Understanding your hockey role and accepting it is what makes a better team
By Matt Schoepflin
As hockey players get better (or older) and start playing on more competitive teams, things start to change. That’s when understanding your hockey role becomes important:
- Ice time is no longer equal
- Winning starts to be emphasized more
- Different roles have to be filled by players in order to build a successful—and cohesive—team
Some might strongly disagree with this line of thinking; others may say they agree as long as they (or their child) is still on the first line. And then there is the small minority who fully agrees with this reality. Personally, as long as it is age appropriate, I am 100% on board with this. I think that being a part of a team that emphasizes those three ideas teaches a lot of valuable life lessons.
The reality is that in the real world, life is not always fair. Someone is probably going to get a promotion or make more money than you at some point, even though you think you deserve it more.
I believe that’s one of the best lessons I have ever learned throughout my involvement with hockey: The importance of understanding your hockey role and accepting it in order to make the group better.
Honestly, it’s a humbling and often difficult experience at first. Let’s face it; we live in an often selfish, me-first type of world these days. And sports and hockey are no exception. Almost everyone thinks they should be on the first line, on the power play, and on the ice protecting the one-goal lead late in the third.
But the reality is, we all know that just isn’t true. And the crazy thing is that’s OK!
The Line You Play On Makes No Difference
As hockey players, we have this image in our head that if we aren’t the first-line center, then we aren’t as good or important to our team’s success.
I’m going to tell you that is completely false. In fact, I would argue that you would have a hard time finding a really great hockey team at any level that didn’t have a lot of depth—and role players—to go along with that top-end talent.
I look at some of the most successful teams I’ve ever coached. True, those teams were recognized by outsiders because of a few of our top-end offensive players. But when I look back at those teams I think about a couple of the stay-at-home defensemen, who were so strong in our own zone and in front of our net. And I think about a few of the role players whose specialty became killing penalties and blocking shots.
I’ll be the first to admit that those are not the most glamorous jobs. Nonetheless, they are absolutely vital to the success of the team.
The reality is that you simply can’t have four first-line centers. You need to have that third-line center who can shut down an opposing top offensive line, and maybe occasionally chip in offensively. Just like you need that fourth line to be strong in the defensive zone and give you a few great shifts when the team needs it.
I’m not saying that anyone should ever settle with their role, especially when still playing minor hockey. But I am saying you should embrace your role for whatever it is and make the most of it. You have to be able to look at it as doing your job and holding up your end of the bargain. That’s the true essence of understanding your hockey role.
For me, I have always related it to a wheel: Each player on the team is a different spoke on the wheel. When the whole team is doing their job, the wheel is strong and sturdy and rolls along smoothly. If there are a few who aren’t buying in, the wheel can still move and function but it’s not nearly as efficient. And when that road starts to get bumpy and tough, that’s when that wheel will fail you and understanding your hockey role should become a priority.
So whether you play every other shift or one shift a period, find a way to contribute. If you aren’t getting a ton of ice time, be a great teammate. Encourage your teammates, pump them up, show them that you genuinely want them to succeed. If you can learn to think this way, you’ll make it a hundred times further than if you don’t.
Remember, it takes all types to build a successful team. Make sure you’re one of the pieces of the puzzle that’s helping to carry the weight.
Matt Schoepflin is a frequent contributor to CrossIceHockey.com. He is passionate about coaching and giving back to the game that has given him so much. His website, Boost Hockey, helps hockey players grow into the individuals they want to be.