Expectation. It’s such a highly contagious and deadly word. When you think about what you expect every time you watch your favorite athlete play, what do you think about? Do you think they’ll pitch a 30 save shutout? Or a hat-trick to win the game? Maybe get a Gordie Howe hat trick (a goal, assist and a fight)? Is it a lot like reality? Do we always see a player do what we expect them to do?
A lot has been made of Sidney Crosby and his fight to overcome the goal drought that has plagued him during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As the face of the Pittsburgh Penguins and one of the stars of the National Hockey League, Crosby has his fans and his detractors. Before scoring the Game Two overtime winner against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference final on May 16, 2016, Crosby had gone eight games without a goal. The smile had gone from the superstar’s face and nay-sayers were out in force. “I told you so!” They all had circled their wagons and beat their drums dancing to the beat of anti-Crosby songs.
In the face of all the adversity, the Penguins’ skilled captain was not to be outdone. Crosby scored the Game Two winner and then followed that up by scoring in Game Three as well. He also made a nice behind the back pass and you could see that the captain’s smile was back. Whatever expectations he may be putting on himself, I can imagine he’s felt double the pressure from fans, media and teammates. It would explain why he may have seemed to be down on himself at times or played inward. Hockey is such a difficult game as it is, but once you start to press and play tight it only becomes that more difficult. Now that he has lifted that goal drought off his back, he is reaching the expectation that everyone expected.
Expectation is a bit like confidence. If you have one the other comes along, but sometimes one will show up without the other. When I step on the ice I expect that I’m going to do okay, but I’m not always confident in my abilities. I have had times when I have had both. Those times have been very rare if at all. The expectation is always there, gnawing at me. It’s like this giant checklist that I can’t fill with enough checks. I keep going out on the ice and checking off boxes and boxes but the page just keeps growing and growing. It’s like Santa’s list at Christmas. There’s just no end in sight.
The question becomes, “Do I expect myself to ever be satisfied?” Does any hockey player ever become satisfied with their play? I think if you do become satisfied with your play you get complacent. You have to keep working or else you are not learning. You are not gaining skills. I think it’s a challenge as an adult to find that balance between beating yourself up over the things you can’t do because you aren’t a kid anymore and the things you can do because you have the ability to learn them. It’s one of those struggles that we face with reality as we age. We look in the mirror and realize that time is catching up with us. Ten years ago we could do this. Fifteen years ago we could do that. Twenty years ago we could do all of that. We aren’t that age anymore.
Looking around at other skaters from the pros to local ice I can see examples. Matt Cullen, a year older than me, is doing things I can’t do but he learned the game as a kid. Then there are young people at the rink that can do things that I can’t do because they started before me and are more talented than me. It’s tough for me to accept that because I’m not as talented as I hoped I could be. Or because I “expected” I could skate again after all these years. Muscle memory is a lot like regular memory, it goes away with time. We’re all human and we all have faults. Anyone who tells you differently is either trying to get you to buy a bridge in Brooklyn or sell you a spaceship.
It’s been a long road to where I’ve gotten. Some have told me that they’ve seen a massive improvement in where I’ve come. I can feel a difference for sure. I’m not afraid to step on the ice anymore. I expect that I’m not going to fall when I first step on the ice. I have confidence in that first step on the ice. I have confidence in the ability to open the bench door. I have confidence in the ability to do Russian circles. I expect myself to be able to complete a cone drill, unless it’s backwards. I expect myself to be able to skate laps. I expect myself to be able to make passes. I expect myself not to believe that I’m something that I’m not. I’m never satisfied, highly expectant of myself and lacking confidence in many areas but I’m pretty confident I’m working on what I am. Until I figure it out, I’m sure that you’ll find me somewhere in between the boards working on myself and my game.