September 24, 2010
The 60-minute game might be one of the least interesting parts of making a living as a hockey player. The fun part for me was picking up the little nuggets of information and getting involved in a half-dozen ridiculous bets that would break the monotony of everyday life.
Since I loved the monotony-breakers and fun little factoids, I thought I'd pass along some of my favourites. So without any further ado, I give you:
Top Ten Things I Wouldn't Know If I Had Never Played Hockey
1. From Islanders camp: One of their then-assistant coaches was adamant that players sit on the bench with the knob end of their sticks up (as opposed to the blade), because apparently "studies" have shown guys get their blade on the ice faster when they jump the boards holding their stick that way. If it seems like a stupid, petty thing, it's probably because it is.
2. Our trainer in college told us not to sit on the bench with our legs fully bent - the further we could extend them the better it was for recovery. Because, y'know, as young guys playing all of two games a week with a full four lines, our energy levels were just sapped.
3. Guys set up skill games after every practice, with the focus not being on skill or winning, but on avoiding being the guy who has to do something embarrassing. Being forced to sport a moustache for a month is a bit of a fad these days, but teams will play for pretty much anything. There's just nothing funnier than a teammate who has to buy and clip on a Mr. T earring for the week because he couldn't score on his breakaways. Why even play if you're an off-the-glass-as-a-first-option kind of defenseman?
4. Before every game -- for some, before every period -- you'll see guys passing around and cracking smelling salts, just for a good 'ol fashioned wake up. Believe me, when you're playing in front of 800 fans in Long Beach, California, half of whom are participating in Bring-Your-Dog-To-The-Game night (that really happened, by the way), you learn to value giving your brain a good pre-game wake-up slap.
5. When you're fighting for ice time, you learn to be a good bench jockey. Coaches constantly lose players on the bench - they have their little crib sheet out, sure, but if you sit on the end of the bench and don't shuffle to the middle as guys go out, sometimes you'll miss shifts. Hence why most thugs and benched players are relegated to most distant seats, because "hey - don't call us, we'll call you."
6. Some fighters have their trainer shorten their fighting straps on the inside-back of their jersey. Then they wrap that strap around the loop on their pants multiple times so that when a guy tries to grab their jersey, or pull it over their head, there's no slack to work with. You either go super-snug or with no tie-down -- in between is dangerous.
7. Guys put "money on the board" nearly every night. As in, they write their number, a dollar amount, and what it's for on the white board in the dressing room - if the goal is met, he'll pay into the team party fund. Or, if it's an individual feat that was written up, he'll pay to the player who accomplishes said goal. So if I were to offer $50 to the guy who scores the game winning goal, It'd look like: 12 - $50 GWG. It's impossible to pay yourself, so I rarely had to worry about paying out those bets (brushes dirt off of shoulders ...).
8. Everyone knows hockey players chew -- for the uninformed, that means tobacco -- but not everyone knows that it's not just reserved for free time. Guys chew between every period, which is nice, because we all know half-full cups of muddled brown tobacco spit are a stall-mate's dream.
9. Goal celebrations in a scrimmage are a fineable offense. You kiddin' me, buddy? In a meaningless game where guys are going three-quarter speed you're gonna go double straight arms followed by a pumpernickel? That's gonna cost ya.
10. Finally, guys bet on messing with the media. I once had one full year to try to get five words into print, somehow. I don't remember them exactly now (I think I just failed a baseline concussion test), but they definitely included "octopus" and "cowabunga" (remember, Michelangelo was a party dude). If you ever see a really messed up quote or say, a fully-naked in-room interview, there's a chance some guy was just fooling around with someone else's job.