The Whyte Stuff: Let’s face the facts – hockey encompasses all sports
While serving as a player-coach in El Paso in the late 1990s, we had to vacate our dressing room due to the rodeo coming into town.
As we were moving our equipment out and loading it into vans, there were a couple cowboys standing there watching. One of them asked as I walked by if we were the hockey players in town, to which I responded we were. He then blurted out how crazy we were.
I chuckled and turned back towards the hombres to ask why they thought that. He explained that we must be crazy to move around on the ice the way we do, trying to stick each other all the time. He also mentioned he thought it was awesome we could fight, all the while skating on a couple of knives.
Although I felt he did have a point, I was quick to remind the young vaquero, who I found out was a bull rider, a couple of key facts. Our competitor is about the same size and weight as we are, is very much aware of the rules, and we have officials that step in when things get out of hand. He, however, attempts to stay on top of a very large and angry animal with horns growing out of its head, with his only protector being a clown – and he thinks that’s pretty normal behavior.
Later, as I was replaying the conversation in my head, I began to analyze a number of sports and the skills one needs to compete at a successful level. In doing so, I realized that pretty much all of them have at least one or two fairly strong similarities to ice hockey.
Football is a very physical, hard-hitting sport that demands strength, explosiveness and timing.
Basketball involves the mental aspect of a constant switch from offense to defense and back again, all within seconds.
Baseball relies heavily on keen eye-hand coordination while attempting to hit a moving object with a bat.
Soccer is a constant cardio sport that demands amazing footwork from everyone on the field.
Lacrosse is a team sport where success depends on each player’s ability to accurately pass or shoot.
Golf shows displays of power and technique off the tee, but finesse and soft hands on the green.
Ice hockey encompasses all of these skill sets, and more. It is a sport that brings brute strength together with agility, all the while where the athlete displays unbelievable moves with his stick and the puck. It is faster than any of these other sports, which in turn means a far quicker read and react time. And while they are focusing on making contact with an odd-shaped moving object, not only are they also moving, but someone is trying to knock them on their butt.
If these similarities in themselves do not convince the closed-minded critic that hockey is by far one of the most difficult sports to play, let’s not forget that they are doing all of this on ice while balancing on quarter inch blades of steel. I would be willing to place a large wager that anyone arguing this statement has probably never skated before, or if they have, they must have fell and hit their head while learning.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am an athlete that admires all sports and respects anyone that competes with passion and drive. There are reasons why the above-mentioned games generate billions of dollars each year – they are exciting to watch and extremely difficult to master.
Personally though, I take great pride in the fact that ice hockey is the most exciting and unique sport out there, and if you have ever played yourself, you should be proud, too.
Sean Whyte is the director of hockey operations and coach-in-chief at DYHA.