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Justin Bourne's Blog: How personal issues can affect on-ice play

Mike Ribeiro had 53 points in 66 games last season for Dallas. (Getty Images)

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Mike Ribeiro had 53 points in 66 games last season for Dallas. (Getty Images)

Hockey players have to find a way to perform at the rink when things away from it aren’t perfect, just as the rest of us have to deal with our jobs when our personal lives aren’t cooperating. Sometimes it’s not easy.

When the sun rose on Oct. 11, it shone light on a new development coming out of Plano, Texas – Mike Ribeiro had been to jail the previous night for public intoxication after an altercation (that included his wife) with other patrons at a sushi bar.  

The Stars play at home Thursday versus the Red Wings - he’ll obviously be dealing with more issues than your average player.

It’s rare that a player’s problems are as public as this – for the most part, if it can be kept away from the police, it can be kept away from the media.  But that doesn’t mean off-ice issues aren’t affecting a number of players on every team, on any given night.

In fact, most players are rarely as single-minded and all-hockey as we believe.  Not everyone covets the Stanley Cup the way Sidney Crosby seems to.  There are more than a few players in the league who would place a number of things ahead of hockey on their priority depth chart.

A lot of player inconsistency can be chalked up to the other things on that chart, regardless of the order.
I myself had one year of my college career so beset by off-ice issues that it affected my on-ice play.  I got dumped by a long-term girlfriend, got into a little off-ice trouble, struggled in my classes and had some priorities temporarily shift.

By the time I got through dealing with those problems and got to the rink, I was just happy to get back to my safe-haven, the dressing room.  But things didn’t quite click for me when I got out on the ice and I couldn’t figure out what was different.

Putting the mental part aside for a second...if something has been eating up a chunk of your off-ice time, it’s likely you’ll train less, sleep less and struggle to find the time to execute the “extras” that make good players great.

Those extras are small things – getting to GNC for new multivitamins, finding free time to relax, whatever – but by the end of the year, the little things add up and affect your quality of play.    

On the more obvious side of things, if you’re worrying about inflated lawyer bills from off-ice chaos (as Ribeiro may soon be) and trying to find a way to make a court appearance between your morning practice and your afternoon flight, you’re not going to be as effective when your plane lands for your next game. It’s inevitable. 

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It’s not necessarily that you end up thinking about your problems during a game, it’s that the pre-game time you’d normally use to mentally prepare is used on more pressing life issues.  You don’t want to go into a game thinking “I just need to get through tonight’s game.”

I personally never got it back on track that entire season – I spent the majority of the time getting the other, equally important things where I needed them to be.

When Ribeiro returns to the ice for his first post-jail game, I doubt he’ll be affected all that much – you can’t undo a summer of training and preparation and all his talent with one weekend snafu.  But as these things drag on and eat up more energy, time, money and brain power, it gets harder to navigate the on-ice rigors - you’re spent from the off-ice ones.

Life throws a few curveballs at all of us on occasion and the trick to being successful in a life-consuming job like playing hockey is simply by knowing yourself and staying disciplined. You find the things you enjoy doing and the situation that makes you most comfortable and try to keep that constant. (Crosby learned that lesson early and spent four successful years at the Lemieux household.)

Many young players in the NHL ride the roller-coaster the first few years, figuring out just which off-ice lifestyle makes them the most successful and committing to it.

Ribeiro may have thought he had his personal life game plan figured out, but will surely update it and learn from this snafu.

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. Justin 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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