A new order: Quinn and team-building

Robin Brownlee
September 14 2009 04:26PM

bum-paddle

Pat Quinn hasn't wasted any time taking a first step to addressing a flaw within the culture of the Edmonton Oilers, a fault that's existed as long as I can remember.

I'm talking about the convention of "pecking order" that's prevalent with the Oilers, and every NHL team for that matter. In simple terms, the subtle differences in the day-to-day hockey lives of veterans compared to younger players and rookies, and how old habits play into that.

It's something I witnessed first-hand and contemplated a fair amount over the years, and a sidebar by Rob Tychkowski in the Edmonton Sun today got me thinking about it again.

In part, Tychkowski wrote: "Head coach Pat Quinn made quick work of the class system in training camp.

"In previous seasons the veterans would all change in the Edmonton Oilers main dressing room and the prospects would be relegated to the "Thanks for Coming" rooms down the hall.

Not this year. Quinn has everyone everywhere -- rookies and veterans in the main room and rookies and veterans in the more spartan visitors and auxiliary rooms."

Given rumblings about divisions in the dressing room -- some of them based on age and experience -- and questions about the leadership of the Oilers last season, the timing of Quinn's all-for-one approach at camp couldn't be better. In fact, it's long overdue.

And more of the same is needed.

Back of the bus

While the conventions of pecking order, and how pervasive it is in the day-to-day existence of teams like the Oilers, might seem small potatoes to fans, seniority, or lack of same, is something that's in your face every day as a young player. Likewise, for somebody who covered and travelled with the team as long as I did.

It's been the accepted way of doing things since I first arrived at the rink for The Journal in 1989, looking to write about something, anything, Jim Matheson hasn't already done 15 five times. Pecking order is just the way it's done. Tradition and all that.

-- When the Oilers travel, the veterans sit at the back of the plane and have their choice of seats, while younger players and rookies sit further up, nearer the reporters, team support staff and the coaching staff.

-- Same idea on the bus. Old guys in the back, kids in the front. When the bus pulls up to the hotel or the plane, passengers file out back-to-front, so the veterans don't have to wait to check-in or get their luggage and get seated on the plane.

-- Once inside the hotel, same thing. Players get on the elevators and on the way to their rooms first. If need be, younger players are expected to wait with reporters and others at the lower-end of the food chain.

-- In the dressing room at Rexall Place, vets sit on the wall and in the corners furthest from the door that's at the entrance to the room. It's where you'll find Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff, Steve Staios and captain Ethan Moreau.

With the exception of goaltenders, who always sit nearest the door, the closer you get to the entrance the younger the players are.

-- The rookie dinner. Long a tradition, veterans pick a city and a restaurant and have the rookies, be it one, two or whatever, pick up the tab. It's a rite of passage. The guys making the big dough eat and drink for free. The kids pay the freight.

A new order

Each of the above, taken on its own, might not seem like a big deal, but, aside from the reasoning "it's always been done this way," what's the benefit? How does treating a handful of players like grunts build a team? Really, what's the upside? Learning respect? Putting people in their place?

Being reminded seniority has its privileges, after all, is relatively harmless in the right degree, no? At least nobody is getting their head or their nuts forcibly shaved any more. Are they?

Then again, if the reminder is too heavy-handed, or if the make-up of the team is old players and very young players, as it's been with the Oilers the past two seasons, can an added sense of entitlement by veterans contribute to a split in the room?

I think Quinn is on to something here, be it a small step. Now, I'm guessing that some of the veterans might disagree because, again, it's always been this way. They paid their "dues."

It wasn't long ago that paddling some Grade 8's ass to welcome him to high school was OK. Hazing? What's the problem? How about pouring a 26-ounce bottle of hard stuff down some freshman's throat at university? A little puking. No big deal. It goes without saying that somebody's who come up that way isn't big on change when it's somebody else's turn.

Hell, when I covered my first Oiler game, we were still smoking in the press box. I bitched like hell when that stopped. Times change.

All for one

I'm all for Quinn's first step and hope it's not the last. Why do veterans need extra perks and conventions as some sort of validation they're higher up the pecking order? They get that every time they open their pay packet.

Why shouldn't Souray schlep down to the cramped dressing room with Johan Motin during camp? Why not have Moreau sitting between Charles Linglet and Kip Brennan?

Why not take it a step further and open up all the stall spaces in the big room once the team is picked? Have a draw, a karaoke contest, anything, to see who sits where. Sam Gagner beside Souray, Zack Stortini next to Staios. They are all teammates, no?

