Mar 19

The Great Hamburglar:  A Testament to the Goalie Movement


What do Andrew Hammond, Keith Kinkaid, Antti Raanta, Cam Talbot and Martin Jones have in common?  They are all undrafted, overlooked goaltenders who, through a series of interesting circumstances, have found themselves thriving in the spotlight on hockey’s greatest stage.  Throw in the insanely improbable story of Chicago’s Scott Darling and the resurrection of perennial outcast Devan Dubnyk, and you’ve got the script for “The Expendables 4”.

In reality, we really shouldn’t be all that surprised.  This is, after all, the “Age of the Goaltender”.  Today’s prototypical goalie is 6 foot 4, explosive from post to post and trained by a plethora of goalie coach gurus the world over.  Compared to the netminders of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, we’re seeing a vast transformation in the net, more than any other position.  Another thing we’re seeing is a crazy amount of depth at the professional levels.  It’s gotten to a point where the talent is so immense at the position that it almost doesn’t matter who you throw out there on any given night.  The results over large sample sizes are pretty consistent.

Case in point:


Chicago’s Crease:

Corey Crawford 48 29 14 5 103 1384 1281 .926 2.18 2 2841 35 .729
Scott Darling 9 6 3 0 20 287 267 .930 2.18 0 551 7 .778
Antti Raanta 14 7 4 1 25 389 364 .936 1.89 2 792 8 .667


Pittsburgh’s Paint:

Marc-Andre Fleury 54 31 15 7 118 1516 1398 .922 2.23 9 3174 31 .574
Thomas Greiss 18 8 5 3 44 502 458 .912 2.54 0 1040 9 .563
Jeff Zatkoff 1 0 1 0 1 17 16 .941 1.62 0 37 0


New York’s Net:

Henrik Lundqvist 39 25 11 3 87 1119 1032 .922 2.25 5 2321 26 .667
Cam Talbot 29 17 6 4 61 829 768 .926 2.19 5 1674 13 .481
Mackenzie Skapski 2 2 0 0 1 45 44 .978 0.50 1 119 2 1.000


Success of goaltenders in today’s game also weighs heavily on the type of system a team plays.  For nearly two decades, Martin Brodeur benefitted from a stingy defensive system in New Jersey.  In today’s game, where every movement on the ice is tracked, analyzed and re-analyzed, system play has become a science.  The sport of hockey itself has become extremely cerebral, much more of a chess game.  This contributes to the reason why we’re seeing more consistency in the goaltending numbers for each specific team.

Systems aside, today’s goalies are just so damn good.  The emergence of the out-of-nowhere game-stealer like Ottawa’s Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond, and Scott “That’s right, the Southern Professional Hockey League” Darling is a testament to the strength of the goaltending position across the board in the NHL.  I would compare NHL goalies to NFL running backs.  If one goes down, there is someone right behind him, champing at the bit to get a shot to prove he’s legit.  Hell, there’s even someone waiting behind that guy.  There are just so many good ones in hockey today, and that’s a stick tap to goalie development in general.

Will this newfound cache of uber talent at the goaltending position have an impact on how teams operate?  Maybe.  Anything is possible and probable in a salary cap environment.  For example, Chicago has some tough decisions to make beyond this season with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane locked up to huge deals, soaking up a third of their cap space.  Knowing this, does it make sense for them to keep Corey Crawford around at $6.5 M per year and risk having to move Brent Seabrook or Patrick Sharp, or could they move Crawford and go with a tandem of Raanta and Darling (who combine for a measly $1.35 M cap hit)?

One thing is for certain.  We’re only just beginning to see the fruits of a movement that has really just begun.  Until only recently, unless you were from Finland or had enough money to pay for private goalie training sessions, goalies were trained by coaches who knew very little about the position.  We’re now starting to see more specialized training at the goalie position across the board in minor hockey.  Going forward with this approach, we’re going to be seeing a lot more Hamburglars and Darlings popping up.

Robble, robble.

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
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.

Mar 04

5 Correctable Skating Deficiencies



There is no denying that skating is the most important attribute for a hockey player.  From a vast reduction in “clutching and grabbing” to the removal of the two-line pass rule, the progressive changes to the game of hockey all benefit the fleet of foot.  The simple fact is if you are a poor skater, you are severely limited in how far you can go in the game.

Here are 5 of the most common skating deficiencies and how they can easily be addressed (Remember, the older a player gets, the harder it becomes to make lasting adjustments to skating style):


  1. Posture


There is nothing more spectacular than watching a beautiful skater in mid-flight.  It’s the perfect combination of grace, power, and rhythm.  The foundation of all of that beauty is posture.  From a teaching standpoint, everyone has their terminology when it comes to posture and the skating stride.  I like to use the term “Power Position”.  This is the first thing I teach, and it’s something I preach over and over again throughout every session because it’s the one thing that often creates or breaks good habits.

The proper power position for a beautiful skater is to have the knees bent, butt out, chest up and head up.  Like this:



The power position allows for strong balance, explosive agility and ample body control.


Examples of poor posture:

  • Bending at the hip instead of the knees, with a tendency to drop the chest towards the ice producing a “hunched over” skating style. By bending at the hip and dropping your chest, you are removing a great deal of power from your stride.  You’re also exposing yourself to a greater potential for injury.



  1. Depth


Building off of and going hand-in-hand with “Posture” is “Depth”.  By depth, I am speaking about the height of the center of gravity of a player.  The deeper you can get in your power position and stride, the more explosive you will become.  Players with lower center of gravities are also much more difficult to knock off pucks.  One of the best examples of a player with great depth and a low center of gravity is Edmonton Oilers’ winger Taylor Hall, who just happens to be one of the most explosive skaters in the world.



Benefits to Adding More Depth:

  • Faster, sharper and more powerful turns
  • Longer, more powerful strides and crossovers pushes
  • Better balance for puck protection
  • More explosive transitions and pivots


  1. Extension


Building off of “Posture” and “Depth” (You can see the trend here), another component to the perfect skating style is “Extension”.  Extension is like the “Finish” to a golf swing.  With each stride or push on a crossover, you want to explode through the toe of your skate, snapping and rolling each push off the end of your skate blade.   Your heel should not be kicking up towards the seat of your pants, as is desired for sprinters.  It is common to see this deficiency in poor skaters; a deficiency that severely limits the amount of power being applied to each stride.



Something to Note:

  • Remember that there are two pushes for every crossover. The first push from the outside leg to start the crossover and the second push from the inside leg (underneath) to finish the crossover.  Each push is equally important.



