Disappearing Hockey Heroes

Soon either Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby, Geno Malkin, Phil Kessel and company or Nashville led by P.K. Subban et al will find their way to a Stanley Cup.

When they win they know they will skate around the ice and hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup drowning in accolades and praise.  Many thinking back to junior hockey or the hard work in the minors that took them to the peak of greatness.  For some, this is the hardest trophy in sports to win-beyond maybe the World Cup.

After the celebration in the locker room with champagne and showers of beer, they’ll relax for a while knowing they’ve brought that trophy home with them for one day.  They can show it off to their hometown for 24 hours or take it to a party or anywhere they want-as long as they don’t lose or destroy it.

But the other perk of winning the prize is eternal recognition in the form of a square on the side of the Cup.  Each year another team gets put on the ring that goes around it forever displaying those that worked so hard to bring home the championship.

You may not know that Lord Stanley’s Cup is almost 125 years old.  It was first given out in 1893 in the form of the bowl you see on top of the trophy now.  As the years progressed and the NHL was formed they needed more room and added the bottom or the base that it currently sits on.  In pictures the rings with the engraved names can be seen along that base.  

125 years is a long time to keep a running record of who has won and at some point time catches up.  After this year, the ring from 1953 to 1965 will have to come off to make room for the next batch of champions.  Included in those years are Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard and a host of other Hall of Fame players.  Imagine the talents during those years that many of us never got to see.

I think about the famous picture of 11-year-old Wayne Gretzky meeting the late Gordie Howe when “Mr Hockey” visited the young player’s hometown.  Who would have guessed that those two would change so much about the game?  Eventually we will have to take “The Great One”‘s name off the Cup to make room too.

I can’t imagine what the future will be like in hockey, there’s the Matthews, Marner, and McDavid future.  But who else is out there that we don’t know about?  Will there ever be another iconic photo like those two legends of the game?

The last time I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame, my daughter and I went into the Esso Great Hall where the Cup is displayed.  She wandered right off to the shiny trophy on its magical perch.  I immediately made my way to the vault where the rings are held.  Not the winner’s rings but the rings that had been taken off the Cup to make room for more Champions.  I wondered about those men that had been engraved there and what they went through.  The struggles and the pain to win this elusive Cup.  It’s been said that once you win you are winner forever because your name is engraved on the side.  But tell that to those men who will find themselves tucked away in a vault on 30 Yonge Street in Toronto.  One day Wayne Gretzky will find himself there too.


Teamwork – What A Concept !?!

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.

Two Great Passes and Some Burgers

About a week ago, on the day before the Penguins clinched their fourth Stanley Cup, I played one of the best games of my young hockey life.

Okay, it was my best.

To be fair, it was just open hockey and no one was watching or even paying attention.  No one but me.  The guy who has been judging himself  all along hoping that he’d be able to somewhat keep his head above water.  I doggy paddled throughout the session, but I wasn’t worthless out on the ice.

Recalling what might be one of my best passes ever, I think about one of my two best plays from open hockey that day.  A swift tape to tape cross ice pass hitting a streaking teammate.  I think I was so proud of the fact I actually completed the play I stopped skating and stared at it.  I know that’s bad but I’m not used to being productive on the ice.  Hell, I’m now able to somewhat skate for a while without getting tired.  Although half the kids are 20 years younger than me.  I feel like one of those old dudes from Scooby Doo, “I would’ve gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!”  

Then there’s the other moment that I’m proud of.  While it really makes no sense and I have no idea how I made it, I wish I had instant replay .  I was along the boards and I, of course, fumbled the entry but somehow recovered.  I think everyone knew I wasn’t going to do anything with the puck but my teammate was perched on the crease. She was all alone and I knew it.  I sensed a defender coming and I had no time to turn and make a good pass.  So I just backhanded a pass toward the net.  I whipped myself around, instantly cursing myself for making a stupid decision only to see her top shelf it on the crossbar.  Lucky.  Pure luck.  I guess sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Other than those two things I was pretty normal.  Normal for me means I get beat a lot, get run around the ice and try hard.  It’s fun don’t get me wrong.  

I’ve been watching Showtime’s series about the Stanley Cup Finals and I see frustration happens to everyone, even to the guys in the National Hockey League.  You just have to fight through it and play your game.  I suppose if nothing else I can always build on the fact that i impressed myself.  Plus it takes time, speaking of which, it’s about time the hockey gods granted Phil Kessel his Cup.  Cheers, if I ever run into you, the burgers are on me.

