The National Hockey League is made up of 31 clubs spanning over two countries. Each club rosters 23 players on game nights. There are 713 game night roster spots. The IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) says there are close to two million hockey players in the world, ranging over more than 70 countries (that’s a 0.0003565% chance of reaching the league). Canada, holds the largest percent of athletes that compete in the NHL with 34%. The United States, a clear rival in the game, comes close behind at 32%.
What’s your niche? Are you a Sniper Playmaker or Brickwall? What is it about your game that separates you from the pack? Is it your hands, foot speed or shot? Do you grind on the walls and compete like a wolf fighting for his last meal? Every player in the NHL has their niche, some have multiple. But everyone’s got one, so whats yours? What’s the value in you as a player? What is going to catch a scouts eye, or get you selected from your team at the next level. There are only 713 positions available on rosters and many players play multiple years in the league, so the chances are even smaller. So what makes you special? So you can skate and score, but do you back check? Play the body? Are you willing to fight a guy a foot taller than you because he threw an elbow at your linemate? Everyone wants to be Sidney Crosby. But the NHL only has one Sidney Crosby. The rest of the league is made of all types of players ranging in skill, size, grit, and speed. The question is, are you putting in the work to battle your way into the league?
Hockey is a game, but it’s also a business. Maybe one of the most complex businesses there is. With players holding contracts with NHL clubs, and also contracted players on AHL, ECHL or Major Junior teams, not to mention that every year there’s a draft. There are a lot of moving parts to each organization. Hockey is a steep pyramid, each year players quit or get injured. Athletes fall behind and get cut because of lacking skills, or get out worked for the last spot on that roster. Good players get beat out by better, and better players get beat out by harder working players because as is true in any sport “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
Over the years I’ve seen so many players that had the skill to make it to pro hockey, but didn’t continue to grow each season and they found themselves with a ticket home at the end of training camp. And, players who do land a spot on a roster, occasionally get replaced in-season due to lacking coach-ability, lacking strength/conditioning, or simply the player won’t do the little things that gets asked of them. The other, and most dangerous reason for a player falling off the edge is not knowing their identity as a player. If you’re a goal scorer, you need to put the puck in the net. Game in and game out you need to get pucks on net, and track the net like that rebound is your last contract, because in pro hockey it could be. If you’re playing third line chances are good it’s because you’re an energy guy. You’re the guy that needs to play the body every shift, get pucks out and deep. No team is an All-star team, no team can build a roster on skill alone. Teams need their role players to push the pace and clear space and their goal scorers to win the games. As a player, know your worth, your assets and exploit them to your full ability. That means whether its a game or a practice, not just winning 50/50 battles, but winning the 40/60 battles as well.
50/50 battles are easy to win, anyone can do it. But 50/50 doesn’t win hockey games. If every game was played 50/50, it would be a boring sport because no one likes to see a draw. Greatness can be measured in foot races, in out numbered battles on the walls, and getting on the ice early to get a few extra shots in. Greatness looks like 40/60. It’s knowing that if you want to win this game you will win every 50/50 battle, and when your opponent has a five foot advantage to that loose puck your wheels get shifted into overdrive and you win that race even though he was a faster skater. 40/60 players do the little things, not just when the scouts and the people are watching but when they’re alone at home shooting pucks or in their garage working on their hands. 40/60 players work overtime, because it’s in their nature. It’s not cutting a corner in practice because it’s easier, but holding the line and pushing yourself so far out of the comfort zone that you fail, because failure is how you learn. Time and time again pruning and polishing your skill set until you embed your skills into your muscle memory.
“Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.”
If you believe that skating in your practices a few times a week, playing games in season, and taking a summer vacation will help you excel, you are sorely mistaken. The game is changing every year, with upgrades in equipment, rule changes, and increasing knowledge in the coaching industry. Players need to be constantly on the move to not just keep up, but to push the pace. A 40/60 player doesn’t wait for others to show up at the rink for a pick-up game, the 40/60 player is on the outdoor rink an hour before anyone else because last night he saw a shootout move that he had to learn.
According to Malcolm Gladwell it takes 10,000 hours or nearly 10 years for a skill to be absorbed into muscle memory. That’s hours and hours on and off the ice training. Pushing yourself through every drill to go one step faster, to dig in a little deeper, and to bear down and find everything in you to get better. Off ice training is also vital for success. 40/60 players go the extra mile with shooting 500 pucks today, and then 1000 more tomorrow. It’s practicing your puck handling in your garage until your hands blister and callous over. Doing push-ups and sit-ups during commercial breaks of “Hockey Night In Canada”, and doing wall sits and squat hops during the intermissions of games. 40/60 is disciplined and focused in all aspects of their game. Day in and day out. Watch Sidney Crosby. Watch his work ethic, his intensity. Focus on the little things he does. Moving the feet on and off the puck, hunting and tracking, or finding the open space to support and be a passing option. Crosby is a complete player, and no one can deny that. He battles in the corners, wins the foot races and back checks, and when it comes time to bear down and put it home, he always finds a way. 40/60 players leave no questions unanswered, no room for regret. They put in the work, and it pays off. And when it doesn’t, they find their weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
Ask yourself, “Are you a 40/60 player? How bad do you want it?”