Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sports: The Fuck You Moment

Respect is a term that's thrown around a lot in sports, especially if you stick a mic in front of a player or coach before a game.  All they'll talk about in regards to their opponent is how good their opponent is and how much they respect them.  You never want to give a guy or a team bulletin board material via some stupid comment as motivation.  On the ice/field/diamond/court though?  Fuck respect.

Of course you always want to be aware of your opponent's skills, what they can do and what they're going to try to do, but I don't consider that respect so much as I consider it good situational awareness.  I think by and large, respect during a game is a bad thing.  It leads to giving your opponent too much space, too much time, leads to pitching around them, and through those things it often leads to losses.

I played hockey that way for two years.  In 2009 I started playing inline, my first experience playing any hockey of any kind.  With my rawness came a bit of trepidation and hesitance, I knew that I lacked the intelligence and experience (and a lot of the skills) that most everyone around me had through years of playing the game, whether it was on ice, tile, or pavement.  I did okay for those two years putting in 4 goals and 17 assists in 17 games, and 6 goals and 19 assists in 15 games (including playoffs), but my game didn't hit that next level until I stopped respecting the players around me so damn much.

As my point totals would suggest, I was definitely a pass-first type of player balking at chances to shoot and stickhandle in favor of dumping the puck to a more experienced teammate.  But I slowly began to realize two things; one that my unique combination of strength and small stature (5'10", 140 pounds) made me fast and agile without giving up any of the reach that smaller players do; and that passing the puck was not at all utilizing those skills.

That was my big "fuck you moment" when I looked at the other players on the ice and realized, "I'm faster than you, I can turn quicker, and I can sure as hell work harder...fuck you.   Less passing, more shooting and dangling.  No space to maneuver?  I'll make my own fucking space."  Instead of looking up, seeing a defenseman and looking for a place to drop the puck, I'd look up and wonder how I could make that guy look like an idiot.  The second I started treating myself like one of the best players on the tile was the second my game took off.  I scored a bunch of goals skating one on four with teammates changing because I knew I could start and stop so much faster than everyone else that they couldn't touch me.  I'd hold onto the puck longer because I knew the other team would get pissed off and come after me, leaving teammates wide open.  I killed large chunks of penalties just skating around with the puck because no one was good enough to take it from me.  It showed in my points as I more than doubled my previous combined goal totals with 21 goals and 28 assists in 17 games.

And the best part is, it made me cocky enough to carry that mentality into the fall session when I'd be mixed in with A and B league players (I played C-league).  I remember cutting hard to the net and scoring one game despite the blade of a stick wrapped around my torso.  I thought to myself, "what the hell was he doing...he's an A player, he doesn't need to play defense like that...wait...he can't stop me either."  That's what makes Vanek's game winner against Philly so mesmerizing, he looked up and said, "fuck you, you guys suck and I don't."


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