  1. Flexibility & Core Strength


One of the keys to becoming a better skater has nothing to do with being on the ice.  In order to become an elite skater, you need to prepare your body by increasing flexibility, especially in the hips, abductors and adductors, and by strengthening your core.   This allows players to have better posture, body control, depth and explosiveness.  As a former player, my biggest gains as a skater were realized when I began introducing dynamic stretching and core workouts into my daily regime.




  1. Hips & Shoulders


One of biggest things young players neglect when skating is using their whole bodies to their advantage.  Skating isn’t just about your legs, it’s a full body motion and every little thing comes into play.  Whether it’s turning your shoulders to maximize speed on crossovers or driving your hips to the target when taking a one-timer, it’s important to use your whole body when skating.



Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
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.

Feb 04

Influencing Culture:  In Sports and in Business

Culture Picture


There is a widely accepted myth in sports and in business that culture is created from the top down.  We take our cues from our leaders.  It is coaches, captains, CEOs and managers that create the culture to which we choose to embrace and thrive within or not.

Thirty or forty years ago, this might have made sense.  Today, in the age of innovation and continuous improvement, it doesn’t hold a lot of water.  In the 1960s and ‘70s, it wasn’t uncommon for people to spend their entire careers with one company, in one stream of work.  It was also very rare to see athletes change franchises during this era.  That was the landscape of the times, and ironically, when most of the business models that we continue to follow were first created.

In today’s innovation-driven landscape, change is the only certainty in life.  How you minimize the impact of change and use it to grow will determine the amount of success you achieve, both as an individual and as an organization.  There is no better tool to ensure sustainability through change than culture.

So how can you develop and sustain a strong culture in the age of change?  You can start by abiding by these three simple rules:


It will never be perfect

No matter how hard you work at it, culture will never be exactly what you want it to be.  It’s just the nature of human interaction.  Being able to accept this is the first step to developing and sustaining a strong culture.


The process is the output

One of the biggest myths surrounding culture is that there is a beginning, middle and an end.  In reality, culture is a living thing.  It’s not something you build and stand back and admire.  It involves continuous work. As the pieces of your team change and the environment of competition changes, so does the culture.  It’s an ever-evolving concept.


It’s all about me

You can’t sit back and expect someone else to create the culture in which you intend to thrive in.  You need to be proactive.  You need to step up and contribute.  This is the number one reason culture fails in business and in sports.  There aren’t enough “leaders” who are willing to become drivers of their own success.


As an individual player or employee below the traditional “leadership levels”, how can you influence culture and ensure inclusiveness?


Here are 8 simple ways how:


1.  Improve Communication

The number one cause of failure in any situation is communication.  The easiest way to break down barriers and promote cohesion is through open and honest communication.  What is even more important is to understand that this is a two-way street.  In order for communication to be successful, you have to be able to embrace and encourage feedback.  When people aren’t feeling comfortable to voice their opinions and feel like they have been listened to, they won’t really get on board.


2.  Develop and Promote Your Teammates

Developing team members is something that has always been tasked to coaches and managers.  This mindset is extremely short-sighted.  Some of the best stories of development and promotion come from colleagues and team members helping each other.

When I stepped onto campus in college, one of the first people to take me under their wing was a fellow player, Ken Scuderi.  Ken began to teach me what it meant to “be a pro”.  Promoting my skill-set didn’t directly benefit Ken as a player.  If anything, it posed a bit of a threat—we were both competing for ice time against each other.  Ken understood that by helping to build up everyone around him, he was creating a close-knit, leadership-based culture.  The more successful each individual is, the more successful the team becomes.

One thing team success promotes, whether in sport or business, is individual opportunity.  There is a saying, “Treat everyone above, below and around you like gold, because you never know if they will become your boss one day.”   It’s the strong relationships that you build in life that will help you persevere in the most difficult of times.


3.  Improve the Atmosphere

Studies show there is a direct correlation between visual stimulation and production.  Whether it is sprucing up your workstation or decorating your stall at the rink, you can help to influence your mood and mental mindset.  As a player, I used to post a list in my stall of quotes from people in my life who told me I couldn’t achieve certain goals.  I used this list of naysayers as motivation.  Today, in my role as a Business Analyst, that list hangs in my office.


4.  Be Proactive

There is no greater pain than the feeling of regret.  I once had a great coach in pro hockey that asked us if we had ever been “Screwed over in our careers.”  Nearly everyone put their hand in the air.  He just shook his head and said, “If you really want to confront the person who screwed you over, just look in the mirror.”  It took a while for it to sink in, but eventually I understood that he was right.  There are times when people are generally out to “screw” others over, but the majority of the time, we hold ourselves back by not becoming the driver of our own success.

Looking back on my own career in hockey, there is a slew of defining situations where I hindered my own development by not being proactive.  There were a lot of things I could have been doing to further my own development, but I spent too much time sitting back, waiting for success to come to me.  When you are around others who are proactive, it is addictive.  On the flip side, when you are surrounded by people pointing fingers, with their feet up on the desk, it is hard not to get caught conforming.


5.  Be SMART

Whether it’s a short-term or long-term goal or objective, you are better prepared to achieve successful outcomes using the “SMART” methodology (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound).  By using this approach, you are facilitating a positive atmosphere through a healthy sense of accomplishment.  This approach also helps you to align your personal goals and objectives to the core values of your team.


6.  Worry About What You Can Control

Nothing is more debilitating to an individual or a team than insecurity and fear.  In most circumstances, this is initiated by worrying about what you are unable to control.  As a player, I spent the majority of my career looking over my shoulder and obsessing about the possibility of failure.  I was constantly worried about my job and my status on the team.  It consumed my life and severely limited my potential for success.

In the business world, I see it every day.  People spend so much time obsessing about job security and changes that could or could not happen.  Worrying about things beyond your control is a slippery slope that almost always leads to low morale.  A great book that has become somewhat of an everyday bible for me is Dan Millman’s “Way of the Peaceful Warrior.”

According to Millman, Life has three rules:  Paradox, Humor and Change:

  • Paradox: Life is a mystery; don’t waste your time trying to figure it out.
  • Humor: Keep a sense of humor, especially about yourself. It is a strength beyond all measure
  • Change: Know that nothing ever stays the same


7.  Control Your Body Language

It’s no secret that body language accounts for over 80% of all communication.  If you exude negative body language cues, it is ultimately going to trigger negative assumptions.  In sports, poor body language often says a lot about a player’s “character”.  In hockey, players who sulk and slam their stick are viewed as selfish players, or “cancers”.  Sometimes this is a misrepresentation of what the person is all about.  So why leave it to chance?

