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Can You Handle Toughness?

Coaches make decisions to play or not play players for multiple reasons. The best thing you can do is: “Don’t take it personally.”

You think you’re a tough hockey player?

We’re talking tough enough to handle some adversity during your hockey career. Tough enough to turn a negative into a positive. Tough enough to keep going when things don’t seem to be going your way — when you lose a close game, when you’re told to take a seat on the bench, when you get hurt and miss time.

How players handle those situations and how they learn from them may just turn disappointments into victories down the road, whether it’s your next shift or someday later in life.

We asked Moorhead High School boys hockey head coach Jon Ammerman to give us some of his advice on how to handle a few tough situations:

Getting Cut, Not Making the Team You Wanted

“Stick with it and try to have fun playing the game,” Ammerman said. “You just might be a late-bloomer.”

The Spuds coach shared the story of one of his former players, Will Borgen, who was passed over for some elite-level opportunities when he was 15. Borgen stuck with it, though, playing for the love of the game as he developed and improved. Eventually, the defenseman earned a scholarship to St. Cloud State, got drafted by the Buffalo Sabres, and was selected to play for Team USA in the World Junior Championships and 2018 Winter Olympics.

“He really enjoyed competition and had a lot of fun when he was playing. He still does,” Ammerman said. “He was so athletic and competed so hard and had so much fun doing it, it showed up in his game. Now he’s at the professional level.”

Remember, it’s okay to be the best player on a team. If you get cut, be the leader, the go-to guy or girl on your team and develop that confidence.

Getting Benched

Coaches make decisions to play or not play players for multiple reasons. The best thing you can do is: “Don’t take it personally,” Ammerman said. “The coach is only trying to get a message across. Do your best to control your emotions. Have a positive attitude and take advantage by trying to learn from it.”

Editor’s note: Minnesota Hockey recommends that coaches should strive to make playing time for all players approximately equal, excepting reduced time for disciplinary reasons, at the 8U/10U/12U levels.

READ: 5 Reasons for Equal Playing Time

If you have to sit and watch from the bench for a shift or a period or are left out and have to watch from the stands, pay attention and figure out what to do to correct mistakes and improve.

“All you can worry about as a player is what you can control,” Ammerman said. “You can hold yourself accountable and try to make yourself better. You can control three things: showing up, your attitude and how you approach it, and the effort that you put into it.”

Losing Games

At the end of the year, only one team finishes on top, so don’t dwell on your losses.

“It’s about perspective,” Ammerman said. “Hockey is such a fickle game. You might win a game you should have lost or you might play great and lose by five goals. It’s OK to be disappointed in the result, but maintain perspective.”

Judging your success in the game goes far beyond the scoreboard, especially in youth hockey. Are you improving skills? Are you having fun and making new friends?

“Success can be looked at in different ways,” he said. “For some players it’s, ‘Did I score a goal?’ or ‘Did I win a game?’ It could be, ‘Did I work on what I needed to work on in practice?’ It’s not always wins and losses or stats. Sometimes it’s about getting better as a team.”

On-Ice Issues

Sometimes things just aren’t going your way during a game. Perhaps you disagree with a referee’s call or feel like an opponent has taken a cheap shot against you or a teammate. Try not to get caught up in it.

“You want emotions and passion to be high in hockey, but you also want to control your emotions,” Ammerman said. “Sports are a great teacher for dealing with the emotions we have in life.

“It goes back to the idea of controlling what you can control. The refs are one of the things you can’t control. They’re doing their best. You need to move on.”


One of the most frustrating things that can happen to a player is injury. Missing games and practices while rehabilitating can be tough. Ammerman suggested players try to keep themselves involved in with the team in other ways until they’re ready to start skating again.

“Maybe help with video or help with the student managers,” he said. “Find other ways to contribute to the team, even though you can’t play.”

Remember, like in life, a hockey practice, game or season is going to have adversity. That only helps you down the road when faced with other difficult situations. The better you handle it now, the better you will be in the future.

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