The Season is a Play With 6 Parts

Posted: 09/11/2010 by bc in Uncategorized

Luc Robitaille counts among his big thrills was getting on an airplane and traveling just to play a hockey game. For me that similar thrill was a chartered bus. Whether it’s the NHL, Europe, The ‘A’ or an elite travel team, the season is pretty much the same. It’s a six part play…

Part I: The Start

The Start lasts from the first day of camp through roughly a quarter of the season or the first 20-25 games an NHL team has played. Players who’ve already earned their spot on a team call it camp. The rest call it the tryout.

In the final act of The Start is when coaches and even GM’s tend to get fired. Players are evaluated and some are moved.

During The Start the roster gets settled. The lines and special teams get settled and the players learn their roles. This is also when surprise players and surprise teams begin to emerge.

Part II: The Groove aka The Holiday Season

The life of a full-time hockey player isn’t all that much different from us mere mortals. American Thanksgiving and Christmas throw off our diet and training routine. It’s that time of year when family, business and charitable requests peak.

Those 15-20 or so games between late November and New Year is when the season really starts to take shape. Usually by now the best teams and worst teams are established.

Teams and players reach their respective mean, highlighted by spikes and slides we call streaks and slumps.

For GM’s and team scouts this marks the beginning of the busiest part of their seasons. Player specific scouting assignments take on added importance. Teams are trying to decide is a specific can help them now. Teams know what they’re looking for to put the finishing touches in place. They don’t know who yet.

Part III: The Dog Days aka The Grind

Yeah, yeah after the holidays we all go back to work. Just don’t bug me about it. From January 1 through roughly Valentine Day or the All Star break is when we might bite a freakin’ head off for no apparent reason 😉

The grind of the season sets in. All those things we don’t like seem exaggerated. It’s like the entire world has six weeks of PMS!!!

Trade rumors begin to appear more frequently. The hockey is actually great because the guys are in mid-season form. It’s just nobody seems happy about it.

The Dog Days is when everybody, players, coaches and managers alike are having their “Come to Jesus moments.” The Top 5-6 teams in each conference know they’ve already made the playoffs barring massive interference from those pesky hockey gods and other gremlins.

Part lV: The Trade Deadline

From the All Star break or Valentine Day through the first week of March is the worst part of the season for many players. Not even so-called core players are safe from getting the trade willies. Especially core players on non-playoff teams.

Everybody’s tight. Nobody answers the phone on the first ring.

The week or two before the trade deadline is also when players get showcased. The ‘showcase’ is marked by the surprise call-up and rush into action. A backup goalie gets a surprise start. A top 9 forward or a top 6 d-man is a surprise healthy scratch.

Rookies don’t because they’re just not smart enough yet, but some guys really do keep an extra bag packed and ready to go.

Part V: Garbage Time aka The Stretch Run

If your team is on the playoff bubble, it’s the Stretch Run. If your team isn’t, it’s garbage time.

It begins with a ((((heavy sigh)))). The trade season is past. Everybody is in place.

The one thing that kind of dominates garbage time teams is play can get a bit selfish. Some guys are making a push for individual bonuses. Other guys are making a push for jobs next season.

It’s the one time of year fans and even the pro’s make the mistake of forming an opinion on a player based on Garbage Time performance.

If your team is fighting for a playoff spot, it’s totally different from garbage time. Instead of play tending a tad selfish, play is all about sacrifice and energy. If it doesn’t it means has either packed it in or just doesn’t have it in the first place.

Note: Generally, selfish play happens after the game or the season is decided. You’re down 3-4 goals with midway in the third. You’re about near eliminated from the playoffs.

Selfish play is not necessarily a bad thing. A guy is going for a record or milestone goal and all of a sudden his teammates are feeding him the puck even when they have the better scoring opportunity. A guy is going for a bonus that might be worth $25k or more.

Part VI: The Final

Every team reaches the final. Doesn’t matter when that final game comes. The final is an odd one. For all but two teams, it comes too soon. Only one team celebrates it.

The final is also odd in the sense that most guys pretty much know the likely outcome before the opening face off. That doesn’t mean you step out onto the ice defeated. Quite the contrary. You step out more determined.

If you can’t leave all you have on the ice in this one game then maybe hockey isn’t for you.

After the final fame is either party time or quiet time. One or even a few guys shed a tear. It’s like the day of the school year. You know this group isn’t getting back together again. It’s time for goodbyes and moving on.

For me personally, I never cried after a loss. I did well up a couple of times saying goodbye to good friends I knew I’d likely never see again though.

I did cry those two times I played on championship teams.

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