The Summer of Stanley Has Begun

Now that the Penguins summer of Stanley has begun, so too has the trade/free agent/draft craziness that is the NHL off-season.  Every year something happens during this time of year that makes you scratch your head in awe.  Someone signs for a ridiculous amount of money or a GM throws out a draft pick for a guy that he has no shot in signing.  Although there are also trades that are made that immediately change the course of a team.

On June 26, 2015, the Los Angeles Kings thought they were getting over the hump in hurry by trading their first round pick, goalie Martin Jones (remember him?) and defenceman Colin Miller to the Boston Bruins for Milan Lucic.  The 13th overall pick was used by the Bruins to draft 6ft 2in, 185lb defenceman Jakub Zboril from the Czech Republic.  The Bruins then traded Jones four days later to the San Jose Sharks for a first-round pick in the 2016 draft and prospect Sean Kuraly.  Jones would be a vital piece for the Sharks making it to the Stanley Cup Finals, beating the Kings and Milan Lucic on their way.

Not to be outdone, the Toronto Maple Leafs are throwing one of their first round picks out to get a young but talented goaltender.  In exchange for the Leafs 2016 first round pick and 2017 second round pick they are getting 26-year-old Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks.  From the Maple Leafs site:

In 125 career regular season games with Anaheim, Andersen has posted a 77-26-12 record with a 2.33 GAA and .918 SV%. He also holds a 17-9-2 career post-season record with a 2.34 GAA and .916 SV%. In 2014-15 season, Andersen became the fastest goaltender to reach the 26-win mark (26-5-0) in NHL history and tied the league record for the fastest to 50 career wins (50-13-5), originally set by Montreal’s Bill Durnan (50-9-9) in 1944. During the 2013-14 season, Andersen was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team after posting a 20-5-0 record with a 2.29 GAA and .923 SV% in 28 appearances. That season he led all rookie goaltenders in wins, goals-against average and save percentage — the best numbers in those categories by any rookie netminder since 2010-11.

The Maple Leafs are sitting pretty in many different areas after freeing up cap space to make a run at Steven Stamkos and in position to draft coveted “can’t miss” center in Auston Matthews.  Their young kids from the American Hockey League affiliate Toronto Marlies played well for them when called up to the big club at the end of the year and no doubt some of them do feature in the short term plans.

Some General Managers who have multiple draft picks are like the kid who just got their allowance.  Buffalo Sabres’ GM Tim Murray had four third round picks in this year’s NHL draft so he decided one was burning a hole in this pocket.  He reached out to Nashville Predators’ GM David Poile for the availability of un-signed college prospect Jimmy Vessey. Poile, like the store owner who knew the kid just got an allowance, took one of Murray’s third round picks for Vessey.  Poile was never going to be able to sign him and it has not been clear what Vessey’s true intentions are, other than to wait out Nashville.  On August 15, Vessey becomes an unrestricted free agent, so I am guessing Murray figured he’d plop down a pick on a chance to win the Vessey lottery.  Good luck.

We’ll see how the Leafs and the Sabres look with these two moves next year, although neither one was as close to making it to the Cup Final as San Jose was last year.  Both are in true rebuilding mode and can use as much help as they can get, but maybe both will hit home runs in free agency and the lottery.  You never know at this time of year, that’s why hockey never really takes an off-season and someone always has their eye on the Cup.

Gordie Passed The Torch To The Penguins

On the same day that Mr. Hockey passed away, the Pittsburgh Penguins lifted the Stanley Cup as hockey’s newest champion.  In many ways it feels that the torch  was passed from one generation to the next.  

The National Hockey League has gone from the days of the “Gordie Howe hat-trick” to pushing the role of enforcer completely out of hockey.  Kids that grow up watching hockey don’t know about the Broad Street Bullies unless they are Flyers fans.  They never witnessed the complete on-ice brawl the Bruins and Capitals participated in back in the 90’s.  Hell they don’t know about the days when goalies wore nothing on their faces and stopped pucks.  The guys who scored goals could drop the gloves when someone was going at them. Now if you even think about dropping your gloves they throw you in the box.  

It’s been some time coming but it truly feels like this year’s Penguins team encapsulated what the NHL wants from their organizations.  Skate hard and fast.  Walk away from confrontations.  Be quick to the puck and don’t do anything stupid that gives the refs a reason to put you in the box.  Be exciting and put on a show.  You don’t have to score tons of goals as long as you can retain the puck and play defense.  In fact, they beat a San Jose team they was built on the Gordie Howe way of scoring goals and beating ’em up.

