It’s always somewhere on my mind. What can I do to get us ready? How can I mentally prepare these young men to compete? How can we get bigger? Faster? Stronger? Do we have the proverbial “it”?
We have a saying in West Haven Hockey. “We don’t rebuild. We reload.” When players graduate, we have others that are ready to step into their roles. Long before the boys put on their jerseys and join the tradition, the reload starts.
It usually begins when the weather is 80° and the humidity is oppressive. Fog engulfs Bennett Rink. Confident upperclassmen have a laugh before they get on the ice. Freshmen are nervous and quiet. They’ve heard the stories. This is going to be the most intense conditioning they’ve ever had. We’re going to see who is mentally tough.
Reloading isn’t easy. West Haven Hockey has had some lean numbers in the last decade. No excuses. Tradition doesn’t care if you have 1 or 100 kids in a class. Tradition is depending on you to carry and pass it on. We few must compete against many. By “many” I typically mean the private schools- Prep, Notre Dame, Xavier, etc. Those programs have the ability to take kids from all over the state, including us. Tradition doesn’t care. West Haven vs. Everyone.
I usually start preseason practice with some sort of speech about heart and pride. All I ask from these young men is… everything. I need everything they have. I’m going to give them everything I have. We are going to lay it all on the line every time we get out there. The conditioning starts. This isn’t like other skating they’ve done before. This is intense. I challenge them. I make them question if they are indeed as tough as they think they are.
“Are you willing to do what it takes to win?” “You can’t lead from the back!” I find myself yelling repeatedly. They’re earning the right to wear the jersey. We hydrate and start again. These young men push themselves to the limit. Spit runs down their faces. They look like hell. They’re getting ready.
By November they don’t take a knee anymore. They don’t need as much water. They don’t gasp for air. They don’t even seem fazed by the conditioning. They are ready to work. They are ready to win. They don’t need kids from all over the state. They just need each other and work ethic.
I am proud to coach West Haven Hockey. The ability to find ways to win against the odds translates into life successes. We don’t win in spite of being from West Haven. We win because we are from West Haven. We win because we are willing to do whatever it takes to win. We win because we play with heart and pride. We play for the guy next to us.
It’s West Haven vs Everyone. It’s always somewhere on my mind.
2004 West Haven Hockey Alumni
West Haven Hockey Preseason Coach