by Charlie Adams, StokeTheFireWithin.com
Confidence is one of the greatest assets in a recruit. Cockiness can be another matter. Sometimes there is a fine line between the two, and it has to be studied in recruiting.
Jim Craig, who would be the goalie of the historic Miracle on Ice team, had been stellar in high school but his lack of size scared D1 programs away. After a growth spurt and a year at Massasoit Junior College near Boston, his skills could not be ignored. Boston University coach Jack Parker recruited Craig but told him up front he already had a guy marked
as his starter and an offer to a standout recruit. Craig plainly said he understood, had seen them both, and it would be him that would be his goalie.
At that point a coach has to make a decision. Is this kid going to rock the boat of the culture of the program, or is that just plain confidence embedded in his very being. Craig had a massive belief in himself. Yes, he could agitate teammates at times by telling them where to go on ice and what to do while he was behind them on ice, but they put up with it by joking that he was a goalie and goalies were different. When he would start his pre game chatter, the Olympians would fire a few shots at his head to let him know to tone it down. This team had such chemistry that they all could make fun of each others quirky ways. At their Christmas gag gift party, they gave him ear plugs to hand out to everyone when he decided it was time to jabber on and on and on about his philosophy of goal tending.
He would become the main starter at Boston University and lead them to a stock pile of wins (55-10-3). As a junior he went 16-0-0 and led Boston University to the D1 national title. Behind him they dominated their rivalry with B.C.
Though some experts had several college goalies rated ahead of him as pro prospect, coach Herb Brooks saw the fire within him and rode him the whole way in Lake Placid.
Craig’s NHL career was just 30 games. Maybe he wasn’t the right player for the NHL, but Herb knew he was the right player for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team. Herb knew how to push the buttons of each player and with Craig he tweaked him just before Lake Placid, saying he was going to sit him after the 61 game exhibition slate where Craig had started almost all games.
“Your curve ball is hanging,” Herb told him. “I rode you too long.” This set off Craig, but Herb knew that was the last thing he needed to do to him to have him primed for the 7 games at the Games. Craig would allow less than 3 goals per game, including his stunning performance against the Soviet dynasty team.
After the game Craig went up to Herb and put his finger in his chest and told him that he had showed him. “Yes you did, Jim,” Herb responded. “Yes you did.”
Jim Craig’s confidence came because he had put in massive hours through childhood to develop the skills to stop the puck. As a little boy growing up in North Easton, Massachusetts they didn’t have enough money at first for a hockey chest protector, so he used a baseball one. They had to borrow skates and he shoved card board paper in their to fill the space. His Mom would take him to nearby Boston where he would sit in goal for hours against bigger kids, and then come home and take more shots. After awhile, he got to the point where he was stunned when a puck would get past him. It wasn’t cockiness, but an extreme inner belief that no one could or should score against him.
Besides being extremely confident Craig also did something you may want to suggest to your athletes. He broke each 20 minute period down to 5 minute slots, focusing on just the 5 minutes, and in between each period he would take off his uniform in the locker room and put it back on, signifying that whether he had played well or not last period, it was over and time to move forward.
One of the most irritating things in sports is the cocky athlete that really can’t back it up, but there is nothing wrong with the extremely confident player like Jim Craig.
Motivational Speaker Charlie Adams delivers his More Than a Miracle program to college coaches and athletes. He explains how the 1980 Miracle on Ice was not so much a miracle as it was work ethic, remarkable vision and leadership, commitment to change, commitment to team, and perseverance.
Charlie can be reached at StokeTheFireWithin.com and at firstname.lastname@example.org