Why not have a rookie dinner where the veterans peel off some of that big stack and treat the rookies? Why insist the kids sit closest to reporters on the bus? Everybody should have to put up with their share of pissing and moaning about deadlines, cheap cologne and booze breath.

It's easy to mouth the words,  "Once an Oiler, always an Oiler." It's easy to talk about teamwork and being teammates. Proving it, even in little ways that might seem insignificant, is another thing.

It's obvious Quinn, the old school guy, has some new ways of looking at what it takes to build a team. Thank goodness for that.

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 ryan
September 14 2009, 09:00PM
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Great article, I always thought that the rookie veteran thing was BS. I was in the military and if the that crap can be squashed there then why can the oilers squash it ? I mean its one thing to have a rookie dinner some where and have the vets take them out after that. Its another thing to have the whole thing with the plane,bus and hotel. Have some respect for your own teamates, I'm glad I work at a place that respects what you bring to the table and a good work ethic, not how long you have been there. I kind of blamed the rookies before for the spilt in the dressing room, now I'm putting that squarely on the sense of entitlement of the vetrans. Look at how this team has played over the last three years, the best they have played was when all the vets were hurt 2 years ago and the rookies had the run of the team...............enough said

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#52 ronaldo
September 14 2009, 09:02PM
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@ Travis Dakin

So I'm catching up in this thread, reading all the comments to keep on top of things when I get to yours. Now I have Gobble Gobble stuck in my head. Thanks man, just thanks.

Oh, and super fantastic article Brownlee (a$$ kisser). There has been something missing over the past few seasons. It seemed like no one (a couple exceptions) stuck up for one another on the ice. This may have stemmed from a lack of cohesion off of it. Good for Quinn. For an old coach, it's nice to see some modern thinking.

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#53 David S
September 14 2009, 09:09PM
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Robin - another excellent piece of insight. Between your experience and Gregor's commentary, this has got to be one of the most informative hockey sites out there.

I've been paying as much attention as I can to Quinn's interviews. Every time I come away thinking this guy is the goods. People may not always agree with him, but the words that come out of his mouth are almost profound in their simplicity. In many ways I think we are extremely fortunate to have him as our head coach. Mixing up the vets with the "rubbydubs" is pure old-man common sense we may have been missing for a long time.

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#54 DonDon
September 14 2009, 09:22PM
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no clue wrote:

I never had a little brother, but if I had, I would have beat him mercilessly just cause I could. Just saying

No clue really needs some help with an attitudinal change if he really means what he just said.

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#55 Robin Brownlee
September 14 2009, 09:30PM
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@ ryan: A lot of this pecking order stuff is old school thinking that goes back forever.

On any given team, experience and leadership will rise to the top on its own, and most often it'll be shown by the older players, but not always. Leaders will lead, no matter how old they are.

I don't see the need of artificially reinforcing it with some of the silliness I've described under the guise of respect or seniority or whatever. Some of it isn't a big deal in reasonable doses, but I think it goes too far at times.

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#56 Harlie
September 14 2009, 09:35PM
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Matt wrote:

Jason Gregor wrote: Go back to breast feeding. Classic stuff.

makes me thirsty.

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#57 Dan the Man
September 14 2009, 09:47PM
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Great article with a great point Robin. While everything you wrote about is basically done more or less for tradition's sake it really comes across as juvenile. A young SHOULD have to learn his spot on the team ON the ice but not necessarily off of it.

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#58 Dan the Man
September 14 2009, 09:48PM
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that should have read "young player"

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#59 Bob
September 14 2009, 10:18PM
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So, are some bubble vetrans like Strudwick afforded all of the good spots too, or is that only for the $$$ players who are vetrans?

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#60 BigE57
September 14 2009, 10:25PM
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@ Robin Brownlee: What are/were the consequences when a rookie or young guy stepped out of turn?

Good story but I still think there is a place for that learning of respect, I just don't think it should be focused toward the veterans of the team.

If the pecking order taught the young player respect for where they are and the people that help them do what they do (trainers and equipment managers) then it's alright. If the players have established a pecking order based on seniority then it's time for that tradition and maybe even some of them to go.

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#61 Harlie
September 14 2009, 10:29PM
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just went on ticketmaster and ordered up some choice tickies to the Oilers vs Flamers tilt on Sep.23rd. Nice!

