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David Littman: How to be a good rookie, Part 1

David Littman played 10 pro seasons in the IHL, AHL and NHL, including stints with the Lightning and Sabres. (THN Archives)

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David Littman played 10 pro seasons in the IHL, AHL and NHL, including stints with the Lightning and Sabres. (THN Archives)

With the NHL draft recently completed, I was thinking back on my times as a rookie.

A hockey player is considered to be a rookie many times in a career. Every time you step up to the next level, you go from being a veteran right back to being a freshman.

Some of the rookie “rules” are obvious, but there are also “unwritten rules” of being a rookie hockey player.

IN THE DRESSING ROOM
The biggest mistake a rookie can make is showing weakness. “Show no weaknesses” should be your motto. If guys get on you about a bad game, a weird birthmark you have or any insecurity you have about yourself, laugh with them. The veterans are doing it to test you. They want to see how much can you take.

There is an expression hockey players have: “Take it now or take it all year.” Remember that. Pass this test and you’ll become part of the team.

The other mistake I’ve seen rookies make is acting cocky. A cocky new face in the room will quickly get on the nerves of the veterans. I saw this firsthand when I played with the in the International League.

A player came onto my team straight out of college where he was a Hobey Baker finalist as the best U.S. college player. He was a free agent and many teams offered him contracts. He made the mistake, however, of saying that he thought he was too good for this league and he belonged in the NHL.

While this may have been true, he should have kept it to himself.

We all knew he would have a great NHL career (which he did), but we never looked at him the same way again.

ON THE BUS
Rookies sit towards the front of the bus. This is because the veterans are at the back (probably playing cards)...and the coaches are at the front.

Most players have a certain seat that they sit in every year on every trip, so at the beginning of the year don’t just go on the bus and take a seat. Wait until the veterans have taken their seats and then ask a second-year guy where you should sit.

Rookies are also expected to double-up if there aren’t enough seats. Veterans get their own two-seater.

When you arrive at your destination, rookies do most of the work (if you go directly to the arena). Rookies are responsible for the stick bags, helping the equipment managers with the skate sharpeners and all extra equipment.

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I remember playing for Rochester in the American League and we would have three games in three nights. The first night might be in Baltimore, the second in Springfield and the third may be at home. We’d play the Friday night game and then get on the bus to travel five or six hours.

If you are doubled-up in a seat, rigamortis has pretty much set in by the time you arrive. The first stop is usually the arena. It’s three in the morning and you unload the bus. Rookies take the most stuff and usually it takes a few trips to get everything into the dressing room before going to the hotel. The next night you do it all over again.

If a rookie complains about any of this, they’re not going to be very popular with the rest of the team.

ON THE PLANE
The equipment manager handles all the equipment. This means the players can get off the plane and right onto the bus to the hotel.

Young hockey players, I am about to save you $50. Never check your personal bags when travelling by plane. If you do, the bus will have to wait for you.

The vets, who know you <never check your bags, will fine you $50. I’ve seen this happen a few times. I’ve been on two-week road trips with only one small carry-on bag. Stick some stuff in your hockey bag to save room.

Another tip: If you’re on a commercial flight, take a middle seat if the plane is crowded. You’ll earn a few points with the vets.

I made a few of these mistakes at some point in my hockey career. Hopefully, these “rules” can help future rookies avoid them.

Check back Monday for a few more in Part 2.

A native of Flushing, N.Y., David Littman was drafted by the Sabres in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He spent four years at Boston College before turning pro in 1989. Over the next 10 years, Littman would play in the ECHL, IHL, AHL and NHL (with Buffalo and Tampa Bay). He currently works as a producer for the wildly popular EA Sports NHL series of video games. Littman will regularly write columns detailing his time as a pro and his life after hockey for THN's Insider series.

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