Make a conscious effort to control your body language and communicate better through your powerful non-verbal cues.  Before you go to work or to the arena each day, put on your “CAPE”—be Confident, Accountable, Proactive, and Empowered.  Always remember, there is someone out there who is counting on you.


8.  Check Your Ego at the Door

Understanding weakness is a valuable strength to possess in life.  Knowing when to ask for help or assistance, without fear, indicates a strong sense of self-worth and emotional health.  You don’t have to be good at everything to be great.  We spend so much time focusing on correcting weaknesses instead of striving to be the best at what we do best.

If you don’t like math and spending your days filling out spreadsheets, chances are you aren’t going to make a very good accountant.  If you are 5 foot 10 and 170 pounds, chances are you aren’t going to be a physical, shutdown-style defenseman.  Play to your strengths and develop your true passions and talents without fear of making a few mistakes along the way.




Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
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.

Jan 27

The Art of Chirping

Jay Cover

There is one aspect to all sports that is as old as the game itself. Something so deeply rooted in the essence of competition that it becomes its own game in itself: the game within the game—chirping.  Chirping (aka “Beaking”, “Trash-Talking” or “Yapping”) is a skill not unlike skating, shooting or passing, and like any skill, it takes years and years of practice to achieve perfection.  Some of the greatest chirpers in the history of sports—Michael Jordan, Jeremy Roenick, and Muhammad Ali, to name a few—took the art of chirping to legendary levels.  They are the kings of the cut-up.

Respect be given.

How can you elevate your trash-talking game?  By taking these necessary steps:


1)  Timing


When laying down a devastating put-down, timing is everything.  You can’t ask for a timeout, run back to the dressing room, write down the perfect comeback and then return to deliver it.  You need to snap back fast.  The quicker the rebuttal, the better.  Any delay in firing back with a cutting chirp, and you will look like a fool.


2)  Audience


The best chirps are delivered in front of an audience.  It’s all about humiliation and nothing is more powerful than dropping an epic chirp in the middle of a scrum or in front of the benches.


3)  Personal Touch


Anyone can chirp, but it’s the true artists that are able to take it to the next level.  One of the best ways to add bite to the chirp is to get personal.  Whether you reference their skating stride or bring their large, distorted nose into it, you’re upping your game.  Sometimes if you come up with a catchy nickname to poke fun at one of their less desirable attributes (big nose, big ears, bad teeth, age, etc.) or to represent an incident that they’d rather forget, it can catch on.  We used to call one former opponent “Gonzo” because he had a huge, crooked nose, resembling the character from “The Muppet Show”. We called another guy “Snowman” because of a run-in he had with the cops over a cocaine possession charge.


4)  Tone


The tone you use when delivering the chirp goes a long way towards effectiveness.  If you are emotional and angry, your chirps will lose their cleverness.  The heated, “I hate your f—ing guts, you loser!” chirp is pathetic and isn’t even really a chirp at all.  The best chirps in history are delivered in calm, confident tones.  When you aim to cut deep, nothing is more effective than the fluid, silver-tongued delivery of the James Bond-esque chirp artists.  It’s almost as if to say, “I’m going to dismantle your soul and probably steal your girlfriend in the process.”


5)  Cleverness


Be original.  “You suck and you’re ugly,” isn’t original.  Try and come up with something smart, because, let’s face it, most people think athletes are dumb.  If an opponent is really old and should have retired years ago you might say, “Hey Gramps.  What kind of skates are those?  Dr. Scholl’s?”  If a player is going bald, you might say, “Nice hairline. Are you showing a double-feature on that forehead after the game?”

One time, while I was in college, one of my teammates, a legendary chirper, got into a battle with an opponent while lining up for a draw.  The opponent said, “I got a call from the Philadelphia Flyers last night.  Who called you?”  My teammate, without even turning to look at the guy replied with the first and last name of the guy’s girlfriend.  It was classic!


6)  References


References in chirps can drive home the punch to the guts like nothing else.  Pop culture references work really well.  For example, if you’re playing against a big, ugly opponent, skating buy the bench and yelling, “Heyyyyy yooooouuu ggguuuyyyyyssss!” (a reference to the character “Sloth” for the 80s classic adventure/comedy “The Goonies”), is a good way to rattle a cage.

One time, in college, one of the players on a rival team strikingly resembled “Frankenstein”.  While on the ice, we used to skate straight-legged past him during breaks in the action and groan loudly.  This always resulted in an outburst.  Another time, during a banquet dinner featuring four teams, including Frankenstein’s, we doodled a sketch of Frankenstein—complete with neck bolts—on a cocktail napkin and left it out on display at the buffet table.  Even Frankenstein’s teammates chuckled as they passed along the food line.


After reading this, some of you are going to condemn me to the fiery gates of hell, but the reality is, chirping is a relatively harmless, age-old ritual of organized sports.  It’s a major part of the culture of competitive sports.  It’s used strategically and, ironically, to foster camaraderie.  The fact is, if opponents are trying to get under your skin, you should take it as a compliment.  You’re not going to waste your energy on a player who isn’t making a difference.  Also, it’s common practice to chirp your own teammates—relentlessly.  It’s part of the bond.

The first time I went to my wife’s family’s house for dinner, her brother (Who also played hockey) and I spent the whole time chirping each other.  Afterwards, my wife seemed sad and said, “I was really hoping you and my brother would get along.  You have a lot in common.”

I laughed and said, “Why do you think we don’t get along?”

She seemed surprised and said, “All you guys did was make fun of each other.”

I scoffed and replied, “Oh, that just means we like each other.  It’s all for fun.”

And, it is.

It’s part of the culture and part of the persona.  Since hockey players are supposed to be tough, they aren’t supposed to say, “Hey man, you’re a swell guy.”  Instead, we show our affection by saying, “Hey man, you’re about the ugliest guy I’ve ever seen.”

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
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.

Jan 14

Price of a 30-Goal Season:  David Clarkson’s Cross to Bear


On July 5th, 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a major splash, signing rugged free agent winger, and Toronto native, David Clarkson to a 7-year, $36.75 million contract.  The signing brought a glimmer of hope to the sagging morale of Leafs Nation.  “Great signing!  Clarkson is going to be our next Wendel Clark,” some said. Others celebrated the idea of the missing element—a cultural upgrade, bringing an element of fearlessness, heart and toughness.  Two years removed from a 30-goal season and Stanley Cup final appearance, there was something to be excited about.

Fast forward two seasons, Leafs Nation is once again in shambles.  A recently fired coach, a disgruntled core group, mopey superstar, horrendous advanced statistics numbers, and so on, and so on, yada, yada, yada.  It’s like a dysfunctional household where mommy and daddy are constantly fighting.  Amid the carnage sits David Clarkson, the overpaid, knuckle-dragging disappointment—the whipping boy for all that is wrong in hockey-crazed Toronto.