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#62 ryan
September 14 2009, 10:44PM
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Respect is taking your hat off while you eat ,shoveling your senoir neighbours drive way in the winter, buying a WW2 vet a beer on rememberance day. Not sitting in a click in a corner of the dressing room, or getting your hotel room first. Respect is something you earn , not expect !!! I would actually like to see a reporter call one of the vets on this , preferably moreau and ask if this is some thing he thinks a captain should support.

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#63 Fiveandagame
September 14 2009, 10:47PM
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@ BigE57: Great article Mr. Brownlee. I think as a society we've progressed past barbaric rituals of humiliation. Maybe it is because we are now generations of men raised by women due to higher divorce rates, or maybe it is because rookies can also be millionaires and be your leading scorer. So I say these Veteran entitlement exercises are like the hazing rituals of days gone by and as antiquated as your corn cob pipe.

On a side note. Doesn't the team captain always go out and buy the new kid that gets called up a brand new suit? That seems like a little bonus paid by the vets... Just sayin...

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#64 ryan
September 14 2009, 10:47PM
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LOL sorry the hat thing is manners LOL, got a good chuckle when i read that. My mom obviously hit me in the head to many times for not taking my hat off.

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#65 ryan
September 14 2009, 10:50PM
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Imagine how many suits moreau has bought in the last 3 years LOL. I thinks thats happened , I don't think it happens on a regular basis.

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#66 Rob
September 14 2009, 11:28PM
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Great observations. I appreciate your insight. That certainly may account for the air of entitlement surrounding the organization and the players. Did Katz fuel that message though by swimming against all logic and possibly influencing the return of Mike Comrie...as warm and fuzzy as some people think that was?

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#67 Robin Brownlee
September 14 2009, 11:28PM
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@ Bob: It's not so much the actual physical act of who gets the "good spots" on the bus, on the plane or in the room that's the issue, it's the idea of differentiating between veterans and younger players.

I haven't seen "consequences" stepping out of turn, but I'm pretty sure somebody seen as doing so is corrected rather quickly. Besides, let's not forget the seniority system extends downs through junior and college as well. This isn't something new. Tloday's NHL rookie is yesterday's junior or college senior guy.

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#68 MattL
September 14 2009, 11:42PM
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TOTALLY OFF TOPIC, but holy cow, 16 PPV games? Are we really to believe that the networks are showing fewer and fewer Oiler games each season of their own volition? Am I crazy, or isn't that a little high?

Considering the SportsNet games are kind of a co-production, the Oil must have have some say into how many games get picked up. Feels like they've just been pushing the number up each year to find the breaking point for us sheep (me included).

I wonder if they make more money from advertising in a SNW game, or from PPV income? Can anybody smart answer this?

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#69 Heatly
September 14 2009, 11:46PM
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Good article. Hopefully it doesn't backfire on them though. It's nice to have the players earn the respect of others, but not by their salary.

Souray for example hasn't been an Oiler too long, but I'm sure he gets special treatment. That's how it works but I'm all for some change if Quinn believes it the right move.

GO OILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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#70 Garett
September 15 2009, 12:16AM
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I have not ordered PPV in 3 years, I have the center ice package and don't feel I should have to pay for any more games. On Oil PPV nights, I just choose to watch other games. I personally don't even like the PPV product anyway!

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#71 Death Metal Nightmare
September 15 2009, 06:06AM
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this article shreds. great job, Brownlee. the first FAILURE in any society is exclusion, alienation and "pecking orders" (Aka subordination). keeping that garbage alive based on false premises or bogus "tradition" does way more damage than good for building joint social relationships.

the Oilers are also probably one of the worst cases to go against this argument too since their vets are overpaid and dont carry the team like proper "superstars" can. they just act like they are.

at the same time, it would be nice to see some players (ahem, Sam Gagner) not take their stupid ass video game stats to heart so much and focus on real hockey. Rishaug's latest TSN piece on the new NHL game was fairly telling when Sam got dead serious about phoning them up and filing a complaint about it, etc, etc... last year the word was "its not bothering me" and then he takes a massive dump for 60 games. meet half way with the vets, baby boy.

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#72 Petr Klima's Helmet
September 15 2009, 07:54AM
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@ Robin Brownlee: Just curious as to how the top tier teams in the league (Detroit,Pittsburgh,etc)handle the vet to rookie ratio differently,if at all.

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#73 scorecoff hemmercules
September 15 2009, 08:05AM
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I they want to raise the amount of PPV games they need to raise the quality too, get Mr. Hairplugs out of there for starters. 16 is rediculous if thats true, I thought 12 was too many.

