Two championship teams were crowned since I last wrote in these pages. Golden State won its third NBA title in four years and the Washington Capitals won its first ever NHL championship.
I watched numerous playoff games in both sports. And I watched plenty of post and pre game interviews with the athletes. I came to a startling realization midway through the playoffs and spent the rest of the playoffs confirming the realization.
NBA players, a high majority of the time, use the word “I” when answering questions about an upcoming game or a previous contest. NHL players, on the other hand, always use the word “we.” In other words, NBA players view themselves as individuals while NHL players view themselves as teammates.
The contrast hit me while watching the Capitals leading playoff scorer answer a question. He was asked what is it about the playoffs that bring out the best in you? He answered by saying that he does not like to talk about his personal game. His answer led to a discussion amongst media members that hockey players hate talking about themselves. I heard another example the following night when Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele was asked for the secret to his scoring surge, He responded by saying that he just wanted to play his game and help the team.
These responses got me thinking back over the years and I firmly believe hockey players are more team-oriented.
Here is another example I heard last week. Washington’s John Carlson was reminded that he led all defense men in points in both the regular season and the postseason. He was asked what the individual accomplishment meant to him. Carlson answered by saying: “It’s just a function of teammates around me and just fitting into our team and the way we like to play.”
It is quite simple. For hockey players, talking about yourself feels wrong.
To me anyway, this feels like a stark contrast to NBA or NFL players. More and more, I feel like basketball and football players are branding themselves like a mini corporation. They promote themselves which leads to statements of “I” versus “we.” Hockey players, on the other hand, just go about their business and let their play do the talking.
While sharing my views on this subject, I am not saying either way is right or wrong. I can argue that talking about the team all the time is why the average sports fan can likely not name more than one or two of the NHL’s best players. This, in turn, is one reason hockey struggles with popularity. The NHL does not have star power. Not like the NBA or NFL. There are individual stars on every NBA and NFL roster. And the sports viewing audience likes their stars.