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Reid Duke: Letter To Prospects Attending The NHL Combine

In a special to, the Golden Knights forward offers his advice to prospects auditioning for NHL teams

by Reid Duke @GoldenKnights / Special To

I thought I was going to be asked to tell a joke.

I'm serious.

Before I went to the NHL Combine back in 2014, this is what most of my buddies and I thought we were going to be asked in our interviews. We heard this was a common thing that teams would do to see how we'd react.

My first interview, I wasn't asked to tell a joke.

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Instead, I remember being marched into a tiny room and asked to sit in a chair facing all of these executives. It was almost like being in the principal's office. Or being brought into a police station for questioning.

I'm 18 and I'm sitting in a chair facing a table, with about 12 of this team's executives staring at me.

Twenty-four eyes, focused right on me. I was so young that when I walked in, they must have been licking their chops.

Right away, I could tell that they wouldn't be asking me to tell any jokes. They were grilling me hard.

Their questions went something like this: "you guys were a terrible team last year, you must have had bad coaches, what do you think?"

And then: "we've seen your game. When you do this, you're absolutely terrible. What do you think?"

At the time, I didn't know what to say. I had been preparing to tell a joke!

I tried to think on the fly, and started giving my answer and telling them what I thought they wanted to hear from me.

Right away, one of the guys was right on me.

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He said: "look, cut the ********. We want to hear the real answers."

I was taken aback.

It was like: "whoa, this guy means business. There's no messing around with him."

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I know you're probably sitting back right now saying: "no way." But at the combine, there are teams that will get in your face like this.

Not all teams will be this way. You'll be able to tell when you walk in the room.

Some teams, everyone will be standing when you walk in and being friendly. Others, everyone will be all seated, with serious looks on their faces.

You'll be able to get a sense of their demeanor as soon as you walk in the room.

Many teams will ask questions to see if you'll throw your teammates under the bus.

Or your coach.

At the time, you might not realize what they're doing.

Here's a secret: "they're just trying to get to know you."

They want to see if you'll throw someone else under the bus as soon as the heat gets turned up. Or if you'll stick up for yourself.

They want to see how you would be in similar tough situations if you were playing for their team.

I won't tell you the right way to answer, because there aren't right answers for these questions. All I can tell you is to answer the questions the best you can, even if you have to be brutal. If you're honest, but polite and maybe even have a little cockiness, it's better than telling them what you think they want to hear.

This brutal honesty isn't a bad thing because you might not believe it, but teams know how to tell when you're not being honest. Having an answer that isn't perfect is better than not telling the truth.

The best advice I can give to you is to just be who you are.

But remember, though. You're an adult now. Expect to be treated like one.

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Tweet from @GoldenKnights: All of the Golden Knights recently joined in on the NHL tradition of playing some pregame soccer. ��



That's the important thing to remember.

From the second you get off the plane for the combine, expect to be treated like an adult. For many of you, you've never really been on your own like this before.

There's not going to be anyone showing you around or making sure you're looked after, or that you have a hot meal to eat.

There's nobody there to shuttle you around, either.

I'm serious.

You'll get off the plane and the first thing you'll do is have to find your way in a strange city to your hotel, where you'll be handed your itinerary.

You'll be excited to be at the combine, but this will be when it gets real.

During the season, you'll think you're playing well. You'll be doing everything you can to get better and try to show teams what kind of player you are.

You'll be comfortable that there are teams that have interest in you. After all these months, it won't be until you get to your hotel for the combine until you truly know how much interest there is.

Or how little.

When you get to your hotel, the first thing you'll be handed is your schedule for the week. On your schedule, it will list the teams that you're scheduled to meet with.

And there it is.

You just found out how much interest there is in you. Right at hotel check-in, in the lobby.

Maybe you'll be lucky and have 20 teams want to talk to you. Or maybe it'll only be two or three.

You won't know for sure until you get your itinerary, and there's a chance it may shock you.

But remember, there's no time to be shocked.

I don't say this to scare you, but you are being watched.

Right now, you're being watched.

From the second you get to your hotel, you'll be surrounded by hockey guys. This is the combine, so there are hockey people everywhere. And they all know who you are.

If you're rude to the hotel staff, someone will see it, and they will take note. If you're hanging off by yourself, or if you're the guy that wants to meet up with your buddies and go all over town, someone will notice.

Trust me.

You're being watched, but don't be scared. All teams are trying to do is get to know you.



I'm serious. All you have to do is be who you are.

Just understand that some of your most important times will be before your interviews even start.

You might be ready for your interviews, but say you just have to go to the washroom. There might be five hockey guys in the washroom.

If this happens, they're going to notice how you react to them. Having experienced it, it's important to be polite, although you have to stay natural.

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You'll be ready for your interviews, but you just got your second interview in the washroom.

It didn't take long. It was maybe only a few seconds. But they noticed how you acted.

