prepare as if you were playing while they waited to see if Johnny Banged-Up could go. The worst part was that you knew there was about a one percent chance that Johnny wouldn’t be able to go, but you sat around all day with hope in your heart that you’d be in the lineup that night. It made you feel even more insignificant when you saw the injured player dragging a leg around while you sat in the stands, fit as a fiddle. Basically, the coaches were saying that you were so bad that they’d rather have half a player playing in the game than you.

Leading up to the weekend games, there were always tell-tale signs that you weren’t going to be playing in the upcoming game. Let’s play a little game I like to call “You’re Not Going Tonight.” Below are the top five signs leading up to a game to tell you that you won’t be dressing, in no particular order:


  1. If you are practicing all week on a two- man line with mismatched jersey colors…You’re not going tonight!


  1. If you are a center and you’re practicing on a line with two defensemen as your wingers…You’re not going tonight!


  1. If you are a defenceman and the coach pulls you aside at practice to ask you to take a few rips up on the wing because they might want to use you up front this weekend…You’re not going tonight!


  1. If you show up for practice and your gear has been moved out of your stall and onto a spare chair in the laundry room, to accommodate a recently acquired player…You’re not going tonight!


  1. If you walk into the dressing room and see your name on white board beside the third-string goalie…You’re not going tonight!


After it is decided that you are going to be a healthy scratch, the real embarrassment begins. After you find out, there is the call home to your parents to tell them that you won’t be playing, so don’t bother watching the game on the Internet. Then you head home, where your roommates, who are always in the lineup, are going through their relaxed, well-practiced routine of having a pre-game nap. You are still angry and dejected about not playing, so you try to find ways to not disrupt the routines of others while killing the next four hours.

When it is time to head to the rink for the game you won’t be playing in, you prepare yourself for the public humiliation you are about to endure. Firstly, you will spend the next two and a half hours leading up to puck drop working out with the other healthy scratches and staying out of the way of the regulars who are preparing for the game. After that, you might get an assignment from one of the coaches to keep track of neutral-zone turnovers or to keep a special watch on one of your teammates, because he plays the game the right way while you suck.

Once the game starts, you make your way up into the crowd and awkwardly field questions from fans and season ticket holders. You get stuff like: “Jamie? Why aren’t you out there playing tonight?”

In the beginning, I was honest and said: “Well, it’s just a numbers game and I am one of the odd men out tonight.” Or I’d say: “We’ve got eight defensemen for six spots and I just need to work hard and hopefully get a chance to be in tomorrow night.” After one of these responses, the fan would look at you like your parents just died in a fiery crash and rub your back.

Once I became a vet of the healthy-scratch game, I started to take obscure routes up to the press box, walking through rink boiler rooms with hidden ladders and hallways, or I’d just spend the game in the weight room riding the bike and watching the game on TV. I would completely avoid all contact with fans, to spare myself the embarrassment. If we were on the road and I had to sit in the stands, I would walk around with a fake limp or pretend I had one type of injury or another. If a fan intercepted me on the road, asking why I wasn’t playing, I’d say something like: “I tweaked my knee in the game last week and Coach just wants to rest me until it’s completely healed.” This way they think you’re not in because you’re hurt instead of just being really bad at hockey.

Once you get into the rhythm of being a healthy scratch, you get paranoid about every little thing. When you do get a chance to play and you play well, you are still constantly looking over your shoulder. Every part of your day becomes stressful, especially when you have a paycheque or a scholarship on the line.

On the ice, whether it’s a practice or a game, you start to grip the stick a little tighter and overthink every decision. With 28 players (on a typical NCAA roster) battling week in and week out for 20 spots, practices are just as intense and closely scrutinized as games. To put it into perspective, teams even video their practices and analyze certain drills to evaluate players throughout the week.

Below is a week’s worth of notes I kept during my freshman year at Clarkson University. To give some background to the situation, we had just played two games at home against Colorado College. I was scratched on Friday and played on Saturday.


Saturday, Nov. 26, 2003


I feel like I played pretty well tonight. I played a lot against Brett Sterling’s line and didn’t get scored on. I even got some power-play time in the third period and played a lot down the stretch. My legs felt good, and in the third, I drew a penalty on Mark Stuart, after which he called me a “plug”. Coming from an NHL first- rounder, I took it as a compliment.


Sunday, Nov. 27, 2003


Spent the day drinking big beers and eating wings at Eben’s Hearth with the boys. Sunday, Funday!


Monday, Nov. 28, 2003


We had a two-hour bagger today. Even though we took two of four points from a nationally ranked team, Coach put us through a first hour bag-skating circuit, followed by an hour of battle drills. I tried my best not to end up last in any of the bag skating drills and held my own in the battles, for the most part. During one battle, I dominated and completely owned my man. Coach wasn’t watching. The next battle, I got dangled. Coach was watching and I’m pretty sure I saw him shake his head in disgust. I’m totally fucked. I definitely won’t be playing on Friday.


Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2003


Another two-hour practice today with a major emphasis on our new defensive zone coverage, which equals a hidden bagger for us defencemen. They’ve got me paired up with Matt Nickerson today, which is an awesome sign, since he is one of our top defencemen. Or maybe they’re pairing me with him to balance out the strong and the weak. I messed up the defensive-zone rotation a couple of times and got reamed out by one of the coaches. I’ll probably be paired with the third-string goalie tomorrow.


Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2003


Two hours again today with a major emphasis on forechecks and special teams. On the way into the rink, I walked past Coach in the hallway and I smiled and said “Hi”. He grunted and nodded, never looking me in the eye. He hates me for sure. Today I was paired up with Ken Scuderi for practice. Scuds is another one of our top defencemen, so even though I wasn’t with Big Nicks today, I was still practicing with one of our top guys. I wasn’t practicing on the power play or penalty kill today and spent most of the second half of practice on the bench watching the special teams practice. I just realized that Clarkson had an undefeated season in the ’50s! Why haven’t I seen that banner before?

After practice, we had a half-hour video session. I was singled out from the Saturday game in three clips, all bad. I overhandled a puck on the first clip and missed my assignment in the defensive zone on the other two. It’s amazing how small you can feel when everyone is looking at you as if you just pushed a feeble old lady down a flight of stairs.

On my way out of the dressing room, Coach intercepted me and told me that I need to do a better job in my own end. He said he expects more from me and that I need to dial it up if I want to play every night. Does this mean that I will be playing Friday? It has to, right?



Thursday, Dec. 1, 2003


Just a one-hour, light practice today with special teams walkthroughs. I kept an eye on the coaching staff for most of the practice and they didn’t tip their hand as to if I would be in or not tomorrow night. Since we didn’t run any full-strength drills, I’m not sure who they have me paired with at this point. I suspect I won’t know if I’m in the lineup tomorrow until after the morning skate. The bus leaves for the University of Vermont tonight after practice.


Friday, Dec. 2, 2003


I found out today at the morning skate that I would be dressing tonight against Vermont. I was paired up with Matt Nickerson and was told to focus on tight gaps and containing guys down low. Overall, I played well and we won in overtime. Nobody from the coaching staff screamed at me during the game and Coach even smiled at me as I passed him in the hallway after the game. Or maybe he was smiling at Big Nicks, who was walking beside me. Either way, we usually don’t mess with the lineup when we win, so I might actually get to play again tomorrow night against Dartmouth!


Saturday, Dec. 3, 2003


Today is my birthday and I was told after the morning skate that I would play again tonight alongside Big Nicks. I was pumped to get a chance to go back-to-back nights. My confidence has been down lately, so I kept things simple and played a steady game. I played a bit on the penalty kill but no power-play time. Played against Lee Stempniak’s line quite a bit and didn’t get scored on, which is nice. We ended up beating Dartmouth, so the mood was good. If Coach keeps with his philosophy of not changing a winning lineup, I should be back in next Friday against Colgate. I’m pumped to play against Colgate because they snubbed me last year for a punk named J.R. Bria. I’ve got six buddies on Colgate and I want a chance to show their coaching staff what they missed out on. We left Dartmouth to head back to campus after the game and we’ll have tomorrow off.


