Manager Bantam A
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For the past couple days I’ve been trying to make a little sense of last weekend’s proceedings. As you head forward to whatever you’re going to do in hockey, I’d like for you to realize a couple things.
First, that I really enjoyed working with you. You have good ears and good hearts. You got along with each other. You played with enthusiasm, and you paid attention. You treated other people with decency. You carried yourselves well.
And you got better. All the way through.
And I wasn’t the only person who saw it. I can’t tell you how many coaches and officials mentioned after games that they liked the way our team played. The East Grand Forks head HS coach saw my Northfield jacket at the concession stand and asked me to tell our high school coach that the EGF schedule is already booked for next year but he’d like to get us on their schedule for the following season. The supervisor of officials watched our games at regions and heaped praise on you guys after the Chaska-Chan game for the way you play and carry yourselves. After the championship game, he told the coaches that he wished he had a video of our game to show teams around the state how to play effective physical hockey. I really liked our game.
I know it wasn’t always apparent. I do some barking. I don’t like to see energy wasted, and whether it’s through technique or mindset or positioning or performance, I take steps to eliminate such waste. You understand enough about the game to eliminate that waste and build a great team together. You will have to hold yourselves and your teammates accountable, but you know enough about what’s important to do that building together.
Which brings me to the second, more important thing. While that team you’re building–that ability to work together so effectively–is precious, it is also resilient. If you’re bringing an honest effort, you’re not going to break it. I think you have experienced what it means to be a member of a team that kicks arse together. You weren’t the biggest or strongest or fastest group (though if you want to pursue this game, you should take steps to improve those areas in the future). What you are able to do better than any team we played this year is to work together.
There were times when we lost sight of that tremendous team strength. Early on, when we played big physical teams, we had to figure out how to protect the puck and win battles even when we aren’t the biggest dog in the fight. Danglemania hit right around the holidays, and for a while we weren’t sustaining possession the way we can. And toward the end of the season, we had patches where we were more concerned about not soiling the bed than pursuing what we can be.
So that second, more important thing that I want you to realize is that the work you’ve done together is your greatest strength. It is to your credit as good people that you don’t want to let down your teammates, but you’re at your best when you set aside that concern and hunt for your best. You guys hunt as a pack, and that passion–the smarts and skills and toughness and togetherness and self-sacrifice that go into that pursuit of your best–is what you have more than any group I’ve worked with.
That togetherness didn’t fall out of the sky, and there’s no guarantee that it will continue. As you move ahead, other facets of your lives will require attention. You may find other interests, you may forget what matters about hockey, you may find other social agendas that make hockey less important or valuable. At some point–maybe next year, maybe next century–you’ll be physically unable to play at a high level, and your competitive playing days will end.
Hockey doesn’t have to be important. In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a game. As a group, you’ve earned what you’ve made through hard work, and what you do with it is for you to decide.
In the meantime, I will tell you this:
If you focus on the hunt, the hardware will take care of itself.
What you have that cannot be stolen isn’t a lead or a chance not to blow it; what you have is the joy of the hunt, of seeking your best together, those moments when you know you’re on the same page and dialed in and making good things happen. When all of us are better than any of us. When we--who are not the fastest, not the biggest, not the strongest--will find a way to play better than the other guys.
You want to know why I roll my eyes at cellies? Because the vast majority of them miss the point.
This country does plenty with style–we have Hollywood, we have Vegas, we make dreams that we sell to the world, but I don’t see many of them that are truly rooted in the world. Far more sizzle than steak. Far more style than substance. BS is fine as fertilizer, but it’s not a healthy human diet. What you guys have together is worth a lot more than flash. A lot more than appearances. It’s substantial, and nobody can take it away from you.
The times you’ve run into trouble–wasting two periods against Edina in the semis before turning it on and catching back up; making a tough, draining game of it against Northern Lakes in the Fargo semis; spitting a two-goal third-period lead against Chaska-Chan in the region semis; allowing one guy to make the difference in the semis against Northern Lakes–(do you see a trend here?)--have all been situations where we’ve realized that we’re close to some trophy and we start worrying about not screwing it up rather than digging into our game.
You can hold your stick or you can reach for the hardware, but you can’t effectively do both. Trophies are brittle–they break. You worry about what you’d lose, but it’s the worrying that costs you what no one else could take from you.
When you worry, you don’t play. You’re no longer hunting. And you, as a group, are really good hunters.
If you pursue your best, the results will take care of themselves. You don’t have to look beyond the third period of your last game together, when you quit worrying about soiling the bed-sheets and just got after it.
Hockey doesn’t have to be important. But it can be. And I can tell you that kicking ass together is not an opportunity you find everywhere. Kicking ass together makes life better. And if you’re willing to invest, the returns for such endeavors will stay with you for the rest of your days.
Some things we can improve when we play them next...check video here. Annotated portion of 2nd period starts at 13:35:42--the last five minutes or so.
3rd period of 1st Owatonna game is processed.