Is the criticism fair?  Is David Clarkson underachieving?  According to his paystub, the answer is, yes.  However, when you examine his career averages, David Clarkson is doing exactly what he’s capable of:  Play third line minutes and produce third line results.


Regular Season
Season Team Games Goals Assists Points PIMs +/-
2007-08 New Jersey Devils 81 9 13 22 183 1
2008-09 New Jersey Devils 82 17 15 32 164 -1
2009-10 New Jersey Devils 46 11 13 24 85 3
2010-11 New Jersey Devils 82 12 6 18 116 -20
2011-12 New Jersey Devils 80 30 16 46 138 -8
2012-13 New Jersey Devils 48 15 9 24 78 -6
2013-14 Toronto Maple Leafs 60 5 6 11 93 -14
2014-15 Toronto Maple Leafs 43 9 4 13 47 -4
Per Season Average 65 14 10 24 113 -6
82-Game Average 82 17 13 30 142 -8
2014-15 Pace (82 Games) 82 17 8 25 90 -7


When you remove the career high season and the career low season, Clarkson’s career averages work out to the same.

How does Clarkson match up against players of a similar mold?

(Wingers with 13 – 14 mins per night, play gritty, no penalty kill time, 1 – 2 mins of powerplay time per game)


14-15 Cap Hit 5 on 5
Corsi For
Fenwick For  GP G A Pts PIMs +/- TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
David Clarkson 5.25 M 45.1 46.1 43 9 4 13 47 -4 14:38 2:03 0:00
Similar Players:
14-15 Cap Hit  5 on 5
Corsi For         
Fenwick For  GP G A Pts PIMs +/- TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
Matt Cooke 2.5 M 45.4 47.0 20 3 4 7 11 0 12:18 0:02 2:15
Curtis Glencross 2.55 M 44.8 44.6 43 8 18 26 30 8 14:31 2:40 0:11
David Jones 4 M 44.7 46.2 30 6 7 13 8 3 14:23 1:00 0:01
Chris Stewart 4.15 M 37.3 36.8 42 5 7 12 41 -19 14:52 1:43 0:00
Steve Downie 1 M 47.4 48.4 37 7 13 20 141 8 13:01 1:38 0:01
Jamie McGinn 2.95 M 39.8 40.8 19 4 2 6 6 -9 14:46 2:01 0:07
Nino Niederreiter 2.66 M 54.0 54.0 42 14 6 20 12 -15 14:30 1:54 0:43
Bryan Bickell 4 M 55.6 55.1 43 9 9 18 21 -1 11:57 0:59 0:00
Similar Player Averages (2014-15) 2.9 M 46.1 46.6 35 7 8 15 34 -3 13:47 1:29 0:24


David Clarkson’s contract is a reflection of the pressure and panic of a hotbed market like Toronto.  Following a heartbreaking game 7 meltdown loss to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2013 layoffs, it was clear the Toronto Maple Leafs needed to become “harder to play against.”  The knee jerk reaction was to get grittier and tougher in front of the opposition net.  The 2013 off-season presented a weak free agent crop and David Clarkson, trending upwards at the time, was the cream of the crop.

Like many teams do, the Leafs became obsessed with adding that “missing element”, no matter what the cost might be.  No doubt, internal conversations revolved around “the 30-goal season” and “Stanley Cup finals experience”.  I’m sure the fact that Clarkson was able to kick in 30 goals on the second and third lines in a primarily defensive-minded system in New Jersey was touched upon.  In the end, the Leafs pulled the trigger and Clarkson returned home a very rich man.

At the end of the day, everyone will look back on the Clarkson signing and say that it was a typical Leafs move.  The fact is, every team has been guilty of the bad deal (see Bryzgalov, Richards, Gomez, Orpik, Souray, etc.).  With all the hype surrounding July 1st every summer, teams often make knee-jerk decisions and wake up 6 months later with buyer’s remorse.  It’s the nature of the system and it happens in every sport, multiple times a year.

If David Clarkson scores 17 goals instead of 30 during the 2011-12 season, he signs a deal for $2,900,000 per year and nobody bothers to bat an eye.  One magical year can turn a player from “Nuts and Bolts Player” to “Superstar”.  In modern professional sports, where players are judged by the amount of zeros on their annual paycheck, a big payday can be a godsend and a curse, all at the same time.  David Clarkson’s 30-goal season has become his cross to bear.

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
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.

Jan 08

Building Success “Through the Middle”


In hockey, there is a lot of chatter referring to “the middle”.  Coaches love to preach about “Backchecking hard through the middle of the ice.”  Defencemen are told to “force plays to the outside and play through the dots.”  The shots that goalies worry most about are “Grade A” chances—shots that come from the area of the ice known as “The House” (from the high slot down toward the goal-mouth).  Obviously, the middle of the ice is an important piece of real estate in hockey.  Knowing this, it is important that when you’re looking to build success, you need to build a team through the middle of the ice, and the most important pieces are the centermen.

Saying that the most important position on the ice is the centerman is not exactly a very popular opinion, especially in the modern “defence wins championships” mindset.  Most will argue that great teams are built from strong goaltending out and/or teams with the best defense core will win championships.  I agree that you are hard-pressed to win a Stanley Cup without strong goaltending and a solid top-4 on the backend, but without marquee talent at the center position, you simply won’t win.

Before you load up on tomatoes to throw at me, consider this.  Hockey is made up of a series of one-on-one battles.  From a defensive standpoint, the centerman has the ability to create an out-manned situation.  They provide the added defensive factor.

Defensively speaking, wingers provide the least amount of defensive value.  They are usually pretty sedentary, staying within their quadrant and ensuring opposing defensemen don’t try to slip into scoring areas.  The biggest key is for weakside wingers to protect the slot and to win lose puck battles on the wall.  Otherwise, they are just biding their time until they can create offensively.

Centermen, however, are the most important players in the defensive zone.  They are always providing the second layer of support on puck battles and are often to blame when a breakdown occurs.  Therefore, weakness in this position creates a major risk for team success. This is also why Selke Award (NHL’s top defensive forward) winners are almost always centermen.

Here are the last 10 Selke winners, all centers:


Season Team Player
2013-14 Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron
2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews
2011-12 Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron
2010-11 Vancouver Canucks Ryan Kesler
2009-10 Detroit Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk
2008-09 Detroit Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk
2007-08 Detroit Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk
2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes Rod Brind’Amour
2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes Rod Brind’Amour
2003-04 Detroit Red Wings Kris Draper


Also, you’ll notice that all of these teams have either won a Stanley Cup or been to the Stanley Cup finals in the last 10 years.  The strength of teams that are successful are almost always linked to great centermen and depth at the center position.