Fast-forward one week…


I had a bad week of practice. The worse I played and the more the coaches gave me the disappointed, cold shoulder routine, the worse I got. Everything just spiraled out of control and my confidence went in the toilet. I ended up being a healthy scratch against Colgate. We lost and my old roommate from junior, Jon Smyth, lit us up for four goals. I didn’t play the next night against Cornell, either.


The funny thing about my freshman year was that when it was over, I felt I had a terrible season and needed to figure out if I was good enough to play at the Division 1 level. That was my mindset at the time.

Looking back on that year, it really doesn’t seem that bad. Our team lost in the conference final after upsetting nationally ranked Cornell in a dramatic three- game series. I won Conference Rookie of the Week once, was an honorable mention for the NCAA Rookie of the Month for the playoff month of March, and led our team in plus/minus for the season, while finishing with nine points in 27 games, as a freshman defenceman. Overall, that’s a pretty productive year. The problem was I was healthy-scratched 14 times that season. That’s just over a third of the games we played. I was never able to find any consistency or confidence, because I knew there was a 34 percent chance that I wouldn’t be playing in the next game.


When you turn pro and you’re a bubble guy, it’s an even more stressful situation to be in. In college, I knew I wasn’t getting cut. I may not be in the lineup every night, but my job was safe. In pro, your job is as safe as a snowman in Tahiti.

My first year of pro was an ego-booster. I played in Europe, where I got to be “the man” again. My second year of pro, I signed with the Augusta Lynx of the ECHL, which was a minor league affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks. Playing for an NHL affiliate has its perks, but if you are a bubble guy not on an NHL deal, you don’t have much say in whether you get shuffled out of the mix when guys get sent down. Even if you are lighting it up, if you aren’t on an NHL contract, you are the expendable one.

After I made the team in Augusta, I let out a big sigh of relief. A lot of good players who had better college and junior careers than I did were getting cut from ECHL teams, so my confidence was high. Since I came from a college background, I had a false sense of security about my job, at that point. That quickly changed when Portland began sending down NHL-contracted players such as Gerald Coleman (who had already played a few games in the NHL the season before), Ryan Dingle (three-year deal with Anaheim), Bobby Bolt (three-year deal with Anaheim), Matt Christie (entry-level deal with Anaheim), Adrian Veideman (entry-level deal with Anaheim), Geoff Peters (AHL legend) and Shane Hynes (entry-level deal with Anaheim). For every piece of meat that comes in, one goes out.

The hardest part of the process is that there are always rumors floating around about who is getting sent down and who will get the bullet. Since the ECHL is a Double-A professional league, changes at the NHL and AHL level affect ECHL rosters. The most stressful time as a pro for me came when Scott Neidermayer came out of retirement to rejoin the Ducks in 2007. Since Neidermayer was a defenceman, he would displace a defenceman at the NHL level who would be sent down to Portland to displace a defenseman at the AHL level. The AHL defenseman would then be sent down to boot someone out of a job at the ECHL level. Since I was our most inexperienced defenseman and not on an NHL deal, I was squarely in the crosshairs. The whole process took a couple days for the changes to filter down. Oddly, Portland elected to send down a forward instead of a defenseman and I dodged the bullet.

Since the budgets are significantly lower at the ECHL level, you see a crunch in payroll and, in turn, a reduction in the number of players kept on the active roster. Healthy scratches aren’t that common at this level, but, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Often a team will get creative and put a player on the three-or seven-day Injured Reserve (IR). For example, if the ECHL general manager gets a call from the big club saying it is sending a guy down from the AHL for a few games, the ECHL GM might put a player he doesn’t want to lose on the 7-day IR. This way, he retains the player’s rights while staying under the salary cap. The AHL player plays his four games and is recalled and the ECHL player is reinstated from the 7- day IR. This tricky juggling act happened all the time.


Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at
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.

Nov 19

NHL All-Time Mustache Team

It’s that time of the year again…  That’s right, it’s November, the month where men proudly grow and flaunt their mustaches, all in the name of raising support and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer and overall men’s health.  It’s also that time of the year when you’re either beating ‘em off with a stick or sleeping on the couch (There is no in between when it comes to mustaches).

One of the great supporters of the Movember movement is hockey.  It’s fitting, really, considering that hockey is known for celebrating facial hair growth and some of the most polarizing mustaches in pop culture history were modeled by hockey players.

In order to celebrate and pay tribute to some of the greatest dusters in hockey history, I’ve developed a grading scale to properly evaluate candidates and crown the NHL All-Time Mustache Team.  Here’s how the grading system is broken down.  The team will consist of a traditional first-team all-star team format (one goalie, two defencemen, three forwards, and one coach).

Each player will be graded on a scale of 1 – 5 for each of the following categories:

  • Career Impact (Overall effectiveness as a hockey player)
  • Mustache Shape
  • Mustache Thickness
  • Beauty Factor (Based upon whispers of legendary feats)


So, without further ado, here are my selections for the NHL All-Time Mustache Team:



Left Wing – Wendel Clark


There are a few no brainers when it comes to all-star teams, for the All-Time Mustache Team, Wendel Clark is one of them.  The Kelvington Crusher, the 1st overall pick in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, put together a white-knuckle career filled with lazer snipes, teeth-jarring hits and epic fights with all the big-name heavies, all while rocking a classic handlebar mustache that screamed: “I’m going to beat up your tough guy, score the game-winner and then take your girlfriend home.”


Career Impact                         4.5

Mustache Shape                     4

Mustache Thickness               4

Beauty Factor                          5



Center – Derek Sanderson


During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Derek Sanderson was the cat’s meow.  Not only was he a hard-nosed, two-way centerman for the Big Bad Bruins, but he was a legendary playboy and socialite.  We’re talking about a guy who was named one of the sexiest men in America by Cosmopolitan magazine and was once the highest paid athlete on the planet, despite not even being one of his own sport’s top athletes.  It is even rumoured that Yankee icon Derek Jeter was named after him (a rumor that Jeter denied).


Career Impact                         3

Mustache Shape                     5

Mustache Thickness               5

Beauty Factor                          5




Right Wing – Lanny McDonald


When you’re talking hockey and mustaches, one man stands proudly above all else, and that man is none other than legendary pushbroomer, Lanny McDonald.  He’s really the gold standard when it comes to hockey muzzies.  One of five hall-of-famers to make the team, McDonald’s career speaks for itself: a Stanley Cup, 500 goals, 1000 points, and a Canada Cup.  Off the ice, McDonald was a legendary practical joker and an all-around good guy; a real cowboy!


Career Impact                         5

Mustache Shape                     5

Mustache Thickness               5

Beauty Factor                          5



Defence – Larry Robinson


Robinson is the second member of hockey’s Hall of Fame to be honoured on this team.  Throughout a sparkling career as a player, scout and coach, Robinson managed to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup 9 times.  At 6 foot 4 and 225 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal, “Big Bird”, was the perfect blend of skill and brawn. A ruggedly perfect salad and a well-kept soup strainer gave Robinson the perfect look for a mid-70s Montreal superstar.  Merci, Gros Oiseau!


Career Impact                         5

Mustache Shape                     4

Mustache Thickness               4

Beauty Factor                          5



Defence – Rod Langway


Former NCAA two-sport standout (Star QB and defenceman at UNH), Rod Langway, cracks this team for a multitude of cool reasons.  For one, he is the only NHL player ever to be born in the Republic of China.  Also, he didn’t even begin playing hockey until his freshman year in highschool.  Langway went on to a hall-of-fame career, winning the Stanley Cup and back to back Norris Trophies, as the NHL’s top defenceman.  “The Secretary of Defence” would also go on to an 11-year run as captain for the Washington Capitals through the 80s, rocking a lip blanket that would make a lion purr.


