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Hockey Is Combat


I have said it before. Hockey is a lot like combat. Consider this:

Players (soldiers?) don protective equipment and uniforms, grab their sticks (weapons) and enter into games (conflict).

While bullets aren’t flying, players skating at speed build up kinetic energy that is released in the form of hits and shots which can injure players and/or produce tactical results.

Medical personnel are required to be on hand to patch up the wounded and (occasionally) save lives.

And management and coaches lead at tactical and operational levels to meet strategic goals.

So here – have a look at Hockey in combat terms…

Tactical Hockey

Coaches, players, fans and the media ‘fight’ Hockey at the tactical level.

More than anything else they do, coaches work before, during and after games to provide tactical guidance for players in order to focus their efforts toward victory in each game (or battle). Before the game, they employ intelligence functions to analyze the opposing team (enemy) and themselves (friendlies) against their experience of the game on the ice (the environment). During the game, they must adjust systems (tactical maneuver) such as how they attack, defend or run the power play and penalty kill to take advantage of opponents’ weaknesses (center of gravity) in order to win. And after a game, they must assess their current status (injuries, weaknesses, and strengths) against the next opponent in order to continue to succeed in the next battle. It is a magnificent cacophony of struggle to overmatch an enemy who dynamically opposes your very being because you stand in the way of them reaching the exact, same strategic goal. Coaches are the Captains of Hockey, assisted by their coaching staff (Lieutenants) in running the troops.

Players on a team are the platoon of troops who execute tactical actions. On the ice, they have 60(+) minutes of skating, passing, hitting, shooting, blocking shots, making saves and scoring (engagements) that feed into a game victory or defeat (tactical battle). During the game (battle), they must continuously analyze their efforts (engagements) to keep doing what is working and stop repeating what is failing to achieve victory (their tactical goal). If they win, they must not rest on their laurels as they have to tactically readjust to the next opponent (enemy) who plays the game (tactically engages) differently based on their own capabilities. If they lose, they must analyze what they did wrong and apply it to their next opponent so they do not repeat the same mistakes. A lot of people think the goalie has to be the smartest tactical player on the ice because he has to know how some 19 different players on 30 different teams are going to attack his defensive position at speeds up to Zdeno Chara’s 105.9mph slapshot in a space of less than 60ft / in about .386 seconds. His position is but one reason the tactical echelon of Hockey is the fastest executed echelon of the sport. It is also why those who do not execute at the tactical echelon of Hockey often fail to understand the on-ice conflict as the troops, er, players do and are a subject of mostly private, and sometimes public, derision by them. Players are the grunts we both glorify and vilify in the sport.

Fans live and breathe going to a game, following players’ engagements on the ice, and talking smack about the tactical wins and losses they witness. They drop big money to observe and immerse themselves in each game – jersey/team gear, gas money, parking pass, game ticket(s), arena food and beverage, and after-game food and drink at a sports bar. Either that or they tailgate at home with any number of services paid for to provide the game feed for viewing. Their efforts at supporting the tactical level of play are how the NHL makes much of its revenue and is why more effort than for any other echelon goes into exulting tactical Hockey. Fans are the civilians / tax payers.

And the media mostly fights tactical Hockey because that is where the fan – their target audience – lives. Fans are their primary target audience and where they derive the quickest/biggest bang-for-the-buck from their efforts. Some great media strive to influence management on occasion. They are the only ones fans can vent directly at when they do not like what they see because they are the fans’ connection to vicariously engage in the combat. There is no other defining word for them but ‘media.’

Operational Hockey

Management, coaches, some fans and some media ‘fight’ Hockey at the operational level.

League management first arrives on scene at this level to ensure the mechanics of Hockey keep the game alive. They provide the overall form and function and police the execution of the game. They are the bureaucrats.

Team management steps in at this echelon to apply fan-generated revenue to provide short, medium and long-term assets their team needs to achieve the common strategic goal. They employ scouts who comb the globe looking for the best tactical talent to infuse into the organization to help it win. (Theoretically, you see that talent in trades no later than the trade deadline each year and at the end of every June in the entry draft.)  They also staff and organize personnel, operations, logistics and media/public affairs to that end as well. In effect, they provide orders and intent that are an executable framework which brings players, coaches, fans and the media together for the experience of the team engaged in battle. They are City Hall, presumably with the fans best interests at heart and the place they want to storm when not getting satisfaction.

Coaches also operate at the operational level in that they manage the players in an attempt to operationally string enough game wins (tactical battles) together to feed the strategic goal of winning the Stanley Cup at season’s end. They look at the past for lessons learned to alter tactical decisions, but they also look ahead a set amount of time to determine how best to apply tactical efforts toward the overall goal.

Some fans engage as amateur media in the blogosphere to provide analysis beyond a tactical preview or replay about their favorite team’s efforts. If they are not talking tonight’s or last night’s game, they are likely writing about some piece of the overall picture which steps just across into the operational view of the game.

Media often does the same as blogging fans, but they do so in a planned way. As the saying goes, there is method to their madness when they take a step back from discussing one player, one event and/or one game and providing analysis of the team/league as a whole. This operational thinking is a line of analysis that is less introduced, however, because most fans – the targeted audience of the media – are caught up in the tactical echelon.

Strategic Hockey

This echelon is the realm of League and team management.

At the League management level, providing the Stanley Cup for awarding at the end of the finals is but one tactical engagement of each season. The League’s battles are not each game, but rather revenue streams and appropriate sharing and reorganization to support those streams as required. Their operational engagements include the collective bargaining process and enforcement of rules for the good of player health and the game. And strategically they battle for more influence than the other major sports in North America and grapple with issues like supporting playing in the Olympics and whether or not they one day expand the League to Europe. They fight these management battles, turning them into that operational guidance spoken of above that is designed to ensure future success of the sport/League.

And at the team management level, winning the Stanley Cup remains the strategic goal. It is the culmination of every effort and exertion from everyone in the organization. Only one of 30 teams meets that strategic goal each season, but it is why all is given by everyone for their team each season ad infinitum.

On The Objective

What did we learn here? Some key things:

Fans = Civilians / Tax Payers (rootin’ on from the bleachers through the media)

Players = Grunts (in protective gear and uniforms, totin’ weapons)

Coaching staffs = The Lieutenants

Coaches = The Captains

Team Management = City Hall

League Management = Bureaucrats

And the Media = The Media (loved to be hated because they are the civilians’ only recourse for interaction)

Plenty to do battle over, there. That’s because the above is a slate of actors representing a pugilistic society, if not all of the time, at least on game nights.

So I maintain Hockey is combat. It’s fast pace transition from tactical offense to defense coupled with it being the national sport of Canada is why in my experience Canadian soldiers are so tactically sound. They were groomed for the give and take world of tactical combat from the very youngest of ages.

Americans? In general, we are a football-centric country. We believe in piling on where we want to with as much as we can, and if that is not enough, we will pile on with some more. We are blunt and sometimes pushy as our national sport has made us. It works for us, too, just differently than it does for our northern brothers and sisters in uniform. But I tend to believe we could apply our tons of resources more efficiently if we happen to be the U.S. military person who knows Hockey.

Any way you slice it, there’s no denying Hockey is combat.

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