Advantages in HockeyShareThis
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).
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.
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.