Career Impact                         5

Mustache Shape                     4

Mustache Thickness               4

Beauty Factor                          5



Goalie – Bernie Parent


Hall-of-Famer Bernie Parent won a tight race against Rogie Vachon for something that was perfectly construed on a bumper sticker that became popular during the Broad Street Bullies back-to-back Stanley Cup run, “Only the Lord saves more than Bernie Parent.”  Sorry Rogie.  Parent dazzled in a career shortened by an unfortunate eye injury during his prime, winning a Memorial Cup, two Stanley Cups, two Vezina Trophies and two Conn Smythe Trophies.  He also appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, putting his stunning tickler on display for the entire world to enjoy.


Career Impact                         5

Mustache Shape                     4

Mustache Thickness               5

Beauty Factor                          4



Coach – Pat Burns


The late, great Pat Burns is the runaway winner as coach of this team.  The guy was a cop for 16 years for crying out loud!  Aside from an amazing ascension through hockey’s grueling ranks to become Stanley Cup Champion, Burns’ most spectacular accomplishment might have been his signature cop stache.  Always a man to be respected, Burns was known as one of the best coaches in NHL history, a claim that was vindicated in 2014 when he was posthumously elected into hockey’s Hall of Fame.

Career Impact                         4

Mustache Shape                     5

Mustache Thickness               5

Beauty Factor                          5


Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at
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.

Nov 03

Journaling: A Successful Tool for Athletes

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Being a high-level athlete is chaotic.  As a budding football, baseball, basketball or hockey player at the ages of 15 and 16, you’re dealing with huge amounts of change and pressure.  Your body and mind are changing rapidly and your hormones are all over the map.  Challenges are bigger, decisions are more impactful and you’re trying to manage everything, from sports to school to dating, while moving at break-neck speeds.

One of the best ways to help slow things down for an athlete is to keep a journal.  A journal, above anything else, is a planning tool; it helps you gain invaluable perspective.  With anything in life, those who are the most prepared are the ones in the best position to achieve success.

As a former athlete who tends to write about the human side of sports, I often wish I had Marty McFly’s Delorean that could take me back in time.  If I could change just one thing, I would change how I mentally prepared myself for practices, games, and seasons.  More specifically, I would begin keeping a journal while I was still in minor hockey.

I wasn’t always unprepared mentally.  I actually did start using mental preparation tools such as a journal later in my career.  A teammate of mine at the time got me onto keeping a journal to help me track my routines and to help set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Based) for myself.  Journaling was a great way to stay in the present and stay grounded, but it was also a great way to gain perspective on my feelings and mindsets.  Towards the end of my career, I was dealing with a lot of feelings and emotions; anger and uncertainty were always chiefly among them.  Journaling helped me put things into perspective and helped connect the dots as to why I was feeling the way I was.  It was around this time that I began to realize that solely connecting my self-worth to my performance as an athlete was a poor decision.  I was more than just a hockey player and there was much more to life than hockey. Quite often, as a high-level athlete, you get so focused on your career that you forget who you are without it.  Journaling helped me to grow beyond that mindset and in turn, helped me become a more focused, effective athlete.


Here are 5 benefits of journaling for athletes and their continuous improvement on and off the field/court/ice:


1.  What Went Well vs. What Didn’t Go Well


In the world of sports, there is a tendency to focus on the negative.  It’s all about, “What went wrong and how can we fix it.”  In a black and white perspective, it makes sense: If we’re doing some things well on a consistent basis, why should be waste our time on that?  However, since athletes are human beings and not robots, it’s important to address both the good and the bad.  If the focus is always on the negative, it will have a progressively detrimental impact on confidence and mindset.  So, when keeping a journal, be sure to make note of what went wrong, along with thoughts about how to achieve positive outcomes in the future, and also make note of what went well and take a moment to enjoy some sense of accomplishment with that.


2.  Notes About Feelings/Emotions


Athletes, more than anyone else, are taught to be “tough.”  They are told to “gut it out” and “don’t show weakness,” and this includes both the physical and mental states.  With a lot of awareness and attention in sports today being focused on “mental toughness,” there is a misconception that being mentally tough means being able to ignore pain.  In reality, one of the keys to being mentally tough is being able to examine your feelings and emotions and make sense of them.  If you’re afraid to make a mistake in the game and you’re feeling insecure and anxious, “gutting it out” isn’t going to help you break free of the slump.  You need to explore your feelings and get to the root cause of their existence.  Journaling can help you track the path of your feelings and can often help you make sense of them.


3.  In-Game Tendencies


In the age of system overkill and video analysis, sports are more systematic than ever.  The best way to track all of the data pulled from these useful tools is a journal.  For years, athletes have used journals to look for repetitive patterns to gain advantages over their opponents.  Coaches make notes about systematic tendencies, while pitchers and batters make notes about each other’s swing or pitch selections.  In hockey, goalies make notes about opposing shooters and their release points and shot tendencies.  In football, quarterbacks make notes about opposing teams’ defensive tells.  It’s a big game of cat and mouse and the team and players who prepare most effectively will undoubtedly have the mental edge.


4.  Routine Notes


A great way to prepare for a game is to develop a pre-game routine.  From what you eat and how long you sleep to the type of music you listen to and whether you use visualization or other preparatory tools, a pre-game routine can help you get centred and focused on what you need to do to be successful.  Like anything in life, your pre-game routine may go through various levels of change.  If you’re superstitious, your routine may change from game to game.  If you’re on a winning streak, what was your routine like during that stretch?  One way to help track these changes is to make notes of them in your journal.


5.  Goal Development, Performance Measurement and Career Planning


As an athlete and now as a working professional on a career path, the single most effective development tool I learned to use was goal-setting.  Using SMART goals to help plan ahead and break down larger processes into smaller components was and continues to be a game changer for me.  A business mentor once put it into perspective for me with an analogy.  He said, “If you’re planning a big vacation for your family, would you not work backwards from the goal “Big Vacation” and select a destination, then decide how you’re going to get there (air, land or sea), and decide what the bring, etc.?   If that makes sense, then why don’t you take the same approach to your career?”  The concept of breaking down large endeavours or goals into smaller, more manageable components is an extremely effective way to achieve success in all aspects of life.  As an athlete this was first introduced to me by a coach who told me to quit worrying about results and focus on process goals.  He told me to write down 5 goals for each game and try to achieve them.  For a single game it might be:


  1. Zero turnovers at either blueline
  2. 5 finished checks
  3. Zero missed passes for completion
  4. 2 shots on net
  5. 3 forced turnovers


In our plan, if I was able to achieve these small, SMART goals, chances are the result would be a strong performance.  It all comes down to planning small and achieving big.  A journal is a great tool to help track this process.


Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at
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.

Nov 02

How to Care for Your Gear During Hockey Season

Hockey Gear

The equipment strapped onto your head, elbows and knees whenever you take to the ice is specifically designed to take a beating and still provide ample protection. Ice hockey gear can only handle so much of a pounding, however, before straps start to fray or screws start to wobble. At this point, damaged equipment becomes a major liability to health and safety. Whether you’re preparing for opening night of the season or the championship game, take precautions now with your equipment to increase its lifespan.


Skate Care

No other piece of gear in the hockey bag will spend its entire life in such close contact to ice and water as your skate’s blades. As anyone who has left a bike out in the rain knows, metal and water make for a very messy combination. Immediately after each game, wipe your skate’s blades with a dry towel — not a sweaty article of clothing or a rag that has been in a humid bag for weeks. When keeping your skates in your hockey bag, use skate guards to make certain that further moisture does not come into contact with any metal parts. Finally, ensure that the skate rivets — which connect the metal blades to the underside of the skate boot — remain tight. Whenever you sharpen blades at a pro shop, ask for the rivets to be tightened. It’s possible to buy a riveting machine if you have the funds and prefer repairing your equipment without a professional’s help.