Here is a look at the last 30 Stanley Cup champions and their centermen:


Year Team Centers
2014 Los Angeles Kings Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll
2013 Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus, Andrew Shaw
2012 Los Angeles Kings Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll
2011 Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Chris Kelly, Tyler Seguin
2010 Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, David Bolland, John Madden
2009 Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Max Talbot
2008 Detroit Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk, Kris Draper, Darren Helm, Valteri Filppula
2007 Anaheim Ducks Ryan Getzlaf, Andy McDonald, Todd Marchant, Samuel Pahlsson
2006 Carolina Hurricanes Eric Staal, Rod Brind’Amour, Matt Cullen, Doug Weight
2005 Season cancelled due to 2004–05 NHL lockout
2004 Tampa Bay Lightning Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Tim Taylor, Eric Perran
2003 New Jersey Devils Joe Nieuwendyk, Scott Gomez, John Madden, Jamie Langenbrunner
2002 Detroit Red Wings Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Datsyuk, Igor Larionov, Kris Draper
2001 Colorado Avalanche Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Stephane Yelle, Chris Drury
2000 New Jersey Devils Scott Gomez, Bobby Holik, Brendan Morrison, Petr Sykora, Sergei Brylin
1999 Dallas Stars Joe Nieuwendyk, Mike Modano, Guy Carbonneau, Jamie Langenbrunner
1998 Detroit Red Wings Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Kris Draper
1997 Detroit Red Wings Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Kris Draper
1996 Colorado Avalanche Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Stephane Yelle, Mike Ricci
1995 New Jersey Devils Brian Rolston, John Madden, Bobby Holik, Neal Broten, Sergei Brylin
1994 New York Rangers Mark Messier, Sergei Nemchinov, Alexei Kovalev, Esa Tikkanen, Ed Olzcyk
1993 Montreal Canadiens Kirk Muller, Guy Carbonneau, Stephan Lebeau, Denis Savard
1992 Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Bryan Trottier, Shawn McEachern
1991 Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Bryan Trottier, John Cullen
1990 Edmonton Oilers Mark Messier, Esa Tikkanen, Craig MacTavish, Vladimir Ruzicka
1989 Calgary Flames Joe Nieuwendyk, Theoren Fleury, Doug Gilmour, Joel Otto
1988 Edmonton Oilers Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Craig MacTavish, Keith Acton, Esa Tikkanen
1987 Edmonton Oilers Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Craig MacTavish, Esa Tikkanen
1986 Montreal Canadiens Bobby Smith, Guy Carbonneau, Stephane Richer, Brian Skrudland
1985 Edmonton Oilers Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Mark Napier, Kevin McClelland
1984 Edmonton Oilers Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Ken Linseman, Kevin McClelland


The proof is in the pudding, there are a lot of hall of famers and superstars in that list.  If you look at the teams that experience sustainable success in the NHL year-after-year—Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston—they all have one thing in common, and that is marquee centermen.  It’s players like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Pavel Datsyuk, and Patrice Bergeron that add that extra factor to success.  Their value goes far beyond stats and awards, simply because of the responsibilities that go with being a top-tier NHL centerman.

There is a saying in hockey, “Show me a good coach and I’ll show you a good goalie.”  Here’s a twist:  “Show me a good goalie and I’ll show you a good centerman.”  As a defenseman, I used loved getting on the ice with the top lines, not just because I had a better shot at getting on the scoresheet, but because playing with good centermen always made my job that much easier.

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
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.

Dec 15

Does Birth Month Affect Success in Hockey?


The debate about whether being born in the first few months of the calendar year poses a significant advantage for a hockey player over being born in the latter months of the year isn’t new.  The argument that a player born in January of a particular calendar year will have a distinct developmental advantage over a player born in December of the same year isn’t even really something that can be debated; at least not in the “on average” sense, and especially not in the early years of physical development.  The fact is kids born in January are typically bigger, stronger and more advanced than kids born in December of the same birth year, during the early years of development.

The most polarizing, in-depth research into this trend is found in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book: “Outliers: The Story of Success”.  In his book, Gladwell argues “extraordinary success requires hard work, talent, ambition – and being born at the right time.”   He states that there is “an iron law of Canadian hockey: in any elite group of hockey players – the very best of the best – 40 per cent of the players will have been born between January and March.”  His findings are consistent with some of hockey’s greatest heros:


Wayne Gretzky – Jan 26, 1961

Bobby Orr – March 20, 1948

Gordie Howe – March 31, 1928


Counter-arguments that aim to dispel Gladwell’s claim state that these findings are subjective and not indicative of the greater success story.  Gladwell’s “40%” findings represent statistics gleaned from Canadian major junior hockey players.  In an article titled:  “Gladwell’s Big Kid Bias?” by Benjamin G. Gibbs, Mikaela Dufur, Shawn Meiners and David Jeter, the authors examine the birth dates of the 1,177 Canadian-born players who competed in the NHL between 2000 and 2010. Their findings show that twenty-nine per cent were born in the first quarter of the year—certainly not an overwhelming percentage.

Further to these findings, several of the games current bright stars were born in the latter months of the year:


Sidney Crosby – Aug. 7, 1987

Phil Kessel – Oct. 2, 1987

John Tavares – Sept. 20, 1990

Patrick Kane – Nov. 19, 1988


In order to gather the data required to give this debate the thoroughness that it deserves – breaking down variables at different stages of development while factoring in demographics, development streams (major junior vs. NCAA) and major city centres versus rural communities, etc., etc., etc., I’d have to quit my job, lose my house and marriage and bury myself in data.  For the sake of sanity and efficiency, let’s examine some key elements of development and their connection to age variation.


1.  Athleticism


To play any sport at elite levels, you need to possess some athleticism.  Not everyone possesses this and not everyone can develop it.  The fact is, through genetics and other factors, some people are simply more gifted and naturally talented.  That being said, athleticism is the first indicator that determines how high a ceiling will be for a hockey player.  Since genetics doesn’t discriminate kids born in December versus January, we continue to see Sidney Crosby’s and John Tavares’ emerge—talented freaks of athletic lore.



2.  Desire


When you love something, I mean truly, truly love something with all of your soul, there isn’t much that can deter you from doing it.  For some it’s music, art or science.  For others it might be a sport, like hockey.  In hockey, the players who have an almost unhealthy desire to play—an obsession, as it is—are at a much greater advantage than players who just simply like hockey.  While desire begins as something pure, it can be degraded through experience (more on that as we continue).



