As fans, we are only able to watch hockey games from the outside, behind the glass – the score, who scores, who fights and who wins. And while the ‘bottom line’ of professional sports is wins and losses – with doses of trash-talking banter and psyche-outs – there is always much more going on than meets the eye. Every now and then we have the chance to take a look inside to get a different view – a glimpse behind the curtain to see one of the many ‘games within the game’ that play out night after night at the highest levels of professional sports. Last week we got that rare glimpse.
Tommy McCollum, a goalie for the Grand Rapids Griffins, and Chris Terry, a left winger for the Charlotte Checkers, faced-off in an American Hockey League contest on April 14th that was dripping with post-season ramifications. It turned out to be a better night for McCollum, who achieved first-star honors and propelled his Griffins into the post-season. Terry drew the short end of the hockey stick.
It wasn’t the first time these two premier athletes have met on the ice. Terry, who hails from Toronto, Canada and McCollum, from nearby Buffalo, New York, have competed with each other repeatedly over the course of their respective careers, know each other well, and have remained friends in spite of the high-intensity turmoil that pro sports generates.
But there was something different about this game. It was the first time McCollum and Terry crossed blades while utilizing the advanced, innovative tools they have been accumulating from the Secrets of Champions™ proprietary performance protocols that both of them follow as protégés of the elite mentoring program. For Terry, the aggressor, and McCollum the defender, their toolbox is uniquely customized to their pre-game, in-game and post-game needs. Each is different while the goals of maximizing their instinctive ability to adapt and adjust during the game are the same. These skaters are both operating at a very high level – a perch from which the game looks different.
By the end of the first period McCollum, who was peppered with a dozen shots early on, surrendered a goal but while still down on the ice from an initial save. His mental focus remained in tact and he was able to track the shot into the net, but the circumstances of the play took his body out of the game momentarily. The Checkers saw the opening, struck and capitalized. The Griffins put two over the Checkers goal crease and were nursing the lead, but were forced to put even more pressure on their defense – and McCollum – as the Checkers blitzkrieg at the end would have tied the game were it not for Tommy’s acrobatics and 35 saves.
Yet despite the loss and some spirited hip checking on the ice between the two, the mutual admiration between these friends and competitors is obvious.
“He stood on his head,” Terry said of McCollum after the game. “We did everything but score. Tommy cost us a chance for the playoffs today. But he played unreal. He earned it.”
“That’s nice of him,” McCollum acknowledged when he heard Terry’s remarks, while smilingly admitting, “I also hammered him behind the net and pulled him out of a scrum.” The scrum save likely saving his friend Chris a black eye and maybe a tooth or two.
Terry admitted: “He did hammer me when I thought I was gonna pick his pocket. He hip checked real good. We were shorthanded, too. Took me right out of play.”
“That was my plan,” Tommy retorted with a sly grin. “I thought he was going to steal it so I chipped it behind my back and took a step into him … but made it look like an accident.”
“It was a very exciting game, with up-close, tight checking,” Terry said. “It was our biggest game of the year, and unfortunately we came out on the wrong end of it. Looking back, I have no regrets – I left everything I had out there, and that’s all you can do on any given night.”
“I knew we were in for a challenge,” McCollum said. “I was excited to try to match [Terry] out there and keep him off the scoreboard.” He knows that next time, the trophy might be Terry’s and that one good night is, well, one good night.
The good-natured post-game analysis carried on into the night.
At the core for both players is how the mental and physical acuity they are acquiring influences their performance. Both athletes were eager to weigh in.
“[Secrets of Champions™] has helped me focus on the process of trying to win the game,” McCollum said. He says it’s a little thing that makes a big difference. It keeps him loose and quick.
“It gave me another look on life and what I do as an athlete,” Terry said. “It gives me a different perspective, a different way to look at the game.” And, he likes the fact that the fun remains. And, the more fun, the more readily adjustments instinctively come.
Graceful in both victory and in defeat, these two top-level athletes exemplify an old-fashioned and too-often forgotten tenet: that a game well played is its own reward – that to truly be a champion, one must always be moving onward and upward. But, always with a smile – sometimes cynical and sometimes not. A game within the game.