By Greg Bach
Three-time Stanley Cup champion and current TV broadcaster Brian Engblom didn’t play hockey year-round growing up.
And he didn’t attend camps, clinics or specialized training sessions either.
There wasn’t time for that.
He was too busy playing – and enjoying – a bunch of other sports.
“I think it’s a great advantage to get yourself away from the sport,” says the former NHL defenseman who won three Cups with the Montreal Canadiens and now is the television analyst for Tampa Bay Lightning games, as well as national telecasts on NBC Sports. “I never went to hockey school. I never went to a hockey camp. When hockey was over it was time for baseball and then football. I enjoyed the break.”
An alarming number of kids these days don’t get a break, resulting in the rise of overuse injuries and burnout being seen nationwide.
“I didn’t get burned out,” Engblom explains. “But I saw really good players get burned out who were just tired of hockey because they played for too many teams or played too many games and it was just too much. It’s bad.”
While Engblom’s first love was hockey – he was on skates at age 2 – he also has fond memories of playing football, soccer and baseball throughout his youth.
It saddens him to see how many of today’s young athletes are deprived of that variety.
And miss out on the opportunity to develop different skills, too.
“Just talking to parents and kids over the last 10 years I think it’s sad that these kids are expected to play hockey 11½ months a year,” he says. “I think that’s terrible. The sports overlap so much now because the seasons are all so long so it’s really difficult. And some of the coaches absolutely demand it saying ‘either you’re with us or you’re not on this team’ so I feel bad for them.”
MULTIPLE POSITIONS, MULTIPLE BENEFITS
It’s easy for volunteer coaches of any sport to fall into the habit of putting a child at a position – and that’s what the youngster plays for the entire season.
But when kids are exposed to more than one position it gives them a chance to learn and use different skills.
It broadens their perspective of the game.
And who knows – maybe a coach discovers a child is better-suited for this new position.
“I had always been a defenseman but when I was 13 I had a coach who said I needed to play forward a little bit,” Engblom says. “He said I needed to experience it and see how the other half lives and that it would be good for me.”
And it turned out to be a really productive learning experience.
“So that year I played a fair amount of wing and also some shifts at defense and it really did help me,” Engblom says. “It’s good to see how the other half lives and that was important.”
“You have to keep it fun, for sure,” Engblom says of the challenges that accompany youth sports coaching today. “And another thing I really don’t like about the stories I hear about 6-, 8- and 10-year-old teams are coaches designating certain players as ‘you’re going to be a checker. We don’t want you to do this and we don’t want you to do that.’”
It’s a coaching approach that deprives kids of become well-rounded players.
And smothers the fun of playing, too.
“So these kids don’t even really get to work on their skill set,” he says. “So they’ve lost a whole skill set and how are they going to get it back as they get older? To me that seems impossible and it’s not fair. It’s like matching lines with 10-year-olds. It’s crazy stuff. That will take a kid’s desire away in a heartbeat.”
Many young boys growing up in Canada watch Hockey Night in Canada.
And dream of playing in the NHL one day.
Engblom was certainly no different.
So to make it to the NHL, play 13 seasons, win three Stanley Cups, and now cover the game he so dearly loves has been an incredibly rewarding ride.
“It’s a totally surreal experience,” Engblom says of that first NHL game he played in. “Afterward, when you lay back in bed at night and go ‘wow, that was my first game, it finally happened. Now I have to stay here.’ It’s a never-ending battle. It’s the pursuit of perfection and if you don’t have that attitude then you’re not going to stay in the league very long.”
And he enjoyed a wonderful career that most can only dream about.
It all began skating at an outdoor rink a block and a half from his childhood home in Winnipeg.
And was fueled, in part, by a childhood filled with a variety of sports experiences.