When you’ve got hockey on your mind, all of life’s other hockey seems to hockey into hockey hockey.
The game brings us joy and exhilaration. It’s a game that brings us together. It’s a game we know. It’s a game we love. But we all realize that for us, hockey has always been more than a game. We play it, watch it, talk about it, and argue over it with an unrivalled devotion. It’s part of who we are. – Mike Babcock
Ken Baker is a goalie. (And as Jack Falla says, once you join the goaltender’s union, you belong in it forever.) He was a top prospect in high school for the U.S. Olympic team and scouted by the NHL, but he left the game in college when it was discovered that he had a brain tumor. Ken’s surgery was successful and he went on to have a journalism career working for US Weekly, but he left hockey behind. Eight years after he took off the pads, Ken had a dream one night that he was back in goal, and at age 31, he decided to stage a comeback and become the oldest rookie in pro hockey.
As someone who has made his share of mistakes, I am familiar with the collective errors of our human ways:
We lie to others and to ourselves.
We let love slip away.
We sacrifice long-term health for short-term happiness.
We don’t say what we mean.
We practice selfishness even though selflessness feels better.
We don’t listen to our bodies.
We recognize greatness in others but not ourselves.
We accept things as they are rather than make them what they could be.
We allow fear to keep us from embarking on journeys.
We let dreams die on our pillows.
Ken risked his career and moved away from his family to become the third-string goalie for the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL. He tells the story of his comeback in his book, They Don’t Play Hockey in Heaven, and though he sat out more games than he played, faced a lot of frustration and obstacles, and his dream wasn’t exactly as he’d pictured, he learned a lot about life.
By risking everything in my life, I ended up saving it. Pro hockey taught me nearly everything I will ever need to know about the game of life.
Believe in miracles. Everyone needs a team. Failure precedes success. Heart beats talent. Keep it simple. Hit or be hit. Play in the moment. A watched pot never boils.
Sports can teach us the value of training, practice and discipline, fair play, perseverance, adversity, teamwork, leadership, success, humility, and courage. They teach us how to win gracefully and lose with dignity and pride. To focus on what we can control. To let go of mistakes. To fight for our goals. They remind us to do better, fight harder, aim higher, not just individually, but collectively.
Even though I’m not a hockey player, I’m always learning from hockey. That no matter how down and out you feel, even if you’re down 3-0 in the playoffs, you can sit there and beat yourself up or accept the situation you’re in and fight hard. There is always hope. To hold your head up high and just focus on what you can control, like Roberto Luongo did throughout that fiasco in Vancouver.
To take a shot, because you never know whether or not it could go in. To stand up for what you believe in even when it’s not always easy, like David Booth, Mike Fisher, and James Reimer. That setbacks are opportunities for growth. That change is often scary, but it can also be a good thing.
That it’s important to forgive and not be too quick to judge others without giving them the opportunity to show us something different. That no one is immune to pain and loneliness, but we have it in us to keep fighting. To keep your cool and treat others with respect (no matter what), like Daniel Sedin when he reached down and handed Derek Engelland his stick moments after getting a shove after the whistle.
That it’s okay to get mad but not stay mad, because the one who angers you controls you. That those who challenge us only make us stronger. To take risks and dare greatly. That we can praise God and honour Him in everything we do.
To be kind to yourself, like Erik Karlsson is always preaching. That failure is not an identity, and the important thing is that we learn from our mistakes. No one is perfect. Once the puck is in the net, forget it. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future.
That loyalty to your team means staying with them through the good and the bad, and through both, you’re never alone. That there are high points and low points, and both are a part of life. No matter our differences, we always unite around the game like the circle of Devils and Senators, Canadians, Americans, and Europeans that stood together in unity to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers in Ottawa and Quebec.
That vulnerability and being yourself is the greatest act of courage. That life isn’t fair, but it can be good if you choose to make it that way. That though we all want our team to win the Stanley Cup, it’s the journey that matters in the end. Hockey is more than just a game.
I believe you can’t go wrong in life if you just try your best, whatever it is you choose to do and whatever the level of your abilities. – Walter Gretzky
Game Plan: Hockey, hockey, hockey.