As we begin the 2015-16 season, players are looking to make it to the next level and many of the younger ones having a tough time going from the junior/college level to the professional level. Why? Well, from my perspective I find that many do not have the work ethic necessary to realize their dreams. It is easy to say “I want to play pro hockey”. To want to go pro is normal and expected, but what are players willing to sacrifice to achieve this? If the answer is very little or nothing, then that will be what these players earn.
At the grass roots level, youth hockey coaches choose players with the most talent as those players will surely be the key to the team’s success. These players are the core around which the team is built. They are fast skaters, they have a great shot, and/or they are incredible puck-handlers or passers. These little guys may have grown up playing with Dad or a big brother, and have accelerated the development of their “natural” abilities. (There is actually no such thing, by the way). For most, it is the love of the game and the need to be in skates that drives their development. Many others will attend camps and clinics to learn the skills necessary to get better, and will get better if they take the training seriously. Any way you look at it, each avenue benefits from hard work disguised as fun, and little is sacrificed at this level.
Junior and college coaches have the challenging responsibility of molding players into professional-minded athletes. This means that if such players want to become professionals they must learn to think, act, prepare, and carry themselves as if they already are professionals. This is when the fun starts to fold back to reveal the REAL hard work involved in being a regularly dressed player. It is at this point in a player’s career that hard work and dedication will determine the number of minutes they play, or if they even get to play. Those who understand this early will prosper because their commitment will fuel the need to work at their craft. The love for the game still burns bright with many but the ones who don’t like to do dryland, weight training, and plyometric, or those with other “interests” tend to drop in the depth chart regardless of their talents. For those looking to be the difference for their teams, amusements like hanging out with friends, partying, and dating take a back seat to extra reps in the gym, running one more mile, being first on and last off the ice during practices, and taking extra ice time to hone their skills. These players’ closest friends are usually players with similar goals and levels of commitment. Most players end their hockey careers at this level because the reality of their chances to become professional hockey players overcomes their willingness to persist. True, the odds of being a pro hockey player are slim, but ultimately the chance to become a pro always depend heavily on the individual player and the decisions/sacrifices they have made leading up to their final days of junior or college hockey.
So, what makes a player an attractive professional acquisition? Talent is still required, but when talent doesn’t work hard, hard work beats talent. By this time the player’s abilities are due to hard work being engrained into ones DNA. “Natural” abilities do not have the effect they did in youth hockey, and inconsistent work ethic has filtered out those who thought they could rely on those abilities. Coaches at the professional level tolerate very little nonsense, and want to work with the players willing to sacrifice being “comfortable” for the good of the team. Players that have established an excellent work ethic are the ones who will ultimately succeed.