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Advantages in Hockey



In sports, being slightly better has major advantages.

As Malcolm Gladwell discussed in “Outliers”, a huge percentage of NHL hockey players were born in January, February, and March.

The reason for this is as follows: At the age where we start separating kids into the ”elite” and “for fun” groups, we separate the advanced kids from the ones who do stuff like re-tape their stick without peeling off the previous layer (if you’re reading this, and you do that, feel free to feel some shame).  At eight years old, a kid born in January has had a lot more time to develop than the nearly-eight-year-old born in December, yet the kids play the same “year” of hockey.

So, the older, probably bigger kid makes the cut – in turn, he gets more ice times, better coaching, and plays with better kids (I literally summed up 100 pages of Gladwell in four really long sentences).

Its not your kids fault, its yours.

Its not your kids fault, its yours.

He gets better, and next year, the gap between him and that kid born in December is wider (fine, five).  And now the December kid has started wearing yellow laces and taping his stick with multi-colour fun-tape.  It’s not okay.

Thus, that slight advantage snowballs into major gains for the early-year birth (which sports-obsessed fathers have become keenly aware of. There are plenty of Dad’s trying to time the early-year birth these days).

So, in the same spirit, I thought I’d mention how players in the higher professional leagues enjoy an advantage to those players trying to work from the bottom up (and I don’t mean the millions of dollars and groupies).

This is meant to be aside from the smaller advantages, which add up in their own right: unlimited sticks, so they’re always crisp.  Better medical and training staffs.  Flights over buses.  Better meals.

The advantage is that it’s actually easier to think and play in higher leagues.

As you move higher in the ranks, your teammates have better hockey smarts.  They tend to play their position, they tend to stay in their lane.  You know you can trust that they’ll be where they’re supposed to be, and it’s easier to play (no-look a pass to the point in the ECHL and you might be icing the puck into your own zone).

This is why NHL fans see a lot of AHL players come up, play fine, not hurt the team, but never stick – it’s actually easier to think the game when it’s more controlled, as the higher leagues are.

They don’t stick because, any half-decent player can fit into a system and do fine, especially when everyone is doing their part properly.  In the NHL, and AHL, if you aren’t doing something on top of what the teams system is, you’re expendable.

Returning to the ECHL after spending time in the “A” feels like you’ve gone back to play in your high school gym class’s ball hockey game.  The entire pack of people seems to chase the ball.

But the league is extremely talented… don’t get me wrong.

People assume the NHL is comprised of the most talented players – it’s really just the most talented that managed to avoid the idiot gene.

What this means is, there are plenty of players that are just as talented, but sadly, did get beaten with the genetic idiot stick.

God I hope I never have to play with that Bourne kid.

God I hope I never have to play with that Bourne kid.

And what that also means, is that for a lot of ECHL’ers (or CHL’ers, SPHL’ers…) trying to move up the ranks, you’re trying to figure out where Gretzky the Clown on your line is headed to next.

This is a unique problem that a guy like Kyle Okposo will rarely have to deal with (I say rarely, because he did get stuck with me as a linemate for a weekend), whereas some kid playing in “the Coast” trying to prove himself to scouts can end up minus three simply by having brain-dead linemates.

I played with a number of kids who must have had promise in junior, because they had been signed to three-year NHL deals out of junior (sidenote: all these kids get the same contract now – can we not flip Tavares an extra 20 bucks for helping the Isles sell 53,000 jerseys?).

Frankly, a lot of them (most?) weren’t very good.  But by signing that deal, it gave them the time at a high level in a more controlled game to develop their talents – an opportunity not afforded those who weren’t ahead of the game by junior.  The good thing for them is, the organization is invested in them, and doesn’t want those contracts to look like bad decisions. 

Hey, I'm here to help.

Hey, I'm here to help.

So yeah – there’s some Earth-shattering insights about a few advantages some players are afforded over others, take what you want from it.  Maybe not ground-break stuff, but hey.  The More You Know.
So, pretty soon you’ll start seeing some ads on my site.  I like it pure as much as the next guy, so I hope you can understand that I put a pretty good chunk of daily time into this blog, so it’d be nice to collect six or seven cents on it occasionally.  Apparently, engagment rings don’t pay for themselves.  Thanks for your understanding.


16 Responses to “Advantages in Hockey”
  1. smoboy says:

    My brother’s going to be a dad in a couple of weeks. I’ll tell him to start working on his “stay in school’ speech.

  2. Bob says:

    I guess Hussles McTwo-Socks was a December baby eh?

  3. Meg Jarrell says:

    I knew there was a reason my Drew Doughty is special…he’s a December baby, and apparently the exception to your theory. And might I point out that Ovie is a huge fan of the yelow laces, and he seems to do all right….

