There was a meltdown of sorts by the end of our first semester of CIS hockey, in the Ryerson Rams dressing room. It was not a meltdown in the form of a intra-team brawl, a yelling match or a group of young women sobbing in a circle; it was much deeper routed than that. There was a leak in our hearts, a slow drip of passion that with each pounding loss seemed to drip faster, pulling the love of the game from every soul in our dressing room. A drip, turned into a pour, and with it took all the energy any of us had to lace up the skates and fight through another game. Moments like that in sport are sad because that energy is what makes sport, and hockey so exciting. Without it, it becomes hard to win a game, to have some pride, to fight the losing battle you perceive in your mind. We were all at a loss, out of reasons, out of explanations for how our season turned so sour, and what could make it all better.
The spirit of a team is not built on wins and losses. The spirit of a team is neither build on skillful players, or an outstanding coach, or the rink that you play in. The spirit of a team is built on pride, love, determination and guts from the inside and out, and the decision to embody it. Spirit cannot be faked. It is not a face you put on once in a while. It is just a feeling. A feeling that the 26 or so players and staff decide to build together, decide to fight for together and decide that they are going to keep sacred no matter what team they are facing, or what the outcome of a game is. Spirit is only untouchable in the collective. Each and every person in the room needs to decide what they want to fight for.
Coach skated our guts out last week, coming off of the winter break. It was like training camp, but worse. We started the week with fitness testing, sprints, bench, agility, sit-ups and running the beep test off ice, and then straight into practice. We skated suicides at the beginning of practice, we skated suicides after every 10 minutes of drills, we skated drills at full intensity, and we skated more suicides. We skated until we thought skating anymore would be impossible, until everyone was so spent that all that could be heard was the wearied panting of 18 soldiers. And we continued this cycle for 4 days. Looking across that line, hearing that whistle was the most amazing thing I’ve seen on a team in years. Because no one could quit, no matter how much it hurt, there was a young woman beside you who was still pushing, and if she was still pushing the excuses you were making up in your mind were no longer valid. Any self-doubt you may have had was absolved by the hard work the person right next to you was pushing for. And with each passing moment, no matter how much you hated everything about pushing yourself further, you did it for yourself, and you did it for your team. And we made it through, together. That is pride, love, passion and everything that makes this sport so great.
It is up to a team to bring some accountability into the dressing room, bring yourself into the dressing room and decide you are going to play for the young woman sitting beside you, and for yourself. There are 10 games left for the Ryerson Rams this season, and the first 2 of this journey are this weekend. It is up to each individual to decide right now who they want to be. Are the Ryerson Rams the team that is “in their first year” and was probably going to have a dismal record just because? Are we the team of Rookies who are scared to see just how good we really are? Or is there a pilot light somewhere in our hearts that just needs a spark? Decide to light your fire again as an individual so that all together we can set this league ablaze. I think we already decided that last week when we pushed ourselves to the brink, together – and made it through.
It is cheap for any team to make excuses, and I don’t think we need to anymore. It is easy to sit around all day, looking at the stats, seeing numbers, calculated outcomes and predictions. It takes guts to do something about it, to go for something intangible, ignite that bounteous spirit of hockey passion and create our own numbers and outcomes and upsets. The true heart and spirit of a team, present or absent, shows greater than anything else when the season hits the fan. In the walk, in the talk and the energy of a room, you can smell that spirit. And right now I am certain that there is a special energy floating through the cool air currents of George Bell Arena. It is here and it is ready to fill our hearts up with that intangible thing called “passion” we lost somewhere along the way…