He walks towards the frozen lake, where in the winter months it is nothing more than solid sheets of ice: thick as concrete. He laces up his skates, grabs his stick and the puck (that was carefully placed in his coat pocket) and dashes out on the frozen lake, feeling the cold wind comb through his flow. He dashes towards the ice making quick use of his legs and with superb precision weaves his way along the curves of the icy sheets.
Vicariously he glazes around the ice, imagining he was dodging his appointments left and right. Shifting along the icy tundra with his stick in hand and gracefully monorovers the puck. He practices, challenges and improves with each minute he spends on that surface. Surpassing his skills from the day before.
The ice is his home. His domain.
Chad Cousineau is a young hockey prospect who currently plays as a defenseman for the Swan Valley Stampeders, a MJHL in Canada. Graciously I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Cousineau in regards to his perspective on the game of hockey. If you want to get to know more about Mr. Minnesota, follow his instagram!
Q: Do you believe in miracles?
A: Yeah, I believe in miracles because everyone believes in the classical 1980 miracle on ice and I mean I have had my own fair share of miracles on ice. Remember a few growing up and I definitely think that miracles and miracles in sports exist.
Q: Do you have a personal moment with you, that you like to share, that you would consider a miracle moment?
A: Well yeah but it was when I was a lot younger. It was when my team ended up being the top team in the country and no one was expecting it. It was a crazy moment, took it to a shot out and ended up, it was like a semi-final game, everyone basically thought it was the championship and then we ended up losing the championship the next game. But it was a miracle moment at that moment. A lot of those guys moved on to play D1 teams now.
Q: What is the greatest piece of advice you would give to someone, that is younger, who is starting to become interested in the sport of hockey?
A: If you love the game you are going to go a lot further than if you are focusing yourself to be in it. Don’t put hockey first until you are a little bit older because you want to have more options and be athletic in a bunch of sports because that allows you to be better off in hockey: be a more dual threat athlete.
Q: If you could go back to when you were younger, would you give yourself that exact same advice?
A: Yeah, I quit other sports too soon to pursue hockey.
Q: Did you quit those other sports because you knew that hockey would be the one thing you wanted to do?
A: Yeah that is exactly what I did. In Minnesota a lot of kids quit other sports just to pursue hockey and if you do that too early you kind of lack development in other aspects and I just think it is not for the best because you want to be good at multiple things. For insurance one of my weak points, that a lot of coaches say, is my athleticism. But I have been able to improve on that now. But if I would have played multiple sports longer my athleticism would have been better. So I just think it is important for kids to really not just hunger down so much on hockey at a young age. You want to do it, it’s tempting, but you just don’t want to push too much into it. Then for instance you might lose the love of it [hockey].
Q: Minnesota worships hockey similar to how Texas worships football. Do you think growing up in that particular environment, where hockey is so common, affected why you wanted to play hockey?
A: Well I know a lot of people are influenced up here to play hockey 1. because everyone plays in basically, definitely the highest per capita of hockey players. But most of all I think that it is a family thing since everyone plays hockey, most likely your family is going to influence you to play hockey. For me I just fell in love with the game, I was two years old when I was skating and that just pushed me to play hockey. Loved the feeling of flying down the ice at that age and I don’t know if that was just kind of me.
Q: Does seeing this history of hockey players coming out of Minnesota resonate with you? If not, was there a person in your life who wanted you to pursue hockey?
A: Yeah, like growing up watching high school hockey games. For example Jake Gardiner was on our team at Minnetonka High School and watching him play definitely influenced me a lot.
Q: Herb Brooks famously quoted, “A name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one of the back.” Do you believe that teammates are the overall strategy to win games or should coaches purely rely on talent alone? Or both.
