With MiHockey highlighting the Top 50 Most Influential People in Michigan Hockey, I got to thinking about who have been the most influential on my life in hockey. Like most players, I’ll put my dad at the top of the list. He has always supported my efforts, fueling my initial interest in the game and finding ways to nurture that interest from youth hockey all the way to today. He was always insightful, in his own street-smart way. He once told me that, “When you were 14 and still so passionate about going to the rink, I knew it was up to you then. You’d get your looks and get your opportunities to progress.”
That seemingly arbitrary age observation rings true as I now watch my own teenage son make his way in the game. The passion and drive is there in him, so I have to agree with Dad and say that the support and encouragement will always be there, but yes, he has reached the point where what he does will dictate where hockey takes him from here on. I guess the approximation of age has to do with where does hockey fit into a 14-year-old’s life given all the other elements that elevate at that age – social, academic and other choices that enter into the equation.
Beyond family, though, it was a good exercise to go through and remember people who really impacted me in hockey. Here is my own, very personal Top-10 list of the (Dad as No. 1) most influential people in my hockey world:
My boyhood idol reached another level when he wrote me personally and sent a second autographed picture. I had written him and asked for his autograph. I brought that treasure to school for show and tell in second grade where it mysteriously disappeared. My mom, unbeknownst to me, wrote to him and when his hand-written letter came, my 7-year-old mind couldn’t figure out how he knew I had “lost” the first one. He answered a mom’s heartfelt request and in my books, it is his best save ever. Yes, I still have that autographed photo in a frame. The signature is faded, but the memory isn’t.
“Hazy” and I were the goalies at Cornell together for three seasons. We became good friends and remain so. At the time, though, we competed in everything we did, even training together in the summer—who could lift the most, run the fastest, win on the tennis court, on the golf course (goalie workout). We pushed each other to get better and never let the desire to be the “go-to guy” in goal overshadow the team goals. I learned the value of being a good teammate.
A former Russian Dynamo product who played for the Islanders and spent time in AHL and the old IHL, Yan is the hockey director for the Ice Forum hockey programs in Atlanta, Ga. We worked together in trying to grow the game around the Thrashers’ brand. Mostly, though, Yan showed me how the same skills in hockey can be viewed differently. I enjoyed our hockey debates about the simplest of hockey nuances (teach one hand on the stick vs. two) and learned from him every time we got together.
My coach for the Oshawa Legionnaires Jr. B team. He introduced the notion of accountability to me (“… and if you don’t start making some saves, all the stuff I just said to everyone else won’t matter!”). Keenan also brought intensity for results that I had never experienced before. Most importantly, he educated me about the college game as an option, taking our team to his alma mater, St. Lawrence University, and then giving me advice as I began getting recruited.
I played for King on the 1984 Canadian Olympic Team. He opened my eyes to what went into striving to get players to exceed expectations. From X’s & O’s, to off-ice training – both physical and mental – to motivation (“you think you are playing well and you are… just well enough to lose”). But what I admired most about King was his balanced perspective. He saw the value in the total experience away from the rink. He made sure we saw the sights in the countries we traveled and built our practice schedule to allow us to take in other events at the Olympics.
I never met anyone who genuinely respected everyone’s role in the game more than “Beast”. No one was inconsequential to him and as such, he took time to get to know who he or she was and what that person was all about. He knew more people around the rink than anyone I’ve ever met. More telling, more people felt connected to him than he’ll ever know.
The Snyder family
When Dan Snyder died after being in a horrific car wreck with teammate Dany Heatley in Atlanta in 2003, it hit close to home. What a tragedy and what sadness. The grace, strength of character and forgiveness given in the aftermath by Dan’s parents, Graham and LuAnn, will stay with me always.
One of my best friends growing up in Oshawa, Ontario. He was our star player, but I was always uneasy about how hard his dad was on him. If he scored three goals, his dad would chastise him for not scoring four. That criticism came no matter who was around – sometimes with just the three of us in the car. Grovie went east to play at 16… and never came back. I still think a lot of it was to escape the unrealistic expectations put on him at such a young age. When I remember those days, I can’t help to think what might have been…
My first NHL coach with the L.A. Kings, Quinn was a “players coach”. He treated us like men and expected us to show up and act accordingly. It was eye-opening for me to see that the responsibility to perform collectively began with individual preparation. No excuses.