Talking to my old friend Knighter on the phone a couple weeks back, it’s tough to remember I have a job to do.
So I take the easy route and ditch my questions, sit back and listen to a few of my friend’s old hockey stories.
“I remember an old story, we both played at Concordia for the legendary Jim Maclean. Well, Jim and I butted heads, but I saw him at a golf tournament a few years back and none of that mattered. He was so nice, and had a genuine care and interest in me as a person. It reminded me that as much as we need hockey, it’s still a tool for training people. Hockey needs us, too, to give back. Hockey needs me to work with little elementary school goalies so they can learn the lessons I learned.”
Being a hockey player means you deal with adversity. What did you have to work on to keep yourself on track in junior hockey?
In junior hockey I really had to try not to spend so much time in my head. I was always my own worst enemy. When I came back from the WHL I had an ego, and when you don’t practice hard and you don’t put in the effort, well I didn’t play very well at times. When you turn the hot water on for the first time in a long time hot water doesn’t come out right away.
My college years were the most demanding in terms of mental toughness. My first year, if I didn’t make the team, hockey was done. In our only exhibition game, we were told the goalie who played better would make the team. I heard that on Thursday and we played Friday night against the UofA and it took me hours to prepare myself for what could happen. Once I locked that down I got myself prepared and it worked out and I had four years of hockey at Concordia.
I dealt with more adversity in college because there were three goalies and everyone was good. So ice time or even just dressing wasn’t a guarantee. I remember playing NAIT in a best of 3, we were at the Coliseum and I stood on my head and won in overtime and I asked Jim after the game if I was starting the next game and he said no. So I said if this was junior hockey I’d ask for a trade right now. So I don’t think I dressed the next weekend. (Laughs)
Who did you surround yourself with, or who gave you advice during the tough times?
A person I’m going to mention, I love this human. When I was a kid my dad had a hockey school in Peace River. Remember, it’s the early 80’s and hockey camps up north just didn’t happen. It was regional phenomenon. There was a kid from high level, Scott Utas. He came for extra ice with his buddies and he skated at night and worked for my dad locking up the dressing rooms and cleaning up the hallways. I idolized this guy, he was going to the Seattle Breakers camp. I wanted to be him. You talk about influence in hockey, he’s huge for me. So any time I was going thorough adversity I would call him. He was playing in Camrose a few years after the camp and I tracked him down, I wrote him a letter. I was 16 then, he had moved to Edmonton and was married and was just finished playing college hockey, so any time I had issues I would talk to him. He’d watch me practice and the world would go from hell to making complete sense in the span of an hour. Through junior, college, he’s a wonderful human being, he’s influenced me as a player and as a person, to the point where I idolized him and it turned into a friendship. He was there when I got married and had kids and he always had time for me. I didn’t see the guy for 5 years and he still has the time.
Everyone says adversity makes you stronger - are you stronger for your journey in hockey?
Hands down. I don’t even - I think you deal with adversity when you’re older and out of hockey because when it happens in hockey it’s personal. It’s your identity. So anything that’s said to you as a hockey player, it hurts. It’s a deeply personal attachment to your identity and it makes you stronger because you have to get through it to be successful.
If someone came up to me and said Jason, you’re a horseshit teacher, I’d be ok with that because it’s their opinion and I’m pretty confident in my ability. But if someone called me a horseshit goaltender it would kill me. I’m still so attached at a personal level. Your job isn’t your identity, but being a goalie is. How messed up is that? It’s easier to turn the page these days because of the adversity I went through in hockey. But being young and playing junior hockey and investing so much into it, it’s devastating. I always like to say that whatever you put into hockey you’ll get out of it. For instance, I’d tell girls I dated that I’d rather put my effort into hockey because I’d get something out of it, whereas if I wasted my time on them…
These days you're a teacher, a coach, a husband and a father. What do you say to young goaltenders who are working their way up and heading into the challenging years as a goaltender?
One key is that whenever you struggle as a goaltender it’s important to go back to the basics. Work harder on your movement, your tactical setups, how you hug the post, that sort of thing.
But that’s still just a small part. As a goalie you live in your head a ton. I’ve had this huge passion for lacrosse goalies the past few years, I have a man crush on Evan Kirk, he plays lacrosse in New England. He told me the biggest thing he learned is to turn the page when you get scored on. You can still win if you give up goals, and lacrosse goalies give up a lot of goals. After you get scored on, it’s done. As a goaltender, the quicker you can put it away and lock it down the quicker you can bounce back.
Talking to older goalie coaches, they always say they watch American Hockey League goalies. There are talented players, but you see they give up goals in bunches because they haven’t let the others go. Once you’re able to turn the page you’re golden. And for me, I’m the guy who would smash sticks in practice because I’m getting lit up.
Sounds like those on-ice lessons transfer pretty naturally off the ice, right, Knighter?
There’s a point where acceptance and understanding join the conversation and you realize you can’t be perfect, nor do you need to be. It’s never the last time you’re going to get scored on, so turn the page and get on with your life.
Knighter, Jason, thanks so much. Let's touch base again in a couple months.
Absolutely, Kelvin. You've ignited my spark for the game again. Can't wait to get out there next Wednesday!