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#74 scorecoff hemmercules
September 15 2009, 08:11AM
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And $200 for all the PPV games!! Rediculous I say.

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#75 scorecoff hemmercules
September 15 2009, 08:13AM
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Sorry, last rant. 5 PPV games in November!!!! 5 in one month, what a scam.

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#76 Robin Brownlee
September 15 2009, 08:16AM
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Petr Klima's Helmet wrote:

@ Robin Brownlee: Just curious as to how the top tier teams in the league (Detroit,Pittsburgh,etc)handle the vet to rookie ratio differently,if at all.

Ratio? Essentially, the same mindset of "seniority matters" is accepted practice in every NHL dressing room -- every pro sports locker room, I would think. It's a matter of degree, from subtle to overbearing, which is the end of the scale I think the Oilers are fall at. The pecking order doesn't just involve players, it includes support staff -- trainers, equipment guys etc -- and how they're treated.

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#77 Tommy
September 15 2009, 08:22AM
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16 games on PPV is crazy.

I read a quote somewhere - here? journal? Can't remember - that the TV schedule was having some issues and there was a potential for a few games to go untelevised because Sportsnet wouldn't pick them up. So I guess they just added them to the PPV list.

I am not a PPV fan, never have been.

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#78 The Towel Boy
September 15 2009, 08:22AM
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@ scorecoff hemmercules:

I know! I'm gonna have to stow away in Gene Principe's hair to see that many games. But it's not that bad when you consider the cost of going to ONE game in person. By the time you pay for parking, tickets, food, beer, 50/50 tickets, beer, nachos, beer, souvenirs, beer and beer you'd be well over 200 bucks.

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#79 smiliegirl15
September 15 2009, 08:29AM
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PPV is a good reason to meet your friends at the local sports pub for some wings and beer - you guys are looking at this all wrong.

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#80 Reggie
September 15 2009, 08:40AM
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smiliegirl15 wrote:

PPV is a good reason to meet your friends at the local sports pub for some wings and beer – you guys are looking at this all wrong.

Or to head over to your best bud's house, you know the one with the big, new tv. You let him buy the PPV, you pick up the beer. It's all good.

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#81 Ender the Dragon
September 15 2009, 08:51AM
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Brownlee,

This is an interesting piece. Sheds some light on the side of hockey a lot of fans don't see and gets you into the minds of the players. When everyone is churning out the same old oatmeal day after day, you, Willis, and the rest of the Nation writers are looking for the different angle. This one is a prime example of what happens when that approach comes off really well.

I don't always like your responses to reader comments, Robin, but I'll give credit where it's due; this is damn fine work.

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#82 The Towel Boy
September 15 2009, 08:56AM
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@ smiliegirl15: @ Reggie:

Both equally impressive tactics to not pay for a PPV game. I have employed each tactic myself and can confirm that they do, in fact, work.

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#83 scorecoff hemmercules
September 15 2009, 09:25AM
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@ Reggie: I'm usually the guy that gets the PPV on my big new TV, and then everyone shows up without beer :(

@ The Towel Boy: It usually costs me about $600 to see a game since I'm from out of town and usually have to pony up for the wifes ticket too and a hotel.

I'm not against the PPV games but 16 is far too many. Not many pubs carry the games here either, too many flames fans.

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#84 Fish
September 15 2009, 09:30AM
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Great article Robin. I love getting your "behind the scenes" look at my beloved Oil.

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#85 #13 The Rat
September 15 2009, 11:49AM
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Add my congrats to the growing pile. GREAT article Robin. IT will be interesting to see if the vets buy into the "team" concept or if they piss and moan quietly about not getting their perks.

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#86 MrOiler
September 15 2009, 11:52AM
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MattL wrote:

TOTALLY OFF TOPIC, but holy cow, 16 PPV games? Are we really to believe that the networks are showing fewer and fewer Oiler games each season of their own volition? Am I crazy, or isn’t that a little high? Considering the SportsNet games are kind of a co-production, the Oil must have have some say into how many games get picked up. Feels like they’ve just been pushing the number up each year to find the breaking point for us sheep (me included). I wonder if they make more money from advertising in a SNW game, or from PPV income? Can anybody smart answer this?

MattL:

I was thinking about all the comments on 16 PPV this year. We still get 66 season games + 7 preseason for free. It wasn't that long ago that I would be jumping up and down if someone told me 73 Oiler games were broadcast on TV.

