With the NHL season having been paused on March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, Kevin Weekes will continue his Friday Four. The former goalie and current NHL Network analyst will be blogging about four of his favorite or memorable items on a certain topic. Today, his four keys for young players who aspire to play hockey at a higher level.
Be a student of the game
The first thing I would say to anyone who wants to play hockey at a high level is to be a student of the game. From my own experience, I knew every 1980s goalie, every 1990s goalie, what masks, sticks and gloves they used. When I would go to the hockey shop with my parents back home, I would try on every glove, every blocker to get a feel of all the different brands to see how they fit me, and what I liked and what I didn't like before buying them. That was part of my obsession, but it was also about the tools of my trade; I was going to need a mask and pads that would last for a long time, so I wanted to make sure they were perfect for me.
I would ask goalies who were older than me about their pads, skates, movements on the ice, etc. Coaches, general managers and power skating instructors are all good sources of advice. You also have to be willing to learn and be coachable.
Be obsessed with the game
It's OK to be a rink rat. Play hockey, watch hockey, consume it. Most of the great players I've played with or against, if you listen to them, they watch hockey all the time. That includes Wayne Gretzky, Martin St. Louis, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid, just to name a few. These are the guys you can't keep off the ice because they always want to practice or learn something. It's hockey 24/7 for them.
The more you watch and study the game, the better you'll be at it and the more you'll learn from it. Having that passion and that drive will help elongate your hockey career.
The game is bigger than you
You have to realize the game is bigger than you; that means being open to advice from everyone and open to listening to what coaches tell you. No matter how good a player you are, there's always something you can improve upon. I would also advise making connections with people -- not just coaches, GM, and trainers, but Zamboni drivers and staff workers at the rinks you skate at. It never hurts to know people, and you never know what kind of opportunity it might lead to in the future.
Enjoy the sport
Lastly, and this probably goes without saying: If you want to be in hockey, you have to enjoy it and be passionate about it. Hockey obviously is very time-consuming and it's not the cheapest sport, so you should be all-in. Hockey is also a family game; your parents and many others make sacrifices for you. Never forget that or take it for granted. Gretzky always says he and his family owe everything they have to the game of hockey, and I couldn't agree more.