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Archive for September, 2010

The Hockey Tryout: Even The Best In The Game Still Have To Prove Their Worth (And advice for keeping your sanity through hockey’s trial period).

September 30, 2010 8 comments

 

With the opening of the 2010-11 NHL season looming, fake-meaningless tease pre-season hockey is all us stick-and-puck fans have to tide us over until that first puck drops.  We’ve endured baseball highlights on Sportscentre for long enough, it’s time to get some real sports going!

Yeah hi Bill, so camp registration fee is $250, and make sure the form is signed by a parent of legal guardian and returned by Aug 1. Good luck!

One interesting notable for me looking at the pre-season has been the boggling number of established NHL veterans still looking for a job – and their only option, seemingly, is to “tryout” for an NHL team.  Good luck trying to get Stanley Cup champ and former NHL All-Star Bill Guerin to fill out and mail in his registration form and camp fee in a self-addressed, stamped return envelope, in exchange for a free camp jersey and four guaranteed ice-times.

I count upwards of 20 NHL vets now fighting for their right to stay active in the world’s best hockey league:

Anaheim — Joe DiPenta (1 Cup), Stephane Veilleux; Atlanta – Enver Lisin, Kyle McLaren; Boston — Brian McGrattan; Columbus – Dan Fritsche; Dallas – Jonathan Cheechoo (All-Star, Rocket Richard Trophy); Florida — Tyler Arnason; New Jersey — Marcus Nilsson; N.Y. Rangers — Garnet Exelby, Ruslan Fedotenko (2 Cups, Olympian), Alexei Semenov; Philadelphia — Bill Guerin (2 Cups, All-Star, Olympian); Phoenix — Shane Hnidy, Kyle Wellwood; San Jose — Andreas Lilja (1 Cup); Tampa – Eric Perrin (1 Cup); Vancouver — Brendan Morrison, Peter Schaefer; Washington — Matt Hendricks.  ( from TSN.ca )

Fist pumping because he thinks he nailed the audition, or slipping on a banana peel back to reality?

I just gotta wonder what the real likelihood of these guys making these teams really is (see: Theo Fleury, Flames tryout).  I mean, it’s not like they’re new players that no one’s had a chance to see because they’ve been playing in an obscure minor league and there are only a handful of youtube videos on them.  These guys have all been around the league, and coaches and scouts already know what they’re all about.

And in reality, that’s the shitty thing about trying out for ANY team at ANY level.  In most cases, teams are already all but finalized before you show up at camp.  Guys have been committed to in the off-season, or re-signed from last year.  With only a few spots open from trades, injuries, or releases, if your resume isn’t already speaking for you, your only hope is to be so awesome that you out-perform a seasoned veteran, or that a vet gets hurt and you’ve looked good enough to be a lock for a call-up spot.  And that’s just the honest truth.

Do yourself a favor and at least look the part. If you show up wearing one of these, kindly show yourself out the door.

Too many young, good hockey players have had their hockey dreams dashed at an early or mid-point level because a team apparently already committed a starting spot and full PP/PK time to a player; who then walks out of camp a week later headed back on the 12-hour long bus to the team he was playing for before because things “didn’t work out” the way he was told they were going to at their tryout.  To be fair though, the onus is on the player to perform; if he can’t do that during that evaluation period, then the chances of that player being a team fixture do fade, no matter how highly touted or decorated they are.  As a coach now myself, I’ve had to weigh-in on some tough (and not so tough) decisions about who will play for our team.  While it’s easy to strike a guy off on paper, no one wants to be the guy who has to tell the player that he’s not we’re looking for.  It’s easy to tell that a guy wants to make the team, but it’s unfortunate when that’s just not a realistic possibility.  I’m sure many teams don’t mind collecting those “camp fees” to pad their team’s budget for the year though.

And that’s where hockey, more so at the minor-pro level, can really get quite exploitive.  Hockey is a game that players are passionate about.  I mean, blindingly passionate about.  So much so that they’ll jump at any chance to play for any team, anywhere.  From Northern Saskatchewan to Southern Alabama, if you’ve got a team and a training camp, chances are there are players willing to un-bank their life savings and drive to your hole-in-the-wall town from the exact opposite point on the continent for that one chance to be part of the team and to seek their fame and glory.  And chances are also that that team is probably full, despite their advertising to “leave no stone unturned” in hopes of finding talent.

