By Warren Tabachnick
Losing sucks. For some, hockey defines us, consumes us—even completes us. And when a team finds itself bounced from the playoffs, there’s that huge letdown: pride is lost, dreams are shattered.
Maybe you had one of those seasons. One when you felt deep down inside that your team just ain’t good enough. Thoughts of “coulda, shoulda, woulda” are passed around like the bottle opener in your locker room after a game. So what do you do when your hockey team is out of playoff contention, or bounced from the playoffs?
We’ve all been there before. That sinking feeling of watching your season come to an abrupt end, squashing any hopes of a deep run in the post-season. The natural reaction in this situation is for your team to do some serious soul searching: What could we have done to better as a team? Can we put some decent players on the roster instead of the ones who consistently don’t show up? Is our goalie up to speed?
The important thing to keep in mind is not to place blame—on the goalie, ref, or any particular teammate. It takes an entire team to lose, just like it takes an entire team to win. And while you’re at it, don’t blame yourself. One game—or even an entire season—cannot be pinned on the back of any one person, regardless of how bad he or she may have screwed up. Sure, losing a game might sting a bit, but when you lose game after game, the doubt sets in and you and your teammates start to ask yourselves whether you can climb out of the hole you dug. Sometimes it’s a matter of you and your team being out of “puck luck,” plain and simple.
Whatever you feel the reasons may be, leave it on the ice. Unless your career is riding on the game or season, get over any gripes you have with your bench, the opposing team, and the referees, before you leave the rink.
For a hockey team that has a short run in the playoffs—if it makes it at all—this could be the perfect opportunity for your team to set aside their differences and work up some new strategy. If you play on a team that takes competition to serious level, plan a barbecue or gather at a local pub for a team meeting. Confront those problem no-show individuals who, game after game, make promises they don’t keep. And for those teammates who just don’t cut it, you may try to gently suggest an alternative team, division, or league (this one is trickier).
In hockey, as in life, there are many variables. Hockey players have a passion for the game like no other sport. But no matter how upset we might be at ourselves or our teammates, we still keep coming back for more.
Warren Tabachnick is the Editor & Publisher of CrossIceHockey.com. He has experienced his share of losing seasons.