3.  Size and Physical Development


It is true that all kids vary in their stages of development.  Some have early growth spurts while others are late bloomers.  However, on average, especially at younger ages (4 – 9), kids tend to develop pretty steadily. Simply put, kids born in January of any given year are going to be a bit bigger and stronger than kids born in December of the same year.

The thing that makes these young ages so important is that this is the stage when kids first begin to develop their interest level in hockey.  Aside from several important factors such as whether their daddy played hockey or their friends play hockey, a kid’s level of desire for hockey will greatly be influenced by what is perceived as fun and some level of accomplishment.  Simply put, if it’s too hard and frustrating, young kids won’t want to carry on in it.  It’s the main reason 5-year-olds don’t want to spend their days solving quadratic equations.

Most of the kids who try hockey at young ages and don’t experience at least small doses of success, usually end of trying different activities and quitting hockey altogether.  If a kid is 11-months younger and smaller than everyone else and never gets to touch the puck, they are at an increased risk of losing interest in the game of hockey.



4.  Confidence


Building off of the last point, kids who experience success, usually experience peaks in desire, which leads to peaks in confidence—it presents a snowball effect.  In hockey, like all sports, confidence is one of the single biggest drivers of success.



5.  Mental Toughness


There is something to be said about perseverance, especially in sports.  The saying “Whatever doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger”, does hold some merit in the sports world.  Experiencing adversity at young ages can help a player develop their mental toughness skill-set.  With hockey being a mainly negative outcome sport (every change in possession comes off the back of a mistake and scoring on 20% of your shots is amazing), facing tough situations and finding ways to remain focused on your goals is of great value to a hockey player.  Learning how to do this at an early age while playing against older, stronger players is a great benefit.



6.  The Extra Year


This is where the tables really begin to turn for the late birthday hockey players.  There is a cut-off rule in place that decides what year a player will be eligible for the NHL draft.  Simply put, if a player is born between January 1st and September 16th, they will be eligible for the draft in one year, while players born in the same year after September 16th won’t be eligible for the draft until the following year.  This is a big advantage to a player born after September 16th because it gives them an additional year to develop before becoming eligible to be drafted.  Some have argued that NHL teams tend to lean towards drafting the “younger” players in a draft year as opposed to players held over from the year before due to later birth dates but this is simply an unfounded myth.



Being a late-bloomer, born in the December, who reached high levels of hockey, I can tell you first-hand that having a late birthday comes with many overwhelming challenges.  I had a high-degree of athleticism, an insanely strong desire to play hockey, and always found a way to fight through the tough times.  Despite this, I was always the runt of my age group, size-wise, and I experienced a lot of years during my minor hockey days where I acted as the “Grocery Stick” (The player who sits in the middle of the bench right between the forwards and the defencemen—rotting).

During the early years, these were tough times for me.  The majority of the kids I played with on my AAA teams were born in the first quarter of the year.  Being 11 months younger, there was often a significant size and strength discrepancy. As a result, my confidence was low and I spent a lot of time doubting myself.  Things didn’t really begin to level out for me until I turned 16 or 17.  By then, I had done most of my catching up and this is when my confidence began to spike, helping to level out the playing field and allowing my athleticism and desire propel my career.

Touching back on the debate and the research of both Malcolm Gladwell and Benjamin G. Gibbs, et al, both are correct.  There is direct correlation between first quarter birthdate hockey players and succession through minor hockey up to the major junior level in Canada. It is also true that once players reach the NHL, whether they were born early in the year or late doesn’t really matter.  By this time, we’re just getting the best athlete (mind, body and soul).  Even if the pool in junior is largely skewed to first quarter birth athletes, the best overall athletes will emerge and sometimes this is aided by the draft system (The Extra Year) and the development of mental toughness in players born in the last quarter of the year.

The area where birth month effects hockey the most in the first few years of playing the game—where kids dip their toe in the pool to find out if they want to dive in.  This is where the largest number of kids are weeded out.  This is why the largest percentage of kids playing AAA are born in the early part of the year.  It is even tougher for kids in rural communities that often combine minor and major levels (ie. Minor peewee and major peewee).  In these scenarios, some kids are as much as 23 months younger than their counterparts.

Once these kids hit the junior ranks and physical development levels out, athleticism, talent, mental toughness and confidence begin to take over.  Since the majority of these attributes aren’t directly linked to what month a player is born, we see a much more balanced spread in the NHL and minor pro levels.

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
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.

Dec 02

IntelliGym:  Revolutionizing “Hockey Sense” Training


Talk to any hockey scout, GM, or coach and they will all say the same thing.  Beyond any physical skill in hockey, the one thing that determines the longevity and sustained success of a player is “Hockey Sense”.  It’s what made Wayne Gretzky the greatest player to ever play the game.  Gretzky wasn’t big (Listed as a very generous 6 feet, 185 pounds), he wasn’t a tremendous skater (he had that hunched over, laborious stride), and didn’t have a particularly hard shot, but what he did have was an off-the-charts, insanely high level of mental acuity.  The reason he was so much better than everyone was that he could read the game three steps ahead of the play.  Wayne Gretzky was the gold standard for hockey sense.

Knowing that hockey sense is paramount to the success of a hockey player, why can’t we figure out how to develop this skill?  The answer has always been that it’s too complicated, and in hockey, like most sports, when something is too complicated, the default, all-encompassing answer is: “You either have it, or you don’t”.  It’s easier to say Gretzky was a gift from the Hockey Gods, born with Einstein-esque hockey sense then to begin to fathom that there is a way to train hockey players to think the game at elite levels.

From a development standpoint we need verifiable correlations.  Want to score more goals?  No problem, we can count those and if we work on your shot, we can see before and after effects.  Need to become faster?  OK, let’s work on adding more leg strength and incorporate some power skating to lengthen your stride.  We can compare timed laps to determine improvement.  These are physical skills that are easily trained and can be directly linked to outcomes.  The brain, however, isn’t as easily measurable–at least not for a bunch of Hockey Dum-Dums (Me, chiefly among them).

Growing up in the culture of hockey, I always took my cues, without question, from this guy (generic all-knowing “Hockey Guy”):

 Hockey Sense

Why wouldn’t I?  He’s the coach.  He had a loud voice and a whistle and he “forgot more about hockey than I’ll ever know.”  There may have even been a time when he was a young player when he dared ask the question of how to develop hockey sense, before he was smacked on the head with a hockey stick and told to smarten up.

