EDITOR’S NOTE: This marks the second in what will be on ongoing series of columns written for Hockey News North by retired National Hockey League player and coach Craig Hartsburg. Hartsburg retired from the game in 2016 after an eventful 27-year coaching career that included 19 seasons in the NHL and successful stints in the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League. As a player, Hartsburg had a world-class career as an all-star defenseman with both the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL and the erstwhile Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He was captain of the Greyhounds for two of his three OHL seasons and was captain of the North Stars for seven of his 10 NHL seasons.
Our great game of hockey has undergone many changes over the years. It has become faster, more skilled and safer, not to mention more expensive.
Right now, the focus of our game is in a great area — skating, skill development and creativity.
These are the subjects of conversation everywhere. They are areas that are getting addressed and continue to evolve along with the competing aspect of the game.
The teaching of creativity is new. We used to learn that on the outdoor rinks or on the road. But then, for years, it was somewhat discouraged. So, now we have to show and encourage that part of the game.
There are some principles of hockey that have been around forever and I hope they will remain our values forever. They are simple but can be overlooked so easily.
We play and follow a game that can be a big life learning lesson in so many ways. I call these hockey’s core values.
The core values are a.) the pride of being part of a team. b.) being a good teammate. c.) being humble, selfless and respectful.
These are things we all have learned and at times we can get away from them. All players will reach different levels of play but all should strive to be excellent in our core values.
I look back at some of my most successful times and some of my most heartbreaking moments and they are special because of the people you battled with, supported and respected.
I remember the 1987 Canada Cup and how we all felt and the respect that guys like Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky had from us — but also the respect and humbleness they showed in that same dressing room.
I remember, when I was playing in the National Hockey League for the Minnesota North Stars and losing in the Stanley Cup finals to the New York Islanders and there was not a dry eye after the last game because we cared and went through so much together.
I also remember the same scene when I played in the Ontario Hockey League with the Soo Greyhounds and when we lost in eight games to the Ottawa 67’s back in 1977-1978.
I also remember, as a coach, the tears of joy by our kids after we won gold at the World Junior Championships.
The core values were a part of these teams and had a big impact on my view. This is a big part of a coach’s job — everybody is important! Teaching and showing the way is a big responsibility.
Some will understand it more. Young coaches continue to learn about dealing with all types of players. This needs to start young and the coaches really need the parents help.
Parents should understand and want their kids to learn these truly great values that can be a big part of the learning process.
For example, after your son or daughter scores three goals, you should be proud and tell them, “great job, you really helped your team.” But also remind them who passed them the puck, who won a battle, who blocked a shot and the goalie who made a great save right before. And hopefully the same is true for others in respecting your child’s contributions.
Trust is a big part between teammates and so is trust between coaches and parents to look at the big picture of what is important. There will be wins and losses — learn from both!
Let’s work together in teaching our kids what is important and right. And let’s enjoy the process of development and the core values of our great game!