It’s rare that a player goes through their entire career without experiencing disappointment during a tryout process. Even players at the highest level have been left off of All-Star or Olympic rosters. Players get cut, that’s part of the game, but that doesn’t change how gut-wrenching and painful it is to look hopefully at a list of selected players, only to see your name hasn’t been included.
So, where do we go from there? What happens when a summer’s worth of effort comes up short? How can we, as motivated athletes, continue to develop and push ourselves when we aren’t playing for that top team?
I’ve been cut (or “reassigned” if your coach is nice) a number of times, but the two times I’m going to refer to happened at very different times in my hockey career.
The first real experience with “cuts” was early in my playing career, my second year of Squirt. I was excited about the opportunity to test my abilities against the best players in South Delta. In the second exhibition game of tryouts, I broke my leg and missed the remainder of tryouts. By the time my cast came off, the team had already been selected and my name had been left off the list. I remember my confidence taking a hit. There were tears. It’s hard for a ten-year-old to see the silver lining in anything, let alone their favorite sport.
By the time I returned to the ice, the team I’d been selected to play for hadn’t won a game. I joined the team just before Halloween that season. In our first game, I scored with ten seconds left to win the game. I still remember where the shot went, high-blocker side. If you’re looking for your silver lining, here’s an easy one: Increased Opportunity and Leadership. I might not have known it then, but my teammates looked up to me, my coaches wanted me on the ice during the big plays, and my confidence grew.
In his interview with TPHS, Neil Wilkinson, 11-year NHL Veteran, said this. “I learned that I really loved the game and that it didn’t matter which team I was on. Playing for the second team gave me more opportunity for ice time, power-play, penalty kill and the last minute of the close games.”
Before that season, I was unsure about who I was as a player and hadn’t considered hockey to be much more than a hobby based off of my own perception of my skills compared to those around me. The development I made that season, both in my hockey and my leadership skills, would serve me for the rest of my career. Those connections might not have happened playing a smaller role on a top team.
The second story comes from later in my career, by this time I had already played a full year of junior with the Portland Winterhawks. As a 16-year-old rookie in Portland, I played in all but two games. I hadn’t put up incredible numbers, but nonetheless I was confident and proud of myself. Making the WHL had been a dream of mine, one that, looking back now, I viewed as a destination, not another step in the journey. I just wanted to be there and be in the life of a junior hockey player. In between seasons, my focused wavered and I became complacent, subconsciously assuming my spot on the team was guaranteed for the upcoming season.
That season, our team went from being a 19-win team the year before, to a 41-win team the following season. The largest single season turn around for a CHL franchise. Under new ownership and incredible coaching, our team came out of the gates fast and by season-start I was still a couple steps behind. By the time we had returned from our trip to Alberta, my one-way trip to the BCHL had been scheduled. Embarrassed, I shook my teammate’s hands and said goodbye.
I had just been handed a heaping scoop of adversity.
On Halloween, I left Portland and flew to Penticton to start my career with the Vees. By the time I landed, my embarrassment had turned to anger. In my first week of practiced, I practiced angry. In my first game, I played angry. I had two points and was named third star. From that moment on, my game changed; my attitude toward the game changed. I had been called to act, and it was my choice to either step up or fade away. My decision in that moment to persevere and push through helped me develop into a professional hockey player over the next three seasons.
Being cut steeled my commitment to the game, and my commitment to pushing myself to be a better player, as Neil puts it “It prepared me very well for when I was older as I had to deal with adversity. Was I going to quit and walk away or was I going to work harder and complete my goal?”
Paul Gaustad, NHL Veteran and President of the Portland Jr. Winterhawks had this to say: “In the moment, set backs of any sort in athletics sting and hurt. However, reflecting on my own setbacks in hockey. I truly believe they helped me grow to be a better player. If I could go back and change being cut from a team now, I wouldn’t. It made me persevere through adversity and be a better player.
Just before the Christmas break, the Winterhawks brought me in for a couple games. I played my heart out. One of my line mates looked at me after one shift and joked “Jesus, Pete, slow down”. A week after Christmas break ended, I was recalled by the Winterhawks for the remainder of the season and my career. I was prepared to do whatever it took to remain there.
Whether you’re cut from an NHL team or a Squirt Development team, you are responsible for answering the call to action that presents itself. Just because you are hurt by a coach’s decision doesn’t mean your experience as worthless. As Mark Manson writes in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***¸ “Some of the greatest moments of one’s life are not pleasant, not successful, not known, and not positive.”
Keep Your Stick on the Ice, Coach Taylor
Taylor Peters is the Owner of the Taylor Peters Hockey School in Portland, OR. He’s an ex-pro player turned full time Power Skating and Skills Coach. He also does Coach/Player Consulting, Game Analysis, and Remote Coaching. Check out his Instagram page for drills and skill breakdowns. To contact Taylor, email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org