Lately, while playing in my weekly pick-up hockey games i've taken to analyzing the various playing styles of the guys I play with. While sitting on the bench waiting for your next shift, you are afforded ample time to watch how each player reads and reacts to situations on the ice. You start to notice things, patterns of behaviour and propensities for risk taking.
In particular, i've taken an interest in the player that I call the "difference maker". This type of player is usually thought of, at least in the NHL, as a high skill player that can turn a game around for his team. Perhaps deke a couple of guys and blast a blistering slapshot over the shoulder of the goalie. Think Alex Ovechkin, Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafluer type guys.
In pick-up hockey though, the "difference maker" seems to be quite a different animal. This player is not the best player on the ice. He isn't the worst player on the ice. Instead, he is the player that is out of control. Sure, he can skate pretty well, and his shot while not pretty looking is effective in a sledgehammer hitting drywall kind of way. He tends to hustle and is the first after the puck when it goes into the corner and, hell, he might even back-check (a rare occurence in pick-up games). With a description like this you might consider this type of player to be a desireable asset to your team and one of the better players on the ice...hell, he might even seem to be the best player on the ice!
If only this were true. The reality is this type of player is the most dangerous player on the ice. He is the type of player that the truly good players despise. He isn't despised for his lack of effort. Quite the contrary, he is admired by the truly good players for this effort....most players dont' put out any real effort. But this admiration is quickly put aside when the truly good player steps on the ice. You see, this "difference maker" cannot play what most good players understand is the number one rule in pick-up hockey...You must, at all times, play "under control". You MUST, not raise your stick above your head, you must keep all your shots below the cross-bar, if you are going to poke-check you MUST not miss and end up with your stick in the other players skates. When you go into a corner after the puck and another player is beside you, you MUST not do anything to make him fall down and go tumbling into the boards.
The "difference maker" in pick up games doesn't understand this. He just puts his head down and thinks he has to go all out. He has no concern or regard for the other players and has no clue that his actions, while technically not wrong, are dangerous to the other players.
Inevitably, his stick or skates will knock another player down, the other player will get angry at being knocked down but the "difference maker" won't understand why the other player is angry. He thinks it's all just part of the game, like it is on tv. He doesn't understand that if the truly good players played pick up hockey "like it is on tv" his face would be put through the boards after about 3 minutes of his reckless play. Good players will back off and give the "difference maker" a wide berth and may even appear to not be good players because they have to alter their play in order to compensate for the danger caused by this reckless player.
Hockey players police themselves. Reckless players do not. Reckless players don't even know they are reckless. I've tried to convey this concept in friendly conversation after the games to these players but they just look at you with blank faces, mouths slightly ajar, eyes staring at you but not understanding you.
Passion, sometimes, needs to be harnessed, contained and released in measured amounts at measured times. Results are not always obtained by those who set out to achieve them. The real "difference makers" are the ones that recognize the failures in others and alter course in order to avoid the inevitable.