This hockey season don’t worry so much, you’ll enjoy it more

By Allan Bradbury
Staff writer

The NHL hockey season got underway last night and while at times this Montreal Canadiens fan has been a rabid follower of hockey over the last several years, I know my expectations are very low this year and I feel better for it and I think others might benefit as well. Not just with your preferred professional team but maybe also if you have loved ones playing at any other level of hockey.

Coming into last season, Canadiens’ fans were coming in on the high of making it to Stanley Cup Finals only losing to now-perennial contenders, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Boy oh boy did we come back to earth quickly. The team missing two key pieces in potential future hall of famers Shea Weber and Carey Price was useless in my mind. The Habs started the season with five losses in a row scoring just four goals over that span. The wins ended up scarce for the rest of the season. Although there was fresh hope breathed into the fanbase as the team made coaching and management changes they did ultimately finish dead last in the league, even behind the new expansion team Seattle Kraken. The Canadiens then took the unexpected path by taking Juraj Slafkovský first overall in the NHL Draft, over highly-touted Canadian prospect Shane Wright.

I learned part way through last season that rather than continuing to torture myself and get angry at the TV I could just not watch the games. Sure I’d be disappointed as I checked scores or watched highlights but I hadn’t wasted hours yelling at the TV only to be disappointed in the end.

Now that the team has torn down some and has declared itself to be in a period of restructuring and development I’m coming in with lower expectations and looking forward to seeing young players develop and winning will be a bonus. Does that mean I’ll still limit the number of games I watch? Probably. But I’ll still tune in for the opener against the Leafs tonight, hopeful that the young guns can surprise the Leafs and give them a glimpse of the future. Potentially showing them the sting of yet another first round playoff exit.

I’ve moaned about the sad state of my Habs for a reason. Because in addition to NHL hockey, minor hockey has started over the last few weeks as well. Parents now find themselves shuttling young players back and forth to practices at strange hours, lacing up skates and making extra trips to Tim Hortons for an early coffee. As the minor hockey season progresses I think it’s important that parents remember that hockey is a game.

Hockey is meant to be fun. It is a game.

On average there are over half a million hockey players in Canada. Although that is a general statistic, it was the best I could track down. At a given time, NHL teams can only ever have 50 players under contract, including both the NHL and minor league levels. Which means that there are only ever 1,600 players under NHL contract at a time. Unfortunately, the numbers get even lower for female hockey players.

I’m not telling you this to crush your dreams of having a child that plays NHL hockey; I’m telling you this to remind you to have realistic expectations, like I have for the Canadiens this year. (Another first overall pick isn’t a big stretch to me.)

Commentator and former player Ray Ferraro is credited with an address to hockey parents of a struggling team. You may have seen the post circulating on facebook recently, but one post puts it as far back as 2015.

The post notes several different points Ferraro supposedly made, but one of the most poignant to me was this:

“The odds of going pro are extremely low but the odds of having to find a career and a job to pay bills and be a [partner] and [parent] are extremely high and it’s not dictated by if you played AAA hockey.”

In the end few kids will continue to play sports throughout their lives at all, let alone at a high level. You need to play 400 games in the NHL to be eligible for a pension. More than winning though, kids will need life skills.

Hockey can teach a lot of life lessons. As a Canadiens fan, hockey has taught me how to deal with disappointment most of my life. Perhaps not as badly as my mom, a Leafs fan who was a child the last time the Leafs won the cup. But I was just shy of six months old in the spring of 1993 when my father started indoctrinating me in the ways of the Habs as Patrick Roy hoisted the cup.

Dealing with winning appropriately is the flip-side of that coin. We experience many victories in life, often at the expense of others, be that a promotion in work, or other success. Everyone should learn to be gracious in victory as in defeat. To shake hands whether you win or lose.

Teamwork is also another skill hockey can teach. Inevitably in adult life you have to work with others. Whether that’s in a work situation, a volunteer position or other role.

There are plenty of other skills to pick up through hockey, but I think Ferraro summed it up best. “When you evaluate your kids’ season, never base it on how many banners they won, what provincial they won, what tourneys they went to and won. Ask yourself what improved from September to April, what did he learn or improve upon including non-hockey stuff. Evaluate the season besides wins and losses but gains and improvements.”