So, in order to break the cycle and think outside the box, how can we begin to explore how to train this mysterious intangible that all great players possess?  Enter “IntelliGym”, Applied Cognitive Engineering (ACE) training technology designed to improve cognitive performance of competitive athletes.  Originally developed for Air Force pilots by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.), IntelliGym uses “Cognitive Simulation” to develop and train the brain to improve reaction time, perception and spatial recognition.

IntelliGym is a software program automatically customized to each and every player’s strengths and weakness, and is uniquely based on positive reinforcement. It adapts to a player’s learning curve and particular needs as he develops new lines to competitive success in his neural pathways.  It’s not a hockey video game (Like EA Sports NHL 2015)—it’s not even close. It is designed (based upon extensive research) to target and develop specific cognitive skills.


The Science Behind IntelliGym

“What we have discovered is that a key factor for an effective transfer from training environment to reality is that the training program ensures ‘Cognitive Fidelity’, this is, it should faithfully represent the mental demands that happen in the real world. Traditional approaches focus instead on physical fidelity, which may seem more intuitive, but less effective and harder to achieve.”

Prof. Daniel Gopher (World-renown expert in Cognitive Science)


Common assumptions are that the best way to train for something is to physically do it.  Repetition makes perfect, right?  When it comes to the brain, this can be true, but it isn’t necessarily the most efficient and effective approach.  In other words, there is a better way to improve your hockey sense than just being on the ice playing hockey.  By understanding which cognitive skills make up hockey sense and isolating training through a specifically-designed, comprehensive program, you can experience more substantial results.

Professor Gopher noted regarding the reapplication of his original technology that “most of our daily activities, and specifically most of sports related activities, involve executive control processes that are responsible for aspects such as planning and sequencing activities, focusing attention, selecting between environmental aspects, switching and dividing attention between different actions, and more.”

In other words, IntelliGym includes major components that train athletes to be “Mentally Tough”.  Across all sports, insiders and outsiders alike have always marvelled over the mentally tough “Clutch” performers—players who always seem to elevate their game at the most critical moments.  From Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods, there have always been a select few who deliver astounding results when pressure is at its greatest.  Like hockey sense, mental toughness has always been a mystical intangible—too complicated to comprehend.


IntelliGym Results:

Theories are great, but hockey is about results.  How is a historically undisputed view—you can’t teach hockey sense—that has lasted over a century going to all of  a sudden be debunked by some goofy video game built by a bunch of airplane nerds?  Where is the proof that this works?

Since 2008, the IntelliGym program has been an integral component of development for the USAH’s NTDP (National Teams Development Program).  The NTDP became base camp for the further development of IntelliGym, from a hockey sense training standpoint.  Supplying subject matter expertise, the NTDP and ACE Ltd., teamed up to fine-tune the program and the results have been astounding:


USAH’s NTDP – Since incorporating IntelliGym Training:

  •  First two USHL Playoffs
  • A total of 17 gold medals out of 21 international tournaments
  • 5 out of 6 IIHF U18 World Championships titles


US NTDP Testimonials:

“We fully expect the Hockey IntelliGym to become part of the regular training regimen for players at all age levels and abilities.”

Jim Johannson, Assistant Executive Director of Hockey Operations for USA Hockey


“They just started to make plays under pressure that I hadn’t seen prior to them using the IntelliGym”

Former U18 National Team Coach, Kurt Kleinendorst


“It’s a tremendous part of the whole player that we’re trying to get with USA Hockey”

Danton Cole, US U18 National Team Coach


On top of the extensive work with USA Hockey, IntelliGym was awarded first prize at the 2010 Brain Fitness Innovation Awards and was featured in The New York Times and The Globe and Mail.


Injury Prevention Aspect:

With increased knowledge of the effects of head injuries in hockey, there is more emphasis now on protecting players, especially youth hockey players.  With how big, fast and strong hockey players have become, the best form of injury protection is awareness and spatial recognition.  The Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, a global leader in sports injury prevention and rehabilitation, has collaborated with IntelliGym to include cognitive therapy training designed to improve players’ on-ice awareness and decision making, which in turn are expected to enhance performance and reduce injury rate.


Like anything in sports, change is inevitable and expected.  Hockey, more than any other major sport, has experienced change a break-neck rates.  From equipment to training, continuous improvement has been the driving force behind the survival of the sport of hockey.  IntelliGym is just another example of how positive change continues to fuel the success of hockey world-wide.


For more information on how IntelliGym Hockey works, check out:


Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
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 22

Leadership: The Most Overused and Misrepresented Term in Hockey


The term “Leadership” is grossly overused and misrepresented in hockey.  It’s a cute buzzword for the media to use to oversimplify complicated situations and place blame.  “The Toronto Maple Leafs are struggling.  It’s time for a change in leadership.”  See how easy that is?  You can take a complicated situation and just throw a generic term at it and everyone just nods their heads.

The concept of leadership isn’t ridiculous or without importance in the game.  Leadership is one of the key driving forces to success in any venture, sport or industry—hockey chief among them.  But, where does leadership come from?  Can we tap someone on the shoulder and say, “You are THE leader of this team”, and just stand around and wait to be inspired and led into the breach?  No.

Leadership in sports has always been ahead of the game, in comparison to other industries.  True leadership in sports comes from within.  It’s a culture, a “leadership-based culture”.  Within that leadership-based culture, everyone has a particular role as a leader.  Coaches contribute by providing structure and accountability and players each play their specific role, collectively contributing to the culture.

The key to leadership-based culture is that everyone plays a key role in developing the culture and driving success.  This promotes empowerment and engagement.  This fosters the “buy-in”.  Based on popular opinion, supported by the media, most people think that coaches bark out orders and the captain says, “Ya guys. Do it”, and everything snaps to attention like minions shuffling along an assembly line.

This is an old, outdated view on how teams are assembled and operated.  Another thing this does is create the illusion that all blame or praise can be heaped upon one or two individuals.  It’s classic story-telling.  Every great story, whether tragic or triumphant, needs a clearly defined villain or hero.

Using a fresh hot topic to illustrate how this works, let’s look at the recent developments surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs (The fishbowl of the hockey world).  On the back of two embarrassing losses, the Leafs faced the wrath of the infamously ruthless Toronto media.  Stories were churned out calling for a drastic change in “leadership”.  Torches were lit and mobs gathered, all calling for head coach Randy Carlyle’s head and the captaincy to be stripped from Dion Phaneuf.

It is a much bigger sell to craft a story of tragedy and pin the blame on obvious scapegoats.  It fits the mould of classic storytelling, and quite honestly, it’s what people secretly want.  When times are tough, we want a place to direct our anger.