Yes my friends, Mr. Hockey is gone.  Hockey has changed forever and who knows what will become of it.  All I know is that we are witnessing a rebirth of the game we love.  We are going to have to adjust our expectations and remember that we won’t ever see another Gordie Howe.  He was the Greatest Great One.  Fare thee well.  Long live hockey.

Phil Kessel Is My Hero and Conn Smythe Winner

I tried to be partial when it came to the Stanley Cup Finals and the San Jose Sharks.  During the run to the Finals, the Sharks had a little black cat run onto the ice, Jo Pawvelski as she would come to been named.  Many of you may not know the depth of my love of black cats, however my favorite soccer team is the Sunderland AFC Black Cats, also my first cat as an adult was a black cat named Madeline that I still miss to this day.  I’m very much a black cat person.

Taking that into consideration, I’ve tried not to be partial to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  I grew up watching the great “Super” Mario Lemieux and his sidekick Jaromir Jagr beat teams up in the historic Igloo in Pittsburgh.  I always liked the guys who weren’t in the spotlight, guys like Martin Straka or Mike Needham.  Guys you probably wouldn’t find on the scoresheet night in or night out, but they were the guys who skated and did the little things.  These were guys who won draws or were able to get up and down the rink faster than the others.

Looking at the 2016 Penguins and their run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs I can’t help but be amazed as I watch guys who I’ve seen play at Wilkes-Barre Scranton.  These “Baby Pens” are growing up and contributing with the big club and these “young kids” are pulling their weight.  I’ve talked about them before, but I have been pulling for these guys because it’s like seeing your hometown club try to win a championship.  Plus they’ve made the Northeast Pennsylvania area extremely proud to be a hockey area.

But there’s something else and it touches me closely.  I knew Phil Kessel because he was a Toronto Maple Leaf and I knew there was animosity from the fans his situation there.  People have made fun of his weight and the fact that sometimes he looks like he is out of shape when he gets back to the bench.  Kessel is a cancer survivor after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in December 2006.  He’s been cancer free for over 9 years and he’s battled something that no one should have to go through, whether it’s testicular, breast, brain or any other type of cancer.  As a member of the Event Leadership Team for an American Cancer Society Relay for Life, I can’t help but support Phil Kessel.  Seeing his performance this Playoff season has made me want him to win the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy.  I can’t help it.  He was 19 when he had cancer AND beat it.  He went to the Maple Leafs and they made him out to be fat, lazy and a coach killer.  He’s none of those.  He’s a team player who has found a home in Pittsburgh with a team that respects and values him.  Why no one has appreciated the fact that he beat cancer and continues to play at such a high level is beyond me.  It’s no easy thing to beat cancer and I’ve seen survivors and caregivers who back that up.

I’m holding out for Kessel to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe so that he can get some vindication for all the years that he’s taken crap from people about conditioning, diet and whatever else people could find to throw at him.  Kessel deserves a tremendous amount of credit for finding a way to beat cancer and stay cancer free because that is no easy feat.  I hope he accomplishes his dream.  Maybe I’ll get a Kessel jersey so every time I pull it on and step on the ice I can push myself just a little harder knowing what the man must have gone through.  My demons I’m going through learning to play hockey are minuscule compared to what he must have gone through.

Sidney Crosby Is No Longer Playing Like “The Kid”

Sidney Crosby used to be called “Sid the Kid” when he came into the NHL, now it’s time to find him a new moniker.  Whether it’s “Sid the Adult” or “Sid the Grown-up” I’m not sure.  Neither one sound as good nor do they rhyme, but they both fit the transformation that the Pittsburgh Penguins captain has undergone since he entered the league in 2005.

He’s changed his game on the ice with his scoring touch, his ability to see teammates and read the game.  Unlike some players, as he has aged his mentality has too.  Never has this been more evident than in Game Two of the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals against the San Jose Sharks.

As we all know, Crosby has a history of concussions (2) and Joe Thornton obviously is aware of this and was trying to get after him.  Late in the second period of Game Two with the Sharks already down 1-0, Thornton was pinned against the boards by Crosby and passed the puck out.  After the puck leaves, Crosby kept Thornton next to the glass for a couple of extra seconds just as a “hey how ya doin’?”  Thornton took exception/tried to egg on Crosby.  With a quick left uppercut, off came Crosby’s helmet as the Penguins captain skated away only to be cross-checked in the back.  As soon as the whistle blew a few seconds later, Crosby asked the ref, who was only a few feet away, if he saw the jumbo Sharks player give the Pens center the business.  Crosby, as you can imagine, did not retaliate.

