It’s a cliche that probably tends to be used way too much, especially when it comes to describing athletes, but the hell with it, I’m going to use it anyway.
There’s been a few defencemen this season that epitomized the very essence of “the iceman.” Their ability to play in any situation at any time under the harshest of conditions is a true testament to not only their skill, but their hockey IQ. Some young players that have ice in their veins, don’t always jump off the page. At times those that possess this demeanour often get critically assessed and evaluated on their lack of urgency or drive.
Young players that are cool, calm and collected on the backend usually are prone to make the odd gaffe, because they want to and believe they can make “that play” and tend to hang on to it a little too long or over handle it, even though it was the right play and the right idea.
What makes these players special so or unique? How do they develop the “ice in their veins” factor?
Can that skill set actually be taught?
Well, first of all, these young defenders are first and foremost given the opportunity to fail or to make mistakes and not be ripped over the coals or benched. Let’s face it they don’t always turn to the puck over or are perceived to be lackadaisical in transition. They make plays a lot, which is the key, but when they are given a runway to make those mistakes and come back to the bench not worried about being blasted, that’s when their confidence starts to skyrocket. Now there’s a time and place to pull back on the reins, but these players should always be given the autonomy to create and move pucks in all three zones without being constantly criticized or prosecuted.
Again, I’m not saying these types of players shouldn’t be held accountable, some players just possess an uncanny knack or an innate ability to log big minutes at all the key times of the game with the puck on their stick and have absolutely zero panic or nerves of any kind.
You see these rare defenders handle the pressure like very few can, they skate and handle the puck when others just fire it off the glass or boards. They make plays coming out of their zone that ultimately change the complexion of the game. Of course, there’s an element of risk to their game, but when it matters most they always rise to the occasion and flat out make plays that other players can’t.
It’s not the 30ft cross ice saucer pass. It’s the subtle timing play or taking the extra second with the puck that creates an amazing transition or a scoring opportunity. They play the game the right way, they take pride in the game and position in all three zones. They read off their partner or partners extremely well. These type of defenders can play with anyone on any side of the ice. They can log big minutes and are the type of defenders that can seemingly skate for days. They always find themselves out there when it matters most. It’s making the play in the last three minutes or in the waning seconds of a tight game where these types of players flourish and excel.
How do these players play the game so free or with zero fear? Obviously, they’re special, that’s why, but they play “free” because they have a different internal gauge when it comes to nerve wracking moments within the game. Again, those with “ice in their veins” make the game and complex plays look easy, but in reality, those players are amongst the hardest working players on their team. They are students of the game and are always receptive when it comes to instruction or criticism for that matter.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some “naturals” out there that make everything look easy, but there are some players out there that constantly rehearse and work their asses off to be able to get to that point of their young careers.
Win or lose these defenders always leave everything on the ice, they empty their tanks every time they lace them up even if they don’t appear to be doing so. Their perceived lack of urgency is incredibly misjudged. They care deeply about the outcome of the game and their play on the ice. Every defender with ice running through their veins is incredibly self-aware and self-critical. Their self-confidence and style of play can plummet if not helped and guided along the way.
It’s not always sunshine and rainbows for these kinds of players. These players can struggle a lot especially when they have a coach that is reluctant to deviate from their ideology or have a “my way or the highway” mentality.
One of the defenders that has “ice in their veins” got better and better each and every time they suited up this season. There were some tough nights, which you could tell they learned and developed from. At the end of the day, they had a tremendous season and have a very bright future in the game if they want it.