Back in 2008-2009, my team and I had an amazing playoff run.
We ended up winning the whole thing…
Our best of 7 series looked a little like this— 4-0, 4-0, 4-0, 4-3.
We were on a tear, and apart form our tough series against the Shawinigan Cataractes in the finals, we didn’t face much adversity throughout our run for the cup (I have an important lesson about that final series that I’ll share with you some other day).
For those of you not familiar with how Junior Major in Canada works, it’s an 80-some game season with 16 teams making it to the playoffs. It consists of best-of-7 series, and the last team standing moves on to the Memorial cup to face the winners of the other two divisions—the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). There’s also a host team that takes part in the tournament, bringing the total to 4.
We ended up winning the President’s Cup (Champions of the QMJHL), and as a result we secured our spot at the Mastercard Memorial Cup in Rimouski (May 2009).
As I mentioned before, we hadn’t faced a ton of adversity yet. But all that was about to change…
I remember sitting at the opening banquet for the Memorial Cup tournament and looking over at some of the other tables to see who we were up against.
And while no one knew for sure what was to come of these players back in 2009, it’s safe to say there was a ton of talent in the room.
As a shut-down forward and penalty-kill specialist, I knew I was going to have to go up against these guys night in and night out for the next two weeks.
It’s safe to say I was a little nervous.
And that’s when Taylor Hall decided to teach me a hockey lesson I’ll never forget…
The Hockey Lesson Taylor Hall Taught Me
We ended up winning two out of three games during the round robin (we won against the Windsor Spitfires & Rimouski Oceanic and lost to the Kelowna Rockets).
Windsor actually lost two games during the round robin and was forced to play a tiebreaker. They prevailed, and moved on to the semi-finals where they would play us, the Drummondville Voltigeurs, for the second time of the tournament.
But this time around, it was do or die for both us.
Long story short, my line logged a ton of minutes to try and contain Taylor Hall—as you can probably tell from his NHL performances, that was easier said than done.
Back then, we used a 1-3-1 neutral zone fore-check and we’re quite good at it—we had done it all season, and were really effective in both slowing down opponents from entering our zone and generating offense.
I was the guy along the right side of the ice (right wing), which means Hall (left wing) was attacking on my side.
During what looked like a non-threatening regroup in the neutral zone, Taylor Hall got a pass from his teammate and began skating up towards me.
Now, in a 1-3-1 your job is to back up and contain your attacker, and then suddenly step up and play the body so that he either dumps the puck or you create a turnover.
So that’s what I did—I slowly backed up while keeping my gap tight and contained Hall until it was time to step up.
But then when I did step up, I made a big mistake.
I didn’t respect my opponent.
The game was tight, and I wanted to create a turnover so bad that I decided to jab at the puck instead of playing the body. I wanted to score a goal and tie it up.
It may have worked against 99% of the other players on his team, but against him—with his incredible hands and amazing acceleration—he simply sidestepped me and slipped the puck through my skates.
I didn’t even touch the puck or get a piece of him to slow him down—he simply blew by me and there was nothing I could do about it.
I didn’t respect my opponent. More precisely, I didn’t respect his skill.
I was thinking offense before defense against the best player of the tournament—arguably the best 1991-born player in the world at that moment in time.
He got by me and then proceeded to skate around my defensemen. Next thing you know it was 2-0 Windsor.
What’s worse, the highlight was on Sportsnet and TSN for a whole week…
I was on the bad end of a highlight because I didn’t respect my opponent’s skill.
Now, I wasn’t the last man back on the goal but maybe if I would have played more passively and played the body instead of letting Hall dangle me, maybe the play would have went differently.
We were able to come back and force overtime, but unfortunately we lost with 4 minutes left due to a nice goal by Adam Henrique to end our Memorial Cup run.
In case you were wondering, the answer is yes—Taylor Hall also had an assist on the GWG.
We were beat by the better team, and the Spitfires went on to win it all in the finals against the Kelowna Rockets by a score of 4-1.
I wanted to share this important lesson Taylor Hall taught me so that it might save some of you from making mistakes in crucial moments (and maybe a bit of embarassment, too).
In the heat of the action, it’s easy to get overly-excited and make wrong decisions.
For me, I got excited and thought that if I could get a breakaway or force a turnover, then maybe we could get back in the game (we were down by one goal at this point). Had I shoved my emotions off to the side and thought rationally about the situation—the world’s best ’91 born forward coming towards me at full speed—I would have played it more cautiously.
A situation so simple that I had seen hundreds of times over the season and dealt with successfully suddenly lead to a costly mistake.
If I had just stuck to the plan and respected my opponent’s skill, it may have changed things.
Food for thought: Be aware of your opponents and their skill level. If you know a player is fast, respect his speed. If you know a player has good hands, don’t play the puck on him. And if you know a goalie has a good glove, try and stay away from it.
So while it didn’t go as I would have liked, Taylor Hall still taught me a hockey lesson I’ll never forget that that day—respect your opponent at all times!