Lind-y Me Your Ear

My puns are terrible.  They aren’t going to get any better sadly.

It’s strange how the learning process can coincide so much with playing well and player’s confidence.  I think all three things are very important, especially when it comes to playing hockey.  It’s one of the reasons why I have had such a hard time with the way that Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff has played his goaltenders during the playoffs.  I believe he should have picked either Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi and stuck with them or else it was going to end up in flames like it did.  I didn’t know which round but it was going to end in disaster and I can only imagine that the goalies feel bitter about it.

In case you haven’t followed the Stars this postseason his philosophy has been “if you have a bad game you are coming out and the other guy is coming in.”  Hell of a way to inspire confidence in a player.  Can you imagine if Mike Sullivan did that when Marc-Andre Fleury was back from injury for Game 6 even though rookie goaltender Matt Murray was playing well?  Murray had done so much for the Pens but he lost Game 5, what if Sullivan threw Fleury in Game 6?  Granted Fleury hasn’t played all postseason, but still, you can’t inspire much confidence in a goalkeeper when all you do is rotate every time one has a bad game.

You have to pick one goalkeeper and stick with him.  Goalkeepers are going to have bad nights.  They just are.  They are just like every other player.  They’re going to have crap goals that go in.  You know Patrick Roy let in the bad bounce here in and there.  I’m going to alienate some people when I say this, but to me he was the best goaltender of my lifetime.  Marty Brodeur is right there, but I still would pick Roy if I have to pick one of the two.

There are stories of goalies who have been less celebrated than Roy or Brodeur who have won Cups for their teams.  We know the Corey Crawford story about how he came out of nowhere and backstopped the Blackhawks but in the 1940’s there was a man who had one of the best names for a hockey player you can find: Frank McCool.  The 1994-1945 Toronto Maple Leafs were missing their regular and future Hall of Fame goalkeeper Turk Broda, who was busy serving with the Canadian army over in Europe.  They had to call on young rookie McCool to carry the load for the cherished Leafs and during the playoffs he carried the ’44 Leafs all the way to Cup.  They beat their hated rival Montreal Canadiens in six games on the way to the Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.  McCool shutout the Wings the first three games but was unable to win the next three before eventually leading the Maple Leafs to the win in the seventh and deciding game.  Can you imagine if Toronto coach Hap Day, who himself is in the Hall of Fame, would have pulled McCool after the Game Four loss how that series would have turned out?

My point in all this is that we see confidence ebb and flow.  As much as we may struggle we have to find a way to pick it up.  We all deal with that struggle in different ways.  I may not be able to make the quick turn and I may fall.  I may deal with that by getting frustrated at myself.  Sometimes I’m going to grit my teeth and curse myself.  The next night I may smile and brush it off.  I’m not sure.  It’s going to ebb and flow with me depending on how I’m feeling on the ice.  It all depends on how I feel when I step on that sheet of ice.

I remember when I first came to the rink and laced up my pair of used Bauer skates for skills class.  I walked out to the ice, the door was open to go out and I hesitated.  “What if I fall?”  I’m going to use the door to step on the ice but what if I fall right out of the gate?  How’s that going to go over?  Starting out on my first day and falling right before the start?  Imagine if they made me go get those metal things the little kids use to learn to skate and push those around the ice?  I guess I’d do it if they told me.  I didn’t expect them to.  I stepped on the ice and my knees shook.  My legs wobbled.  I gingerly made my way over to the bench and was thankful I didn’t fall in front of everyone.  Rookie checklist step one accomplished.  When you start out at the very bottom any accomplishment is a huge celebration.  Started from the bottom…Drake reference…had to do it.

Looking back at it and where I’ve progressed to, I see my gains in small steps.  Recently when I skated quick turns, I fell once, but I remember what happened when I started.  Fall, get up, skate, fall, get up, skate, fall…you get the picture.  This past time one fall.  I was not Pavel Bure but I wasn’t Yosemite Sam on skates either.  Though I imagine he probably has a low center of gravity.

When you have guys behind you doing the drill that are fast they push you and it helps.  I didn’t want to fall, but everyone has seen me fall.  They’ve seen me curse myself.  It’s tough, you want so hard to be so good so fast after feeling like you’ve come so far.  It just doesn’t happen overnight.  But it’s all about the support system.  Everyone supports you.  If you fall they pick you up.

Imagine if the group treated me the way Lindy Ruff treated his goalies.  I wouldn’t develop, I wouldn’t have any confidence at all.  Coaching is as much teaching as it is being able to manage players.  Sometimes the pursuit of winning gets in the way of understanding that everyone is human.  We are all human and we all have emotions.  Some people express those emotions in different ways.  I can say I’m not always good at expressing my frustration and as I’ve gotten older it’s gotten harder and harder to hide it.  I know I work on it, but hockey is frustrating sometimes.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it.  I do.  I just find myself staring at the ice sometimes wondering is it my feet, is it my back, is it my head, am I fighting it too much?  I just feel like I’m just over thinking myself to the point I’m so far in my own head that I’ve completely done myself in.  When I get into a drill and a pass goes way off I feel like it’s the end of the world.  I just have to get that confidence.  Somehow someway or from somewhere.  It’s just going to take some time.  I’m just going to have to find it.  I’m going to have to find it in me.  There’s so much I’m trying to learn all at once and I think I’m trying to figure everything all out at once instead of enjoying it.  The first couple of times I was enjoying it, now I’m just forcing it.  It’s time to get back to enjoying it instead of letting the lack of confidence ruin it.  I can’t Ruff it anymore, it’s time to enjoy it.