There is no nice way to put it, being a healthy scratch sucks. Getting the tap from the coach after pregame skate to tell you that you won’t be in the lineup is like getting kicked in the balls. Walking into the room the day before a game and seeing your name penciled in on the “Donut Line” (wingers with no center) or trying to jump into drills in practice as the seventh defenceman, is even worse. The worst part about it is that you still have to show up, put on a brave smile and pretend that you’re happy to be there, doing whatever you can to help the team.
The first time I experienced the “kick in the balls” was in the NCAA. It was a Friday morning, right after a drill during the pre-game skate. Coach pulled me aside and said, “Kid, you aren’t going tonight. Keep your head up and work hard and we’ll try to get you back in there tomorrow.” It was a brutal feeling. Part of me wanted to smash my stick into a million pieces and part of me wanted to grovel at his skates and plead: “Please, please, please, Coach, put me in, put me in, I will do anything! I will take better angles, finish checks and pay more attention in our end. I’ll even block shots, I swear, I will!”
Here are 6 tips to help make your life as a healthy scratch more tolerable:
1) Invest in Better Suits
If you’re going to be spending a few nights in the stands or the press box while your teammates give it their all on the ice, you may as well look like a million bucks. Nothing makes a healthy scratch more pathetic looking than a wrinkly old suit, a dirt-necked shirt and a tie that looks like it was a hand-me-down from Rodney Dangerfield. Shoe selection is essential, too. Not too pointy and not too posturepedicky. If you dress better than the coaches, they might get jealous and stick you back in the lineup.
2) Develop a Realistic Limp and a Heroic Story
The worst part of being a healthy is the public humiliation aspect. When the game begins and you walk around the concourse amid the fans, it’s almost as if you’ve been tarred and feathered and paraded through town on a float with a big flashing sign on your head that says: “I Suck at Hockey.” In my early stages of “healthy scratchosis” I was honest with fans when they’d approach me and ask me why I wasn’t playing. I would say: “We’ve got a great team and for me it’s just a numbers game right now. If I work hard, I will get my chance to play.” This would always lead to a rub on the back and a pathetic look that screamed: “Oh, you poor, poor thing.”
After a couple of these encounters, I started to get creative. I would develop a fake limp and tell fans tall tales of how I had sustained the injury: “It was a bench clearing brawl and I had just finished beating up 4 guys at once. Charlie was getting mauled by 6 of their players and he was going down. It didn’t look good for ol’ Charlie Boy. I jumped in and fought them off with everything I had, but not before they got my leg. I’m lucky to be alive.”
If people thought you weren’t playing because you were hurt, you were admired rather than pitied. It didn’t hurt your cause with the ladies, either!
3) Explore Alternate Routes
In order to minimize your encounters with concerned fans, it is best to start looking for alternate, less public routes to getting up to the press box. I used to go to great lengths to find the quickest, least public way to get up to the press box on nights when I was a healthy scratch. In many occasions, it was like the opening to “Get Smart” where I’d be ducking and weaving through boiler rooms, up ladders and through secret hatches.
On occasions when I didn’t want to be seen at all and just sulk in peace, I would spend the entire game in the weight room, riding the bike and watching it on TV.
4) Keep Your Cell Phone in Hand…Always
One trick I learned early on was to always keep your cell phone in hand when you are out in the public on nights when you’re a healthy scratch. This allows you to quickly bring it up to your ear and pretend you are on an important call. I used to pull this when I’d see a concerned fan coming my way. I would begin a fake, animated call with my agent: “What?! No, no, no. You tell them to trade me right now!”
5) Kiss Ass…Hard
There’s nothing wrong with a little ass kissing when you’re fending for scraps in the healthy scratch scrap heap. This means making sure you are the first one at the rink, first one on the ice, and first in the scrum, on one knee at the board during practice. Also, make sure you are the last one to leave the ice during practice and ask the coach to help you work on something to end each practice. It is important to always be asking coach oodles of questions about what you can do to get better and if he needs any help with keeping track of stats during games. It wouldn’t hurt to compliment him on his tie or the way he’s been combing his hair, either.
Basically, you want to look like an eager beaver who wants to do whatever he can to get back into the lineup. This can help do one of two things: it shows that you are dedicated to working and improving your game to increase your role, or, it might annoy him enough that he thinks twice about scratching you ever again.
6) Stage Your Post Workout Walk-in
When healthy scratches arrive at the rink with the rest of their teammates, the last thing they want to do is be caught sulking around the room, bringing down the mood, and getting in the way of player routines. This is why healthy scratches always workout while players are prepping for the game. It keeps them out of the way and it shows coaches that they are dedicated to working hard and improving their game.
One thing all healthy scratches should do is properly stage their post-workout walk-in. After finishing hard, to the point where you are out of breath and covered in sweat, make sure to strategically walk into areas that the coaches are present, such as, the dressing room, coaches office, video room, or hallway. In order to do this, you need to research your coach’s routine. If coach is in the video room, you can walk in, soaked in sweat and out of breath, excuse yourself and say: “Sorry, Coach, I forgot my water bottle in here earlier when I was watching clips to get better.”