There are fewer sweat glands in the hands than in most other areas of the body, but after a long intense game, you can be certain your gloves will be drenched. Gloves that have been too wet for too long will begin to lose the attachments connecting the leather to the fabric — forming massive seams that affect your ability to handle a hockey stick and create blisters. Air dry gloves by placing them on a peg close to an open window or a fan. If you find any small seams within the contours of your gloves, do not use tape or superglue to repair the area. Instead, put a small patch of leather over the hole and use a sewing needle and thread to patch your mitts.



Helmets need to be able to take the most amount of punishment to protect the most important part of your body. A helmet’s plastic frame is able to withstand immense force, but only if the screws holding it together are firmly in place. Always check the screws connecting the helmet clasps to the frame prior to each game; and never use a helmet with even one loose screw. Keep a screwdriver in your hockey bag to tighten helmet sockets before and after games. Just like the helmet, a visor must keep pucks and sticks away from your vision. If you use a visor, ensure it is covered within your bag. NHL teams recommend covering visors with hockey socks in order to prevent scratches or loose screws. A helmet bag can provide excellent protection for both helmet and visor — off the ice.


The hard plastic and fabric that keeps your elbows and shins from hitting the ice or a teammate or the boards are more durable than nearly every other piece of hockey equipment because there are no metal parts that can become loose. Even so, the Velcro straps on pads need to be checked frequently and replaced when necessary. Just like with gloves, it’s important to dry pads after each game so moisture does not wear away at the soft parts; likewise, never repair faulty Velcro straps with glue or tape.


About the Author:


 Erin Wozniak is the Director of Marketing for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment, including hockey pants, sticks and more. 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
Author / Blogger at
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.

Sep 30

The Hierarchy of Pro Hockey

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There is a certain mental picture that pops up when people think of professional athletes. Most people immediately think of fancy cars and flashy jewelry draped upon an egotistical jerk, flocked by bodacious bimbos. At least that’s what I pictured when I made it my dream to become one.

In reality, being a professional athlete can mean a variety of things. At the top of the sports world, there is the superstar athlete who signs the multimillion-dollar deal and hangs out with Jay-Z and Rhianna. This type of professional athlete represents a tiny portion of the professional athlete population. These guys are royalty. But like any monarchy, the riches tend to remain locked securely in the palace while the peons fight for scraps at the foothills.

Below the kings of sport are divisions of subordinates who make up the rest of the professional sports kingdom. There are athletes who play two to 10 years at the major levels and make a good living at it. Then there are the guys who get a couple of cups of coffee at the prime-time level, playing stints in different cities spread across a few years. Below that, there are the minor leaguers who actually make up the largest portion of professional athletes in the world. These are the guys who, despite popular assumptions about the general finances of professional athletes, make barely enough money to take care of themselves, much less a family.

In hockey, like all professional sports, the annual salary structure is extremely top heavy. The NHL minimum salary is $500,000 with players making an average annual salary of $2.4 million. Top paid talents rake in upwards of $10 million per year.

In the past five years, the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) has begun to rival the NHL, competing for players and from a max-salary standpoint offer compensation that is congruent with NHL standards. Buoyed by the fact that KHL contracts are tax-free, the monetary allure has been enough to see star NHL players flee for multi-year pacts overseas. Most notably, Jaromir Jagr, who in 2008 was reeled in by a rumored three-year, $21-million deal to play for Omsk Avangard. The tax-free deal would have been the equivalent of signing a three-year, $33-million contract, which at the time was the richest contract in the world.

Dropping down a level on the global hockey scale, financially speaking, is European Elite hockey. In top European leagues, such as the SM Liga (Finland), SEL (Sweden), DEL (Germany), and the Swiss A League, top players fetch anywhere between $60,000 and $500,000 per season. These leagues are riddled with former NHL players who are either at the end of their careers or are unable to secure full-time NHL positions. Financially speaking, it makes sense for a player in his late 20s or early 30s who has fewer than 100 NHL games under his belt to spend the last few years in Europe, collecting a nice, fat paycheque.

At the American Hockey League (AHL) level, the top affiliate league to the NHL, players rake in anywhere between $39,000 and $300,000 annually. The odd exception is when a player at the NHL level, with a big contract, is put through waivers in order to be sent down, thus shielding his gargantuan salary from the cap. This is evident when you see a player like Mike Komisarek making $5 million to play in the AHL. Most AHL players are signed to two-way NHL deals where they make “NHL money” when they are called up and “AHL money” when they are sent down. These are salaries that are prorated according to the amounts agreed upon at each level.

Once you drop below the AHL level, the salary amounts begin to free-fall at mach-10 rates. At the ECHL level, which is equivalent to baseball’s Double-A, annual salaries range from $10,640 to $28,000 for the season. The only difference at this level is that your housing is covered by the team and doesn’t come out of your salary. At higher levels, it is up to the player to locate accommodation and pay rent. The Double-A level is where contracts aren’t guaranteed beyond a two-week severance package. This means that as long as a player is active, he can be released by the team without fear of having to honor the length of the contract. ECHL deals are signed on a year-to- year basis.

Dropping down even further to the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), players earn between $4,200 and $14,000 per year, with most players receiving weekly paycheques in the $200 to $250 range.

You might look at the salaries in the ECHL and SPHL and ask yourself why would these people put their bodies on the line for such a small amount of money and no guarantees? The simple answer is that if you are being paid to play, then technically the dream is still alive and well. There are enough stories of long-shot glory out there to fill a library. Joel Ward spent four years at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) in the CIS, often thought to be a graveyard of hockey dreams, before making the arduous climb up the ranks to make millions at the NHL level.

Then there is Tim Thomas, who couldn’t get a sniff at the NHL level until he was 31 years old. Thomas spent a decade toiling in the minors and overseas before winning two Vezina Trophies and a Stanley Cup in a span of seven years in the NHL.

And lest we forget Dustin Penner, who played university club hockey at Minot State after he was cut three times from local junior teams. It was blind luck that landed Penner at the University of Maine after he was spotted by Black Bears assistant coach Grant Standbrook at a summer prospects tournament. Penner spent only one season at Maine before signing an NHL contract with the Anaheim Ducks in 2004.

At the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, more than 490 players who had played in the ECHL had gone on to play in the NHL. This long list includes players such as Thomas, Alex Burrows, Olaf Kolzig, Mark Streit, Michael Ryder, Andrew Brunette, Jonathan Quick, Jaroslav Halak, James Reimer, David Desharnais and Francois Beauchemin, among many other players who went on to long, productive NHL careers. So many bona fide NHL stars had to earn their stripes in minor leagues such as the ECHL before they were able to prove their worth at higher levels. Knowing that there is a chance however unlikely it might be keeps minor leaguers in uniform.

The other aspect that keeps players motivated at the minor league level is the minuscule difference in individual skill levels from one level to the next. To put it into perspective, take a look at the skills competition results from 2011 for the NHL and ECHL levels. At the 2011 NHL All-Star Skills Competition, Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders took home the fastest skater event with a time of 14.238 seconds, holding off Edmonton’s Taylor Hall, who clocked in at 14.715. At the 2011 ECHL All-Star skills competition, two levels below, Eric Lampe of the Elmira Jackels won the ECHL competition with a time of 14.445, edging Vyacheslav Trukhno of the Bakersfield Condors (14.712 seconds). In the same year, Zdeno Chara took home the NHL hardest shot competition with a new record of 105.9 mph, while Josh Godfrey won the hardest shot event at the ECHL level with a 102.7 mph blast.

