Playing Two-Way Hockey

Why is it important to be a “two-way” player?

There are a lot of players (most that are the best on their team) that don’t think they have to care about playing well defensively because they are putting up points.

I have a story for them:

While I was playing at Cornell, a kid named Riley Nash was recruited to our team.  He was a first round draft pick…and a STUDDDDD.  He might be the best player I’ve ever played with.

At Cornell, we were not allowed to “cheat” the game.  Our coach was adamant on us being responsible defensively.  He could care less if you were a 4th line penalty killer or a 1st line power play player.  You were held accountable for making sure you did your job without the puck.

And here’s why that is important…

I remember distinctly talking to Billy Jaffe about this last year as he was prepping for an NCAA Tournament TV game that Cornell was playing in.  Billy also happens to work a lot of Boston Bruins games (Riley played for the Bruins last year).  He knew Cornell’s reputation as a defensive power-house, and asked about it…specifically if our head coach let certain guys get away with not being as responsible defensively.

I told him, “No, he doesn’t”…Because take a look at Riley Nash.  He’s a first round draft pick…but he’s playing on the Bruins’ third line and is one of their top penalty killers.  There’s no way that Riley plays that role without learning to care about the defensive side of the game at Cornell.  And there’s no way he’s beating out Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci for a top-two line role.

Riley just signed a 3 year, $8.25 million deal with Columbus.  He’s making that much money because he’s versatile and can play up and down your lineup.  He certainly has skill, but there’s only so many players in the world that get the opportunity to play top offensive minutes.  And it’s the same at every level.

The higher level you go, the more competition there is for those big offensive minutes.  From midget to junior…junior to college…or college to pro…every level you are competing against better players.  Players that are probably more talented than you.  So how can you differentiate yourself?

Care about playing well defensively.  Because there’s not a lot of “offensive players” that do.  Talent gets you in the door.  But versatility keeps you there.  And gives you much more opportunity.

That’s why I love this clip from Al Tuch.  He cared enough to backcheck, take a good angle, win a battle…and then he let his talent shine on the goal.  He doesn’t get to use that talent without his defensive smarts and grit to get the puck.

Kids, being a “two-way” player is good for your development.  It creates opportunity.  And it shows coaches and teammates that you care about something greater than yourself.  So if you are an offensive player that roles their eyes when your coach is trying to teach you about a defensive aspect of the game…stop.  Engage and listen.  In the long game, it’s helping you more than you know.