Commentary: What is a hockey player? This poem spells it out

On frozen ponds and indoor rinks across North America there are hockey games being played at almost every minute of the day. From Mite games on Long Island and Squirt games in Michigan to Tier 1 Junior A games in Iowa and college games in Kansas City, hockey players will be watched, scouted and evaluated by family and friends.

Some of those kids will be looked at as kids who can help a team win the Stanley Cup while others simply will be looked at for how much fun they are having on the ice.

Recently at the USA Hockey Level 5 National Coaches Symposium, Southeastern District coach-in-chief Ty Newberry read a poem to the gathered body of 500-plus coaches. It was clear that it moved many of those in attendance.

Newberry’s 20 minutes at the podium welcoming the coaches to his district set the stage for an incredible three days of hockey. The poem, “What Is A Hockey Player,” was read by his coaches in his youth hockey organization in Michigan before every season to his team. It stuck with him through all these years and those in attendance were thankful he shared it.

As this season gets under way with the NHL locked out, amateur players across the U.S. and Canada are once again back in uniform and ready to compete in the greatest game on Earth. Who are these kids who play our game? Read through this to catch a glimpse of the hockey player through a unique perspective.

Happy reading!

What is a hockey player? Between the innocence of boyhood and the dignity of man, we find a sturdy creature called a hockey player. Hockey players come in assorted weights, heights, jersey colors, and numbers, but all hockey players have the same creed — to play every second of every minute of every period of every game to the best of their ability.

Hockey players are found everywhere — underneath, on top of, skating around, falling over, passing by, twisting from, or stickhandling through the enemy. Teammates rib them, officials penalize them, students and fans cheer them, kid brothers idolize them, coaches criticize them, girls adore them, mothers worry about them, and dentists love them. A hockey player is courage on skates, hope in a helmet, pride in pads, and the best of young manhood in a jersey and breezers.

When your team is behind, a hockey player is incompetent, careless, indecisive, lazy, uncoordinated, and stupid. Just when your team threatens to turn the tide of battle, he misses a check, loses possession of the puck, misses a pass, skates offside, falls down, skates the wrong way, or completely butchers a play.

A hockey player is a composite. He eats like the Boston Bruins, sleeps like the Boston Bruins but, more often than not, plays like the Hairy Hills Hermits. To the publicity man of an opposing team, he has the speed of a gazelle, the strength of an ox, the size of an elephant, the cunning of a fox, the agility of an adagio dancer, the quickness of a cat, and the ability of a Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, Rocket Richard, and Bobby Orr combined.

To his own coach (for publicity purposes) he has the stability of mush, the fleetness of a snail, and the mentality of a mule — and is held together by adhesive tape, baling wire, and sponge rubber. He also has about as much chance of playing in the next game as would his grandfather.

To a former member of the team, a hockey player is someone who will never shoot as hard, skate as fast, check as viciously, try as hard, fight as fiercely, score as many goals, or generate nearly the same amount of spirit as did those particular former members of the team. A hockey player likes hockey films, trips away from home, practice sessions with pucks, hot showers, whirlpool baths, intercepted passes, assists on goals, and the satisfaction that comes from being part of a perfectly executed scoring play. He is not much for stops and starts, days when the ice thaws, after-game compliments, taping or calisthenics.

No one else looks forward so much to October or so little to April. Nobody gets so much pleasure out of knocking down the enemy, beating them to the puck, or winning a face-off.

A hockey player is a wonderful creature. You can criticize him, but you can’t discourage him. You can defeat his team, but you can’t make him quit. You can get him out of a game, but you can’t get him out of hockey. You might as well admit it, be you parent, coach, or fan — he is your personal representative on the ice, your symbol of fair and hard play. He may not be an All-American, but he is an example of our way of life. His is judged not for his race, not for his religion, not for his social standing, and not for his wealth but by the democratic yardstick of how well he checks, skates, shoots, and sacrifices individual glory for the success of the team.

He is a hard-working, untiring, determined kid doing the best he can for his team, his school, his college or his city. And when you come out of an arena, grousing and feeling upset because your team has lost, he can make you feel mighty ashamed with two words: “We tried.”

— from “What is a boy?” by Alan Beck