A: This is actually an interesting question because I played on a team for the last two years up in northern Minnesota. Our first year of the program we didn’t get a lot of talented players to come in. But we were all Christian hockey players. We had a common theme and we were always pushing towards each other and we were always with each other. Probably the best teammates possibly and started off pretty bad but at the end of the year we were one of the top teams in the country. Pushed on towards the next year and we all got better by the next year, but since we still kept the bond as teammates the next year we finished top ten in the country. This is for AAA prep school. But I think it entirely had to do with our relationship with one another and not just our skills. Now this year they bought in a bunch of skilled guys and they are top two in the country. So I don’t know. It is very debatable. If you just want to go for all skilled guys there is going to be some conflicts on the team. But if you go for teammates it is going to be a more enjoyable experience. Honestly I think that this year if you are not the most skilled player, I’m not the most skilled player: I’m a defenseman. So for me to make a team, I have to be the best teammate possible. Have to be positive, have to be a role model and have to be a leader on the team to make it to the highest level. For someone like me.
Q: Throughout your hockey career, who has been a big role model for you?
A: My dad, because he got me into the game and helped pay for everything. But I would say in the last year: John Oliver. He was my coach last year at Northstar. He has really helped me become more of a godly man.
Q: Out of baseball, football, basketball and hockey: hockey is the sport with the least amount of sponsorships, big time contracts and lowest in tv gross rates versus the other professional leagues in the United Stats. Why do you think this is?
A: I see I think that hockey at a younger age isn’t as big in many states and not as successful in other states. In Minnesota to play hockey for a year is $500, you want to go to Michigan to play AAA it is like $30,000. There are only three states with decent funding for hockey: Massachusetts, Minnesota and Michigan. Of the other states you are on your own. California is a hockey desert, playing your own competition and I just think that playing hockey is more of a Northern thing. It is weird though because Southern, in Texas NAHL there are a lot of teams down there and they get the best attendance. It is not because people down south don’t like hockey it is just they are not introduced to it at a younger age they are not going to like it as much.
Q: What do you think are the biggest differences between playing hockey in the United States versus in Canada?
A: The fans! The fans are more into it and fans range from a variety of people. See 80 year old grandmas cheering and drinking a beer at the rink watching your junior hockey game. I just think that it is always on. Look at TV in Canada instead of ESPN covering basketball their sports network is always covering hockey up there and it is non stop even in the off season.
Q: Do you wish you grew up in Canada playing hockey versus in your hometown?
A: Honestly I think that Minnesota is very similar to Canada. I don’t see a difference too much. Let’s say I was playing hockey in a different state then I would definitely want to be playing hockey in Minnesota or Canada.
Q: Hockey is considered one of the toughest sports (as presented in the 1977 movie Slap Shot) with players like Gordie Howe and Darren McCarty or the fictional Hanson brothers not afraid to leave blood on the ice. Do you think that hockey nowadays has become more soft with USA Hockey making new changes to the rules?
A: I am fine with them getting rid of fighting to a certain extent. Like you need some fighting in the game because if someone does a stupid play there has got to be some repercussion to it. Right now fighting in most junior leagues is a game suspension. Couple of years ago it was a 5-min penalty and you were back on the ice. Doing a good job of keeping the game fast and safe. I know someone in the NHL Jack Hillen would have been an insane hockey player in today’s NHL but it was just unfortunate that he came into the NHL 14 years ago. 14 years ago was considered a tough league and it just wasn’t his type of game. He was more of a skilled defensemen who could get pucks through and pass the puck-suffered for him because of that. Look at the St. Louis Blues who won the Stanley Cup last year, they were considered a tough team and no one wanted to mess against them. There is still room for tough teams in the NHL that play that type of style. It is just that type of playing is starting to fall away right now because skilled teams like Edmonton Oilers are beginning to shine now. More people that are coming to the NHL right now are skilled then some goon.
Q: Do you think that the USA Hockey administration should get rid of chirping (back-talking)?
A: Personally I don’t chirp, I don’t use language. I grew up on a Christian team. We were not allowed to do it and never did it. I think they should start to move away. They are doing a good job with the racial stuff and the stuff that is homophobia-that is what they have to get away from. But the other stuff I don’t have a problem with because it is just part of the game.
Q: Brad Park said, “We get nose jobs all the time in the NHL, and we don’t even have to go to the hospital.” Do you agree with Mr. Park’s statement in regards to the tough mentally of hockey players?
