You know why I made it to the NHL?
Because on the weekends, I’d get as far away from him as I could. I would stay out of the house all day by myself, with nothing but a hockey stick and a ball. Deking, deking, deking. Shooting, shooting, shooting. Over and over and over until the stick became an extension of my body.
That’s it. That’s why I made it.
Once you get to the pro level and you witness how fast the game moves, you finally realize that no amount of running or weight lifting or private lessons is going to change one simple question: Do you understand hockey? Do you really understand the game? Do you know where that puck is going next?
Either you have it or you don’t. Screaming at your kid in the car on the way to a hockey game isn’t going to get them to the next level. Having a 12-year-old kid run six miles after practice isn’t going to turn them into Jonathan Toews.
You know when you actually get good at sports? When you’re having fun and being creative. When you’re being a kid. When you don’t even realize you’re getting better, that’s when you’re getting better. If you’re not engaged in what you’re doing, it’s as helpful as taking the trash out. It’s just another chore.
Having a 12-year-old kid run six miles after practice isn’t going to turn them into Jonathan Toews.
But that’s not what some parents, even normal ones, want to hear. Honestly, that’s not the direction youth hockey is trending. When I was in the NHL, I’d be doing my off-season workouts at the gym with Daniel Carcillo and some other NHL buddies, and we’d look over and see 12-year-old kids doing the same two-hour workout we were doing, with a trainer screaming at them the whole time. Half the time their parents would be there, yelling at them, too.
And it’s absolutely comical. It’s doing nothing.
True story: I played with Drew Doughty his rookie year in Los Angeles. He came into camp and he could barely do one rep on the bench press. He’ll laugh about it now. He was not in shape at all, at least in the way these “Old Time Hockey” blowhards talk about it. Then we’d go out for practice and he’d be the best player on the ice. Doughty was just a pure, natural hockey player with incredible vision and a brain for the game.
He was in hockey shape. He could think circles around you.
Either you have it or you don’t. All this hardass training stuff is just fluff, and it enables the same culture that allowed my father to treat me like an animal in front of other adults for so many years. It started right in the parking lot. People saw it. They just didn’t have the courage to say anything.
I’m not writing this article for my father. I’m writing it for the people in the parking lot.
Yes, if you say something, you may ruin the relationship you have with that person. You may get embarrassed in front of the other hockey parents. You may have to go through the awkwardness of filing a police report.
I can understand why a lot of people worry, “But what if I’m wrong?”
If you are wrong, that’s the absolute best case scenario. The alternative is that child is a prisoner in his own home. What you’re seeing in the parking lot or outside the locker room — whether it’s a kid getting grabbed and screamed at, or shoved up against a car — could just be the tip of the iceberg.
It’s so ironic, because the hockey community loves to talk about toughness and courage. In that world, courage is supposed to mean standing in front of a slap shot without flinching, or taking your lumps in a fight.
But that’s easy. That’s not real courage. Anybody can do that.
I guarantee you there’s hundreds of kids across North America who will get dressed for hockey this weekend with their stomach turning, thinking the same thing I did as a kid:
“I better play really good there, or tonight is going to be really bad.”
It just takes one person to act on their instinct and stand up for that child. That’s real courage. The kind we don’t always glorify in the hockey world.
PATRICK O’SULLIVAN / CONTRIBUTOR