David Littman was drafted in the 11th round (211 overall) by the Sabres in 1987. (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. On Sunday I laid out tips for the dressing room and for travelling. Today we look at another big one...team meals.
Get ready to open up your wallets…wide.
The first thing rookies need to know is, you will always go through a rookie night.
Rookie night is when the entire team goes out to dinner and the rookies are the guests of honor. By guests of honor, I mean the entire team will eat and drink as much as possible, with the rookies picking up the tab.
The fewer rookies there are, the more each one will have to pay. In the minors, I’ve seen rookies pay up to $1,500 each. In the NHL, it can get as high as $10,000 to $15,000. How does it get this high? Vets will order steak and lobster, champagne and $500 bottles of wine.
The bottom line is this: Rookies need to understand that rookie night is a rite of passage. Forget about the money. It’s about becoming part of the team and that is worth its weight in gold.
Don’t be cheap and don’t beat the pot.
When a hockey team goes out to eat together, everyone pays the same amount when the bill comes. If the bill is $1,000 with tip and there are 20 players, each player puts in $50. There are no exceptions. Here are the two mistakes rookies make:
• “I only had potato skins.” I remember a rookie in Rochester who said exactly this when the bill came. Big mistake. We laughed at him and for the rest of the season he was considered “cheap.” Vets are always looking for a weak spot in a rookie. Once they find it, they’ll never let it go.
• “Beating the pot.” This is when you order the most expensive thing on the menu because you know the bill is split evenly. You order the shrimp cocktail and filet mignon when everyone else is having burgers. The best thing to do is wait to see what other people are ordering. If everyone’s having shrimp and steak, then, and only then, go for it.
• Birds in the nest
At some meals, vets will tell the players to put their credit cards in a hat. This is called “birds in the nest.” This is how it works: the hat is passed around and each player blindly picks out a credit card. The owner of the last credit card in the hat pays for the entire meal. It’s pretty nerve-wracking and a huge relief when you see your card come out early.
As a rookie you have to understand this is part of being a team. It all evens out by the end of your career, so don’t worry if you have to pay once or twice. More important is what you do when you are left in the nest and have to pay.
If you laugh and cheer along, your teammates will gain immediate respect for you. If you get upset or sulk, you’re in for a long season.
I made a few of these mistakes at some point in my hockey career. Hopefully, these “rules” can help future rookies avoid them.
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.