June 17, 2011
Summer is just beginning, and regardless of how your season ended, at some point you'll need your gear, your workout clothes and everything else that's necessary to prepare in the offseason.
Some lucky NHLers are different from most pro hockey players — they live in the city they play, have long-term contracts and have the opportunity to return to the rink for workouts and ice time. Most do not.
In the minor leagues, by the time you come back to pack up your goods, the trainers will have already pilfered anything they can give out next year and not have to re-buy - the gloves, the helmets, the pants and beyond.
Often, you're even offered a garbage bag to throw all your stuff in if you didn't bring a different bag from your apartment. After all, it's not like they're going to let you keep the team one, right? They'd have to pay for another one if they did that.
It's always a reminder that the concept of "team" is sadly temporary, despite what they try to get you to believe throughout the season. While the Boston Bruins will forever be immortalized in the annals of hockey history, most squads are not so fortunate.
For those guys who get dealt about the league from team to team, picking up and fitting in with a new team with regularity (think how Kris Versteeg(notes) would feel "if" he ends up with a fourth team in three years next season), it's hard not to start playing for yourself at some point.
Hockey's a business, they remind when they have to do something cold and dickish, and the longer you play the more you realize it's true. Sometimes being a part of a "team" means just being happy to have somewhere to play, not that you're all forever bonded.
As you sift through your stall before summer, picking through balls of old clear tape, flimsy blades and well-worn team-branded shorts, you start to realize you're about to start all over again.
After a short break to let your body heal, it's back to the squats, back to the lunges, back to the sprints. It's back on the ice, and working on your stride and trying to gain weight. For some, it means negotiating a new contract, uncertainty, and the likelihood of playing with a new roster.
In sum, there's a lot of work on the horizon.
But also on that horizon is the glorious rest that brings about the mixed emotions that show up around this time. The season always stops suddenly like a smoker going cold turkey, and your body and mind are never quite sure how to react.
I always headed back to my hometown of Kelowna, BC slapped a Titleist around Gallagher's Canyon, drank some Sleeman's Honey Brown and tried to get back to feeling normal. I'd eat massive plates of Mom's home-cooking, call up old friends and just generally do whatever was necessary to recover physically and mentally.
Back-to-back sleep-in days? How bizarre.
It all starts that day, back in the dressing room, packing your stuff up. Another season has come and gone, another story in your career has been written, and it's on to the next one.
I can't imagine how it must feel for a guy like Mark Recchi(notes) who knows he's never coming back. The lifestyle of a hockey player is a routine — no two days are the same, but the general cycle of a season is identical (save for the variable of playoff success).
Getting off that ride was a weird feeling for me, but I had been hurt, and made a life decision. Recchi's leaving because time waits for no one.
At some point, he'll be taking his equipment home just like everybody else (though I'm thinking he'll get to keep all his gear), he'll walk out the front door of the rink and be done.
It's a weird time for hockey players, with each story from each stall being different from the next.
It's locker clean out day, and with its passing, the cycle starts anew.