Free-agent camps are tricky too, because they’ll mention how many coaches, scouts, and GM’s will be watching you, and how many were signed out of last year’s camp; and when you show up, there’s only one scout (maybe just a guy wearing a team jacket) from a crappy team that only sticks around for 1 period (this happened to a player I know this past summer) and doesn’t give anyone a fair look.

The third axis is the agent.  Many free agents will seek a player agent to represent them in pursuit of a contract.  The first tip-off here is the player pursuing the agent, not the agent pursuing the player.  If players are not careful, they can get mixed up with people/con-men who will take their money in exchange for promises of placement, and then never hear from the agent again, see their money again, or sign a contract (happened to me).  There are lots of good, credible agents and agencies out there, but you really gotta be careful, that’s all.  And again, it’s tough because players want to play so bad because of their love for the game and their emotional attachment to it; that pursuit and their trustworthiness is easily abused when it aligns with a person or team who doesn’t mind separating you from your money in exchange only for false hope and promises.

So, aspiring players who have not had the luxury of being drafted and/or a phenom from a young age, here’s your tryout camp mental checklist to review before filling out that form and sending in your cheque:

1)     Are you good enough?

2)     Ask yourself again, no really, are you good enough to make this team?

3)     Are you willing to endure failure and rejection, and self-improvement for what might be years until you do make this or another team?

4)     Can you fiscally, and mentally, afford it?

5)     Are you willing to live and play in the middle of no-where for an extended period of time, for next to no money?

6)     What is your goal is hockey?  Will you settle for anything below the NHL in the end?

7)     Do the rewards that come with being a hockey player outweigh the benefits to you?

8)     If you’re not single, what does your significant other think of all this?

I’m sure I could think of more, but if you’ve answered yes to all the above questions, then you should pursue your hockey dreams, no matter what they are, and no matter what they call for.  If you’re hesitant, then you may want to re-evaluate your path in the game.  But when it comes to camp time, always do your homework on the team, and be realistic (even if your realism would be described as crazy by others).  Other than that, let your heart and passion for the game, combined with your abilities and talents take you as far as they will lead; just don’t be afraid to follow them!  Being able to play the game of hockey is a very temporary privilege that only a very small percentage of people will ever have the opportunity to do at any level, so don’t take your remaining time in the game for granted.  If opportunity knocks, open the door; just make sure you let the right people in.

 

The Captain’s C: The Heaviest Letter to Wear in Sports.

September 20, 2010 3 comments

 

So the “C” has officially been removed from Roberto Luongo’s che… err, chin.

“Lu” cited that carrying the title of team captain was a “precarious position to be in”, and perhaps “a little bit of distraction”; which are not exactly traits a person with the job description of stopping 100mph slap-shots needs to be worrying about while trying to catch a glimpse of the next slap-bomb coming from the point off of a wound-up one-timer through the 8 pairs of legs in front of him.  That plus an entire hockey culture scrutinizing his selection as captain, and nit-picking all the pros and cons of it every night, maybe he’s better off without it.

Here’s the thing about being the captain of a team.  Though the only literal privilege that comes with wearing it is being able to converse with the referees, it is a constant mental distraction.

In my minor hockey days, I had the “C” voted on my jersey for three consecutive seasons, and an “A” in my senior year at college.  Every team has their own similar-but-different criteria for a captain to meet – skill, dedication, respect, inspiration, and plenty of other admirable traits.  Sometimes it’s done by a team vote, sometimes it’s appointed by the coaching staff, and sometimes it’s a mix of both.  Our college team had a neat tradition of having the current team’s captain choose a successor for the following season at the conclusion of the current one.  Personally, I prefer the team vote – I think in the end, those are the guys that the captain is really leading, and I think that the players should be able to select who does that the best, in their opinion.  I don’t like having the coaches pick the captain – I think that can create an unnecessary divide between team and coaches.  Obviously there is a natural divide there already as coaches don’t compete on the ice (they just yell and tell players what to do), but when the captain is selected by them, and the assistants by the team, a we-chose-them-but-not-you mentality can develop, which can threaten the integrity of the captain, who may then be viewed as being a bit of a coaches puppet and remove some of the team’s respect that he desperately needs.  But then again, none of that can happen as well, and everyone can get along just fine.  It’s just a precarious selection process is all I’m saying.

