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Justin Bourne's Blog: The Numbers Game – It’s time to start counting

Justin Bourne played 16 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2007-08, scoring two goals and five points. (Photo courtesy of Justin Bourne)

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Justin Bourne played 16 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2007-08, scoring two goals and five points. (Photo courtesy of Justin Bourne)

We’ve reached that special part of the off-season where hockey players pay as much attention to roster moves as fantasy hockey geeks. For the guys who know which training camp they’re attending, but haven’t splashed any ink on a contract, it’s a bit of a nerve-wracking time.

While your body is yelling “LET’S DO THIS!” like Joe from Family Guy, your brain is using the excess time to torture yourself, callously flip-flopping between “you got this” and “no chance.”

Inevitably, you start picking apart the roster of your destination team with a little help from the fancy interweb machine. Where do I fit in? Or do I at all?

It used to be: you’d get to camp, size up the competition, count the returning players, guess how many spots were open and do your best. You barely had time to make yourself psycho.

Now, just like then, coaches advise you to control what you can control – yourself – and let them worry about the roster. Which is like advising you to not worry about the pending layoffs at your company, “now just go have your job-evaluation meeting with the Bobs in a few hours and be yourself.”

Today’s players are able to stress themselves out well in advance. It’s pretty easy research to do, since every squad has a website these days. From the Vernon Vipers of the British Columbia League to the New York Islanders of the NHL, you can pull up a list of names and evaluate.

You have to take a peek at the situation, right? You have to see which guys are returning, if they’ve updated the roster, who they’ve recently signed, what the coach’s quotes are about the new signings, who they’ve recently invited to camp, who they’ve…oh my god I’m stressed out thinking about it.

“OK, they have four returning right wingers, but that guy could make the big club and I’m better than that other guy. But, I see they’ve just invited that tough guy and those two college kids who are all right wingers. There are only two guys under contract on the left side, but the big club just drafted those two left wingers and there are always the walk-on guys. Still, I could make the switch to....”

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A player can make himself crazy playing armchair GM. If you’re really lucky, maybe you’re trying out for a team with an active fan forum, where after camp starts up you can read just how “soft and slow” you really are.

Some players will tell you they don’t like to look and don’t like to think about “the numbers game” (The Numbers Game, by the way, is the reason everyone in the history of ever has been cut), but you’d have to be blind not to see it sometimes. Especially when coach asks the centers to stay after practice for a faceoff tournament or something, you’d have to be “special” not to notice there are 14 other guys on the ice.

Established, contracted players have a massive leg-up. Not only do they have to go into camp and lose their jobs – which is only 5,000 times harder to do than winning one – but they have almost no stress. They can take a couple chances with the puck, relax without it and generally be more effective players. Combine that with the fact they probably are more effective players to begin with (since they’ve earned contracts) and sometimes the divide between those trying out for a team and those already on it can be painful to watch (or, cough, experience).

For certain players, the mental grind starts now. Which is good for the fans, because that means the physical one is just about to start. Which, in turn, means the season is fast approaching.

And thank goodness for that. The wait’s been making me crazy.

Justin Bourne last played for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and is currently a columnist for USA Today. He excelled with the University of Alaska Anchorage before going on to spend time in the Islanders organization with Bridgeport and Utah. His father, Bob, spent 14 years in the NHL and won four Cups with the Islanders. He will blog regularly for THN.com and you can read more of Justin's blogs at jtbourne.com. Follow Justin on Twitter.

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