Tuesday, 26 May 2009


And so the season rolls on. What began as a positive outlook for the team, quickly took a turn for the worst and crumbled in front of our eyes. We hosted the last years’ champions and where we were able to match them for two periods, we let it slide in the end and paid a heavy price for it.

Losing 4-11 pretty much tells you the story of the game, at least if we were to go by the third period. For the first two we were two goals behind, which wasn’t a big hole to be in and something that we were confident we would climb out of. But then the third period came round and it was all lost.

I’m not going to start separating the different factors that lead to the loss, but all I will say is that our defensive zone coverage needs to be better and we all need to bring our A game if we want to be playing in Swindon in August. The team is definitely capable of doing it, but it is just that every guy in the team needs to realise how good we really are and sort out a few priorities.

In essence we deserved to lose the game. I could argue that the score line might’ve not been what it was in the end, should we have played better, but it is all in the past. We need to learn from this as a team and move forwards.

Deserving is something that I’ve come to appreciate during my time in the rec circles and even in the higher leagues I’ve played in. We turn up and train and we deserve to play. We use a points system to track who has been in trainings, though there is a loop hole that some are exploiting. Deserving to play doesn’t mean that you turn up once in three weeks, play a game and get a few extra points to over take guys in the rankings. Deserving means that you don’t go out the night before a game and get totally wasted. There are other guys on the team waiting to play and lets face it. A hung-over player is something that doesn’t help the team at all.

Deserving to win, means that you play your heart out every shift you are on the ice. Where I personally went wrong in the last game was that, well to put it frankly, I played like a fucking queen. If it was an individual sport, I would’ve deserved to lose because of my lack of legs and speed I discussed in the last game. I didn’t get in the right frame of mind, though spending three hours with your bank manager discussing your finances prior to a game is not the best way to prepare.

What else went wrong on a personal level then? I felt uncomfortable out there. I didn’t find the balance between comfort and discomfort where I would’ve been fully alert and aware of my surroundings, but instead I was not engaging and initiating the plays at the level that I know I can play. I think the last shift of the game showed what I was capable of, a hard offence, a shot and a hard back check and then clear the zone and off. Though where I did find some solace was that I was finding my team mates on the ice. I came away with two assists from the game, so I definitely have something to be happy about. Otherwise, the team deserved to lose and me personally I deserved this self exploration of what went wrong. I know that by doing this we and me as an individual, will be better.

Little Guy Big

When you look at athletes, the one standout feature is size. Professional athletes are tall and muscular, which leaves every average Joe desiring for the same physique. Hockey is a sport where size is key. Players have gotten faster and stronger so the taller you are the better off you will be fending for yourself. Zdeno Chara is a prime example of this. Standing at over two meters on skates, Chara currently holds the record for the hardest shot in the league.

But where does that leave the 5’8” guys? Well many times they are ignored, take the Red Wings’ Brian Rafalski for example. I had the pleasure of meeting Brian when he was playing his first season in Finland for my team, HPK. I was 14 at the time and I was already the same height as he was. Granted I haven’t really grown much since those days, except maybe outwards with my gut and back with my butt. Rafalski is a prime example of ‘little guy big’. Last night against Chicago, Rafalski stepped up his game and scored an important equalising goal. He can be a physical force and boy can he shoot the puck. What is funny that the NHL wrote Rafalski off as he was too small and apparently couldn’t shoot. After three odd years in Europe, a Finnish championship in his pocket, the New Jersey Devils picked him up. He now has three Stanley Cup’s to his name, which really shows that you can achieve greatness if you keep at it.

Another really exciting guy to watch is Chicago’s Patrick Kane. Official stats say that he measures in at 179cm, but the guy looks tiny and there surely the stats office has added a cm or two to his stats. Kane is a prime example of a great player. He is skilled and plays hard. He has still a few years till we can see what he is really capable of, but he is definitely one to watch over the coming years.

Then there is my all time favourite: Saku Koivu. What can you say of a guy that is 5’10” and is one of the fiercest competitors in the NHL? Where his season ended up in disappointment, it was great to see the way he fought in the toughest areas of the ice (in the slot) with the biggest guy in the league (Zdeno Chara). Though Koivu might not be as chipper as he was back in his younger years, he is still one of the most competitive and unrelenting players in the league.

So why should I pay attention to these little big guys? Well because I am one of those guys who isn’t overtly tall. It is unlikely that I’ll grow from the 5’9”, but it is something I can use to my advantage. Where the bigger guys will use their size and weight to throw me around a bit, I can use my speed to get by them. I am not saying that I am like a punching bag for these guys as I can definitely stand my own ground in the corners and the slot. Like my idol, Teemu Selanne, my game relies on speed and Koivu’s unrelenting competitiveness. I think that by adopting this little guy big mentality, I have been able to get more out of my game than before. But I am happy that I have discovered it now, when I’m still young and have countless number of years to give to the game in me.

In trainings I need to focus on working on what I am good at and the areas where I need to improve. By working on these aspects, I will be able to lift myself to new heights and see the work that I’ve done off the ice, pay its dividends.

