Success Built On Intangibles
I was listening to the Spittin' Chiclets podcast a couple days ago and the subject of intangibles got brought up in the conversation. The podcast guest was Paul Bissonnette a.k.a Biz Nasty, the ex-NHL player and now radio color commentator for the Phoenix Coyotes.
For anyone unfamiliar with Bissonnette, he played over ten years pro with five of those years being in the NHL... predominantly as a 4th line grinder and fighter. But more importantly, he has the best personality of any NHL player I have ever seen. His twitter account alone has over a million followers and his sense of humor is unmatched.
Anyways, the point of this blog post is to talk about intangibles in hockey players. In other words, what little things help some guys get the success they want in hockey while others seem to fall short.
Bissonnette's conversation with Ryan Whitney (another former NHLer) hit this point on the head exactly with my thinking. Both Bissonnette and Whitney have been around the game their entire lives and have played with tons of different players and tons of different teams and they talked about how they knew so many guys who just had unbelievable skills or talent, yet they could never put it all together and make it in the NHL. While on the flip side, players like Bissonnette didn't have the best skill yet was able to stick around and play 5 years in the NHL.
They both swore up and down that the deciding factor was intangibles. There are only 186 top 6 forward spots in the entire NHL (6 per team and 31 NHL teams) yet there are a ton of extremely talented players in the world. In other words, if you're not one of the best 186 forwards in the world you better be able to bring something else to the table if you want to make it.
Bissonnette for example, was a good defenseman in the East Coast league (ECHL all star logging 30 minutes a night...not a big deal...) but he realized that while he was good at that level he would never make it any farther unless he adapted. He ended up moving to forward and starting to fight. Although he doesn't talk about it in this particular podcast, from following him you can tell he is a guy that is loved by his teammates and one of those 'glue' guys that every team needs.
Those became his intangibles.
His willingness to stick up and fight for his teammates all while being a good teammate got Bissonnette into the NHL and allowed him to have a successful professional career.
While they were talking specifically about players making it to the NHL, I'm a big believer that every decent player hits their "ceiling" at one point or another in their hockey career where if they want to keep going, they need to figure out what else they can bring to the table.
For me personally, I finally hit that ceiling in college. I was always a "Top 6" guy growing up. I had good speed and a strong understanding of the game that combined with my decent skill made me successful. When college rolled around I quickly realized that my decent skill was just that...decent.
I was no longer playing in a league against players where what I had always done in the past was going to be good enough. If I wanted to play and contribute I had to adapt and bring something else to my game that would separate myself from everyone else.
I figured out that if I wanted to play at that level, and play consistently, I had to also learn how to play physical and be a pest. In the past, I never worried to much about that stuff and spent most of my time worrying about avoiding players like that.
But I completely bought in to changing my game and playing that way. I had the mindset of using my speed to get to pucks quickly and hit everything that moved. It was honestly a fun way to play but also a very physically taxing way to play.
At that time, I had no idea that I had Celiac disease. I trained my ass off in the weight room and literally tried every trick in the book to gain weight. I'm talking eating six meals a day, drinking multiple protein shakes a day ( and the crappy ones of long ago that tasted like chalk), and eating a bowl of peanut butter every night before bed to try and pack on the pounds. I did all that because I wanted to be the best I could be. Unfortunately, I was never really able to weigh more than 165 pounds. Let alone I could never figure out while I always felt like crap and had stomach issues...
Needless to say, I don't have any regrets about my hockey career but I have caught myself wondering time to time how things might have been different as a player if I could have played at my current weight (anywhere between 195 and 200 pounds).
But anyway, the point I was making was that it was a tough style of hockey to play weighing only 165 pounds. While I committed to playing that way, it definitely took a toll on me physically. And I often took the brunt of the punishment with trying to play that way. It was not an uncommon scene for me to feel like I could hardly get out of bed on a Sunday after a hard two game series from the days before. But I wouldn't change that for anything.
I also committed to be a good penalty killer. Blocking shots and taking hits to make plays. These are all areas that I realized that if I wanted play at the NCAA level that I needed to commit to and become good at in order to be successful. Because I was willing to make these changes I was allowed to play 4 more years at a high level.
I firmly believe the same holds true for nearly all players out there. At one point or another, we all hit that ceiling of where if we want to keep going we have to add something else to our game. Things like being physical and having the ability to grind, or an expert penalty killer, or a great guy on faceoffs. The point is that all players if you're really serious about being the best player you can be and taking hockey as far as you can, should be asking yourselves, what else can I bring to my game?
The truth is, if you can think that way you already have a step up on a lot of the competition. I think there's a huge epidemic of players that are either too stubborn or just to lazy to have these honest conversations with themselves. There's nothing wrong with being a 4th liner and contributing to a team. It's about doing your job and understanding your role. If you don't believe me, look at a guy like Bissonnette who took limited talent and turned it into a successful pro hockey career.
What else can you bring to the table?