Over the past while, I have attempted to write some thoughts on this subject, dozens of times.

The problem is that every time I pick up a pen, I get a call from a player who needs my help, most often because they had made a poor decision.

Based on hundreds of observations, over many years, I believe that too many hockey careers come to an abrupt end, only because of players’ unwise decisions.

Players believe that they must follow a certain path to achieve their goals.

Unfortunately, they do not know the things that they do not know.

Their thoughts are generally formed, because they are familiar with the path of their favourite player, who has seen some success, and they believe that their route should be the same. Most often, nothing could be further from the truth.

Every player is unique, and so each path should also be expected to be unique.

“Sometimes in life, you have to make decisions that are best for you, not for everyone else.” Anonymous

Over this past month, I have become aware of at least 2 dozen hockey players, who (this year) decided that they were going to play at a certain level, and they grasped for (what they felt) was the brass ring, only to fall flat on their face.

When they called, most often, our discussions began with the phrase, “my coach hates me….”, or “that coach made a political decision….”

Unfortunately, if these players had taken the time to realistically look at their situation, they would have realized that they needed continued development in a certain aspect of their game, and they “reached too far”, at the wrong time.

Players must make decisions, not with their egos, but rather, with their heads.

“If you get your ego in the way, you will only look to other people and circumstances to blame” Jocko Willink

As with everything in life, egocentric behavior can sabotage a player’s career and hold them back from the success they that truly desire.

As an example, two weeks ago, I received a message from a player who is playing junior hockey.

At that time, he had under .70 of a point per game.

His team was performing well and had over 100 goals by then (average of 5 goals per game), for which 300+ points had been awarded (goals and assists). This player had 5% of the total points awarded to all the players on the team.

The player stated that he could not understand why he had not been called up to play at the next level of junior hockey, and why no one seems interested in him.

His ego was telling him that his success would be better defined if he was playing at the next level.

I suggest that his success would be better defined if he doubled his points at the existing level.

He is a 19 year old defenceman, and more than half of the other defenceman on his team are younger than he is.

As one of the older players, he should be leading in most categories. He is not.

I am the last person who would describe a player’s talent only by his stats (goals and assists). However, there is no doubt that it helps get attention, and often gets a player a second look.

At the time of his message, this player was ranked 54th of all defenceman in his league in total points, and was ranked 4th on his team. He had one goal in about 20 games.

This player needs to take an honest assessment of “where he truly sits in the game of hockey”.

To have a chance at future success, he needs to be content where he sits in relation to his game, and excel at the level he now sits, to enable him to move on to a higher level.

His existing team would be seen as one of approximately 300 teams feeding into the next level, including those of other 14-15 competing leagues in North America.

Since we spoke, 2 weeks ago, he has played 3 games and has not had a single point.

In the past 2 weeks, his team has had 13 goals, for which 37 points have been awarded. He has gone from 54th in the scoring race for defencemen (in his league) to 68th, and yet he feels entitled to play at that next level, and for some reason feels that he is being unfairly overlooked.

In the past 2 weeks, he has gone from .70 points per game to .60 points per game, on average.

I figure, he is ranked around twelve-hundredth (1,200th) in all defenceman in competing leagues in North America, and last week I consulted with two coaches (at the next level) and they felt the same.

What he does not realize, is that the teams (at the upper level) are all still sitting with 2-3 more players than they will be keeping past Christmas, and they will be looking to shed players over the next few weeks, to get their numbers down by the necessary deadline date(s). The league above that will do the same, and so many players are going downwards, and not many will be advancing in the 2018-19 season.

Maybe he will begin to get some attention by getting 2 points a game over the next 7-8 games, and have the opportunity to move up to the next level. But without that reason to give him a second serious look, no one will advance him along to play at the next level.

He truly needs to be satisfied where he is playing and he should concentrate on learning and improving his skills in his existing game, and not worry about who is treating him unfairly.

Following my discussion with this player, I went to Hockey TV and watched his last game. The team had a single goal scored against, and it was a result of the breakdown of his game. The goal was a direct result of his play, and no one else’s. If I was his coach, I would have sat him on the bench for the rest of the game.

I watched 4 of his other games, at random, and noticed similar things, in many of the goals against.

Instead of moping because of where he is playing this year, he needs to embrace it, and push his game to the next level, and become a sponge for learning opportunities.

As a 19 year old, (the truth is) he might have trouble sticking to his existing team, as other players move down from the upper level in the New Year, without an increase in his output.

This year, we have spoken to too many players who have “reached too far for the brass ring”.

Many players had earlier decided to try out for teams that they had no business thinking that they would make.

Do not get me wrong…. it is good to be confident…. It is good to “go for it”…, but players also need to be realistic…. and they need to make realistic decisions.

Decisions need to be based on achieving one’s LONG TERM GOALS. They should not be based on wearing the jacket of the more impressive team NOW, which is why too many players make unwise decisions, at the wrong time.

Too often, players have spent the first couple of months playing only 1/3 of their team’s games.

In many practices, they sit on the sidelines, while special teams practiced. They have spent 2 months (or more) second guessing what they were doing, and have not felt good about their situation.

The end result for many of these players, is that they will go to another team, at a lower level (by Christmas) and will be late arrivals on those teams, and have a delayed fitting-in period.

