Rozner: Cheat the game and hockey will embarrass you

  • FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2020, file photo, Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews celebrates his game winning goal against the Ottawa Senators. The Hawks captain played every shift as if it mattered, because all shifts matter. He played only to win and set the example for all to follow.

    FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2020, file photo, Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews celebrates his game winning goal against the Ottawa Senators. The Hawks captain played every shift as if it mattered, because all shifts matter. He played only to win and set the example for all to follow.

 
 
Updated 5/9/2021 3:42 PM

If there is a truth about the game of hockey, a magnificence about the sport that does not fail time or test, it's that you get out of the game precisely what you put into it.

Give a great effort and you will be rewarded, if in no other way than the pride gained and respect earned in struggle for team, the sacrifice and bruising immediately met with gratitude -- and probably beverages.

 

It's a rarity in life that great work is respected and acknowledged, that leadership and work ethic are instantly recognized.

Hockey offers this.

It is such an honest game, one that can't be cheated without embarrassment, one in which your mates are keenly aware of whether you're in it to win it -- or in it for yourself.

Flamingo on a shot block. Glide when there's a puck race so you're last into the corner. Take your time getting back in case there's a scoring opportunity the other way.

Everyone sees it. You don't fool anyone.

Winning is the ultimate reward, and playing hockey without a desire to win is as great a waste of time and talent as one can imagine.

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There's no greater example than Jonathan Toews, who is at top of mind these days as we hope for the best.

The captain played every shift as if it mattered, because all shifts matter. He did not cheat the backcheck, the forecheck or the empty net. He played only to win and set the example for all to follow.

When you saw him return to the bench after a shift, or stand and face reporters after game, it was clear that he was spent, that he had given all he had, with only one goal in mind.

There is so much respect for the man that no one wore a "C" on the Blackhawks' sweater this year. See, leadership isn't a letter stitched on cloth, points on a stat sheet or title given by management.

You know it when you see it -- and you know it when you don't.

There have been others over the last decade of Hawks hockey who fit that bill, the likes of Marian Hossa, Andrew Ladd, Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith are just a few that come immediately to mind.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Even today, though Keith is not the player he once was, his effort has not waned, and Alex DeBrincat is becoming one of those relentless players. His passion for the game, and wanting to be a complete player, is apparent as he fights for the puck at both ends of the ice.

Guys like Brandon Hagel and Connor Murphy play like that, albeit it with far less talent than anyone mentioned above. Murphy, in particular, is captain material.

He talks in "we," not "I," unless he is taking the blame. He will call out the passengers privately, something that has to come from inside the room. In the modern world, a coach has to be careful with his words, or players will quit on that coach in an instant.

This is not Orval Tessier's NHL. Players who have been coddled since youth hockey know how to get a coach fired.

It's still a wonderful game, one that teaches you much about life, lessons you can take with you and use forever, but these are very personal choices.

Learning to reach deep down when the tank is empty, to win a race or a puck or block a shot, that's hockey. That's the essence of the game. Turns out, that pretty much sums up how to survive this existence when life has knocked you into the third row.

You finish your shift, get to the bench, start counting body parts and 45 seconds later you're back out there fighting for your life.

Tell me it's not the greatest game there is -- and tell me your teammates don't see it when you don't have the respect for them, the respect for the game, to give what they're willing to give, to fight for them when they're protecting you and responding on your behalf.

It's a privilege to play the game and not one that lasts forever, so if you cheat the game, you're not only cheating your team, but cheating yourself.

Most would never do it. Those who do are exposed, and unless they possess exceptional skill they disappear quickly.

Nevertheless, you cheat the game and you fool no one. That's something else about hockey that will never change.

It is as true as ever.

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