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has come into this Penguins team and preached turning the other cheek. When things haven’t gone their way in the past they have acted out.  We saw Kris Letang lose his cool in the Washington Capitals series and take it out on Caps forward Marcus Johansson after Capitals’ head coach Barry Trotz had called on the refs to watch out for the Pens because he felt they were getting away with everything.  As you may recall, that earned Letang a one game suspension and could have flipped the series in the Caps’ favor.  If Letang didn’t learn his lesson there, he could have learned it in Game 4 of the Tampa Bay series when he shot the puck after the whistle and it hit Jonathan Drouin.  Tampa Bay’s Brad Boyle tried to come in and re-arrange Letang’s face before the linesmen and refs stepped in.

However in the Finals it seems that either Sullivan and/or Crosby have changed the mentality of the team.  You can try to get after this team but they aren’t taking the bait.  In fact part of the problem is that San Jose is having a hard time catching this team.  It’s enough for San Jose to keep the puck out of their own zone and keep possession much less control it in the offensive end of the zone.  Watching Crosby keep his cool as Thornton beat on his head showed the determination and grit that this team has had since Sullivan took over.  Yes, they are undersized and they may be young but what they lack in some areas they are making up for in heart, speed and the all out will to win.  Whether you think that Crosby is over-rated or not, it doesn’t matter, he’s playing the best hockey of his career and if he continues he’s going to lead a group of rookies and speedy talented players with a take-no-prisoners coach to hockey’s ultimate prize.  All because he figured out that he can’t play a kid’s game anymore, it’s time to play like an adult.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs Make Heroes

The Stanley Cup Playoffs always seem to create a hero out of someone. It becomes that special time of year where someone steps up from the third or fourth line because the first or the second line gets shut down thanks to the opposition’s coaching choices.  Unless you follow everything the team does, you may not even have heard of the guy.
It’s during this “crunch time” if you want to call it that, that diamonds are made. Sometimes these diamonds may never have their number called again. Sometimes these diamonds go on to be legends. Think back to all the Conn Smythe winners in the past, can you name them? Think back to the Stanley Cup Champions in recent years, can you name them?
Even if you can’t, what is amazing about the Conn Smythe award is that unlike most trophies it is based upon the play of an individual throughout the entire playoffs. If you lead your team to the Finals and put up a goose egg there – more than likely you are going to have a hard time winning the trophy. If you play magnificently throughout the playoffs you are probably going to be in line to be the Conn Smythe award winner. It doesn’t always go to the winning team either, five times since the trophy was introduced in 1964 it has gone to the losing team most recently to Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim who played tremendously in net. He finished with a 15-6 record, a .945 Save % and 1.62 Goals Against Average.
What makes the Conn Smythe award so amazing though is the list of names that have won the trophy. Guys from our decade and guys from decades before us that we can only imagine seeing play in their prime. Hall of Fame players and guys who scored in places like the Maple Leaf Gardens. Guys who made key saves in the Montreal Forum. Guys who were a part of the Oilers Dynasty of the 80’s. Guys who played a part in making the Islanders the talk of the Nassau Coliseum. Guys who were a part of the Broad Street Bullies. Guys would initiate a line brawl and bring the goalies into it. Guys who would see your head down and hit you in the middle of the ice without thinking twice. Drop ’em? Hell yes, this is the rock ’em sock ’em NHL – Don Cherry style. The days of Northern NHL teams winning the Cup with some of the greatest goaltenders you may ever see backstopping them.
Of course as time has past we have seen the new generation, the new buildings with the expansions and the new equipment. The game has been influenced by an international group of players that witnessed the “Miracle on Ice.” No longer is it won by teams in the northern half of North America but Southern states are hoisting the Cup now along with those on the sunny West Coast. Playoff dates in May and June test the ability of maintenance workers to keep the ice frozen in the summer heat. The next generation of player is faster, stronger and better conditioned than those we remember. They wear lighter pads, scientifically engineered skates and use high-tech sticks. There is no more fighting. This is the new NHL. No more Montreal Forum or Maple Leaf Gardens. These are giant arenas built for bringing in the crowd and getting them to spend, spend and spend some more.
I’ve often wondered whether I grew up in the golden age of hockey with Lemieux, Gretzky, Roy, Brodeur and all. I want to say yes, there will never ever be guys like this. I know there will never be guys that stopped shots like that and there will probably never be another guy that scored like Gretz. But at the same time, what about those that grew up during Gordie Howe’s reign? They probably said the same. Can you imagine the talent that has come along since? Patrick Roy won three Conn Smythe awards, does that mean no one else ever will? Wayne Gretzky holds or shares 61 records, does that mean that no one will ever pass any of them? Mario Lemieux won the Conn Smythe award in consecutive years and is the last person to do it, will anybody else do it? Martin Brodeur holds 25 records, will anyone break them?
I can’t help but wonder while watching these Stanley Cup Finals – who will be that Conn Smythe guy? I wonder if there will be a guy that will break a record? Is there someone on the ice that will make it to the Hockey Hall of Fame? Sure there are some names that pop to mind – Thornton, Pavelski and Crosby. But we don’t know where these careers will end. We don’t know how it’s all going to play out. Hockey takes such a wild ride sometimes. It’s such a tough sport to play day in and day out. It takes such a toll on your mind and your body. I can’t imagine what these guys go through just to make it through these playoff marathons. Whoever wins the Cup and wins the Conn Smythe no doubt they’ll deserve but I’ve got my eye on a couple of guys and I’m not going to jinx them by saying their names – just know, they’ll be someone’s hero.

