In the last few years, most players who wanted to play junior hockey could find a spot, camp out there, and live the dream. If you could pay, you could play. However, this year has proven to be much different, and next season will likely be more of the same. There are many who need to adjust their mindset. What I have to say isn’t likely to win me any friends, but it needs to be said.
You are not simply playing for the team you are on. The second you sign a junior contract, you aren’t in youth hockey anymore. You are from that day forward on an extended try out that doesn’t end until you hang up the skates for the last time. You must compete every single practice, every team workout, and every shift of every game to earn not only playing time but your shot at the next level. That team you are playing on is simply the vehicle to get you there, and there is ALWAYS someone watching you. This is big boy hockey.
There are no guarantees of playing time, and I don’t care what that coach told you. He wasn’t lying either, even if he told you that he saw you as a top 6 forward, and that wasn’t where you ended up. That was his assessment at the time, and if he had an opportunity to bring in a better player later on, or you didn’t put the work in and someone else did, well, things change. Suck it up, buttercup. It’s time to get to work. The coach’s butt is on the line, too. He needs to keep the GM or the ownership group happy by showing up with a winning team so he can put butts in seats so the front office can get sponsorships and so he doesn’t end up on the chopping block as well, all the while balancing player development and keeping parents happy or at least not breathing down his neck.
Making a team doesn’t guarantee you stay there, even if you paid for it. Of course, most of these teams have every intention of keeping and developing players. They look good when they move guys up. The team looks good when players want to return. However, if a player has a bad attitude or work ethic or is just a general pain in the rear, in years past they might have kept the kid if they needed bodies, but this year? No way. That kid is going to be replaced. The team has to do what is best for them, and coaches can even like you a whole lot but still not have a spot on their team for you. It’s business.
It’s a rough game, and I’m not talking about on the ice. A junior hockey journey is a roller coaster ride, and whatever you think you have planned might just blow up in your face, but you can’t dwell on what you thought the plan was. You have to constantly adjust and make the best of what is in front of you right now, and keep moving forward.
It is very similar to my own parenting journey. When I got pregnant, I thought it would go the way it seemed to go for everyone else I knew, but it didn’t. The pregnancy was miserable with multiple issues, and ended up being very high risk because he was also expected to have some rare and possibly very severe issues. I was in intensive care after the birth that came earlier than expected, and for the first few years of his life, they weren’t sure he would survive past the age of 12. Literally nothing went the way even the doctors thought it would. While my friends were celebrating milestones with their babies, I was dealing with constant doctor’s appointments, surgeries, and hospitalizations among a host of other things.
Four months into his life, his father left, and I had no family nearby, so I had to deal with most of it alone. It wasn’t at all what I envisioned when I thought about having a baby, but it was what I got. My plans were not just thrown out the window, but the universe ripped their guts out, stomped on them, and set them on fire. My only option was to just keep going.
Junior hockey can be like that. You are allowed to mourn the loss of your plans, but your time is better spent dealing with assessing where you are now and how you can get to where you want to be. Expect those plans to change, and don’t let your expectations get in the way of reality. It’s not over until it’s over, but it’s over if you think it is.
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