October 14, 2010
"Do you love to win, or do you hate to lose?"
It's one of the all-time great scouting questions. Judging whether a kid can skate or shoot or see the ice is simple. Figuring out whether a kid loves to win or hates to lose? That's an art.
To the kid asked, it doesn't sound like it means all that much. But to the person asking, there's a huge difference.
Me, I love to win. And why not? It's fun. I love the camaraderie. But most of all, I love that everyone is in a good mood. That's pretty much my life's mission statement -- just be in the best mood possible, and be surrounded by people who are in good moods. We all have to deal with down times, but the way I see it, we should all be striving to make those average "meh" times good. It's why I love to win.
Of course, the previous paragraph is precisely why I'm useless at hockey.
One of the intangibles that elevates some guys is a healthy dose of that hate-to-lose fire. Scouts love to hear from a kid that he hates to lose.
Here's the difference: It's like putting a cupcake between a chubby kid from a mansion on the hill, and some wiry starving kid from the streets. They both want the cupcake. But our portly friend isn't fighting to the death over the damn thing. He might take a swing or two, but in the end, he knows if he doesn't get this one another will come along eventually. And that's when the wiry punk kicks him in the groin and one-bites the entire cupcake.
Scouts love that stuff.
Any scout can stare at big, strong, talented Taylor Hall(notes) and mumble out "bahhhh I think he's pretty good dere, boss." But their careers are built on finding Junk Punter (from the Netherlands) in the sixth round and having him transform himself with heart and desire into the player every organization would die for -- a guy like Pavel Datsyuk(notes).
I distinctly remember getting in a cage-punch-off with a college teammate who was a hate-to-lose-r. I finally snapped over him, treating every drill like the most important drill in the world. Like, hey, it's a 3-on-2 drill the day before a game, do you really need to be chopping my ankles?
But he did. He couldn't stand the thought of me being comfortable in front of his net. I thought he was psycho, but my coach thought he was making me better. And coach was right.
A seemingly endless number of talented people get left by the roadside because they haven't found an adequate way to turn their potential into success. The minor leagues are littered with those guys.
As someone who unfortunately never had that deep burning fire, I don't know where it comes from. I don't know if it's cultural, I don't know if it can be learned.
But I do know that if you're blessed to have it, it's a gift as valuable as hands, size or speed.
In a nutshell: It's Sidney Crosby(notes) of the Pittsburgh Penguins versus Joe Thornton(notes) of the San Jose Sharks. They're both great players, but I'm pretty sure we can all agree on which guy finds losing sickening. In the final minute of a tied game, if you chucked the two of them in a corner, I think Sid comes out with the cupcake the majority of the time. Even with the size difference.
As the 2010-11 season begins, we may only catch glimpses of what the ceilings may be on each of the scout-approved young hopefuls in the NHL. The story will play itself out over hopefully long, successful careers -- who among them has that passion?
It might be tough to tell if a kid means that he hates to lose when he says it, but his play will reveal the truth.
It's great to love to win, but it's better to hate to lose.