Long Live the Veteran / Death to Rookies. An Inside Look at Rookie Initiation in Hockey.
Veterans (not of the we-fought-for your-freedom-and paid-with-our-lives persuasion, rather of the we’ve-played-here-longer-than-you-now-do-all-the-work-and-entertain-us variety). They’re simultaneously the nightmare and aspiring dream of every rookie on every hockey team that does, did, or will, exist. Upon deservingly advancing through weeks of rookie camps and finally making the team they were trying out for, the pride in the rookie’s head takes at least a small swerve to fear-town when he is introduced to the 20+ hockey bags he and the other rockpiles will be loading onto and off of the bus all year, as well as the front seat of the bus nearest the bus driver that he will be sharing with another rookie for the entire 8 hour road trip, as well as every other subsequent “roadie” (roadtrip).
Rookies take a lot of punishment. The menial tasks like picking up pucks, lugging gear, filling bottles and so on, are all standard. Other more obscure burdens include dressing up, unhealthy amounts of booze, questionable sexual activity, articles of food put in places they don’t belong, photographs, races, and a lot of other ridiculous activities that lean more towards that dirty word, “Hazing.” It seems like the younger the guys and lower the level, the more borderline the things rookies have to do. Because of some idiot vets that took the ritual’s concept too far and chose to actually hurt and embarrass some rookies (whom, afterwards, decided to speak out against the practice), rookie initiation has been banned all together on some teams and in some circles. I do hope some of the stories are myths; sadly I’m sure they’re not. Being taped up and put in the shower is par for the course. Stuffing as many rookies in a bus bathroom as possible (usually more), and vets generating various requirements for their release is entertaining, if you’re a vet. 10 guys trying to successfully collect and correctly add an unknown amount of pocket change scattered on the floor is difficult at best in a 2’x2’x8’ room which houses human waste. Hockey players also do not begin to smell better as time goes on in closed quarters.
One of the lighter, and more fun veteran policies in college circles require rookies to dress up in full gear (minus the stick and skates) for a day at school; an event known as “The Rookie Olympics.” Let me tell you from experience, taking lecture notes with hockey gloves on is easier said than done. Also, NO girls appreciate the smell you radiate, so you had best avoid any you are hoping to impress. At the veteran’s discretion, penalties can, and will, be called throughout the day for any equipment infractions. If any gear is removed, chinstrap undone, helmet and visor not properly affixed, or a veteran command is disregarded, minor or major penalties may be assessed. Penalties add up, and then will be paid for later at practice. Lunchtime activities in the cafeteria may include races while attempting to not spill trays holding 20 tall plastic cups of water, or the fetching of meals for veterans, or for anyone a veteran chooses (generally the more embarrassing the better). Situations like this one are usually even supported by teachers, and you may see a professor or two get in on the action. Every team’s got their own stories, so just ask a hockey player you know to tell their tales of rookie-dom.
There are disputes on when veteran status can be claimed. Some claim the second the last game of the year ends, you’re free. Some claim upon return after the Christmas break. My personal opinion is that you forfeit your rookie status the moment you show up for camp the next year. I feel that you must re-enter and resume the cycle of the season before you can be deemed a veteran. It’s a testament to those who weathered the storm, and still come back for more. Of course, the second time around they get to be the giver, and revel in glory all year long.
There is also contention on who can be declared a rookie. General school of thought is that if it is your first year on the team, and/or your first year in the league you are currently playing, you are a rookie. But there are loopholes. For example, if you’re playing on a college team, and you happen to have a player who used to play pro, and is technically coming DOWN to your team, then this player is generally exempt. On a technicality, he is a rookie, but good luck to anyone brave enough to attempt enforcement. Many professional leagues require you to play a minimum amount of games in the league before you can make more than the rookie salary cap. In this case, it may take several tours of duty to shake to rook off; players not able to stick on higher teams might be in it for the long haul.
Unfortunately, sometimes the message that gets sent to rookies through their initiation is that they are neither liked, nor wanted, on the team. Though sometimes this is actually true, most of the time it’s not. As a general rule of male bonding in a team environment, guys feel the need to humiliate or verbally abuse the guys they like. So, in theory, the worse you get it, more accepted you are. It sounds bizarre, but trust me. Unless of course, you’re just a real douche. The obvious fact is that the new players are talented enough to make the team, likely younger, perhaps faster, and are all necessary for the long-term success of the squad. But because they’re green, they’re rough around the edges, and they require development in the on-ice environment they are going to be physically punished in throughout the season. They are going to get chirped, beaked, mauled,and rail-roaded by opposing teams. This is where there off-ice development comes into play. The methods used in this form of team bonding are a little askew, but If a veteran can loosen up a rookie to the point where he can get comfortable (whilst dancing a fine line and not get cocky), within his circle of teammates, then he will inherently become a better player on the ice, and become more effective for the greater good of the team. Everybody needs everyone out there. Players play better when they feel at ease. When an opponent has you in the mind, you might as well not even dress. But if you’ve handled the in-good-fun abuse from your own team, built up some callous against verbal assault, and have learned that these same guys are going to stick up for you in battle when the other team wants to take you down a few pegs, you’re going to be a leg up.
In the end, rookie or vet, you’re all on the same team, and all working towards the same goal, so you better be on the same page. Men remember experiences most vividly. In an odd way, rookie initiation bonds teams closer together, because they do it to each other and no one outside the team, and every player has to do it. Thusly, a subtle line of separation from everyone else gets drawn, binding the participants tighter. If rookies do their best to take it in stride, and veterans do their best not to take it too far, Rookie Initiation can be one of the best stories a player gets to remember, and one of the most enjoyable practices they get to dish out when they finally reach veteran status.
Discussion/comment provoking question: If you are or were a hockey player (or athlete of any sport), what is your best or worst rookie initiation story?