Based on the following fictional headlines, which article would you be more inclined to read:  “Embarrassing: Carlyle and Phaneuf Need to Go”, or, “After Two Tough Losses, 9-8-1 Leafs Refocus”?  It’s a no-brainer.  Controversy sells; always has and always will.  In this sense, the media has directly effected the perception of leadership in hockey.  It’s not the Leafs organization as a whole struggling together.  It’s Carlyle and Phaneuf screwing everything up.  It’s a “leadership” problem.

The reality is leadership comes in all shapes and forms.  Leadership is expressed and embodied verbally, physically and through behaviour and attitude from every level within the hierarchy of a team, from management all the way down to 4th line call-ups.  It’s in everything that you do and there is no perfect recipe or manual for success.

A large portion of leadership has to do with human interaction and chemistry.  Teams bond or don’t bond together over everything imaginable.  It isn’t always logical, either.  Sometimes players fight in practice and oddly, this often strengthens the bond between team mates.  Media members and analytics buffs will often downplay the effects shot-blocking, winning faceoffs, or finishing checks have on the success of a team.  From a straight statistical standpoint, you can’t directly link a blocked shot or finished check to success in hockey.  However, the courage it takes to sacrifice your body to block a shot or take a hard hit to make a play can often inspire a team to elevate their game to another level.

The same can be said about a purposeful, well-timed fight (another illogical event in the eyes of analytics and outsiders).  Sticking up for your team mates is a well-respected act in hockey, barbaric or not.  Whether you win or lose, it’s the warrior mentality—going to battle for one another—that fosters camaraderie and strengthens bonds.  This all feeds into the definition of what leadership means in hockey.  It’s about doing whatever you can to promote engagement, cohesiveness and elevate the level of play of your team mates.

Leadership can come from the strangest places. A large percentage of true leadership is fostered and displayed off the ice and away from the public eye.  As mentioned in an earlier article, “Hockey to the Workplace: 10 Transferable Competencies”, one year, one of my team mates, who barely said a word, came into the dressing room after the second period of a game during a terrible losing streak, put his dress shoes in the shower room and set them on fire. He then turned to a bewildered dressing room and declared, “I knew those fuckin’ shoes were bad luck.” We went out that third period, came back and won the game and then rattled off six wins in a row. After the game, we took the mangled remains of the shoes and glued them to a plank of wood.  The charred trophy became our good luck charm and was handed out to the hardest worker after each game the rest of the season.

This was a quirky form of effective leadership.  It didn’t come from the team president, head coach, or captain, and it doesn’t have to.  The types of things that turn a season around for teams often come from out of left field when you least expect it.  It all adds to the culture of a team.  It’s fitting for a sport like hockey where anything can happen on any given night, and often does.

All that being said, is it fair to blame Randy Carlyle and Dion Phaneuf for the perceived woes of the Toronto Maple Leafs?  Probably not, but we are mentally engineered to seek and place blame when things don’t go the way we want.  By default, it’s easier to direct blame towards the people with the most polarizing titles.  That’s just the world we live in.

Understanding this reality, coaches will direct the blame of failure towards themselves in order to protect the greater whole of the team, like a lion protecting his pride while the hyenas pick away his limbs.   Players respect this and will in turn play harder for someone who has the courage to “take one for the team”.  Consequently, this makes coaches easy targets for when enough is enough and the mob is screaming for the guillotine.

As for the captain—usually the face of the franchise and a well-respected member of the team—they speak for the players and usually will deflect blame from the coaches and direct it towards “the players”.  It all works to strengthen the bond within a team—the brotherhood, as it is.  It’s a partnership that helps to control public perception while keeping the order of things intact.

The media gets their juicy story complete with defaulted villains, the coach protects his culture by steering blame and minimizing in-house turmoil, and the captain shows the coach respect and gratitude by redirecting blame towards the rest of the pride.  It’s the circle of life.

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
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 21

Guest Post: “The Hockey World Changing: Jersey Talk”

Guest Blogger Josh Smith drops in to provide some innovative information on the custom apparel and jersey industry

About Josh:

I grew up in Detroit, MI and played AAA for multiple teams (Honey baked, little Cesar’s, Ice Dogs)  growing up. After multiple trips to high school state championships and winters filled with tournaments, a few tough injuries pushed my role to management, organizing and officiating. Seeing so many angles of the game has given me a helpful perspective for players, parents, and coaches around the Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Windsor area. My main job and favorite role to play is parent and father. I don’t have any NHL or OHL experience but I sure feel like what ever knowledge I have can help give young players longevity and fun times on and off the ice!


The Hockey World Changing: Jersey Talk

Running an apparel sale for your Hockey team has come a long way in a very short amount of time.  In the good old days, to run a sale you had to leave your house, go into town, and find a local screen printing shop. Once you got there you could use their computer system to design your logo or graphic.  You had to pay up-front for your order (that required a 24 piece minimum per/design), wait a few weeks for it to be produced, pick up the gear, and finally distribute it to the team members.  When you are a Hockey coach or a parent supporter for a youth squad, your time is very valuable and this process was cumbersome.  Then along came the internet…

With the advent of home computers and the Internet, online shopping has become a huge business.  Shopping behaviors are changing as consumers are becoming more demanding and expectant of instant results.  Websites have sprung up that allow you to use their design software online so you can now design custom clothes right from your living room chair. What used to take hours could be done in less than one, and your gear could be sent straight to your door in only a week or two. While this advancement solved “where” you could purchase your gear, the issue of “how many & what sizes” was still a challenge to organizations, offices and talented skaters.  If you have run an apparel sale before or taken the responsibility of jersey purchasing for your team, you probably understand that most of the profits from the sale wound up in a full box of products that you were not able to sell.  Then along came print-on-demand…

New technology in decorating equipment is further changing how we take the ice.  Where setup used to play a major role in the cost to produce a custom garment, new equipment has eliminated the time it takes to setup the job which has enabled efficient production of one-off custom orders.  Why is this important?  The internet + new equipment = a new way for organization to sell custom apparel.  A few e-commerce sites like now offer a solution that let’s organizations run a sale where they do not have to purchase anything.  They create an online shop for your organization, you promote it to your fans, and your fans visit the online shop and purchase what they want.  Inventory, cash management, volunteer time, and up-front cash commitments are no longer required.  Your organization earns money because there is no inventory that eats up the profits.  You can sell apparel without buying it now. These advancements help us focus on our fundamentals and give us more time for skating and practice.

What’s next?  A drone that drops off your jersey at the rink so you don’t have to wait for the UPS truck to deliver it?

For any questions, comments, or just to talk hockey or parenting, reach me at:

Jamie McKinven on twitterJamie McKinven on linkedinJamie McKinven on email2
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.

Older posts «

%d bloggers like this: