Playing hockey for too long has turned me into a complete jackass.
When I first walked into a junior hockey dressing room, I was 17. I didn't drink, smoke or do anything all that “cool.” I had a steady girlfriend, whom I was faithful to, and my favorite color was purple.
I got crucified.
I needed a copy of “Getting Beaked For Dummies: How to Respond When You’ve Been Called a Duster, Bender, Joke, Plug and Six Variations of Homosexual.”
The basic rule of dressing room trash talk is: “The best defense is a good offense,” but most guys aren’t able to think of anything snappy – especially if somebody, heaven forbid, hits them with something clever.
And that’s what separates the trash-talk all-stars from the rest of the room: You need to make specific, personal cuts that make a guy think. You gotta cut deep. Yes, this damages friendships, but they heal; it’s not The Hills.
It's like the jail theory we've all heard: On your first day, kick somebody's ass so people know you aren't to be messed with. You have to take it too far a couple times so people know you’re one of the guys who will throw a guy under the bus if he gets too personal with you.
To get good at this, it helps to take constant notes. This is how good guys end up being bad people. You're listening to every conversation, often as a friend, but secretly taking notes for future ammo. You do it for so long you don’t notice you’ve become Judge Judy, mentally persecuting while smiling and nodding.
The best-case scenario is a buddy mentioning he cried when his dog died or something completely legitimate. It’ll be exploited the next time he says something hardcore.
“Why don't you quit whining about ice time and man up?”
“Shut it. You cry for puppies, your opinion is void.”
Note the mild exaggeration from dead dog to puppies; this move is key. The trick is to find some truth and stretch it to the point of embarrassment. The guy can’t defend himself with “No, I don’t,” because the worst thing he can do is further dwell on the topic and give someone a chance to tell the whole story of his tears to more ears.
The most common chirp involves girls.
There are some guidelines: serious girlfriends and wives are generally off-limits (to the guy’s face). You’re allowed to abuse the player in regards to his conduct with the wife (leaves team functions early, calls her “Schmoopy,” wags his tail at her every request or command), but personal attacks like “Soooo, she never lost that baby weight, huh?” qualify as across the line.
There are very, very (very) few secrets in a dressing room. There are always two to five conversations going on in the room while guys get their gear on, but the real fun starts when a topic is so hugely important the whole room is involved in a main-event worthy conversation.
It usually starts with a raucous reaction to some piece of news somewhere in the room – let's say some guy dated a teammate’s sister – and everybody is listening to that one conversation.
The mob mentality heightens the pressure and all your buddies are dying to pull the trigger on a verbal knockout punch. Wear your thick skin and orate like Obama, because the hammer’s falling regardless.
Beyond the permanent girls, nothing is off-limits. You’re fat? Get your “I can lose weight, but you’ll still be ugly” responses ready. Balding? Good luck. These are the pettiest of petty issues that get players abused without having done anything wrong.
Chubby player: “Hey, that was my seat.”
Jackass player: “Well, now you have to stand on your fat feet.”
Anytime you get 20 guys in a room, doing nothing but working out and finding the next thing to laugh at, it doesn’t matter their profession; jokes are going to be constant.
And that’s what guys miss when they leave hockey. Maybe they’ll go golfing with three buddies, but you can’t compare that to the volume of material created by a dressing room of wannabe comedians everyday.
So when you see old teammates down the road, don’t forget your basics: keep note of embarrassing things, offense for defense, and keep it personal. There will always be buddies you can get together with years after playing and pick up right where you left off.
My dad (Bob Bourne) took me to a Canucks-Islanders game five or six years after he retired and popped in to see his old coach from the Island.
Al Arbour: “HEEEYYY! Sh--head!”
Justin Bourne plays for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL. He excelled with the University of Alaska Anchorage before going on to spend time in the Islanders organization with Bridgeport and Utah. His father, Bob, spent 14 years in the NHL and won four cups with the Islanders. He will blog regularly for THN.com and you can read more of Justin's blogs at jtbourne.com.