I’m a huge hockey fan. It’s by far my favorite sport, and I do my best not only to take in as many games as I can, but to take as many friends to games as I can in order to share the sport I love with the people I love.
Oftentimes, I get asked what position I played when I was younger or I play hockey now. The answer to both of those questions is “no”, and the question that typically follows is “why?”. Aside from the fact that I never really learned how to ice skate (typically a requirement for hockey players*), I’ll frequently follow up with the fact that I’m just not big enough to be a hockey player. Standing at 5’10.5″ in a a physical sport where the average professional player is 6’1″ and 200lbs is a pretty sure indication that you’re at a disadvantage. But as I think about this, I feel like it’s important to note that it’s not like everyone in the NHL is 6’1″ or above. There are a lot of little guys making it in the big leagues, and they teach us an important lesson.
For the sake of science, I started to look at the players currently in the league, and I found that more than two dozen of them are actually shorter than me! That’s enough for a full team roster (including Jhonas Enroth, our lone goalie under 5’11”). Ouch. I guess maybe my excuse of not being big enough to play hockey doesn’t hold much water.
But are these guys just role players and lineup-fillers? “Plugs” who are just good enough to be on the ice while the good players get some rest on the bench? Let’s take a look at who some of these guys are.
Up first is forward Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers, lumbering into the room at a towering 5’7″. Mats, nicknamed “The Hobbit”, has scored 10 goals and 11 assists so far this season, is signed in 84% of Yahoo Fantasy Leagues, and is statistically ranked the 61st best fantasy hockey player to this point in the season while playing over 17 minutes per night. Not too bad for a little guy, eh?
Left wing Johnny Gaudreau, aka “Johnny Hockey”, of the Calgary Flames, is a 5’8″ former winner of the Hobey Baker Award for the best hockey player in the NCAA. But obviously he didn’t stop there. He was drafted in the 4th round in 2011, went on to become a finalist for the NHL’s top rookie award in his first year in 2015 (after being selected to play in the NHL All-Star Game), and has currently scored 5 goals and 16 assists so far this season, is signed in 94% of Yahoo Fantasy Leagues, and is statistically ranked the 90th best fantasy player to this point in the season while playing over 20 minutes a night.
What about a defenseman? The big bruisers signed for their ability to keep the other team away from the net and block shots before they make it to the goalie? Let’s look at Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins. A former MSU Spartan who stands at 5’9″, Torey has scored once and added 13 assists so far this season, is signed in 90% of Yahoo Fantasy Leagues, and is statistically ranked the 68th best fantasy player to this point in the season while playing 22 minutes per night. He may be a full foot shorter than his teammate Zdeno Chara, but his utility to the team and impact on the ice is significant.
The fact that these players not only exist, but are playing hockey at a high level, is important both for young hockey players who may be vertically challenged, and for the rest of us, too. The lesson their careers gives us is applicable to every single person who is determined to do anything.
Here’s my takeaway:
No matter who you are, there are going to be things you’re good at, and things you aren’t. There will be areas of your life where you are above average, where you’re average, and where you’re below average. Sure, it helps to play to your strengths (Mats Zuccarello is fast and agile…Torey Krug has an incredible accurate shot), but you don’t have to let your shortcomings (unintended pun) hold you back. You can still succeed at something in which you are irreversibly disadvantaged. But you’re going to have to be tenacious.
Hockey is a physical sport. When a guy who’s 5’8″ gets hit by a guy who’s 6’5″, he feels it a bit more than he would with another 4″ and 20lb of muscle on him. He gets beaten to the puck by a guy with a longer reach more often. He gets swallowed up in a scrum more often than his teammates who can see right over his head. This stuff happens. And it’s okay. These guys come back and push harder and do what they need to do to succeed. They are, necessarily, tenacious. It’s their only option if they want to win. Sure, they could quit hockey and go into another career. Maybe Mats Zuccarello would be a really good burglar (see aforementioned “Hobbit” nickname). Maybe Torey Krug would be really great at literally anything, since he’s a Spartan and Spartans Will. But they picked hockey, so we’re talking about them playing hockey.
The question for us is, what is it in our chosen field that we’re not that good at? Maybe you were never great at math growing up but you always wanted to go into personal finance because you like helping people with things that are difficult for them. Maybe you went into sales with social anxiety. Maybe your disadvantage is just a particularly difficult coworker.
Either way, you have the same choice to make that we all do. You either quit to do something easier, or you buckle down with tenacity and get better, do better, and win. Tenacity is the product we get when we mix the character, courage, and competence necessary to succeed in any endeavor. So if tenacity is the difference between you getting better or staying the same, what are you waiting for? Let’s go.
I’ll end with the quote that I currently have pinned at the top of my twitter feed, one of my favorites:
“I don’t believe that greatness happens by chance. I don’t believe it happens by happenstance. I don’t believe it happens to those who are lucky.”
-Jeff Blashill, Head Coach of the Detroit Red Wings
I believe it happens to those who are tenacious.