Updated: Dec 3, 2021
I grew up in South Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minneapolis is home to the coldest winters of any large city in the US. The average temperature in December, January, and February is well below freezing. Combine that with 10,000 lakes and you have ice. The perfect environment for hockey.
I started playing organized hockey at age 5. My dad signed me up for the mite league playing for the Bloomington Lincoln Bears. I was thrilled that the team colors were the same as my favorite hockey team, the Minnesota North Stars.
At our first practice I stepped on the ice and fell flat on my face. I got up and then fell again, and again, and again. After 10 minutes of falling I gave up. I crawled off the ice, threw my stick, and told my father I quit! Two days later I was back at practice and didn't fall as much. Soon I got the hang of balance and skating, and I fell in love with the Minnesota state sport.
Life lesson: Failure is part of learning. Overcoming fear of failure is tough, but persistence can lead to rewards not otherwise realized.
Leaders versus Bosses
Leaders support people and encourage their productivity; bosses create mission statements without sincerity. Leaders want people to succeed; bosses watch people fail. Leaders know that people are valuable and people are fallible, and team success is measured by the sum of its parts. The key is to put those parts together.
Hockey Coaches and Leadership
In the workplace or in sport, effectively managing others is not easy. It takes a special type of leader to bring out the best in others and create a cohesive team. I've had plenty of coaches (and supervisors) over the years and each one is different. Good or bad, I've learned something about leadership from each one.
When I was 13 I tried out for Bantam hockey. Bantam teams were divided into two groups - A and B - with the A team being more skilled.. I wasn't a lock for the A team but I had a good chance. I'd made A teams at previous levels, PeeWees (10-12) and Squirts (7-9).
The Bantam A coach didn't play hockey at a high level, but he'd been coaching for a while. He was outgoing, friendly, and well liked in youth hockey social circles.
My first year of Bantam B tryouts I skated well. I was sure I'd made the A team. But when the moment of truth came I was delegated to the B squad. What was worse, my circle of friends had all made A. I was devastated and considered quitting.
I didn't quit. The silver lining was I was the best of the lower level players, which meant I got a lot of ice time. I wouldn't get nearly as much playing time on the A team.
The following year I was much improved. There was no doubt I'd make Bantam A. Tryouts went great. I was in shock when I didn't make A for the second year in a row. I wasn't the only one. This was my first lesson in politics. It's not always how good you are, but who you know. Turns out the coach's son (who was a year younger than me) and a group of his friends had made the team. Once again, I was left on the outside looking in.
Life lesson: Sometimes it's who you know, not what you know.
Jim Carey was my coach for my second year in Bantams. He was a Vietnam Veteran with a no-nonsense attitude. He coached the B team because no one else would.
He knew the game of hockey well, and he was a natural leader. He hadn't coached hockey before, but it turns out he was a damn good coach. He turned a bunch of cast-offs into a cohesive team. We competed hard. We played hard because we loved hockey. We played hard for Coach Carey. That season we exceeded what little expectations anyone had for us. I have tremendous respect for Coach. Without his leadership and support, I likely would have given up the game I loved.
Life lesson: Adversity can be a blessing in disguise.
My varsity high school coach was Jake McCoy. He was hard as nails - old school.
His resume included 40 years coaching and an induction into the Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame (in 2008). He had a lengthy hockey background playing hockey, including D1 hockey at the University of Minnesota. He played alongside names like Lou Nanne and the Brooks brothers (Herb and Dave). He was a two-time US Hockey Team Olympian. His former teammate, Herb Brooks, coached the 1980 gold medal olympic team in Lake Placid. The movie Miracle is based on this.
I'd describe Coach McCoy's coaching as similar to Brooks. His rough exterior made him hard to like. He was stern, demanding, and tough on players. But he was also well respected, genuine, honest, and fair.
I made the varsity team my junior year in high school. Halfway through the season I was demoted to junior varsity. After two weeks, I was called back to Varsity. Even though I got another shot, I was still angry about my demotion to JV.
My first game back on Varsity the team was in the locker room getting ready for a game. Coach McCoy called me over to talk. As I approached he laid into me. Yelling about my attitude. This was in front of the entire team. The room turned from light hearted and chatty to immediate focus. He yelled for what felt like 10 minutes. I stood there and said nothing.
It worked. The team was focused. We dominated the game, and I scored the first goal of a 6-1 route of our rival inter-city school.
From that moment, I didn't sulk again, and I stayed on Varsity for the rest of my high school days. Coach McCoy taught me something that day. There is little doubt his intent wasn't to be mean. He demanded the best, and from that moment on I gave it to him.
Life lesson: Leadership isn't always about cheering you on. Sometimes you need a kick in the ass.
Coach McCoy, University of Minnesota hockey team
I learned there was a hockey team during my freshman year in college. It was a club team (non-scholarship) but it was well organized and supported. I tried-out for the team my sophomore year and made the final roster.
The Colorado State coach was Steve Chartrand. He played D1 hockey for Air Force, and he knew the strategies of the game. He was liked by the team but also respected. He positioned players according to their strengths and we gelled as a team. We played hard for Coach Chartrand and improved under his leadership.
We practiced three days a week and played games on the weekend - a big commitment for full-time college students. In the end it paid off. My final game, my senior year of college, we won the club division National Championship.
Colorado State University school newspaper article (Rocky Mountain Collegian)
My last home game playing for the CSU hockey program. Club sports program administrator Carol Becker (pictured left) was a big part of the hockey program's success.
My youth hockey jacket with patches commemorating team and personal accomplishments in the Squirt and Pee-Wee leagues.
Washburn Millers high school practice jersey.
Washburn Millers hockey letterman's jacket.