The Whyte Stuff: Examining the puzzle pieces of a successful hockey player
Over the years of playing, and then coaching, I have been asked the same question over and over again – What does it take to play in the NHL?
I have always laughed and blurted out the answer – Luck!
In all honesty, for my particular situation, that’s not too far off. However, my other key attributes were work ethic, determination, and a competitive nature that often offends those around me.
When a player (or the parents) feels that they have what it takes to play at the next level, they must take into consideration the many factors that must be in place for success.
The following are the key components that will determine if a player is truly on the road for success:
SKILL: Any aspiring athlete must excel in all skill areas that encompass a true hockey player. This includes skating, stickhandling, checking, shooting, lateral movement and explosiveness. If you are weak in any of these departments, your chances diminish exponentially.
DETERMINATION: This is one’s mental toughness and inability to give up. When frustration hits its hardest, the player stays focused and battles through. I played with countless highly-skilled players in the minors that never got a shot in the big leagues, mostly due to their lack of determination.
PERSEVERANCE: Despite any difficulties, failures, or who the opponent may be, the player continues to strive for success. Losses and setbacks are merely learning lessons for the next challenge.
PASSION/DRIVE: Hockey must flow through the player’s veins and be the absolute love of their life. They must have a clear and focused direction or path.
RESPECT: A player of success is one that respects all facets of the game. This includes one’s teammates, opponents, coaches, officials, the arena, and most importantly, the game itself.
DEDICATION: The time and effort that every NHL player has put into the game is incomprehensible to most people. But this is what is done and there should be zero complaining about it. An amateur works until they get it right; a professional works until they don’t get it wrong.
SMARTS: It doesn’t matter how skilled a hockey player is if they cannot think the game. Hockey is extremely fast paced and continuously involves players having to read and react.
INTUITION: Some of the greatest players in history were often said to have the same innate ability to see the play unfold seconds before it actually happened. One’s ability to go to where the play is going to be rather than where it is, is an invaluable quality.
PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES: The bigger and stronger a player is, the better chance they have for success. Being flexible, explosive and solid core strength are all very important in order to play hockey at the highest levels. You can’t teach size, but if that lacks, heart must compensate.
LUCK: This one factor is paramount. Throughout a player’s career, even at the youth levels, luck plays a key role in whether they will be successful or not. This can stem from having the right coaches, teammates, or parents. It can be whether the scout sees you at your best, notices the good plays and looked away when you made mistakes. It is being injury-free, or fully recovering from them. It could be another player getting injured when you are playing your best so you get the call to move up. It could be that Game 7 game-winning goal that you blindly shot towards the net and deflected off an opponent’s skate blade, trickled through the goalie’s legs, hit off the post and crossed the line.
Luck, fate, or owning one’s destiny – no matter how you look at it, all of these components must be maximized if you expect to achieve the goal of playing ice hockey at the highest level there is.
Sean Whyte is the director of hockey operations and coach-in-chief at DYHA.