The fact is, some players in the ECHL can shoot harder and skate faster than players at the NHL level. That reality keeps players striving because they know that sometimes it just takes a window of opportunity to open at the right time to change the course of a career. A hot streak at the right moment, in front of the right set of eyes, can be the difference between making $39,000 or $2 million.

Some players can have all the talent in the world, but don’t process the game well enough to succeed at higher levels. It’s the immeasurable and ever-important attribute called “hockey sense” that determines if you will make a good living in this game. Some players just don’t have it and never will. The other immensely important intangibles are heart and character. Some players will go through walls and play through anything to win. If you have that kind of determination and desire, skill becomes less of a major priority. For every Steven Stamkos, there are four Darren McCartys.

Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at
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.

Sep 22

Hockey as a Second Language

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Learning to speak “Hockeynese”

In hockey, like a lot of sports, there is a totally different language used. Just like the military has different lingo for words or phrases, the nation of hockey goes by its own dialect.

The first thing that becomes immediately altered in the hockey world is everyone’s name. This is usually done by cropping a last name and adding a “Y” or an “ER” at the end of it. For example, if your name is Ryan Jones, you soon become “Jonesy”. If your name is Jordan Long, you become “Longer”. This gives team mates a quick and easy handle when they are shouting out for each other on the ice during a game.

Also, it is quite easy in the sport of hockey to be given a nickname (Usually something recognizing an embarrassing moment or aspect of one’s life), which ends up sticking. For example, one year I played with a guy who always ended up on the receiving end of massive hits at least three or four times a game. We used to say he got run over more than a speed bump at the mall on Boxing Day. Soon his nickname became “Speed Bump”, quickly shortened to “Bump”. Another guy I played with was called “Boobs” because he loved girls with big breasts (It isn’t always something clever, I mean we’re talking about hockey players here).

Nicknames aside, hockey is full of strange pseudonyms and slang that can make a pretty confusing conversation for an outsider. Here is a list of words and definitions that are often heard in the hockey world.


“The A”

Slang for the AHL (American Hockey League).



A player who plays on the edge and tries to get under opponents skin by playing dirty and trash-talking. Also referred to as a “Pest”.



Short for “Bag skate”. Used to describe when a coach punishes a team by making them skate hard or sometimes is simply used to better condition a team.



Term used to describe a player who is always hurt or injured.


“Bar Down”

Used to describe a shot that goes off the crossbar and in the net.



Complimentary term used to describe an ideal hockey player, from a cultural standpoint.  These players embrace the hockey lifestyle.  “I love Stewy, he’s a beauty.”



Slang for facemask.



Slang word for booster club members.


“The Broad”

Slang for girlfriend.



Slang for helmet.



Slang word for bus driver.



When a player puts his stick between another player’s legs and twists.



Slang for celebration after a goal.



Referring to the upper part of the net.  “Man, did he ever go cheese on that goal, eh?”  Also may be referred to as “Cheddar” or “Bunk.”


“Cherry Picker”

Player who hangs out around the red line looking for breakaway passes. They always neglect their defensive zone chores. Also known as a “Floater.”



Slang words used to describe the steady flow of insults thrown at opponents throughout a hockey game. Players will “chirp” or “beak” opponents throughout a game in an attempt to throw off their concentration.



When a player purposely steals a point from a team mate by going up to the referee and stating that he got an assist on a goal when he in fact didn’t earn one. A player who steals points this way is called a “Chiseler.”


“Choke a Goose”

Slang for drinking vodka. Reference to Grey Goose vodka.



Slang word for a slap shot.


“The Coast”

Slang for the ECHL (East Coast Hockey League).


“Coast to Coast”

When a player carries a puck from his own end to the opposing team’s end without passing.  Also referred to as “Post to Post.”



A term currently used to refer to a slick stick-handling manoeuvre. A “Dangler” is a player who has great stick-handling abilities. In the old days the term was used to describe some who could skate fast. “He can really dangle.”



A slang word to describe a two minute penalty.  Also used to describe human excrement or the act of releasing excrement.  Example, “That’s a two dollar fine, Stewey, for dropping a deuce on the bus.”



A slang word to describe a 10-minute misconduct penalty.  Also a slang word for a really attractive girl, which can also be described as “pistol”, “weapon”, “rocket”, or “smokeshow.”


“Drill Killer”

A player who always messes up drills. Some players just can’t follow diagrams or instructions.


“The Dub”

Slang for the WHL (Western Hockey League).


“Dump and Chase”

A tactic where players dump the puck into the opposition zone and then attack on a forecheck.


“Eggs in Your Pockets”

A phrase used to describe a player who is scared of getting hit. “Donnie skates around with eggs in his pockets and he’s afraid to break any of them.”



Slang for full visor.



When a player is afraid to block a shot and lifts one leg up like a flamingo in order to avoid getting hit with the puck.



A term used to describe when a player hurries a play because he’s afraid to get hit.


“The Gate”

When a player is ejected from a game he is given “The Gate.”



Slang for underwear or basically anything worn under hockey equipment.



A term used to describe a situation that is out of control, funny or ridiculous.  (Also the name of a the premier hockey lifestyle apparel company – Gongshow Gear)


“Gordie Howe Hat Trick”

When a player registers a goal, an assist and a fight in one game.



Term for an awful pass that is usually a bobbling puck. Players will say, “Pull the pin on that grenade,” when someone makes a bad pass.



A player who typically plays on the dump and chase line whose role on a team is to finish his checks and wear down opponents.


“Hang Em’ Up”

Slang for retiring from hockey.



Short form for heavyweight, used to describe a player who is an enforcer on a team or designated fighter. This player may also be referred to as a “Meathead” or “Cementhead.”


“High School Harry / Donny Dangles”

A player who tries to do too much with the puck and show off.


“Holly Hotpants”

Attractive girl in the stands of a hockey game.



Short form for “Howitzer”. A term used by hockey players to describe a very hard slap shot.


“The I”

Slang for the now-defunct IHL.


“The IR”

Short form for the Injured Reserve.


“The Iron Lung”

Refers to the team bus. Teams put a lot of miles in together on the ol’ Iron Lung.


“Jersey Jab”

When a player involved in a fight uses the hand he’s grabbing the jersey with to throw short rabbit punches while hanging onto the jersey.



Slang word in hockey used to refer to teeth.


“Jungle B or C”

Slang for junior B or junior C.


“Kangaroo Court”

A forum where all player fines are brought forward and tried. Usually a light-hearted affair held once a week to promote camaraderie.



Slang for penalty kill.  Can also be used as slang for a sexual conquest.


“Lace Em’ Up”

Slang term for getting ready before a game.



A prank where you fill a bucket of water up and lean it against a door and knock so that when the person opens the door their feet get doused in water.



Slang word for a linesman, can also be used as another word for one of your line-mates.



Chewing tobacco. Some players like to chew tobacco on the bus or between periods of a game.


“Lug the Mail”

When a defenseman carries the puck out of his zone.



A term referring to a hockey player’s stick-handling ability.

Ex) “Johnny’s got some nice mitts on him, eh?”



Slang term for a weak shot on net.


“The O”

Slang for the OHL (Ontario Hockey League).



Short for “One-Timer” which is when a player shoots a puck that is passed to him without stopping it first. Shooting a puck as it comes in motion.



Slang for Power Play.


“Pepper Grinder”

Someone who is always trying to suck up and show off to the coaches.



Slang word used to describe when a point is given to a player who hasn’t actually earned it. Sometimes an extra assist is given when one isn’t warranted or a player who wasn’t on the ice when a goal was scored is mistakenly given an assist.



A pass up the middle.  A high risk play that often gets intercepted.



This is a term players use to make fun of or degrade another player. Calling someone a “Plug” basically is like saying that they are a terrible player and are just on a team to fill a slot.



Term describing a player who is like a grinder and spends a lot of his time digging pucks out of the corner and working in the dirty areas of the ice. This player may also be declared as a “Mucker”.