A: Yeah, I have to agree. I have had my fair share of beating thrown at me in hockey and I still have to play through it. It does not have to, if more of you are in the moment, your adrenaline is going, it’s hockey and you are going to be out there and if something happens to you. You are going to play through it. Unless it is like a broken leg, then you are going to be done. But I have to agree with what he says there.
Q: Have you ever had a trash can (bag skating) practice?
A: Yes, I have had a lot of those. If you are on a losing team you are more likely to bag skate. It is scary. I’m afraid of it. You have to battle through it, it is kind of like the miracle on ice: here we go again. Yeah, I have had my fair share.
Q: Do you think that tough practice (bag skating) has helped you?
A: I don’t see a need for them other than disciplinary action, but just makes you not want to do what you did again.
Q: To someone who doesn’t know the game of hockey or prefers to watch other sports, what is something that you would like to tell them in regards to your sport?
A: It is a tough question because everyone likes their own sports. But I just think that hockey is a combination of a lot of sports: speed, physicality and amount of skill. Something to admire and to watch, if you see a game in-person there is just something about it. I don’t know how to explain it. Just look at ESPN top hardest sports, like hockey is number two behind hockey.
Q: Do you think that hockey is more of a physical game today or skilled?
A: I think hockey now is more of a skilled sport and fast sport. We are going 20+ miles hours on ice hitting people but we are also at the same time moving a puck around defenders, trying to hit between the pipes. Back to the physicality side, if you are a new fan watching hockey, I would like to see more physicality than skilled guys: that is just me. Skill is a good thing for hockey, for example basketball everyone likes it because of how skilled the players are. Down in the south in the NAHL, they used to call the NAHL: The Dirty South. Because there were so many fights, but if you look at the attendance in that league it was higher because everyone wanted to get drunk and see a hockey fight. Now fighting is getting cracked down on, because USA Hockey is cracking down on a lot of physicality and I am alright with that. I am not a fighter, and I don’t want to fight. Going into Junior Hockey I took fighting lessons, hockey is supposed to be a skilled game. People still need to learn how to fight, it is just a smaller part of the game. Nowadays, you can go through your whole career without fighting. I haven’t, but you can.
Q: A type of coaching, best used by Herb Brooks, that has been implemented is hardcoare, mentally exhausting and pushing players to the limit. Overall no one likes the coach and the players are amped to prove him wrong. Do you believe this type of coaching is necessary?
A: I think that it is a very bad thing and I don’t think it is beneficial at all. If I go back and look at all the coaches I had, my most successful teams have been with coaches that were close to all the players. The players respect them, we don’t only want to perform for us but for them. The coaches are with us and if we have a bad game the coaches still see the best in use. We are not going to die, we are not going to get bag skated.
Q: Physical and mental are considered very present in many sports. Do you think hockey is a mental or physical sport? Or is it both?
A: I think that hockey is definitely a mental game because you have to be, but to a certain extent. You have to be mental ready for the game. For example a physical skill like passing once you get above a certain age, your physical skills shouldn’t matter as much. Everyone should be about the same at that age. Everyone needs to be in the right spot; mental think about making a pass. For example if you get scored on as a goalie, your mental toughness or emotional toughness has to be way up there because you have to forget about that goal. Can’t go thinking I just got scored on because you will get scored on right away. My mental toughness is something I am still working on, but my mental ability to process the game is strong. I can find people on the ice and know where stuff is and what to do with the puck. So mental is a tough aspect of the game. Never going to be the best at it but I think Sidney Crosby in the NHL who is skilled, physically skilled, but I think his mentally awareness is one of the best. He knows where the players are going to be and knows what to do in certain situations. Once you are so advanced in hockey at that point in your hockey career, the only thing mental is part of it is being focusing on the game and thinking about the game and thinking about your next shift. Not thinking about the past-that is the only mental aspect at that point.
Q: Do you think the sport of hockey gets easier when you become more familiar with the sport?
