Like all team sports, hockey requires a group of athletes from a variety of backgrounds and skill levels to work together in order to achieve success. Squads loaded with “team players” – individuals willing to sacrifice for the benefit of the group – tend to have a leg up on their competition.
Ohio State University assistant women’s hockey coach Emily West has seen firsthand the value of teamwork throughout her career. As a former two-time Gopher captain, West was part of a national championship squad at the University of Minnesota in 2012 and fondly recalls the way her teammates stood up for one another and stuck together even during more challenging times.
“That was a special group,” said West, who was an American Development Model manager for USA Hockey prior to joining the Buckeyes’ staff. “No matter what, you knew the girl on your left and the girl on your right would do anything for you on and off the ice. It was a true family environment. Even when we stumbled, we were always there for each other.”
West shared her thoughts on what makes the ultimate teammate.
Inclusive and Friendly to All
“It’s important to include everyone and realize this is a game, this is for fun, these are my teammates and treat them how you would want to be treated. Anything your teammates would do for you, you should do for them. Even if there are smaller groups of friends off the ice, once you’re at the rink that should be null and void. You’re a team. Just be kind to each other and have fun. It’s that simple.”
Sometimes though, being inclusive and friendly to everyone actually requires standing up to teammates when they step out of line.
“Anyone who stands up and says, maybe it’s not popular, maybe it’s not what everyone else is doing, but that’s not OK, that’s not how you treat people. We need more of those kinds of teammates. It’s easy to think that’s not OK but not act on it. Players who are willing to put the popularity vote aside and stand up for someone else is so important in this world we live in.”
Picks You Up When You’re Down
“If you can laugh with your teammates, and pick someone up when they’re frustrated, that’s a truly supportive environment. It’s so great to see a kid that skates over to another kid who missed a shot, give him or her a tap on the shin pads or tell a joke to make them laugh. It puts into perspective that this is just a game. That’s important at all levels. One of my favorite quotes is that people will forget the awards, trophies and accolades, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Leads by Example
“During a long season, there will be ebbs and flows and ups and downs and not everything will go your way. I admire players who don’t change their character no matter what’s happening. It’s expressed through their play and their actions. They don’t always say a lot, but they bring effort to each practice and each game. That example speaks louder than words.”
“There’s a difference between someone who says the right things and someone who does the right things. How the bench reacts after a goal is a good indicator. A great teammate supports their teammates and gets excited for them, gives taps on the shin pads for a good play or a good shift and lifts them up when they need help. On the 2012 team there were so many teammates willing to sacrifice on everyone’s behalf. I remember one player blocking a shot with her chest. She just dove in front of it. Seeing a player willing to go through pain to help the team win makes you want to do everything to pay it forward.”
Two examples of selflessness that are particularly evident at the youth levels are how willing players are to pass the puck and how they celebrate when goals are scored. Players who rush to celebrate their teammates’ goals and choose to celebrate their own goals with their teammates first and foremost are often great teammates.