“Puck Bunnies/Dirties”

Slang phrases used to describe girls who chase hockey players and hang around players.


“The Q”

Slang for the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League).



Slang for a case of beer.


“Ray Ferraro”

Slang for Chicken Parmesan.


“Riverboat Gambler”

Term used to describe a defenseman who rushes the puck a lot and can be a liability in his own end.



Slang for a saucer pass where the puck is feathered to clear an opponent’s stick.



Term used to describe when a combatant in a fight tries to tie up his opponent because he is afraid to get hit and wants the fight to end.



Slang word for drunk.



A card game that hockey players play when on long road trips.



Term used to describe a first year player or rookie.


“Shoe Check”

A prank performed during team meals at restaurants where the prankster will crawl on his or her hands and knees under the table and pour ranch dressing or ketchup on an unsuspecting victim’s shoes.  Once back in their seat, the prankster will begin tapping their glass.  Everyone else follows suit in tapping their glass while checking their shoes for sauce.  The victim has to stand up and get napkins and buns tossed at them.


“The Show”

Slang for the NHL



Slang for pre-game nap.



Slang for terrible goalie.



When a player kicks the legs out from behind an opponent. A very dirty play in hockey.



A slang word used to describe a goal, particularly a nice goal. A “Sniper” is a player who scores frequently.



A term used to describe when a player is released or cut from a team.


“Stone Hands”

Used to describe a player who is a terrible stick-handler.



Slang word for referee.


“Studley Hungwell”

A player who gets too cocky or arrogant. Sometimes players tend to get cocky if they are on a winning streak and things are going well.



Short form for “Suicide Pass” which is a pass made by a player to another player who is in a vulnerable position to be hit or blindsided by an opponent.



A stick-handling move where you use the toe of the blade of the stick to pull the puck back, away from an opposing player. Almost as if you are dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit and then yanking it away when it tries to bite it.


“The Trap”

A defensive strategic tactic where all five players pull back into the neutral zone and create a log jam, making it hard for an attacking team to penetrate.


“Tilt or Tilly”

Slang word for a hockey fight.



Term used to describe when a player ventures into the middle of the ice with his head down.



When a player drops to the ice and covers his head with his arms when challenged to a fight.



Scoring a goal between the goalie’s legs.



Slang for hockey stick.


“The U-Haul”

Slang for the now-defunct UHL (United Hockey League).


“Up and Down Winger”

Term used to describe a winger who simply goes up and down his wing and does his job.



When a defenseman is beaten badly on a one-on-one.


“The Wall”

Slang word for the boards surrounding the rink.



A word used to describe someone’s skating ability. This is also used to describe a player’s ability to pick up or attract girls. “Chucky’s wheeling that broad over there.”


“The Wiffle”

Slang for the now-defunct WPHL (Western Professional Hockey League).


“The Wire”

The waiver wire. Players are put on the wire when they are being shopped around for a trade or when they are released.


“Wobbly Pops”

Slang for beers.


“The Wrapper”

Slang word for bed.



Slang word for stitches. Short for “Zippers”.




Another part of the language of hockey is a strong and frequent use of profanity mixed in with all dialogue. Hockey players will often use two or three profane words per sentence when around the team in the locker room, weight room, on the ice or on the road. Profanity is just another part of the game just like hockey sticks and road trips.

I can remember coming home from each season away and having to make sure I watched the way I spoke around my family and my summer job. After my last year of pro, my girlfriend (That I have known and been friends with since high school and is now my life partner and mother of my child) said to me: “Wow Jamie I didn’t realize how much you swear. I don’t remember you swearing this much when we were younger.” I was dropping two or three “F-Bombs” per sentence without even knowing it.

Degradation and insults are a big part of conversation and interaction within a hockey team, as well. Players are always including insults and little jabs at each other when they converse in the locker room or on the bus. In a way it adds to the closeness and camaraderie of a team. If you aren’t being insulted or degraded then you are an outcast on the team and someone that people don’t want to be around. The profanity and the insults were a way to further instill the machismo and masculinity of the game.


Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at
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.

Sep 11

7 Ways to Build Confidence Without Entitlement

In sports there is an ongoing debate about which style of coaching works best.  Some think you need to be tough on players while others think you need to give them a bit more freedom and allow them to motivate themselves.

In other words, on one end of the spectrum we have this guy:


Drill Sergeant


While on the other end, there is this guy:




Most modern coaching philosophies suggest that there needs to be a bit of a balance between being “tough” and being “soft” on players.  The best coaches know when the time is right to apply appropriate methods and that it’s not a one-size-fits-all deal.  That’s what makes great coaches so great.  It’s the “feel” they possess for keeping their finger on the pulse of the team.  Great coaches get to know each player to understand how to get the most out of their potential.

Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest coaches in the history of sports once said: “Confidence is contagious.  So is lack of confidence.”  He was exactly right.  Anyone who has played sports and felt that euphoric feeling of “being in the zone”; that place where everything goes your way, knows the immeasurable value of confidence.  Teams that have a strong culture and confident players are the teams that win.

Knowing this is paramount to success, how can we focus on building and maintaining a high level of confidence in our players without entitling them?  Here are 7 simple methods:


  • Build a Culture Around “Continuous Improvement”


Ernest Hemingway said it best: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”  It is imperative to success as an individual or team to continually climb the mountain.  If this is deeply rooted in your culture, it will make all other values much easier to instill.  There is nothing more satisfying as an athlete or human being than progress.  It’s like when you finally hit that first pure golf shot.  It’s what hooks you and keeps you coming back.  If you build your culture with a prioritized focus on sound process, then the results will take care of themselves.



  • Understand What’s in Your Control and What’s Not


In hockey, or any team sport, there is only so much that you can control.  You can play the game of your life and your team can still lose.  One book that really helped me narrow my focus to make me more mindful of what I could control was “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman.  There is a great quote in the book:

“The time is now, the place is here. Stay in the present. You can do nothing to change the past, and the future will never come exactly as you plan or hope for.”

The one thing that you can control without waiver is your work ethic.  Teams that prioritize and reward work ethic are teams that are scary to play against.  Opponents hated Pete Rose far more for his work ethic than they did his gambling.



  • Focus on Processes, Not Outcomes


There is a common saying that goes something like this:  “Dream big and achieve big.”  While I don’t have a problem with lofty dreams, there is something about this cliché that bugs me.  It glances over the most important part of setting goals:  the process.  It’s like trying to drive to Disneyland without a map.

Great coaches are able to help players map that process and stay focused on working through it.  Outcomes can often be overwhelming, producing a feeling of doubt in players when they aren’t able to quickly achieve them.  By having a plan with achievable milestones and working through the process, you are able to focus on what is within your control.  A series of “quick wins” creates a positive momentum.



  • Set Small Segment Goals


Building off of the last point, when working towards your outcome goals, make sure you are working backwards and setting small segment goals.  Small segment goals allow you to achieve quick wins, building confidence along the road to achieving bigger goals.  One of the best pieces of advice a coach ever gave me was to sit down before each game and map out 5 process goals for the upcoming game.  These goals were always focused on things I could control and if met, always added up to a strong performance.

For example, my goals for a game might look like this:

  • D-Side on All Battles
  • Zero shots blocked on shot attempts
  • Zero turnovers at any line
  • Zero Missed Checks
  • Zero Missed Passes

This exercise helped me to stay focused on short-term, priority processes and to avoid being overwhelmed with outcomes that might be out of my control.  If I were able to focus on these 5 goals and achieve them, in turn, my ice-time would increase, I would be given more opportunities and responsibilities, and I’d achieve more personal success.


