Hockey is a simple game. Sticks made from trees, skates handed down to you from older family members, pucks that have seen happier days, ice where you can get it. At least that’s the Norman Rockwell-meets-Canada version of simple. Even with $200 Warrior sticks, custom-molded skates, pucks that are carefully chilled by our team’s puck carrier, it’s still a simple game. Skate hard, shoot hard, pass to your teammates, play your position.
The mental game is hard. In an hour, we face a tough league opponent in our Pee Wee division. “We” is not me, personally, as I’ll be running the clock and scoresheet and cheering quietly, mumbling within the bounds of being an off-ice official for the game. But “we” is our team, today somewhat smaller in numbers due to soccer tournaments, concussions, knee injuries, and religious events. A quarter of our team is not playing today, and you can’t ask 12 year olds to step up a quarter more than they have. It will be a mental game, of who wants to be the fastest, strongest, and smartest hockey player.
I could say the same things about the NHL Devils. There are games when they look brilliant, and games when they look like a quarter of the team didn’t make the game. It’s not just the defense — they’ve scored all of five goals in three games. It’s not lack of intensity, as Cam Jansen has redefined “knucklehead” with his knuckles on someone else’s helmet. It’s not bad penalties, because they’ve been playing cleanly. Here’s what it is: a limp power play. Lack of drive to the net, or guys setting screens in front. Too many shots from the point that have no prayer of deflection, because either there’s nobody there to deflect them or they’re shot into a maze of shin guards.
Tonight the Devils skate down one more: Gomez is home with a re-aggravated groin injury. Sorry to see him off the ice but happier to see him treating this before it turns chronic. For the other tail-n-horns guys up in Montreal, skate one more: one more step, one more drive to net, one more pass to the open guy (if he’s open), one more check along the boards. Everything starts with one more, whether it’s shots or goals or power plays or nice saves. And that starts with the mental game, going one more than the physical game.