Playing Consistent Hockey

I remember watching the movie The Boys On The Bus over and over again when I was a kid—almost as if it was a Disney movie. The movie is about the Edmonton Oilers in the early and mid-1980s. I still remember one clip in which Mark Messier explains how he plays every game like it’s his last. It’s a great and—I argue—the only attitude to have when approaching each game.

For a little perspective on “the Moose,” he played 1,752 NHL games. If you do anything close to 2,000 times it can be repetitive and boring. Plus the travel, little nagging injuries, up and downs of a marathon season and non-hockey life can make for big distractions. For the most part, elite players have a passion for the game. If not, they would have been weeded out a long time ago. But the greatest players take that passion and have a laser-like focus that allows them to play great consistently. Good players, meanwhile, play great every three games or so—a big difference over a season and career. Here are two simplistic ways to approach the game: Average vs. Greatness.

Average Approach

If you go into a game thinking “it’s just another game” or “we beat this team 8–0 last time” or look past this game to a “bigger” game coming up, then you’re not giving your best. There was a game yesterday and there will be a game tomorrow. So you take the present game and basically go through the motions. The problem with this, as Seth Godin points out in a recent blog post on business, is that there is competition. As you take the skills you have worked so hard to achieve and average them out to just get through the game, the competition is giving it their all with a take-no-prisoners attitude. At least the good teams are. Who’s going to win?

Greatness Approach

If you think this might be the last time you enjoy the great privilege of strapping on skates as Messier did, then most likely it won’t be. Plus you get the added benefit of playing great hockey. Get hungry out there on the ice. It’s the difference today of two points in the standings. It’s a difference tomorrow of making the most out of the skills you have and achieving consistent greatness.

Good luck this weekend.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Brett Henning of for this story. Henning is the author of 7 Pre-Game Habits of Pro Hockey Players, and was a member of the Inaugural National Team Development Program and 2000 World Junior Team with USA Hockey. He played Junior Hockey in Canada and at the collegiate level for the University of Notre Dame. He was drafted by the New York Islanders before a back injury ended his on-ice career.
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