  • Preach the Positives, Teach the Negatives


Everybody likes being recognized when they’ve done a good job.  Recognition is always the first thing that is brought up in workplace culture discussions.  There is no reason to be shy about it.  We all like to get a pat on the back.  However, there is this odd, yet popular myth out there that states that you should hold back from telling people they’re doing great.  The fear is that if you blow too much sunshine up their butts, they will get complacent and soft.  I understand the fear.  It’s a concern that too much praise will inflate the ego and people will become arrogant and entitled.  I think the best way to avoid this is to set the standard early that everyone will be praised for a job well done and will equally be accountable (respectfully and constructively) for failures.  If you’re open, honest and respectful in addressing the positives and the negatives, you will have a much more accountable and engaged team.

The one thing I can’t stand is when coaches project their anger over a mistake onto a player who is already beating themselves up about it.  Nothing good comes from this.  If anything, it creates anxiety, resentment and fear.  All of these feelings will have adverse effects on athletes, pushing their confidence levels even further into the ground.

The best coaches I’ve ever had are the coaches who preach positives and teach the negatives.  They don’t let you off the hook when you mess up, but address it in a way that keeps your confidence from plummeting while showing you that they respect you.  A good way to address mistakes is to talk about the mistake and give them some effective guidance and tools to achieve a better outcome.  It’s also beneficial to remind them of another time when they achieved a better result or highlight another play from the shift that they did well.  Nobody wants to screw up.  It doesn’t feel good when you do.  How you decide to handle these situations will often dictate confidence and consistency in your team.



  • Be the Best at What You Do Best


In sports and in life there is always an obsession with being better at what we suck at.  If I’m slow, I want to be fast.  If I’m small, I want to be big.  While we should always be trying to continuously improve all aspects of our game, there is something to be said about being the best at what we do best.  What I mean by that is, If I’m 5 foot 9 and 150 pounds and can skate like the wind, should I really be focusing on outmuscling guys in the corner?  Conversely, if I’m 6 foot 3 and 215 pounds, a decent skater who doesn’t really have a knack for scoring, should I really be trying to become a dangler on the first or second line?  Why not focus on being the best at your role?  If you’re a great penalty killer, focus on being great at all the skills that the role requires.

Hockey is great in the sense that there are so many roles on a team for players of all skill sets.  Realizing what your strengths and knacks are early and doing your best to hone and showcase them will get you much further in the game than trying to be something that you’re not.



  • Celebrate Key Values


Recognition has a lot to do with confidence.  Try scoring a goal in a lunch-hour pick-up game and then compare it to scoring a goal in front of 18,000 screaming fans.  There is a significant difference.  Players love their accomplishments being celebrated.

A great way to ensure you’re instilling confidence in all your players is to find unique ways to celebrate all of the values that are key to the success of your team.  If you value hard work, you can give out a symbolic token to the game’s hardest worker.  The same can be done for sacrifice, leadership or any of the other intrinsic values you want to prioritize in your players.

You don’t always have to celebrate positive outcomes or processes to get positive effects, either.  When I played in the ECHL in Augusta, GA, we used to give out a green jacket to the player who had the worst plus/minus on the team (a playful twist on golf’s ritual of awarding Masters Champions with a sacred green jacket).  That player would have to wear the jacket into the booster club functions after games and get a playful ribbing.  It was a fun way of motivating players to work harder and smarter.

A lot of companies who value initiative and progressive ideas will reward employees for the “best failures.”  In doing so, they encourage their employees to take risks and think outside the box.



Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at
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.

Sep 08

Minor League Bad Habits


Playing in the minors is hard on the body and mind. Teams often play back-to-back nights while travelling hundreds of miles between games. The pay is low, the food is bad, and team priorities are geared towards thriftiness rather than comfort for the players. Playing in such conditions often breeds bad habits. Other bad habits picked up by minor leaguers are simply the result of acclimating to the culture of hockey.

Bad habits in the minors have a tendency to work like a string of dominos. One bad habit leads to another, which spawns another, and so forth. The first bad habit I will address, gambling, stems from an inner desire to win. As mentioned earlier, pro hockey players are competitive in everything they do. In order to get to that level, you have to have a desire to win and a healthy hatred of losing. Whether it’s cards, golf or bowling, money is always involved in one form of wager or another.

The problem with the amount of gambling that occurs between minor leaguers is that most players don’t make enough money to fund these wagers and still live within their means. Any money that is accumulated, per diem on road trips especially, is often used to ante in to card games and other mindless forms of betting.

When we’d receive our per diem for the day, and I was as guilty of this as the next guy, that money would go straight into a session of shnarples, poker, black jack or euchre. Once that cash was gone, the pleading and moaning would start from guys trying to talk their way back into the game. A cash-depleted player might say: “Let me back in the game, I’m good for it. Just mark me down for an IOU and I’ll give you the cash tomorrow.” The problem was, when it came time to collect, guys would deny owing anything or would delay the matter by ensuring, “I’ll have it for you next roadie.”

If you were bad at repaying debts, there was always a good dare to help clear the books. One time I swam five laps in a busy hotel pool, wearing a hoodie and jeans, to eliminate a $20 debt. Another time, we got one of the guys to drink a bottle of vinegar at a restaurant to clear up a $10 tab. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Another bad habit that stems from being poor and gambling away all the peanuts that come across your table is a poor diet. During home stretches, you eat sensibly and mind what you’re putting in your body. When you’re on the road, it’s often fast food stops after games, or filling up on the gift packs of granola bars and cookies that the booster club stocks on the bus for road trips.

Per diem at the Double-A level in 2007 amounted to $37 per day. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “$37 isn’t too bad. You should be able to eat healthy on $37 a day.” This is true. Today, years removed from my playing days, I could easily eat healthy for a day on $37. When I was 25 or 26 years old, burning thousands of calories a day and weighing 200 pounds, I ate like a great white shark. If we were stopping at Subway, it was two foot-longs, cookies and a drink. We’re talking about upwards of a $20 meal.

The odd time, you might get lucky and wind up at a hotel that had a grocery store close by. If that was the case, you could pop in and load up on produce and other items to put together a healthy meal. Most of the time, we’d be eating at a restaurant as a team. After you’d paid for an entrée, with taxes and tip in, you’d be walking away $25 poorer.

After spending a couple of days on the toilet after a road trip, you would make a promise to yourself that you were going to organize and pre-pack meals into a cooler next time and eat healthy. Before you knew it, you were back on the road for a week-long road trip, stuffing Quaker Oats fat bars and ginger snaps down your gullet.

By far the most disgusting habit you see at the minor league level, and I’m ashamed to say I partook in this, was chewing tobacco. With long stretches on a bus, at a rink or sitting in your hotel room, throwing in a dip became a socially acceptable way to help pass the time and relax the nerves. Wherever there are people dipping, there are Gatorade bottles or beer cans with the tops cut off being used as “spitters”.

The worst part about having guys around chewing was that there were always spitters lying around, many of them missing lids. Time after time, spitters were getting knocked over, oozing gooey filth over whatever was close by. The grossest thing I’ve ever seen, and this happened more times than I can recall, was when someone would accidentally drink from a beer can that was being used as a spitter. We’d be having a party and a guy would reach back to grab his beer and accidentally grab the spitter sitting next to it. You’d see some pretty wild faces on guys after they took a swig of someone else’s saliva and discarded tobacco juice.

Once you got hooked on chewing, you became a celebrated member of the tobacco-using family. I played with a guy who quickly went from chewing to smoking cigarettes. We were playing in Europe and dip was extremely difficult to come by. If you wanted to get your hands on some, you had to order it in from Sweden or Denmark. It was expensive and a major hassle to have imported. Since he was hooked on the stuff, and because everyone smoked in Europe, he decided to make the switch to cigarettes. Before long, he was sucking back a pack per day.