There’s something very empowering about that letter “C” when it’s stitched on your jersey; it just makes you feel a cut-above – not in a pompous way, but in a humble way, as you know you’ve been entrusted with a very deep responsibility.  You now have the task of not only being (and being expected to be) the best player you can be individually, but also getting the best out of your teammates every night in hopes of success.  And you also have the duty of carrying yourself with class and respect off the ice.  While you do your best to emulate the leadership characteristics of great captains like Gretzky, Lemieux, Yzerman, Messier (while you know you’re not as good as them, it’s cool to consider that you do share one thing in common with them), and perhaps former captain teammates as well, everyone else is busy scrutinizing your leadership style, and how effective (or not) it is.  People who know me (or knew me during those days) know that I’m a pretty mild-mannered guy; so especially when I was younger, I constantly heard things like I was “too quiet” as a captain, and I took my share of heat.  In the end I didn’t care what they said too much.  I just did my best to do my job, which was mainly to produce on the ice and hope my teammates would follow by example, which I believe I did well.

After my third consecutive run as team captain, I didn’t receive another letter until my 4th year in college.  To be honest, it hurt not having it, and my jersey always felt just a little naked without something sewn on the front left shoulder; it made me a little jealous of the guys who did get it instead.  I spent a lot of time over the following years wondering what changed, what I had done wrong, and what I would have to do to get it back someday, some year.  I heard a lot of the same “you don’t need a letter to be a leader” rhetoric over the years, which is true.  I was always hopeful that my teammates would see me as a leader when it came to team voting time again though.  At some point, I did just say “the hell with it” and tried to focus on my game, though it never really left the back of my mind.  I think not having a letter and not caring about it did afford me the opportunity to focus on simple, individual tasks as a player, instead of a broad spectrum of responsibility that comes with worrying about leading everyone else as well.  By my third year at college, and 8th year without a letter, I was my team’s leading scorer,

proud of that "A".

and probably playing the best hockey I ever had.  By my fourth, I had an “A” voted onto my jersey, which meant a lot more to me than surely any of my teammates realized.  To me, their scribbles of my name on a torn-off piece of paper pulled out of a hat, was them saying, “yeah, we do want you to lead us, we do think you’re worthy of it,” which, although it wasn’t the “C”, it was the recognition I know I  had been looking for for such a long time.  Our captain that year did a great job, but when I looked back on it, I much prefer being voted a leader by the boys than having it as an appointment.  I always had the romantic idea of wearing that “C” just one more time in my career, and perhaps having that team be the last I would play for; but alas that opportunity hasn’t come yet.

tough to justify their replacement, in my opinion.

So whether you’re 15 years old, or an Olympic gold medalist; if you don’t have thick enough skin to separate the mental battle from the actual game, then being a captain may not be for you.  It’s something that can really mess with your head, if you allow it to.  It’s not a responsibility that just any player can handle either.  Franchise players like Mike Modano and Brett Hull were given the “C” for only a few seasons until they were replaced by other players in the role, as their coaches felt their leadership style didn’t “jive”, let’s say, which the coaches expectations (click the links to read the rabbit hole stories about them).  I played with one player (who is probably the most skilled player I ever played with) who outright requested not to be given a letter at all.  As much as I hate the Vancouver Canucks, I do respect and empathize with Luongo for enduring as long as he did, and all the other great captains who take their share of abuse for not leading their team to the Stanley Cup every year.  Roberto did what was best for the team, which may be the best move he made as captain.  Like most scenarios, critics seem to know exactly what a captain is doing wrong and all the things he should be doing in order to be a better captain; without a doubt, putting those same people in that same role would yield further incompetence in the eyes of other critics.  Everyone seems to know how to do something better than the person they’re criticizing, and that’s just a fact of life.  The best leaders find a way to lead despite all the negativity.  Unless you’ve had a “C” on your jersey, there’s a lot more to it than you likely realize, so keep that in mind next time you think it’s such an easy job!

 

All That I Really Care to Say About the Mosque Building/Koran Burning Incident.

September 12, 2010 11 comments

The whole Mosque building and Koran burning things seemed to be destined to intersect with each other, didn’t they?  I wanted to wait until after the anniversary of 9/11  to comment on the situation, so here goes.

