By Brandon Naurato –
In a recent column on MiHockeyNow.com, I talked a lot about adversity and the ability to recognize that it can be a good thing. The message throughout that article could not be delivered at a better time than right now. The USHL Draft is now over and the NAHL Draft is right around the corner. There are a handful of families and players celebrating their success, while others couldn’t be more disappointed. The advice moving forward is simple…STICK TO THE PLAN! Keep working hard in the gym, continue to work on your development as a player on the ice, and become a student of the game off the ice. And most importantly, keep your passion for the game and enjoy it every time you step out on the ice.
We are lucky to live in an area known as “Hockeytown.” Every single year, players from the state of Michigan are being drafted in the NHL, signing letters of intent to top Division I programs, and moving on to junior hockey teams across the country. We have former NHL players giving back to youth hockey to continue to grow the game that we all love with the passion to help educate young players in the area on exactly what it takes to play at a high level. They also understand that it is still just a game and the most important part is that you have to continue to have fun and enjoy it.
The tough part about this sport when you are an elite player around the ages of 16-18 is that the game takes a hard right turn from fun into a full-time job and a business. The reality is that continuing to play after midget or high school hockey is not for everyone. And that’s OK. But if you do have aspirations of playing at the next level, then please read the rest of the article very carefully.
This game is tough. This game is mentally draining. You will face adversity and you will fail. You will be told that you’re not good enough. You will get traded, released, or healthy scratched. The days of being told that it’s OK and you will do better next time are over because the coach you are playing for puts food on his family’s table by doing one thing and one thing only…winning.
So my advice to the young hockey player who wants to play junior and college hockey is to understand right now that there will be more tough times than good times and you cannot play this game unless you absolutely love it. Erik Condra is a Livonia native that currently plays for the Ottawa Senators. Last summer, he spoke to a group of AAA and high school players at the TPH Junior/College Prep Program and walked them through his path to the NHL. Erik talked about his youth hockey days with the Honeybaked ‘86 team and how it was a struggle year after year just to stay on the team. He was the ninth forward out of nine from squirt through midget hockey. He spoke about all the other great players in his birth year from Michigan and all over the country, and how parents, coaches and scouts raved about these other kids while he was fighting just to stay in AAA hockey. Erik is now playing in the National Hockey League while all the other players that were perceived to be better than him at 16 years old are now a distant memory. The one piece of advice that I will never forget is when he said, “Without my passion and love for this game, I never would have survived as long as I did.”
Having “fun” to elite hockey players is the thrill and adrenaline rush of competing against your teammates every day in practice with the goal of making each other better. It is driving on a bus for six hours to play two games on the weekend, getting back on the bus to go home for a 4 p.m. game on Sunday and sitting in the locker room after three games in three nights with six new points in the standings, blasting the radio with your buddies and knowing that you laid it all on the line. Then Monday comes quick and the grind starts all over again. A pat on the back from a coach or a hug from a teammate after a big goal is what drives us to continue to work and enjoy this great game. You don’t do it because you have to anymore…you do it because you want to and it is who you are.
Are you a hockey player or do you just want to dress up like one? Keep fighting the good fight, stick to the plan, and no one will ever be able to take away what you have earned in this great game. Hockey will end one day for all of us and when that happens, it will be your turn to teach the next generation what it really means to be a Hockey Player!