In many cases, they are despised by existing players because they end up breaking up existing lines, or special units, and displacing friends.

They often have a hard time fitting in, and their experience is, most often, less than ideal.

Often, they miss out on opportunities to be officially recognized as leaders, and instead become “one of the many”…., and they are always playing “catch up”.

Again, “it is the things that you do not know, that you do not know, which will cause the greatest pains in the game of hockey…”.

As another example of a bad decision by a player, I provide this recent scenario.

We have talked several times to a player, who has not played during the past 2 months.

This player is a veteran, who has been playing Tier II junior hockey for the past two years.

It seems that the player became very upset with his coach because he had made a decision that the player was not pleased with, and so the player stormed off and asked for a trade. The coach sent him home, and has not yet traded him.

He has missed 23 games so far this year.

From the team’s perspective, it has made some sense.

In mid-September, the player had little value, as other teams had not yet figured out their own rosters, and they were not in the “buying mood”.

At this time (2 months later), I am sure that the coach is entertaining several offers for the player’s services.

The player, on the other hand, has been away from practices and games, and his development has suffered as a result. He has been unable to add to his stats, and so he is less likely to bolster his worth to some of those other teams (let alone colleges and universities).

This player would likely have had many colleges following him very closely by now, if he was playing.

How does this player possibly answer the question when a college coach asks “why”?

No matter what the reason, there is never a good answer to that question.

Another player, whose hockey future has been determined by the decisions he has made, is currently playing major junior hockey, as a 20 year old.

In the CHL, teams are only allowed three 20 year olds on their roster, and so a 20 year old player is regarded as one with special talents.

This young man had a junior path that started off a bit shaky (as a 16 year old).

He was a late bloomer. He was undrafed by a major junior team at 16 years old.

There were several reasons why we believed he was a true late bloomer 5 years ago, and we were right.

He was seen as a very good hockey player, and many of his friends made the jump to the CHL, at 16 years of age. He had tremendous disappointment as his friends played major junior hockey, and he did not.

He played Tier II junior hockey, as a 16 year old. That, in itself, is very impressive, but for a young man wanting to eventually play pro hockey, he was very upset.

In his second year of eligibility, he joined a major junior club, a year later than most of his peers.

With the development that he received at the Tier II club, he was able to catch, and surpass his peers (and their skill level), who primarily sat in the press box for 1/3 of their team’s games, during Year 1. When they did play, it was sparingly, while he was given additional responsibilities at the lower level.

As a 20 year old, he remains on the major junior league roster, and one of the top players in the 60 team CHL Tier 1 hockey league, while most of his friends have been dropped by their teams, and are now playing Tier II.

This past summer, he spent time at an NHL camp, and (all reports indicate that) he has shown very well.

He has been offered a spot on a Canadian university team for 2019-20, but will likely play professional hockey, and return to university following that.

A young goaltender, who we worked with for 5 years, was offered several opportunities to play junior hockey in his mid and late teens.

Based on the playing time that he was getting at a (excellent) prep school…, exceptional coaching…., and the top notch academics…., we constantly were encouraging this player to keep playing where he was.

Most others (in the hockey world) were telling him that he would never play college hockey without playing 2-3 years of juniors,

This young man held off playing juniors, at our insistence. We were constantly talking he (and his folks) “off the ledge”.

Upon graduation from prep school (as a 19 year old), he began playing at a highly-regarded Tier II junior hockey club, and at a time he was ready (and able) to step in as the starter, and prove himself.

Just one month into the season, he was offered a D-1 opportunity for the following season, and he now is playing college hockey.

My belief is that if he had jumped two years earlier to play junior hockey, he would not have received the same development, nor the same academic training, which has later enabled him to play Ivy League athletics.

A common mistake that too many players make (with their ego) is to play junior hockey at a young age in a Tier II league that is not well suited to help them meet their long-term goals.

Although you would think that every Tier II league would be the same, they are not.

Every league has different policies (and other unique reasons) that make them very different and less attractive for recruiting purposes, than others.

Players often get quite excited at the prospect of signing with a junior club (any junior club) and they will jump at the opportunity, and not realize that they will possibly make a decision that will actually move them further from their long-term goals, by placing themselves in a less favourable league.

It is the things that players do not know, that they do not know…..

A number of players play Prep School level of hockey, and believe that all prep schools are the same.

There are many different prep schools, and leagues, and coaches…., and they are all different, for different reasons. There are some prep schools, which play in some very good tournaments, in front of lots of junior scouts and college recruiters, and there are many which play only at tournaments with parents and other students in attendance.

Some play 20 games, while some play 60 games in a season. Some play 20 games against high quality competition and some play 60 awful games (and vice versa). Some recruit 20 players for their top team, and some recruit 30. Some coaches have extensive hockey coaching experience, and some are wonderful basketball coaches (who happen to know something about the game of hockey). Every school brings something different to the equation, and should be fully vetted.

In the game of hockey, there are so many different considerations to take into account, as players make decisions, and we encourage players to make sure that they make them carefully.

It is important for a player to keep their eye on the prize.

After 15 years of helping players and families make those important decisions, we have seen it all.

If you think we can help you make wiser decisions, please drop me a line to talk about how we can be of assistance.


David MacDonald