  4. Do you think stick tape color makes a difference to goalies? If I am playing goal and a kid is coming down on me with fluorescent yellow tape, I think it would be probably easier to track what he is doing with the puck than white tape against white ice. Maybe I’m crazy.

    That’s cool they stuck you with Kyle, during rookie camp I assume. We all know he has sick skills but personally what was your impression of his game? Having met him briefly I can verify that he has one of the manliest handshakes I’ve ever encountered. He just crushes your hand to dust and then whips your entire arm in the socket. It was an experience. But seriously he had gigantic forearms and his wrist was around the circumference of a brick. That’s the strength that translates to being strong on the puck.

  5. Marc says:

    Meg: Ovie also drove a golf cart into a closing garage door at full speed. Yellow laces make you do dumb things and thats a scientifically proven fact.

  6. jtbourne says:

    Nnnnno, played with Kyle in Bridgeport. He’s a soft-spoken nice guy, who’s a bull of a human. Very strong for being so young.

    As for tape colour, I really think it makes no difference. White makes your stick look best.

  7. jtbourne says:

    When you’re the best in the world, you’re allowed to do a few weird things.

  8. Hey Justin, not sure if you are on Twitter – just Tweeted this post (little exposure for you)

    A Must Read article I just read on how playing in higher leagues gives some a few big advantages #Hockey #Gladwell


  9. jtbourne says:

    Thanks Bruce, too bad the timing for the Phoenix thing was just off!

  10. possum says:

    Maybe it’s because an ECHL team is my home team, but this is one of your better articles man. I’m going to have to share it with the Checkers’ message board, we have a lot of fans that think they know what goes on in the dressing room, on the ice, and in the players’ heads.

  11. jtbourne says:

    Thanks bro. I have an opportunity with USA Today, so I was trying to write them some original content. I deemed this one not-quite-worthy, so it probably reads more like an article than most of my blogs. Thanks for the plug, the more readers the better!

  12. John says:

    Good stuff, good read.

  13. Far North says:

    A comp league representative in my area pretty much told parents that if their kids didn’t enter the competitive program as mites, they’d probably never get in.

    The pressure to choose/be chosen for the “elite” track starts very, very early.

    What’s strange is that academically, any primary grade teacher will tell you that there are huge differences in skill levels when kids enter school, but that by third grade many of the “tortoises” have caught up with or surpassed the “hares.” If that’s true academically, isn’t it likely to be true in kids’ sports as well?

    I’d like to see programs wait a lot longer before separating players into comp or house leagues. What age do you think is appropriate, Justin?

    One more thought . . .

    In his book “Hockey Tough,” sports psychologist Saul Miller talks about something he calls “big guy easy syndrome” . That’s when big young players rely on their size advantage, and don’t develop a strong work ethic. They can get by with this for a long time . . . but eventually it catches up with them. Being the biggest 12-year-old on the team is probably a great advantage in the short-term . . . but maybe not in the long-term.

  14. jtbourne says:

    It totally is true in sports, as in school, but kids get labelled so young, it’s impossible for them to prove it. I was fortunate to live in such a hockey-dense area that when I got cut from the top teams (as in, every year until I was 16), there was still mid-level competitive hockey. I know that’s not an option everywhere, where its either all-star awesome hockey, or crayons up your nose, kids with helmets on backwards hockey.

    I’d say by nine/ten years old some kids are definitely ready for better coaching and harder competition. Anything earlier than that seems absurd.

    As for the Saul Miller book (I read that too), I was the opposite. I was smaller when I was younger, so I learned the nifty little survival skills, so that by the time I was almost 6’2″ I still have puck skill with some size. It got a lottt easier when I finally did grow.

  15. minnesotagirl71 says:

    Far North – the tortoises have probably caught up with the hares by 3rd grade because the nature of the beast (the beast being public education) slows the hares down. Teachers have to teach to the middle of the class – the tortoises might get some extra help, but the hares generally aren’t able to keep moving at their own pace so they have to slow down to the pace of the class.

    I’m not disrespecting public education (I’m a proud product of it and an employee of our local school district). It’s just the reality of one teacher doing his or her best to teach 25+ kids at various levels of ability.

    Athletics are the exact opposite – in general – the best get more attention, more playing time, access to better facilities and the lesser skilled players get less attention, etc. So the gap widens….

    I wish that communities would be able to provide more levels of play – competitive, less competitive, house leagues, pick up games, etc. The more kids we can keep involved in athletics (at whatever level) the better!

  16. jtbourne says:

    Yeah, you rocked that comment. That makes a lot of sense.

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