Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Hockey Players - A Commodity

Deep experience is never peaceful.-Henry James

I am currently sitting and watching the NHL trade day and I find myself being taken to a time in my own career that is quite disturbing. TSN was interviewing Nick Schultz who was just traded to Edmonton and they were asking him "how did you find out"? There is a point in your career when it is not about fun with friends anymore. I was introduced to this when I was barely 17. I was playing for the Calgary Wranglers of the WHL, I was projected to be a high draft pick in the NHL draft that year (1987) and was excited as I had a new coach that communicated and cared about the players state of MIND. All things were looking great for me to have a year that would allow me to make my dream come true.

As I arrived at the rink and walked by the board that the coach had the evenings line up I realized that my name was not on the board. A couple of days prior my best friend and teammate had mentioned that I was talked about being traded. I called Wally Kozak (the coach) and asked if there was any truth. "Bob, there are some really good offers coming in for you, I cannot say yes or no, but the offers are very good". I was pissed, how could they consider trading me after I spent the previous year that was one of the worst and most challenging in my career to that point? 

I proceeded to enter Wally's office and he told me that I had been traded to Swift Current for four players. I was stunned, I was infuriated. That night we were playing the Broncos and the first question I asked was could I play that night. Wally said that part of the deal was that I could not play that night. I left the room without saying much to anyone. I called my parents from the pay phone (we did not have cell phones then) and informed them of the trade. They were as I was, very angry and shocked. I remember that my Mom was there within 30 minutes and stormed in John Chapman's office and went nuts on him. I was embarrassed and happy all at the same time. As the Broncos arrived my parents and I walked down to the opposite side of the building and met my fate for the next three years. I knew a couple of the players from the Olympic programs so at least I knew some of the guys. We talked with Lorne Frey and he seemed excited and then we talked with Graham James. My stomach turned when I saw him - he had the air of creepy to say the least. My Mom after we had met with the staff was very adamant that I was not leaving. My Dad and I sat and watched the game and tried to build something positive to hold onto. Our whole world was turned upside down.

We took a few days to process and talk about the situation that we were in. We did not feel very good, I was having to leave home, I was very young emotionally and was completely unprepared to leave everything I had in my life. My friends, girlfriend, family all to go and play. In my MIND I was confused and scared. I was going, there was no doubt in my MIND about that. I drove from the house with my Dad and I remember crying and thinking I would never return the same, the life I knew had ended.
The next time I was traded I was property of the Detroit Red Wings playing in Ft.Wayne of the IHL. I was 22 and fresh off a Calder Cup Championship, I had been shipped out of Adirondack, I had not panned out and the Wings moved me to make room for a new group of young players. I went into practice and all the guys were asking me what I was doing there. As usual, you think it is a joke, they handed me the newspaper and sure enough it said I had been traded to Philadelphia Flyers. I did not even know what to do or who to call. The coach was surprised that I had not been contacted.

The last trade I was playing in Hershey of the AHL and had asked Bobby Clarke that training camp for a trade because he had not even given me a exhibition game to showcase myself. They had resigned me to being a good minor league player. I was in the Maritimes and getting ready for my pre-game nap. The phone rang and it was Bob Murray from the Chicago Blackhawks telling me they had acquired me and asked how quickly I could be on a plane. I caught a plane and ended up in Detroit within hours. That one was tough as I was newly married and called my wife from the Montreal airport, I remember telling my wife "I was traded, I will be home in a week to pick you up, pack the house, I will call you later."
The game is tough. The game is challenging and you must understand that you are at the discretion of whoever is running the ship to be moved. I know the first time I was mad, the second time surprised, the third time I realized that it was a new opportunity. I now tell the players I work with to look at the positive that a team wants you. Go in and make a difference, don't carry the grudge because it will keep you from performing to the best of your ability.

You are a commodity, know who you are, they talk about how hard it is to find ROLE players. Define who you are and work on being the best you can be in the atmosphere you are in. If you are to be traded you want it to be because of the value you bring to your team.

Bob Wilkie

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