Monday, 18 May 2009


Earlier in this blog I wrote about believing and having seen an inspirational video on believing and perseverance yesterday, I thought it was an apt topic to re-visit. Since my last post I have taken on the belief theme as far as to have it written on each of my sticks. Though it at first drew the ire of some of my teammates, the believing has nothing to do with god or other religious themes. Believing to me means that you are able to do what you set your mind and excel in it. Believe that you will succeed and believe that each dog will have its day.

The video I watched yesterday was of Vladimir Konstantinov. To those who don’t know Konstantinov or his story, here is a quick recap. He was one of the toughest D men in the game and I still remember him planting a monster of a hit on Colorado Avalanche’s Claude Lemieux in the 1996 Conference finals. When Detroit Red Wings won its first Stanley cup after a drought, tragedy hit Knostantinov. Him and his teammate along with a team masseuse were involved in a car accident, leaving Konstantinov seriously injured.

Konstantinov suffered brain damage in the injury, lost all mobility in his legs and the ability to speak, rendering his professional career over. As homage to him, the Red Wings still to this date have a locker set up for Konstantinov with the words Believe etched on a plaque. Where Vlad is a constant visitor to the Wings’ locker room, he is treated with respect by his teammates from that Stanley Cup winning team and the new members of the team. He sits in his locker while the guys get ready and is still effectively a member of the team, despite not being able to suit up.

What makes his story incredible is that he has worked relentlessly to gain a degree of independence and the ability to walk, even if with assistance. I think he has really exemplified the toughness and perseverance hockey players demonstrate whether it is in a game situation or when faced with adversity. His relentless work ethic is something to be admired at and he is in every sense of the word a winner. He beat all the odds and where he might not ever skate again (I won’t rule it out after seeing the video), he has definitely won more than just the Stanley Cup. To me, despite my despise of the Red Wings, Konstantinov is the ultimate winner and his team has shown the degree of respect that can only be admired. It shows that in a sport as competitive and harsh as hockey, you do not forget your own.

So how does Konstantinov’s story relate to my own preparation and aspirations as a hockey player? I can only draw inspiration from his ordeal and how he continues to overcome, but it shows that hard work does pay off. I mentioned a young Swedish player here by the name of Fabian Brustrom, who rose from obscurity to an NHL pro. Where the NHL ship has long sailed past me, I still believe that I have what it takes to step it up to a higher level. Just like Konstantinov and Brustrom, if I work hard enough, even this dog will have its day. When I speak to professional players, the best advice they have given to me has been that if you keep working hard, you will have your chance.

But what if the hard work doesn’t pay off with the result I hoped for? I have the sport that I love and I am able to play it. The hardwork that I put in has ultimately made me a better player, but most importantly, I believe that it has taught me valuable lessons in life. Things don’t come easy and the more I practiced the better I got and the better I felt. These past 7 months I have been on this trail have been some of the best of my life and I have learnt so much of myself and the lengths I can push myself to.

Where the above might sound like I have given up on my dream, it is far from reality as I am still striving for that goal. I am just fortunate to be inspired by stories like that of Konstantinov and Brustrom. By working hard I have proved to myself that I can play at the same level, if not better, when I played the Dutch first division (equivelant to English Premier League for you British readers).

Sunday, 3 May 2009

No guts, No glory

Hockey is an intense collision sport, where inevitably injuries and high impact contact is bound to happen. It is something that we, as players, come to expect game in and game out. I suppose that the old adage of no guts, no glory is more apt to hockey than any other sport.

The funny thing is that unless you are caught in a funny angle (or from behind) that hits really hurt. Sure there are times when players my size (5ft8 and 182lbs) are out hustled in the corners and more likely to be crushed, but it is part of the game. You take the hit and you carry on. There is no reason to retaliate to hits, you know you are going to get your own back later on.

So how does guts and glory relate to rec hockey and my team the Cougars? Well, the answer is simple: We need to play every game like it is our last of the season to make sure we get to the play offs. Our whole season is about playing at our peak and taking a physical approach to every game. Where our first game of the season showed a stout defenssive effort, we still need to tighten up to avoid more of the 'oh crap' moments. Guys need to start laying their bodies on the line for the good of the team and I mean blocking shots and start dealing with the grit instead of taking stupid penalties.

When I analyse my own play I can pat myself on the back as I felt that I played an OK game, if not a good game. Sure I didn't register points in the game, but you necessarily don't judge a good game by how many notches you have next to your name on the score sheet. I felt quite comfortable on my skates and had decent speed. I'm still recovering from a few muscle spasms that will inevitably slow me down. Maybe the demonstration of my guts and glory was when I was hit from behind, which sent me head first into the boards. I've often said to guys that I've coached that head injuries are not something to play with, but I was able to play through the haze and wasn't afraid.

I feel that after I get rid of the niggling muscle injuries I will be able to push myself even more and make more of a difference on the ice. What I realised is that the team needs an example and some one to follow. I'm not saying that I will start talking it up in the locker room, but I need to demonstrate my commitment to winning on the ice. That means skating with the puck, making good plays and taking shots on target. In our own end I need to start laying my body down and absorb a few shots and really start hitting people. I found that with my line from yesterday what really worked was that we talked on the bench and encouraged ourselves even more, which lead to great pressure being applied in the offensive zone and only rarely were we scrambling for the puck in our zone.

All in all I am pleased with the perfomance and if we maintain this mentaility, then we have a good chance of extending our summer all the way to August. But for that to happen, we all need more guts to achieve that glory.