By now everyone knows the story, so I will only briefly touch on the synopsis; Muslim folks in New York wanted to build a mosque near Ground Zero, and it made a lot of people mad.  A Florida pastor wanted to burn the Muslim Holy book, and that made a lot of people mad too.  The pastor tried to negotiate a halt in the construction by offering to cease his event.  Some people on both sides try to talk reasonably, some “he said, she said”, and now there’s no burning, and probably still some building.  Oh, and a lot of people are still mad. 

Here’s my take.  While we have people who probably have a positive intention at heart (and probably feel enlightened by their deity that their course of chosen action is correct), we still have people who are blindingly ignorant, don’t understand the concept of “in good taste”, and people who still paint an entire nation of people with the actions of only one of its representatives.  Also, people are idiots.   

Here’s what went wrong, from my perspective, on both sides of the fence. 

great take.

For the Muslims in New York and everywhere; you absolutely do have the right to practice your religion, and you have the legal right to purchase land and to construct holy buildings on it, even at the 9/11 Ground Zero site.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that you should though.  While I understand the argument that building there represents an evolution of healing, tolerance, and understanding of Islam in Western culture, the thing is, you can build a mosque ANYwhere else in the US and (probably) not have any trouble having it built (or at least, a lot less).  Really, truly, it’s not in good taste, and it is a little insensitive to build at that spot.  Not because the current builders and inhabitants would be terrorists or extremists and destroy other things, but for the simple reason that the people that blew up the World Trade Center claimed to be Islamic.  Those people that committed that horrible atrocity, and the rest that they are connected with, do skew and misrepresent the true, peaceful teachings of Islam, I know.  The world needs to see more good Muslim people in order to understand the negative generalization that has been made towards the religion of Islam.  In the past nine years since 9/11, I think we have come a long way and made good progress in seeing people for who they really are, regardless of their religious or non-religious affiliation; there just seem to be many more ways and locations that we can continue to make steady and gainful progress at, and building at this site just is not one of them.  TV interviews that show innocent bystanders that aren’t Muslim and happen to have dark skin berated for wanting to build the mosque shows the level of ignorance that still exists, and that America’s still not quite ready to make that step.  I think they deserve all the time they need.

For Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida; I’m not sure where he was going to get all those Korans from in the first place, but if he purchased them, or if people were voluntarily burning them in a fire on his property, well it would seem he has the legal right to do that as well, as long as he wasn’t violating any local by-laws.  Of course for him as well, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he should either.  Jones was quoted as saying the purpose of the burning would be to expose Islam as dangerous and radical.  And while he very well may have felt enlightened by God to perform such an act, or interpreted a certain scripture that made him believe he needed to do that, the only thing he really achieved was painting himself as an equally radical misrepresentation of his religion, and invoking worldwide anger towards him, America, and Christianity from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

          I think in Terry’s heart, he probably meant well, and that he felt he was doing the right thing (I hope so, anyways).  He obviously believes very strongly in his religious convictions, and wants to defend the Biblical teachings via his own interpretations.  He may also have felt that the mosque building in New York was in poor taste, and thought he had found a way to put a stop to it in the name of God. 

          On one hand, you have to give him credit; garnering worldwide exposure from a church with a congregational populous of 50 is no easy feat.  But on the other, a quick Wikipedia search will show you that Mr. Jones isn’t exactly a “model” Christian.  He has been accused of running a church like a sect leader, using psychological pressure on members; was fined $3800 by Cologne courts for improperly using the title “doctor”; ejected by the congregation in Cologne for being a Christian fundamentalist, and due to untenable theological statements and craving for recognition, amid allegations of financial impropriety; and earlier this year, he published Islam is of the Devil, a book denouncing Islam as a violent faith (only $17.99, available at amazon.com [for interest's sake only; I am not promoting its sale]).  This has been one hell of a book tour.    

          I don’t think that even Jones himself expected the amount of negative feedback, violence and death threats, and jihadist activity that he has inspired.  Without even one flicker of a flame, he’s now not only endangered himself, but his own congregation, and Christians and Americans currently residing in the US or abroad.  While his now non-action was on a much smaller scale, it was an extreme and unnecessary measure.  The Bible does teach that God is the one, true God, and to not have any other gods before you; but it also teaches love, peace, forgiveness, and tolerance through Jesus Christ.  While the latter are fundamentals of the New Testament, it is interesting that Mr. Jones’ church claims to be a New Testament Church; I really don’t see any of those values coming out of Terry through this event. 

