Toughness in hockey comes in many different forms, says Scott Sandelin, head coach of the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team.
“There’s physical toughness and there’s mental toughness,” says Sandelin, who is in his 16th season with the Bulldogs. “Try to stay focused on what you do every shift. Play as hard as you can. Do the things that are hard in hockey, not the easy things. Develop good habits.”
Sandelin’s 2011 Bulldogs won the national championship. It was a team that showed toughness in many different ways.
“To me, toughness is one’s compete level,” he says. “How hard are players willing to battle?”
Here are some characteristics coach Sandelin sees in tough hockey players
“Toughness is the willingness to do the hard things. A lot of kids are pretty content to do the easy ones. Players who are willing to do hard things like blocking shots, going to the tough areas of the rink and taking a hit getting the puck out of the zone are going to have success. You can’t do it some of the time; you have to do it all the time. When your best player is blocking shots, other guys are going to follow.”
"Looking at pro players, Zach Parise comes to mind. He is, to me, one of the consummate guys when it comes to toughness. He plays every shift like there's a purpose. That's such a huge thing. Every shift you have to have a purpose, whether it's to make a play, score a goal, kill a penalty. You have to strive to develop that consistency when you play."
“If you’re not going to the rink excited about being there, you probably won’t have success. You have to want to go to the rink no matter what time of the season it is. In any season, you’re going to have your ups and downs. There will be days when you might not feel 100 percent—maybe you’re sore or tired. But you need to find a way to get something out of the day. Did you make yourself better?”
"One of the most important things is you have to tough mentally. That separates good players from becoming elite players. You're always going to be faced with adversity. How do you deal with it? Do you fight through it or do you look for an easy way out? You just have to go play and put your best effort out there, no matter who you're playing, who you're playing for, or who you're playing with."
"Have respect for the game. Play the game hard. Play the game the right way. Toughness isn't yapping or trash talking. That doesn't help you. That tends to show weakness or frustration. Going out and playing the right way all the time shows leadership, it shows character, and, to me, it shows the right kind of toughness."