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Long Live the Veteran / Death to Rookies. An Inside Look at Rookie Initiation in Hockey.

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Full gear renditions of "I'm a Little Teapot" in front of the entire school never get less funny.

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?

 

A Memo To Soccer People (if you play, watch, or like sports, please read).

September 18, 2009 12 comments

 

who, would you say, is more entitled to a celebration, if they score?

who, would you say, is more entitled to a celebration, if they score?

Dear Soccer People,

 

So you’ve got the most popular sport globally, soccer (football for the purists).  Though I doubt the research sometimes, I’ve heard the stat so many times I guess there’s got to be some truth to it.  You sell-out stadiums every night, and sometimes you riot because you’re into it so deep.  You got passion, I dig that. 

Your game doesn’t differ conceptually that much from similiar sports (get the ______ in the other team’s ______ ), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t tough.  Playing some pick-up soccer myself has re-inforced this to me.  If you haven’t noticed by now, just because the pro’s on TV in ANY sport make it look easy, doesn’t mean you can do it that well in your half-time beer-and-smoke-break league.  Just like any sport, it takes a lot of skill and effort to be any good at soccer.  Minus the diving.  

BUT still, with all that being said, please soccer players… if you listen to only one thing I say in this whole blog, let it be this:

  Your sport contains THE BIGGEST NET IN SPORTS. 

I realize that goals in soccer come on an average of 2 or 3 a month, but just because you finally punted that borderline beach-ball size of inflated rubber into netting which could corral a beluga whale, past the guy with no over-sized padding, does NOT mean your backflip is warranted.  Hey, scoring is cool, heck it’s one of the best feelings there is to feel.  But honestly, the fewer airplane spins and power knee-slides I see, the better.  I don’t, for one

I'm a professional athlete.  They pay me money to act like this.

I'm a professional athlete. They pay me money to act like this.

second, approve of the baby thumb-sucking celebration i’ve seen on a few occasions.  Also why do soccer players feel the need to rip off their jerseys when they score a big goal?  That jersey is a sense of pride in most sports.  The difference between hockey players and soccer players is that while soccer players don’t want their jerseys on and rip them off, hockey players grab their crest and shake it like a polaroid they’re so happy to have it on their chest.  Some hockey teams will actually fine their players for letting their jerseys touch the floor in the dressing room they’re so serious about respecting the uniform.

Scoring in hockey is unbelievably tough at the top levels.  The net is small, and most goaltenders are large humans to begin with, AND THEN they put on their pads, filling in and spilling over any “holes” that may have previously been present; likening your scoring chances to moustaches ever being actually, really, cool again.  You gotta be really good to pull either situation off.  So hockey goals deserve a big celly (celebration), but even the rockpiles (rookies) know not to go too far.  Fist pump: yes.  Stick ride: No. Ice duster with a follow-up pumper-nickle: time and a place.  Canoe paddle: Don’t bother suiting up next game.

Football players gotta grind those TD’s out.  There’s some big, bad mamma-jamma’s out there that really don’t want you in their end.  There’s some huge meathead football players, but even the best teams have a tough time getting it in field goal range against a defensive line named after large kitchen appliances.  So Terrell, I say flap your wings.  Throw the grenades and blow your team up.  Dirty bird, get derrrty.  You’ve earned it.

Basketball is well aware that even though they have the smallest net in team sports, it’s just not that big of a challenge when the telephone-pole sized players can literally start placing the ball in the net for over 100 points a game.  Even the dunkers are aware of the frequency of conversion.  Rarely do you see a basket celebration, and with good reason.

So soccer players, in conclusion, I enjoy your game, but never forget NO ONE IN SPORTS HAS A BIGGER NET THAN YOU. 

 The only exception I will allow to this rule is the header goal, or that bicycle kick.  These might be the toughest goals in sports to score, and to that I say climb the goal post and pick the coconuts for all I care, you deserve it.     Hopefully my British friends haven’t disowned me.  Remember, I’m not attacking soccer as a whole, just the over-sensationalized celebrations to goal size ratio, that’s all.  Just keep it all in perspective.  This is all I ask.

 

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