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Thursday, 2 August 2012

Not Easy To Call It Quits

The toughest thing for a hockey player to do is hang up the skates and walk away from the game they love. It is becoming more and more frequent to see a player sticking around into their late 30's or early 40's. The scary thing is with the education about health, fitness and nutrition players today have we may see players playing into their 50's in the future. If players are able to keep their bodies in top shape, why stop?

On Tuesday it was announced long time Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson would be returning for at least one more season. There was talk that last season would be Alfredsson's last year in the NHL, but he's decided he's ready for one more.
"I've had the motivation of playing from the beginning" ~ Daniel Alfredsson

Alfredsson said he needed to "Test out his body" to see if it could withstand the rigours of training for the NHL. He had back surgery last year to fix his back pain, so he needed to see where he stood after the surgery.
"It was my body that had to make the decision more than anything. If I have my strength I know I can play and contribute." ~Daniel Alfredsson

Alfredsson is returning for his 17th NHL season. Remarkably he has played all 17 seasons with the same team, never jumping ship and staying loyal to end. He has been the captain of the Senators since 1999 and has been with the team through the ups and downs.

He holds team records in goals (416), assists (666) and points (1,082). But his value to the Senators goes well beyond the scoreboard. He helped mentor Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson and played a huge part in developing Jason Spezza's game. He's been in the league so long he's experienced almost everything, so he's able to give advice and leadership to younger players.

Alfredsson joins the elite group of players to continue playing in their 40's. (He will be 40 in December). Other players in the same category include Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur.

Who inspired players to play for so long? Obviously there have been many trend setter who have played into their "later years", Gretzky played until he was 38 or how about Chris Chelios who played until he was 48! But I believe the real trend setter was Gary Roberts who played until he was 43. Roberts initially retired at age 30 but returned the following season to play 12 more seasons. How did he do it? By taking care of his body. He ate the proper foods, trained hard and most importantly listened to his body when it cried "uncle". Roberts knew when give his body a rest and when to push it to it's limits. Through his 22 seasons he single handily changed the way players think about the game. Why not play till your 40? If you have the proper resources why not take proper care of your body?
While Roberts is not playing in the NHL anymore he is still training and eating the proper way. A major factor in performance is food, if you eat the right stuff you're good to go.

In honour of Alfredsson coming back for another season, I've compiled a list of three reasons why it's so difficult for players to walk away from the game.

1. Money
When the players stop playing they stop making millions of dollars every year. While it's nice and dandy for players to sign a 10 year deal in which they make $10 million each year, once those 10 years are up and they stop playing that comfy $10 million stops rolling in. While it may be tough to think of someone blowing $100 million, it's a reality for a lot of NHL players. During their careers they spend money on big houses, fancy cars and all the latest gadgets and are able to do so because they're getting more money next season. But once the money stops coming in it becomes more and more difficult to stop spending the money even though it's not being replenished.

Hockey players usually don't have a high level of education. Some players enter the NHL right out of high school, while others do a year or two of college. What job would they be able to get after their hockey careers? Whatever job they get it wont pay nearly as well as the NHL.

2. "The Boys"
I know that sounds like a silly saying, but it's a very common saying in junior and minor hockey. The players always talk about hanging out with "the boys" or how they'd do anything for "the boys". It's no different in the NHL. The players are even closer, they travel together, work together, fight for each other and many even live together. On hockey team everyone has their tight nit group of "boys" they hang out with on road trips and even on off days. It becomes a life style, these guys are your best friends and often times the people you go to when you need help.

While many of the players may be married and some even have kids, hanging with their families is much different than hanging with "the boys". Believe me when I say this: There is nothing better than hanging out with your teammates.

When a player steps away from the game, they lose that connection with their teammates and friends. Sure they still text each other and come to the odd game. But they no longer hang out with them on road trips and you're not battling with them to win anymore. You become alienated from the only world you've ever known and it's a very tough adjustment.

3. Better nutrition and training
In the older days of hockey, the players used to drink and smoke after games. Heck some even did it between periods. The players also didn't train nearly as hard as today's players. While todays players still drink more and more of them are becoming aware of the proper nutrition needed to allow their bodies to compete at the top level. Players that consistently drink and smoke just won't cut it in today's NHL. The game moves so fast that you have to be in the best shape or you're a step behind.

Due to the fact players are learning how to properly train and take care of their bodies, they're finding they're able to play longer in their careers. When you eat and train properly you avoid the little injuries that slow players down. With people like Roberts offer training and nutrition programs, nutrition has become just as much part of the game as training or skating.

The players know, take care of your body and you can play at your best for as long as you want.

Yes today's players (or should I say yesterday's) are making their careers last a lot longer. If you can take care of your body you can get another pay check so why not? But with the awareness and knowledge around preserving your body right now, we could see players playing well into their 50's in the future.

What do you think, do you like seeing players play into their 40's?

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