From my experience, teams will pay as much attention to how you'd interact with them in the washroom as they will to your interview.

But now you're an adult. You have to be prepared that anytime can be an interview. It's just like being a professional hockey player. When you're a pro hockey player, you can be out to dinner with friends, and someone will recognize you.

As a pro hockey player, you're going to want to represent your team right, and it won't matter that you were caught off guard if you treat someone the wrong way.

If hockey guys see you being rude to a waiter, how much confidence will they have that you'll represent their team right?

So just be ready to be polite. It'll be just like your parents always tried to teach you.

More and more, you'll learn that your parents were always right.

While nobody's asking you to be perfect, you'll have to remember that you have to be accountable now.

When you get to the combine, your schedule will vary. The first few days, all you'll have are your interviews, leading into the fitness tests on the last day.

As much as you've prepared for this week, there's a good chance that you have a lot of downtime. This is where the accountability comes in.

My year, the combine was in Toronto. A lot of my buddies were in for the combine also, and I remember 5-6 of us went out to a ballgame one night. Which was great. These are memories I'll have for the rest of my life.

I remember another guy, though, who went out to the mall. Since you're an adult, it's your job to make sure you get to your interviews. I remember one guy went to the mall and whatever ended up happening, he ended up missing one of his interviews.

This is what you don't want to have happen. There's nobody to blame except yourself. You have to take responsibility.

What does it say to a team if you didn't make it to your interview?

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For some of you, you'll find that all of your interviews are crammed into the same day. Some of your buddies will have all of their interviews spread out across several days. It will vary.

Given how excited you all are, it'll be impossible to keep it bottled up inside. You'll know who your buddies are interviewing with. It might be some of the same teams as you.

For me, I remember spending a lot of my downtime in the hotel, getting my sleep in and trying to stay prepared. You'll get your schedule the first day, but things will change.

They will definitely change.

You'll have interviews added on, and maybe even have some rescheduled.



You'll have to take advantage of your downtime, and be ready for your fitness tests at the end of the week. Although you'll always have to be aware that things are subject to change. Like an adult, you'll have to be flexible and ready to get to where you're asked.

Relax when you can, but be prepared.

As long as you get to where you're asked to go on time and be yourself, you should be fine.

I know a lot of you might be worrying about the workout day, too. Don't be. Just as you have to be yourself in your interviews, you just have to be who you are in your workouts.

There's a reason you were invited to the combine.

If you're here, it's because you belong.

Sure, there might be a guy who's an absolute beast on the bench press that goes right ahead of you. It doesn't matter.

As you get older, you'll find that there's smaller players that get two or three bench presses and are playing in the NHL. And then there's a guy getting 18-20 reps and he's still playing junior.

The tests are important, the scores are important, but it's about what you can do on the ice. And also the effort you put in.

Teams have done their homework on you. They know what kind of player you are. If one guy is a big defenseman and you're a scorer, teams might be paying more attention to different tests for him than they are for you.

They might not be expecting you to do as many reps as someone else. Or even care.

Think of it this way. Even if you can only do 2-3 reps, all that means is you have a lot of space to develop, where a guy that's an absolute beast might not have any room to improve. And even though you're not as developed as him right now, you can already skate with him on the ice, where it matters.

While some guys you'll see will be intimidating, you have to remember this and stay confident in who you are. You're here because of who you are, but this is also your chance to show teams what you're really made of.

Maybe you'll only get a few reps in, but how about your battle level?

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Or maybe they only expected you to do 2-3 reps, but you did 5-6.

Teams pay attention to this. They definitely do. As much as what your scores are, they will notice how it was that you handled yourself in your tests. If you quit on a test, you just showed your true colors.



Especially the bike test. I know you've seen the bike test on TV, and are probably dreading it.

It's only 30 seconds long, the one test. They tape your feet into the pedals, close your nostrils and put this mask over your face to breathe into, with a tube running down the back of your bike into a computer. It will surprise you, but the mask is a lot heavier than it looks.

This will be your last test before your week is done, and your adrenaline will be pumping. It's only 30 seconds, but you have to go as hard as you can. Even still, your legs will be dead 10-15 seconds in. The bike has a lot of resistance programmed on it.

The combine has 4-5 people next to your bike, screaming…


Everyone else in the room will hear them, except you. You'll be dialed in.

For a lot of guys, they almost faint when they get off the bike. Or their legs collapse. The staff ends up having to carry a lot of guys off.

I remember being taken into a room after the bike tests and there were like 10-15 guys in there. Some had their heads buried in trash cans. Others were laying on the floor, or putting their legs up on a wall.

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This is how tough this test is.

But as the combine staff yells PUMP, PUMP, PUMP!

You have to listen to them.

Even if your legs are dead, just keep pumping.

You've worked hard to get to the combine, and you're almost done. You'll be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so just keeping pumping.

Just keep pumping, be yourself and do the best you can.

And just in case someone asks, be prepared to tell a joke.

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