Today, I would like to offer the players on the Buffalo Sabres – the youngest team in the NHL – a little friendly advice: if you only take one lesson away from the Detroit Red Wings – Chicago Blackhawks series, let it be, “Keep yer trap shut.”
Let’s recap the series: the Detroit Red Wings jumped out to a pretty commanding 3-1 lead, highlighted by a game 3 that saw the Blackhawks suffer from a complete meltdown in the third period, when they committed five consecutive penalties. Following that win, a few players for the Red Wings went on the record as saying that they felt they had gotten in the heads of their opponents, and that frustrating the Blackhawks was akin to being spotted a 1-0 lead in a game.
The only team frustrated today is the Red Wings, which makes me wonder, how much incentive to play better did Detroit give Chicago by making those comments?
I see this happen all the time in the world of sports: a coach or a player will say something to the media about the other team, never really stopping to consider how much fuel he is pouring on a fire that was about to extinguish itself. The Blackhawks were disjointed, frustrated, and on the brink of elimination – they were the hockey equivalent of a dead man walking, and all Detroit had to do was keep their eyes on the prize, keeps their mouths closed, and put Chicago out of its misery. Instead, a few guys in the organization allowed themselves to admit in front of the media that they felt they were in Chicago’s heads, which had to give the Blackhawks the motivation to regain their composure and prove to the hockey world that they, not Detroit, were the mentally toughest team.
Is implying that your team has managed to get “in the heads” of your opposition the worst thing to say to the media? Far from it. We can all provide examples of individuals who have used the media to antagonize or flat-out attack members of an opposing team. And. as far as I can tell, Chicago seemed more determined to prove they were the better team, and that the regular season was not a fluke, than they were to show that Detroit’s mind games were not enough to derail their train. Still, I always wonder why a player or coach would publicly provide their opponents ANYTHING that could provide a spark, especially when a team is in a hole and struggling to play their game. Why take a chance by giving a team something that could unify them and snap them out of a funk? I cannot say for certain that Detroit would still be playing if they had refrained from discussing the psychological state of the Blackhawks, but I can say for certain that avoiding that kid of talk would have given Chicago one less point to rally around.
So if any of the players on the Sabres roster are reading this, take my advice: think twice, then think a third time, about what you are saying to the media, or Tweeting on your phones. What may seem like a little jab to you could be interpreted as a windmill swing by your opponent. Better to fly under the radar and sneak up on your enemies than to allow them to paint a nice, big red target on your back. Learn from the Red Wings: keep that yap closed!