Sidney Crosby Shares My Expectations

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.

Do You Have The Confidence of Matt Murray?

He’s probably got some puck luck and skill too..not to mention a talented team in front of him.

Watching Game 3 of the Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series, I realized that I look at hockey so much differently than even a few weeks ago.  I feel like I can “read” the game better than ever before – almost like I understand where the guys on the ice are going to go.
Hearing Pierre McGuire talk about how rookie Penguins goaltender Matt Murray goes to hang out at the Pens’ bench during television time-outs and jokes with the rest of the team just reinforces one of the major lessons that I’ve learned on my own: confidence. It’s the hardest lesson that I’ve had to learn, even more so than keeping my back straight so I don’t keep falling on my face.

If I don’t keep a good posture I have this terrible habit of bending forward and crashing forward onto the ice.  Once I fall, I do my best to get up as fast as I can and correct it.  Although after a couple of weeks of skating with my head up and back straighter, I can feel that I’m getting it.  I understand it.  I’m confident in my skating. Well to a point.  I’m not confident in stopping.  I’m not confident that I can get there fast and I’m certainly not confident that I can go backward.  I might be able to go backward for a couple of strides, but I am not going to be the last D man on the break.  Otherwise you can be sure I’ll be on my ass sliding the whole way down the ice.

With 19:00 minutes to go in the third period of Game 3 young goalie Murray has a shutout of the Caps going (I know I’m going to be the one to curse him by saying this – i’m not superstious or anything but I know some players are).   To be fair, you can see his confidence has been growing since the New York Rangers series, when he strolled into Madison Square Garden and shutout the Blueshirts and King Henrik Lundqvist.

It’s amazing to me what confidence can do, I remember when I first stepped back on the ice for the public skate with my daughter.  It had been almost 20 years since I had been in a pair of ice skates and I sure as hell was not confident as I nervously got onto the ice at the Rev. All those little kids who were out there were much more confident prancing around doing all kinds of moves and showing their moms and dads their best tricks.

Meanwhile I’m taking a short stride and feeling like there’s two sticks of butter on my feet and I’m skating on a pan covered in non-stick cooking spray.  I was able to skate from one side of the ice to the other and skate down to the far end of the rink where no one was – that felt like a huge victory for me!  Looking back at it, it makes me laugh.  I do that as soon as I make a lap now.  Can you imagine?  But back then, I had no confidence in my skating and my legs just shook.

Under 13 minutes to go in Murray’s shutout bid and the kid is seeing the puck really well. Uh oh.  I just did it.  So much for that shutout.  Then again, the Penguins gave Ovechkin all the room in the world to shoot.  Come on, even I know you can’t do that!  

I think confidence is the reason that I have spent money on new skates and sticks when I’ve still got so far to go.  I think part of me feels like if I have good skates then I can’t blame them for me not being able to skate well.  It makes me work harder or push myself harder at skating because I know it’s not because the blades can’t handle it.  Or if I stick handle or shoot at net, I want a great stick because it’s going to push me to work on making my passes better and my accuracy better.  

Even the little details I have to tell myself to do, like when I receive a pass to cradle it like an egg, thanks Steve, or that movement of the stick to top shelf a shot.  If I’m confident I have the gear to do it in then I have to be confident in me, which means I have to go get on the ice and just do it.

That’s easier said than done of course.  If confidence came in a bottle I’d buy all the cases I could find. I still remember the first time I went to skills class and how nervous I was because I didn’t know anyone.  I thought I’d hold up the drills when I fell and went slow.  But everyone was cool and I gained so much every time I went out.  I’ve come so far but have so far to go.  Murray told his mom he’d be an NHL starting goalie when he was an 11 year old, so I can be a better player one day as long as I have confidence.