I had the opportunity to emcee a sports celebrity dinner last week. I have emceed this particular event for the last 6 years and the proceeds have helped build a new sports and cultural centre for the town of Warman just a few minutes outside my home town of Saskatoon.
This year the keynote speaker was Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr. The great Wendel Clark and future superstar Jordan Eberle were also in attendance. During and after the dinner we got to talking about today's NHL players.
Grant Fuhr, in his keynote speech, talked about his days with the Edmonton Oilers when they were dominating the NHL. He spoke about team chemistry. He said that in today's NHL every team is trying to manufacture team chemistry.
GM's make trades in order to bolster team chemistry. Coaches try to foster it and team leaders are instructed to be the foundation for it within the dressing room.
Grant Fuhr found this puzzling. He said with the Oilers, they just had team chemistry. The Oilers didn't have to contrive or fake it. They simply liked and actually loved each other. Loved playing hockey together and loved hanging out with each other.
Fuhr said that when they went out for lunch or dinner everybody went. No questions, no exceptions and it wasn't formally organized it was just done, together as a team.
Grant also talked about practice. He told stories of how hard they competed in practice. That practice was almost harder than the games. However, he mentioned how much fun he and his teammates had playing against each other. They never thought of practice as work.
Wendel Clark also talked about the "work" of playing hockey. During the Q&A with the panel I asked Wendel about the difference between a good player and a great player. He said that great players love the game. They don't approach the game as a job. They don't feel like they are working at their game. They are playing a game they love.
Wendel felt that great players would rather be on the ice getting better at the game they love than doing anything else. That attitude is the true passion for the game.
Grant Fuhr and Wendel Clark on the ride back to the hotel in Saskatoon talked about the teams missing opportunities to bring teams closer. When they played many teams didn't board the plane and take off for another city. Many times the team stayed overnight and the boys got together and dissected the game over a couple of adult beverages.
Wendel was adamant that it was the way to get over the negative or promote the positives from the game.
Fuhr and Clark also said that even though cell phones have helped connect the players to the rest of the world it is causing a disconnect within the team. Everybody gets on the bus and right on their phones. As a matter of fact many players have that device attached to their ears as soon as they are walking out of the rink.
Wendel mentioned that when he played, you got on the bus and immediately started rehashing the game. Sadly those conversations are diminishing after the game.
Now these weren't two old fogeys yearning about the "Good Old Days" and how things were better when they played. Grant Fuhr and Wendel Clark were simply noting how players have changed. Not for the better and not for the worse. However that change has turned the attitude for the game into a more business-like approach.
The game should be fun to play and practice. Getting better should be undertaken because it is the driving force in every player. Working on your game and helping a teammate shouldn't be work, it should be the joy of the journey.
The one thing that Grant Fuhr said that really stuck was, the reason the Oilers played with so much passion and execution was because they didn't want to be "the guy" who let his teammates down. If everybody on your team brought that attitude to the rink everyday. Team Chemistry would never be mentioned, it would be natural. Like the Oilers Dynasty Teams, it would just be there.