On the outside, a mosque is just a building made of building materials, and the Koran is just paper with words written on it and bound together.  There are plenty of mosques already built, and many more will be built too, all over the world.  There are a lot of Korans that have been printed in the world, and one day’s burning of them is not near enough to even put a dent in the global total of them.  In truth, it will probably make it increase.  But the continuing and ongoing problem is the ignorant view from both sides to each other; clearly neither side has made a large enough effort to understand the other, to understand the deeper meaning of these items to the other party, and to act in good taste and representation of their own religion.  The underlying problem is that we have humans at the root, and that we people are imperfect, no matter how much education, power, money, and enlightenment we acquire.    

As mad as I was after 9/11, it was an opportunity to grow in understanding.  Since then, I have studied a small portion of Islamic teaching in school, and more importantly, met actual Muslim people who are, in fact, quite pleasant.  We need to see people for people, not groups for people.  There are definitely some Islamic terrorists, but there are also some idiotic Christians.  And Atheists, Buddhists, Hindu’s, Americans, Canadians, French, English, Korean, Nigerian, and just some non-religious, all-around jackasses.  But there are also a lot of very nice people from all those groups as well; if we ever took the time to meet more people and understand them on a personal level, maybe then we could stop infuriating each other so frequently.

Let’s hope this is as far as this whole saga goes.

Let The All-Blacks Win, or You’re All Going to DIE (Ode to the NZ Haka)

September 6, 2010 7 comments

I have a long standing assessment that the most savage sport ever invented by humans is, without a doubt, rugby.  The “game” features zero equipment, (nearly) zero rules or penalties, and basically one singular objective: get the ball to the other side, by any means necessary (killing is discouraged though).  Go ahead and fill your field with the largest and angriest men on the planet, and you’ve got yourself a bonafide prison sport death match rugby. 

As a hockey player myself, I saw a lot of tough players on a lot of tough teams, and took my fair share of pummellings from both of them over the years.  Thing is, I was never really scared of them at all.  Because of that, I was able to pummel right back, and hold my own.  But here’s where the intimidation factor comes in;  watch the following video of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team doing their crazy we’re-going-to-murder-you-and-win-the-game Haka pre-game dance, which the opposing team has to stand  pretend to be brave, and hold their bowels in and watch, and then somehow go and try to beat them at the game immediately after (probably a lot of ‘here you are sir, I believe this is your ball, please don’t eat me, sir’ ).  For all I know, they may never have lost a game; just handing over all the trophies might not be a bad idea :

Now here’s the thing, while it’s totally fitting in the lunacy of rugby, the other New Zealand sports teams perform it as well, but with something missing; just not quite as scary… could be the scrawniness, perhaps the whiteness too… :

 Ice Blacks

 Tall Blacks

I feel like I’d be just fine after enduring the basketball and hockey versions; in fact, I think after having to see those ones, I’d probably want to kill them more.  The rugby one makes me want to find the closest happy place and recite my safe-word a thousand times.  Funny thing is, the lyrics are actually pretty tame:  

“Ka Mate”
Leader: Ringa pakia!   Slap the hands against the thighs!
  Uma tiraha!   Puff out the chest.
  Turi whatia!   Bend the knees!
  Hope whai ake!   Let the hip follow!
  Waewae takahia kia kino!   Stomp the feet as hard as you can!
       
Leader: Ka mate, ka mate   ‘I die, I die,
Team: Ka ora’ Ka ora’   ‘I live, ‘I live,
Leader: Ka mate, ka mate   ‘I die, ‘I die
Team: Ka ora Ka ora “   ‘I live, ‘I live,
All: Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru   This is the fierce, powerful man
  Nāna i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā   …Who caused the sun to shine again for me
  A Upane! Ka Upane!   Up the ladder, Up the ladder
  Upane Kaupane”   Up to the top
  Whiti te rā,!   The sun shines!
  Hī!   Rise!

 This is one version that is sung; there are a handful of others that may be performed as well, but also not that intimidating when translated.  Other thing is, the rugby guys could make “I’m A Little Teapot” sound therapy-level frightening.  Now occasionally, an opposing and equally crazy team (usually other Pacific nations, like Tonga is this example) has their own Haka to retaliate with:

All bets are off at this point; let the carnage begin!

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