Growing up, if I hadn’t had sports, I don’t know where I’d be. God only knows what street corners I’d have been standing on and God only knows what I’d have been doing, but instead I played hockey and went to school and stayed out of trouble – Bobby Orr
The importance of hockey to a player’s life can’t be understated. It connects you with people, it gives you a place to go when the world doesn’t seem to go your way.
Related: How to Talk Like a Hockey Player
Over the past two years, I have had a chance to speak with close to 100 players in interviews and podcasts that I have recorded, and at the end of each, I ask one question: “What does the game of hockey mean to you?”
Here are some of the answers that changed the way I saw the sport.
Krebs, a first-round draft pick for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2019 was a standout with Kootenay Ice before the team moved to Winnipeg ahead of the 2019-20 season.
He has tallied 188 points in his three years and change and has captained the team for the last two seasons.
Related: Who Invented Hockey?
A player who has been praised consistently throughout his young career for his work ethic, Krebs said that he believes that hard work is at the core of what makes him love the sport.
“It has taught me how to how to work for what you want. Hockey is one of those things that if you work for it, you can get it. You can strive to get wherever you want to get to. If you work your hardest at whatever you want to pursue, you can do well with it and make a living with it. I’m having so much fun with it. I love playing hockey and making new friendships. It’s not something that many people get to experience and I’m very fortunate to get to do it.”
Miller, a first-round draft pick in 2018 by the New York Rangers, recently signed his entry-level contract with the team in March after two solid seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers. He recorded 40 points from the back end in 62 games over two seasons with the team.
In 2018, when he played for the NTDP in Michigan, Miller spoke about the moment that made him realize what it truly meant to him to be a hockey player and a role model.
“My first role model in the NHL was Mikko Koivu. He showed me what I could be on and off the ice. We had a cool interaction for my 10th birthday. He tried to give me one of his sticks, but the equipment manager had packed everything up, so he told me the next home game that I went to he’d find me and give me a stick. The next time I was there, he noticed me in the crowd and gave me his stick. Ever since then, I’ve tried to model myself after him, knowing that kids are looking up to me.”
I got a chance to speak with Fossier right before the 2019-20 season was canceled, as he was getting ready to prepare for the Hockey East tournament.
Related: Best NHL Defensemen Ever
Fossier, an Alpharetta, Ga. native tallied 128 points in his four years at the University of Maine, and he spoke about how his connection to his teammates is what made hockey so special in his life.
“The game of hockey means everything to me honestly. We just had to do a senior speech the other night and we were asked a very similar question. I’ve lived in so many different places and met so many different people because of the sport of hockey. The game itself is a lot of fun, but it’s bigger than that. My best friends I’ve met, I’ve met through hockey. It’s given me so much, and it teaches you to have thick skin and how to work hard. No matter what, I’ll always be thankful for the friendships it’s given me and the people I’ve met along the way.”
Burke, a Notre Dame graduate and recent Colorado Eagles signee had a long path to the NCAA before he got a shot at playing for the Fighting Irish.
A Nobles and Greenough (Mass.) graduate, he continued on to play in Cedar Rapids for the Roughriders where he became the captain in his second year. He then went to Notre Dame, where he recorded 81 points in four years, also earning the captaincy for the Irish.
Speaking with Burke in the fall of 2019, he spoke of a key person in his family who inspired him to see the game of hockey from a different perspective.
“The game of hockey to me can be summarized with what my mom would say to me before every game. She’d just say ‘work hard and have fun.’ That is something that I’ve always tried to think about every time I play. Maybe when it stops being fun, I’ll stop playing. It is a game, but like anything in life, if you want to enjoy it, you have to compete and work at it.”
Walsh is widely seen as one of the best defensemen in NCAA hockey. A junior at Harvard and the New Jersey Devils’ third-round selection in 2017, he has recorded 78 points in his three years with the Crimson.
He teamed up with current Rangers defenseman Adam Fox in his sophomore season, before taking the reigns on the back end for the Crimson in his junior year.
Walsh’s father, Mike played hockey at Colgate before he headed to Sweden for two years. He played in the AHL for the Springfield Indians, getting some time with the New York Islanders sprinkled throughout.
Reilly points to his father’s influence as a big reason he has achieved what he has in his career.
“It just clicked with me. I couldn’t tell you a specific time where I knew that I liked it, but with my grandpa playing and my dad playing, it just came to me. (I give) credit to my dad for getting me on the ice at a very young age. I just love the game. I had a lot of fun practicing and learning new things. I could watch YouTube videos of NHL players doing something and go to the rink and try it for a couple hours until I figured it out. I had so much creativity with that and it was very easy to fall in love with the game.”
Savoie turned heads consistently with his blazing speed and deft hands in the CSSBHL in 2017-18, scoring 97 points in 30 games. In 2018-19, he followed it up with a 71-point performance in 31 games for Northern Alberta Xtreme Prep in the CSSHL.
I got a chance to speak with Savoie after he had applied for exceptional status for the WHL in 2019, and we spoke a bit about what getting exceptional status could mean at that time.
He was later denied but said that no matter what ended up happening, it was something he was never going to forget.
“I won’t forget the path I’ve taken. There’s a lot of training and practice that goes into it, and we’re creating bonds that are going to last a lifetime. It’s cool to say that I’ve made lifelong friends through hockey. Hockey for me feels like a home away from home.”
Raymond, a top player in this year’s NHL Draft, has been widely regarded as one of the best players to come out of Sweden in the past five years or so. He recorded 48 points in 37 games for Frölunda in the SuperElit in 2018-19 before he got promoted this year full time to the SHL.
I spoke with Raymond after he had played a select few games as a 16-year-old for Frölunda in 2018-19, and he said that the past couple of years with the team had taught him what it means to be a good teammate.
“(It’s about) playing for each other and the team. I’m going to take that with me into my personal life and social life. You have to learn how to play for your teammates and not just for yourself.”
Drysdale, a projected top 5-10 pick in this year’s NHL Draft has taken the OHL by storm in the past two seasons, scoring 87 points from the blue line for the Erie Otters.
When I spoke with Drysdale, he was a bit over halfway through his rookie year and said that what he had learned in his life playing hockey was something he would carry with him throughout the rest of his career.
“(It has taught me) respect and responsibility, as well as how to act and how to treat others. It’s taught me everything, really. It has taught me work ethic and being a team player on the ice, but also how to treat people off the ice. It’s a great sport, and it teaches anyone who comes through it great life lessons.”
Hockey has changed many lives, giving players of all ages skills that translate into all aspects of life. It teaches you how to work hard, it gives you friendships and purpose in life.
Hockey has been a way for me to expand my horizons as a writer and as a person. I have had the chance to tell the stories of players from different backgrounds and locations.
I have experienced kindness from all corners of the globe through hockey and it continues to bring me joy to tell these stories.
Now, my only question to you is: What does hockey mean to you?