Hockey is more than just a sport; it’s a career that has given me the ability to provide for our family. After a lifetime within the game that spans nearly a half century, I’ve learned to recognize that almost every player can be placed into a category.
Needless to say, I have seen the full range of physical abilities and mental capacities: exceptional abilities (naturally gifted) to average and below-average abilities, the tall versus short, the thick versus lean, the strong versus weak, the highly-motivated to the unmotivated, and the “go-for-it” to the “oh, that hurts” toughness levels.
There are three general qualities that can be used to assess hockey players:
A- Natural/physical qualities – body type and physical abilities.
B- Talent/skill – ability to master on-ice skills and play within a team.
C- Mentality – hockey IQ level, work ethic, and ability to stay calm under pressure.
Various combinations of the general qualities create categories that almost every hockey player will fall into:
*Good or great natural abilities/physical qualities + highly talented/skilled + mentally sound.
*Good or great natural abilities/physical qualities + highly talented/skilled + mentally weak.
*Good or great natural abilities/physical qualities + lacking talent/skills + mentally sound.
*Good or great natural abilities/physical qualities + lacking talent/skills + mentally weak.
*Average or below average natural abilities/physical qualities + highly talented/skilled + mentally sound.
*Average or below average natural abilities/physical qualities + highly talented/skilled + mentally weak.
*Average or below average natural abilities/physical qualities + lacking talent/skills + mentally sound.
*Average or below average natural abilities/physical qualities + lacking talent/skills + mentally weak.
My thoughts on each category:
1) A gift from God. Major Junior, USHL, or BCHL
2) Easy to work with. Major Junior, USHL, BCHL, NAHL
3) Could be useful in some capacity. NAHL, Canada Jr A, High End Pay2Play
4) Difficult to keep. Low end Pay2Play
5) Can fill a role. Mid level Pay2Play
6) Can find a place for them. Pay2Play
7) Ever consider trying to be a ref?
8) Greater Metro Hockey League
The ultimate combination is category one. A hockey player with exceptional and natural physical ability, a high skill level, excellent hockey IQ, and mental toughness would be hard to beat. Future NHL players mostly fall into this category. To get just one of these players in a coaching career would be fantastic.
Even though the goal is to be at category one, one weakness can mean defeat, and this usually comes down to the mental aspect.
With that said, there is hope for the other categories.
Great hockey players generally have outstanding natural abilities, are very talented and skilled, and when the games are on the line they are mentally “on.” However, a poor mental error or the inability to be mentally tough can doom even the best players.
If you are not a naturally-gifted athlete, skilled and/or mentally sound – there is still hope. This is where the other categories enter the picture. There are plenty of these people out there. If you are one of these, here is how you can improve your chances of becoming a prospect:
Category 2: You are naturally talented but mentally weak. Get professional help before all that talent gets burned up before the body gives out.
Category 3: Work on your skills. Get into specialized position camps. Practice, practice, practice.
Category 4: You have ability. Time to work overtime on the skills and mental toughness.
Category 5: Your type is plentiful and always needed. You can make a difference. Keep getting into the weight room, stay in top condition, and do whatever it takes at practice.
Category 6: You are a rare breed. Look in the mirror and decide if you want your abilities to make a difference.
Category 7: Seriously consider a career as a referee and/or linesmen. It’s as close to the game as you will ever get.
Category 8: There’s a place in the game for players like this. Call Bob Russell.
Whatever your situation, heed this advice if you want to be a hockey player:
Do everything you can to improve yourself – practice hard, refine your skills, study the game/your opponent, improve your strength, speed, conditioning, body composition, and become mentally sound. Essentially, do everything you can to improve yourself, put in the work, and keep a positive attitude. If anything, you’ll at the least maximize whatever raw asset you possess.