I think that I have touched on this topic several times across several posts. I have tried to think about what drives me to still play the game and what it is that keeps me so enthralled with it, to the point that it consumes vast amounts of my time.
When you think about the reason why hockey players anywhere play the game, the answer could be a simple “for the love of the game”, but for me the reason I play and why hockey is such an amazing sport comes down to, yes the love of the game, but also to what goes into it.
On the surface, hockey might seem like a simple game to the seasoned fan, but underneath the surface there is so much more to it. There’s the conditioning, the games, the positional play, the different roles, the physicality and most importantly, how a group of guys come together to play for the crest on their jerseys.
I often thought that I could get by in hockey with just my (limited) skills and that would be that. It wasn’t until I got older that I understood the importance of conditioning and started to take the summers more seriously, as opposed to go into total R&R mode and drinking beer till the early hours of the morning. Nowadays, it is a miracle if I get drunk once during the summer (I usually allow myself to go all out for the end of season party, after that, it is all business). I constantly try and look for ways to improve my physique that allows me to be a better player.
We all know that hockey is a time consuming sport and it is expensive. I may not play in the highest echelons of the game, but I play in a competitive league that keeps getting better and better. After my wedding in 2008, I made the decision that I wanted to give hockey another go. I had been playing recreational hockey and university leagues, but I wanted more. I wanted to compete and win championships in a league that was established. To do that I had to make huge financial sacrifices. I paid out my International Transfer out of my own pocket and that wasn’t cheap, but I wanted to do it because it would show a team that I was committed to playing for them and that I was there to take it seriously. Also, at the time, I had been out of league hockey for good number of years, so a lot of teams weren’t necessarily impressed with my numbers from rec or university. Plus I missed a lot of try-outs and such because I had knee surgery about 8 weeks before the season started.
I was out there to prove that I could play. I travelled a 120 mile round trip to trainings and home games and I never thought it was a chore or too much. I was, after all, chasing my dream. I didn’t mind the fact that usually on a Friday I was beat or that after a weekend of games, my body ached. I knew that after the games I couldn’t sit still and on Mondays, I was down at the gym trying to get better and push myself.
I have lost count on the money spent on petrol, food, equipment, supplements etc. To be honest, that amount probably could’ve paid for a nice holiday somewhere exotic. To be honest, I have far better memories from the game than I would do from the holiday. Hockey, to me, is all about the journey and no holiday in Australia or a round the world cruise, could give me as much as hockey does. With hockey, there are new memories created every time you hit the ice or get into the locker room. And then there are the lessons.
The other reason why I play is because hockey teaches you lessons you will not learn anywhere else. Or you do, but not as quickly as you do in hockey. The game teaches you to be humble. If you get too flashy or cocky, there will be a guy in the game to put you back in your place. You learn about teamwork and how you put your differences aside to pursue a joint dream. There are the lessons learnt from tough losing streaks, personal droughts, wins and what you need to do to maintain momentum. It teaches you so much of life and that’s not even as a pro in the NHL. These values and lessons are engrained in you as a junior. It teaches you work ethic. You want to be the best in the game and in the locker room. You want to show that you are the guy that works his bags off every single shift. It can inspire other guys to push themselves in similar ways.
Most importantly, hockey teaches you hard work. If you want to succeed, you need to work hard. My coach says that just like in a day-job, if you want to succeed, you have to put the work in. Same in hockey. You can’t get by on the ice by slacking, you need to work hard on and off the ice to really make a difference. That same work ethic is instilled into any profession that you do outside of the game.
Hockey also teaches you about respect. You need to respect your opponents, coaches and teammates. Sure you might not see eye-to-eye with people, but you respect their views and you work with them for the betterment of the team and yourself as a person.
So why do I play? Yes for the love of the game, but also because you can’t experience anything like the hockey
camaraderie anywhere else. Having the success and winning the title is the single most amazing thing that you can experience. No matter what league you play in, the thought of being a champion is amazing and yet something that very few get to experience. I’m humbled to have experienced it, not once, not twice, but three times in my career. Each of them is special and I cherish those memories. It is for memories like that, that make all the financial, personal and physical sacrifices worth it.