This Stanley Cup Champion's Key to Success: Make Sure You're Having Fun
The phrase “he’s a great guy” gets tossed around pretty loosely, but sometimes you talk to someone who actually earns the title. Case in point: former New York Ranger and two-time Stanley Cup champion Adam Graves.
The fact that Graves helped bring Lord Stanley’s gorgeous silver goblet to New York back in 1994 was undoubtedly great (there are some New Yorkers who are still trying to get over their post-victory hangovers) but that’s not what I’m talking about. What makes Graves such an amazing person is his unwavering passion for making kids' lives better. If you have a couple of minutes, watch this video of Graves visiting the home of 11-year-old Rangers superfan Matt Adonis, who is battling a brain tumor. Just keep some Kleenex handy.
Graves has been taking part in charity efforts and youth hockey initiatives for over a decade, one of which is called Try Hockey for Free, which is a part of the Ranger’s Junior Rangers Rookie Series. The program is exactly what it sounds like: kids who have little to no experience can show up at local rinks, get outfitted in equipment and hit the ice with Rangers’ alumni and trainers -- for free! Over 20,000 kids have done it since the program began eight seasons ago (including my own), and I can say firsthand that it is pretty awesome.
Recently, I got to chat with the hockey great about his work just before going into the Garden to watch the Rangers beat the Avalanche in OT (in your face, Colorado!) Here are some of the takeaways of that conversation, and how the lessons kids learn on the ice can carry over into any aspect their life. But before we get into any of that, let’s just take a minute to watch the finest goalie in all of the land, Henrik Lundqvist, doing what he does best in the OT shootout.
Gotta love it. And now, here are Adam Graves’ thoughts on why it is important to give back, strive to be your best, and, most important of all, to have fun.
It’s about creating memories.
“The best part of Try Hockey for Free is that when these kids come out, they’re not coming alone. They’re coming with their brothers and sisters, their moms, dads, grandparents. It becomes a destination event, one of those days that you never forget. To see them get out there on the ice with all the equipment we supply and the Rangers alumni out on the ice, it’s just amazing. And for me, life is about creating these moments, these capsules that you’ll never forget. That’s the greatest gift of playing this game, and certainly being a New York Ranger -- being a part of those moments.”
Tap into your inner courage.
“Sports, and hockey in this case, teach you so much about life. Overcoming challenges -- it can be a little scary getting out there on the ice for the first time! There are a lot of people, a lot of energy at these events. But 15, 20 minutes into it you start to see the confidence build and you see them start to thrive. It’s awesome to see.”
Build on your success.
“From Try Hockey for Free, we move to the Learn to Play program. It’s just $195 -- you get a whole set of equipment and 10-12 weeks of instruction. It’s fantastic, thanks to our partner Chase and rinks throughout the tri-state area. And when you talk about 12,000 kids coming through this program, it's meaningful.”
Learn about risk vs. reward.
“When playing hockey at any level, you need to take responsibility for yourself, the players around you and for the game. Certainly, we’ve all had our moments -- you cross a line and you get suspended or go to the penalty box and hurt your team at an important time. It’s a lesson. Hockey is a humbling game. You drop the puck at the start of the game -- someone wins the face off and someone loses. It’s a fast game and a team game and you need to depend on each other. In our Rookie League, the kids can get all of the nuances that come with being part of a team: showing up on time, passing the puck -- all that great stuff teamwork teaches you that will help you later on in life.”
Hold onto happy memories.
"People on the street shouting out to me about winning the Stanley Cup? That never gets old! And it is hard to believe it is going on 25 years. That time passage doesn’t register for me, unless I look in the mirror and see a little less hair! That will always be special to me, being connecting to this city and the pride and joy I was lucky enough to experience wearing that Ranger jersey. I bleed blue and am very proud to.”
Indulge your passion.
“I always tell people to just enjoy it. It doesn’t matter what level you’re playing, it has to be fun. I was lucky enough to play in the National Hockey League for 16, 17 years, but that feeling of joy I felt out there on the ice was the same feeling I had when I was four years old, and the same feeling I had when I was 12, and the same feeling when I was playing juniors at 17 years. It’s the same feeling I get now when I’m playing in a pickup game or at a charity game. Do what you love and hold on to that reason you started out in the first place.”