Coached by Gretzky

You’ve probably seen this before. Even if you have it’s still worth another look. These are the instructions given to Leafs players prior to the 1962 season.

Knee bends? Was Mr. Burns the Leafs’ strength and conditioning coach? “You still owe me 10 more Iroquois Twists!”
How things in the NHL have changed. I can’t imagine the level of fitness required to play hockey at even the most basic of competitive levels. The NHL offseason has basically been reduced to a two months for players, less if your team goes deep into the playoffs. While we agonize over Nazem Kadri’s conditioning it’s important to keep in mind that even the “laziest” NHL player today is in much better shape than even the top players were in the Mid 20th Century.
Hell, I can do all these things. Yet I was completely gassed twenty minutes after stepping on the ice for the first time in six months last night. If you’ll recall I decided to start playing hockey last winter. It’s been a humbling experience. I feel like I take one step forward and then two steps back. For every basic skill I master- be it simply stopping or cross-overs- I still crash into the end boards after taking a shot on net off the rush. But I don’t care, I love every second of it.
Last night I got run up and down the ice by a bunch of girls. I was absolutely expecting it to happen. But I learned a lot more than I have playing with men. I learned that I was holding my stick wrong, I learned that I needed to bend more at the waist when handling the puck.. 
Now my experience is the definition of a small sample size, but I imagine the way I was being taught by men is akin to how Wayne Gretzky must have coached the Phoenix Coyotes. “Just go out there and score, fellas”. Not that I didn’t receive some valuable advice from my male counterparts but last night someone told me I was holding my stick wrong after one shift. They seemed to pick up on the little things that had gone unnoticed by the other tutors. 
I’m not entirely sure as to why this might be the case, but I think that generally speaking, the men who have taught me have played a lot more hockey, and learned these basics so long ago that they now do these things on autopilot. Many of these women started playing more recently, or have played much less hockey and so they are more conscious of all the tiny movements and adjustments that need to happen to make one’s game look smooth and polished. 
Slowly but surely I’m improving, and it’s comforting to know I’d be in good enough shape to show up to the Leafs training camp in 1962.

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  • Danny Gray

    You’re going to need to elaborate on the “Holding your stick wrong” because until you do I’m imagining you holding it upside down.

    Incidentally, if that were true it would probably help explain why you crash into the boards when you try and take a shot.

  • RexLibris

    Earlier this past season Tom Gilbert’s scoring and assists began to improve. When he was asked by the media if he had done anything differently to train he said that he had adjusted how he held the stick.

    Here was a player who had spent years in college hockey, and the NHL and was adjusting his stick grip as a seasoned veteran, a small adjustment, and it made a tremendous difference.

    The smallest details, the ones that are often overlooked, can have significant impact.

    I’m reminded of the scene in Bull Durham where Crash tells Eddie that “the rose goes in the front”.