When Tim Connolly pounded home a slapshot for the only goal in yesterday's contest between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers, it forced me to remember everything I was bad at as a player.
Basically, I never learned to appropriately disrespect my opponent.
To clarify — I mean disrespect in the sense that even at the highest levels, you have to remember that your opponent is human and will inevitably make the occasional mistake. In this case, Connolly took an unscreened slapper from the top of the circles and forced Lundqvist to make a save, which he was unable to do. I would have never taken that shot, based solely on the fact that I would've assumed that Henrik Lundqvist would stop my slapshot from that point on the ice 10 out of 10 times.
And it's the same all over the ice.
Hockey is a game that calls for quick decision making, and too many of us lack the necessary confidence in our own abilities to make our opponents lives more difficult — it's a major reason why so many cocky players have so much success.
When you pass up a shot because you don't think you'll score from that far out, you make the goalie's life easier.
No player in the history of the sport has a 100 percent shooting percentage, so we usually assume the shots we take aren't going to go in — it's why goal celebrations are equal parts elation and surprise. But as an offensive player, it's healthy to remember that goaltenders are not flawless shooter tutors with only five holes in which the puck can go. You just never know what's going to find its way in, proof of which is the fact that George Parros somehow has three goals this season.
Players like Alex Ovechkin (1st in shots taken) and Steven Stamkos (12th) are perfect examples of knowing that you need to force your opponent to answer the bell on occasion — they simply bomb away knowing that a goalie can't stop everything, and they turn out to be right an absurdly high number of times.
(While I'm opposed to the "shoot from everywhere" theory, if it's not from a bad angle, I support the "shoot way too often" theory.)
Similarly, when don't try to beat a defenseman wide and choose to dump it in because you don't think you'll get around him, you make his life easier. Players down on their game rarely tend to challenge their opponents the way someone on a hot streak does. There's just no sense in pulling up and stopping your own rush until you sense the defenseman has the upper hand.
All over the ice, confidence equals success based purely on the fact that sometimes people make mistakes.
As you climb up the ranks, it's easy to become overly impressed with the guys you're playing against, especially when you hit that NHL level and start to know the names of guys before you even play them.
In my own brief experience at an NHL camp, I remember passing on a shot in the high slot (hoping to beat one more player and get a closer look) because it was Rick DiPietro in net, and losing the puck while trying to get find the higher percentage shot. I would've normally pulled the trigger from there every time, but for some reason I forgot that DiPietro is human too. In retrospect, he may have snapped a random tendon trying to make the save and I'd have scored. You just never know.
As Gretzky famously said, you miss 100 percent of the shots you won't take.
For stars in the NHL, they need that confidence to succeed. They trust that their slapshot can beat an unscreened goalie. They believe that their speed can beat a defenseman wide and earn them a chance. They challenge all over the ice, and are frequently rewarded for it — as obvious as that is, a lot of us beat ourselves so our opponents don't have to.
For those of us who hesitate to makes those challenges, even in our slightly less important rec league games, it helps to remember: everyone makes mistakes. So put your opponent in a position to make as many as possible, and quit assuming everyone is better than they are.
It may not show your opponent a ton of respect, but it damn sure is effective.