One of the habits that just went along with the hockey culture was swearing like a sailor when you were around the boys. We were all extremely guilty of it, but there were always a few that took it to legendary levels. One of my teammates, let’s call him “Marty” was in a league of his own when it came to this. He was like a walking tornado of F-bombs when he was at the rink. Every sentence he threw out had a minimum of four F-bombs in it. For example, he might be griping about someone on the other team in between periods: “Can you effing believe that effing number forty-effing-four for eff sakes? He effing sticks me and I effing give it right back and he effing goes whining to the effing ref. Like efffffff me, eh?”

Marty had a great career and ended up getting a coaching gig in the NCAA coaching women’s hockey after he hung up the blades. When we heard he accepted the position we all razzed him hard: “Marty! You can’t coach women’s hockey!”

“Eff me, bud, those girls swear more than me, eff,” he replied. He was probably right. We used to share a hallway with the women’s team when I played in college and you would have sworn Denis Leary was out there most days.

The last two bad habits, which are of the more serious variety, are drinking and painkillers. Frighteningly, these habits often go hand in hand. Drinking is something that is heavily engrained in hockey culture. Growing up, watching NHL games on TV, there was the “Molson Cup Three-Stars” at the conclusion of every game, and every other commercial was a beer commercial, linking Canada’s game with alcohol. It was subliminal conditioning and it was extremely effective.

My dad played in the “Beer Leagues,” as they were called, and I used to go to his games so I could run around the stands and collect wayward pucks. After the game, I’d sit in the musty dressing room with all the old boys as they slugged back a case of Labbatt’s 50. In every rink there is a prominent sign in every room that says “Alcohol Prohibited,” but everyone knows that any rink rat worth his salt isn’t going to hold a group of men’s leaguers accountable to that regulation.

Drinking beer and playing hockey is as much a match as movies and popcorn. In the beginning, it was something you did because it was fun, it was what people did at parties. If you were shy, it helped you hit on girls. As you rose higher in hockey, drinking became more than just a thing to do at parties. Booze was a cheap painkiller and it also helped you deal with issues that you wanted to keep hidden in the back of your mind. It was a stress reliever, painkiller, bad girlfriend-forgetter and mind eraser all wrapped up into one tall, frosty glass.

The problem with drinking was that it could only do so much for you. When you turned pro and the physicality and grind became more pressing on your body, booze wasn’t enough to satisfy all of your needs. All of a sudden, you were playing 30 to 40 more games per season, and the hits, punches and sticks to the face were coming with more force and frequency. You needed something stronger to help you get through the grind, and that’s when the wonderful white pills showed up to the party. Oxys, Percs, Vics and muscle relaxers became the new cure-all remedy. Can’t sleep? Pop two Vics. Back hurts? Here’s a few Percs. Knee’s still messed up? A few of these Oxys will sort you right out.

Playing hockey in the minors is a lot like selling your house, cleaning out your bank account and heading to the casino. You play your cards right and hit a big hand at the right time, you can achieve riches beyond your wildest dreams. If you hang around too long, letting all the bad habits consume you, you run the risk of losing everything.


Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at
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.

Jul 21

10 Coolest Style Trends in Hockey


1)  The Gretzky Tuck


Wayne Gretzky, for obvious reasons, is the Godfather of cool style trends in hockey.  From the enviable lifestyle to the unbreakable records, there isn’t much this guy hasn’t done.  If Gretzky is the Cool Whip of hockey, then the “Gretzky Jersey Tuck” is the cherry on top.  A simple top hand-side tuck caught fire amongst a generation of ankle-biters with every kid born between 1975 and 1990 stuffing their oversized minor hockey jerseys into their hockey pants.  This style was so persuasive that some current NHLers continue to carry the Gretzky Tuck torch.


2)  Blue Skate Blade Holders


The Great One was also the driver behind one of hockey history’s coolest signature trend: The Blue Perfecta Skate Blade Holders.  During the ‘80s. Wayno rocked the blue holders, which were rumoured to be a playoff superstition adopted during an Oilers Dynasty Stanley Cup Playoff push.  When Gretzky took his show to Hollywood in 1988, he swapped out the blue holders for black ones, which he continued to wear for the rest of his career.  Other players tried to mimic this trend (See Ryan Smyth and Jaromir Jagr), but failed to capture the natural suaveness of The Great One.


3)  Tongues Out

Kovalev Tongues OutShea Weber - Tongues Out

Skating “Tongues Out” is one of those trends you can either pull off and look like a rock star or fail miserably with, looking like a duster.  NHLers who have famously pulled off this look include the ridiculously talented Alex Kovalev and ultra-beast Shea Weber.  Nuff said.


4)  The Boucha Headband and Hrudey’s Blue Chiffon

Henry Boucha Headband

Henry Boucha, affectionately known as “The Chief” was one of the most stylish NHLers of the no-helmet era.  Blessed with silky black hair and a moustache that would make a jungle cat purr, Boucha used the power of the headband to thrill the ladies as he streaked up and down the wing for 6 seasons in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota North Stars, Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies, before an unfortunate stick swinging incident left him partially blind, essentially ending his career.


Kelly Hrudy Headband


Bred out of practicality, Kelly Hrudey’s dashing blue bandana made him one of the most stylish netminders in NHL history.  Hrudey adopted the headband in order to keep his beautiful dark salad in check while keeping sweat out of his contact lenses.  After a 1989 trade to the Los Angeles Kings, Hrudey reached rock star status, earning the nickname “Hollywood”, putting the blue chiffon look on full display in Tinseltown.


5)  Visor/Cage Combo


After going to the movie theatre to watch Mighty Ducks 2, the thing I wanted most in the world was a visor/cage combo like the one team Iceland sported at the Goodwill Games.  There was something extremely cool about the swagger of that Iceland team.  Their coach was nails with a cool hairstyle.  They had a hot trainer.  Their uniforms were nasty and their captain, Gunnar Stahl (You can’t find a cooler name than that), was the real deal.  Gordon Bombay’s Ducks might have beat Iceland in the end, but they couldn’t hold a torch to those sweet visor/cage combos.


6)  Mullets

Ron Duguayal-iafrate-haircut

There is nothing that says “hockey” more than some solid flow.  From Ronny Duguay’s Hollywood mullet to Wendel Clark’s brush-cut with curtains to Al Iafrate’s skullet, there have been some sweet signature coifs.


7)  Playoff Beards

Niedermayer Cup Beard

The playoff beard is the greatest tradition in all of professional sports.  There is nothing scarier than staring across the ice at a guy with a big bushy playoff beard that says, “I don’t give a shit, I’ll bite your nose off to win.”  From Mike Commodore’s Viking Nest to Scott Niedermayer’s grizzled salt and pepper face bib, a solid playoff beard illustrates an epic journey.


8)  Campbell/Wales Conference All-Star Jerseys 

All-Star Jerseys

Over the years, we’ve seen some pretty nauseating jerseys.  From last season’s All-Star Game jersey debacle to basically anything from the mid-to-late ‘90s (Remember the Captain Highliner New York Islander jerseys from the 96-97 season?), we’ve seen some forgettable designs.  Aside from the classic look of the Original Six franchises, one of the coolest set of jerseys belongs to the glory days of the Campbell Conference vs. Wales Conference All-Star Game setup.


9)  Cooperalls


The Cooperall era didn’t last very long in the NHL.  It was first tested in the OHA (Now OHL) in the late ‘70s before it made its way into the NHL camps of the Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques.  A similar style, the CCM Propac, was used by the Philadelphia Flyers during the 1981-82 season and the Hartford Whalers the following year.  In 1983, the long pant was outlawed in the NHL but continued its popularity amongst beer leaguers the world over.


 10)  Goalie Masks

 Gilles Gratton     Eddie the Eagle

There is nothing more artistic in pro sports than the goalie mask.  From the earliest inception, goalie masks have taken on the personalized expression of the finest art form.  From Gilles Gratton’s tiger mask to Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour’s eagle mask, each depiction is an outward extension of the quirky persona of the goalie, because, let’s face facts, goalies are nuts!




Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at
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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