A: Hockey can get easy as you get older. When you first start off in hockey, for example watching little kids. The kids have no clue where to be and also physically not good. If you get older it looks easier. Everyone knows where they are. In fact I think it is harder, because you really have to be the best of the best. Those aspects, the mental aspects you move on and start to narrow down really hard. When you first start out no one knows anything, then we all develop at let’s say age 15 or 16. That is when people should start to understand the game and know what to do. At that point it starts to narrow down. Everyone knows the basics and you have to be advanced in how you think about the game and what you know about the game. The difference between someone who is in the NAHL versus someone who is in the NHL is actually very minimal. But if you ask a hockey coach it is not minimal. If you ask a coach in the NHL they can easily see why someone is in the NAHL versus the NHL. In reality, someone looking in from the outside, it is very close. But comparing a 10 year old to a 15 year old you don’t need to be a hockey expert to see the difference.
Q: Three favorite things about hockey. Three least favorite things about hockey.
A: Three favorite things (not a particular order).
1. I love the intense feel of game day. I get nervous before a game, but in a good way. That feeling I don’t get it in any other way. It is like some sort of adrenaline rush. One of my favorite feelings.
2. Also the team bonds I make, the team friendships I make.
3. I am not a goal scorer, I am not a goal scorer. But everytime I score a goal, it is probably the best feeling.
Least favorite things (not in a particular order).
1. For hockey you have to be away from your family a lot now.
2. How some guys are portrayed to be assholes. If you go to Minnesota and you are in high school, everyone is like you can hang out with the football guys. But the hockey guys are careful they are douchebags. That is just how we are portrayed.
3. Getting injured. Injured you miss out on a lot of stuff.
Q: What is one of the toughest parts of the game?
A: Another thing is if your coach likes another player. It is the toughest thing because you are not getting the ice time. You want the other guys to do well, but even the best team players want to be happy for the other person. But you are a hockey player, you are a professional hockey player, you want to be playing. Everyone wants to be on the ice. Not getting the amount of ice time, that is one of the most hurtful aspects of hockey. It hurts, you don’t want to admit it, but you much rather be playing. But it is just part of the game. It is part of the game I don’t like, but you also like it because someone else is sitting and not you. But when you are sitting: great (sarcastic).
Q: Is it wrong for players to have an egotistical mindset: “I’m the best player on ice.”
A: They actually make it really far in hockey because they are positive for themselves. It makes themselves better at the game. They are going to go out there and believe that in themselves. But it is also a cancer to the team because everyone else is like “No, you ain’t buddy.” But it can be a good thing and a bad thing. I personally do not like that. But I know a few guys that are and they are D1. At a younger age you can afford to do that. But at an older age, coaches are going to take a guy who is more humble than a guy who is all about themself (arrogant/thinking about himself) if they are the same skill level.
Q: The CHL is where a majority of young talented players are developed and further go on to a career in the NHL. In the NCAA players commit to four years of playing hockey at university while pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Do you think hockey players are more willing to pursue a degree or try to get into the CHL, with the possibility of reaching the NHL?
A: If you are a hockey player from the United States, everyone’s dream is to go D1. Everyone wants to pursue that degree. But if they are really good. I know a lot of people who go to college for two years and then they are in the NHL. Then they will go back. For example my coach played two years in D1, then he went to the NHL for 10 years and then he finished his degree. If you are an insane hockey player, that is when you go to the CHL. That is when you go play for the WHL or the OHL (trying to go professional hockey). I think that is a good league and I think what they are doing up there now is beneficial. If you play in this league for this amount of years, then we will supply the funds to pay for your college tuition.I think that is a really good thing because if you don’t make the NHL you have a college degree to fall back on. I think the majority of hockey players are going to go to D1. I say the top athletes in the world are not going to get a degree. That is good for them if they are making pro but afterwards if they are for say a boss: it is difficult because basically you are screwed. Yeah I think it is the smarter move to go to the NCAA and play D1. But I’m starting to see a trend of Canadians instead of playing in the CHL. They are staying in the Juniors and coming to D1 in the United States. I think that D1 hockey is at the same level or better in my opinion then CHL hockey. Because CHL has younger players. I feel that in the case of drafting players to the NHL, in the case of a defenseman, take someone who is more developed, such as a player in the NCAA. If you are a goalie in the NCAA, a lot of teams take more developed goalies and defenseman. Forwards could be either way: developed or younger.