Hockey is a beautiful and delightful game when it is played like it is meant to be played. When a team passes a puck around the ice as a unit.
It’s no different in any other sport. A running back doesn’t gain yardage in football without the offensive line in front of him. Do you think that Marcus Allen would have won the Heisman Trophy without a great line in front of him at the University of Southern California?
A basketball team needs to be able to spread the floor to find the open man. Phil Jackson’s triangle offense wasn’t complicated – it was about passing from one guy to the other to get someone a clear look at the basket. Most of the time the guy with the clear look at the basket was one of the greatest players of all time, Michael Jordan. When you give him that much time he’s able to bury a shot.
In baseball it takes a shortstop and a second baseman to efficiently turn a double play. If the shortstop tries to take the ball on their own, it’s going to be difficult to get the out at first. Watch Ozzie Smith flip the ball to second and see the St Louis Cardinals turn two. As great a shortstop as Smith was, he didn’t try to do it all on his own.
Those two-on-one plays in hockey where the offense makes a great pass to score the goal – it’s all because of teamwork. Working with those around you makes your play better. Those that figure that out are the ones that go far. Wayne Gretzky knew how to make those around him better which in turn made him better. Mark Messier made those on the New York Rangers team better on the way to the Stanley Cup.
Current Stanley Cup holder Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins were filled with guys that played for each other. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan preached teamwork until he was blue in the face and filled the bench with guys that most pundits would say might not belong in the National Hockey League. These were men that might be labeled “character guys” but in reality are “team players.” Watching that team compete for EACH OTHER in the playoffs it was clear that they knew what it took to win. It’s not always about the skill on the ice. It’s not always about the size of the contracts on the team. It’s about the heart, the desire and the guys that want to pass and play for each other.
There have been many guys drafted or signed that have had loads of talent but lacked the ability to comprehend what the rest of the skaters on the ice were there for. Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan come to mind as number one draft picks but sure there are others.
There will always be others. The slick skating forwards who can skate around the offensive zone with the puck not looking to pass. The ones who think it is funny to zing a shot past someone’s head and not bother to say anything it. Teams are like a family and if a family is full of malcontents, the family becomes dysfunctional and will turn on itself. It will gang up on itself and want to fight itself.
Players can be told to pass and be told that they need to look out for others – but if they don’t have the ability to care it can be a pointless venture. It’s amazing that some can step on the ice not looking to pass or not be courteous- but then again teamwork isn’t something that can be taught. Teamwork has to come from within. Maybe one day they’ll understand – but it will be too late and by then it will have all passed them by.