August 09, 2011
I'm coming off five days at the fourth annual Hockey Greats Fantasy Camp in Kelowna, BC, an event hosted by my dad. He pulled together a dozen ex-NHL beauties whose verbal filters pretty much went the way of tube skates (which one of our guests happened to be wearing by the way, Bauer Black Panthers).
Which is to say, most have long since been discarded.
What we got was pure, honest, hockey player goodness. After spending four days listening to these guys and our guests — some of whom hadn't skated in the past decade - it was easy to draw a conclusion: within some boundary of reason, the general personality of hockey players is similar everywhere, at every level. Everyone is just able to click, like owning a pair of skates is somehow the only move in our club's secret handshake.
If you played minor hockey, rec hockey, road or roller hockey, you know exactly what I'm talking about. "Hockey" is a tribal dialect.
While there are exceptions to every rule, I think the collective personality of hockey player looks something like this:
The hockey player is a social animal. Hockey isn't a game that can be played well by hesitant people. On-ice decisions have to be made too quickly to spend much time calculating odds, which means that the people who stick with the game are usually pretty sharp people. And a whole bunch of pretty sharp people can be a lot of fun — because of that, it's never too hard to find a friend in a dressing room.
The hockey player revels in verbal abuse, and understands that the dressing room is not a place for sensitive folks. You really do end up caring for your teammates (and everybody knows it), but for some reason showing that is frowned upon. So, a surplus of good-natured abuse can always be found in its place.
That dressing room constant means, of course, that the hockey player spends the majority of his time trying to make his buddies laugh (which is why we all love our boy Down Goes Brown so much). Our fantasy camp was a constant parade of attempted one-upsmanship in this regard.
After our final charity game, a man came around looking for autographs. Dude was a little off … I'm not sure in what way. I wasn't sure who he was there with or how he got in, so I started asking around. Apparently he had an announcement to make and a donation to give, so we let him stay. Problem was, he kept pestering our guys (at one point he even went into the shower to get Clark Gillies autograph), but … I wasn't about to kick out a donor. About 45 minutes later, he called for everyone's attention to announce his contribution … then Greg Adams removed the teeth, glasses, hair and all. It brought the house down.
And these are 40-60 year old men having fun like this.
Once a hockey player, always a hockey player.
But even with all these traits, the best thing to come from hockey culture is clear: We all understand that no player is bigger than the game, and that message permeates most of our personalities to the core.
I can't speak to the stars of other sports, but the majority of ours have somehow managed to stay level-headed and respectable. Our game's biggest star, Sidney Crosby(notes), is infuriatingly humble. If you try to pull some prima-donna B.S. at any level, you'll find that your teammates almost act like the body's immune system and try to weed you out (whether that's a conscious move or not). We have very little time for excessive celebration and hot-doggery, which carries over to our personalities off the ice.
As in all walks of life, you can find A-holes in our sport too — no sport is an exception to that rule. But the more time you spend with teammates, hockey buddies from the past, and kids on the way up, you realize how much we all have in common.
Wherever you travel, whatever the age difference, for some reason you can always pin down a person who plays hockey pretty quickly.
Few people are able to shape the game, but the game was able to shape many of us.