Hanging up my Skates: Leadership Lessons in Hockey and Life

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I really don’t know what to do with myself right now, this is the first season since I was 6 or 7 years old that I won’t be playing competitive hockey. For a lot of people its easy to move on from high school and youth sports, but this game means a lot to me. I’ve been lucky enough to play hockey for dozens of teams, in three countries (the US, Sweden, and Belgium), and even won some pretty cool things along the way, including two national championships in Belgium, and one runner up in the US.

Defending the net for the Leuven Chiefs (Belgium) Circa 2010
Defending the net for the Leuven, Belgium Chiefs Circa 2010

For most of my life the rink has been a place of solace, camaraderie, and most of all, fun. One of the most important things I learned from my time in oversized fridges across the globe is the importance of work-ethic, however I also learned that there comes a point where a relative lack of talent simply outweighs hard work. Having run smack into that point at ASU club hockey tryouts the last two years I’m deciding to step away from the game, but the lessons I’ve learned will always stay with me.

Be willing to work

Even though I’ve failed to reach the goals I set for myself as a college hockey player, there is one thing that I will take away from the past year or two more than any other. Discipline. Getting up at 4:45am to go skate Monday and Wednesday all summer sucks. But what sucks even worse is failing and subsequently wishing you’d put in more effort. Even with that effort the last year of hockey has become a total write off, but I worked harder than I ever have towards a goal, and the discipline I built will serve me well. Everyone has spurts of motivation from time to time. However a key to success, and to setting a positive example as a leader, is working hard even when your motivation is lacking. It’s easy to do things when they are appealing or convenient, but it sets you apart when you can accomplish those same tasks despite obstacles.

Mentality sets you apart

As a goaltender, or any other leader, your mental approach is key to success. I remember being at Henrik Lundqvist‘s goalie camp during one of my years in Sweden and hearing him talk about how there are probably a few hundred goalies scattered in pro leagues around the world who have the technical skills to play in the NHL. Hank went on to say that what separates all these goaltenders is their mental approach. The goaltenders that stick in the NHL are the ones who play up to their full talent level every time they’re on the ice. Furthermore when goaltenders, or people, show the same consistent approach and get results night after night others naturally look to them for reassurance and leadership. The best leaders have a positive, consistent, mindset that radiates to everyone around them.

In 2014 my New Jersey Bandits travel team took second at Tier II Nationals.
In 2014 my New Jersey Bandits travel team took second at Tier II Nationals. Guess I did peak in high school.

The most important save is always the next one

“Get up! Get to the next puck! Get set! the most important save is that next one!”. I can’t count the number of times I heard my high school era goalie coach yell some variation of these phrases at young goaltenders fighting through physically and mentally draining drills. Shooters don’t always wait for you get into perfect position, and neither does life. It doesn’t matter how nice your last save was, or how terrible your last mistake was, if you mess up the opportunity in front of you. There will be time to analyze your mistakes later, but that shouldn’t take your focus off the opportunities in front of you. Similarly, don’t discount those opportunities by looking too far ahead. Don’t just visualize the end result, build it one chance at a time.

Making one of regrettably few saves in an ASU jersey. 3-2 OT win over Colorado St Freshman year.
Making one of regrettably few saves in an ASU jersey. This one in a 3-2 OT win over Colorado State my freshman year.

Appreciate everything and everyone

In conclusion I was just going to thank everyone that’s played an important part in my hockey career. However this made me realize that perhaps the most important thing I learned from hockey is to appreciate everything, the people, the memories, that have contributed positively to my life.

First off I want to thank my parents John and Dana for financially and emotionally supporting every second of my career, high or low. I want to thank my goaltending coaches Michael Sandberg (Sweden) and Jim Margitich (New Jersey) for always believing in me and helping turn hard work into (occasional) results. I want to thank all my co-workers at Give ’em Nothing School for Goaltenders, especially Chris Staronka, for being awesome. And give a huge thanks to both Derek Carlson and Chad Mills for fostering my love of the game as a kid in southern California. Lastly I want to give a shoutout to all my goalie partners over the years, especially Christian K-E and Tom Huber, for their unique friendship and support.

One Comment on “Hanging up my Skates: Leadership Lessons in Hockey and Life”

  1. Hi David! Wow, what an inspiring story. I have went through the turmoil of ending my athletic career (although not nearly as successful as yours!), so I understand where you are coming from and the emotions you must feel. I really admired your statement regarding accomplishments made despite obstacles. Successful people always reflect on the obstacles they faced and how it has helped them grow as a person–you have done that, which is an accomplishment in itself.

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