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#87 toprightcorner
September 15 2009, 12:41PM
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Travis Dakin wrote:

smiliegirl15 wrote: Maybe the veterans should have a buddy system where each one has a little brother. “Little brothers” get to sit next to their big brother in the room, on the plane, out for dinner, carry their gear~. Technically, Gagner and Cogliano are veterans now. Do they still get a little brother?

Little brothers will be touch to find on this team since most of them are 5'8" tall, they are all little!! *wipes away tear from fond memories of watching Snow White as a kid*

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#88 toprightcorner
September 15 2009, 12:42PM
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toprightcorner wrote:

Travis Dakin wrote: smiliegirl15 wrote: Maybe the veterans should have a buddy system where each one has a little brother. “Little brothers” get to sit next to their big brother in the room, on the plane, out for dinner, carry their gear~. Technically, Gagner and Cogliano are veterans now. Do they still get a little brother? Little brothers will be touch to find on this team since most of them are 5′8″ tall, they are all little!! *wipes away tear from fond memories of watching Snow White as a kid*

That would be tough to find.

Don't even get on the touching in the dressing room tangent!

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#89 toprightcorner
September 15 2009, 12:51PM
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RB - great article!

As a business owner, I am shocked to hear that this practice has been going on. This went out in the seventies. A buisiness will never be successful unless everyone feels they are all equally appreciated for the parts they play. Treated the same, they work together people with special treatment end up with less respect from the others who get harped on.

For a team to be successful, they need to all be treated as equals and appreciated the same, seperating them just builds anomosity.

This change alone should add 8 to 10 points to their season. This is just more proof how the Old Boys Club contaminates everything.

Way to go Quinn, great start!

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#90 MattL
September 15 2009, 02:18PM
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@ MrOiler: MrOiler wrote:

I was thinking about all the comments on 16 PPV this year. We still get 66 season games + 7 preseason for free. It wasn’t that long ago that I would be jumping up and down if someone told me 73 Oiler games were broadcast on TV.

Not free, we pay for it by watching advertisements. I think it's a little disingenuous to keep selling it as if they're doing US a favour by carrying these games PPV, when I really believe they are pushing for more games to go un-televised so they can keep prodding the PPV threshold to see when we break and stop buying them.

Can't blame the Oil, I just think it's a little greasy.

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#91 Reggie
September 15 2009, 03:27PM
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The Towel Boy wrote:

@ smiliegirl15: @ Reggie: Both equally impressive tactics to not pay for a PPV game. I have employed each tactic myself and can confirm that they do, in fact, work.

My friends know the 2nd tactic well ... I'm the guy with the new TV and pays for the PPV. Unfortunately, they also know were my mini-fridge is ... lol

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#92 Reggie
September 15 2009, 03:31PM
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@ scorecoff hemmercules:

Ah, from Calgary. You might have more problems ... I know I've tried to pick up an Flames PPV and a Canucks one but most often, I am not allowed to purchase the PPV. I don't do it in place of watching my Oilers, but tried it when Sid was on his Western swing. Didn't work well.

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#93 Mooch
September 15 2009, 05:29PM
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Here's the thing... Equality is all well and good, but will it impact future free agent signings? It might be another strike against coming to the Oilers. Yes? No?

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#94 Robin Brownlee
September 15 2009, 07:08PM
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Mooch wrote:

Here’s the thing… Equality is all well and good, but will it impact future free agent signings? It might be another strike against coming to the Oilers. Yes? No?

No.

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#95 MikeP
September 15 2009, 09:13PM
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Like ryan, I was in the military, Army Reserves - Infantry. My platoon WO for my basic training was a crusty old ex-Regular Force sergeant, ex-Airborne Regiment, ex-Black Watch, former sniper who taught Rangers at Fort Benning, tours in Europe, Africa, Haiti, Asia, etc etc. While there's obviously rank differences in the military, he put his boot down and hard on anything even remotely like hazing. My grandfather, a Second World War European Theatre combat vet, felt the same.

If men who have literally served in the trenches tell me that you can build a team ready to fight and die for each other without the stupid crap like what some teams pull on one another (remember what got Downie and Aliu scrapping?), separate dressing rooms, constant reminders that the new guy is lesser, then I'll believe them over some ex-junior player who claims that paddling the rooks is the only way to build a REAL team, thank you very much. I've been a part of both cultures, and I know that the teams built on hazing the rooks leads to resentment, backstabbing, and a continuation of the system, just like bullying. Teams built on mutual respect can and do succeed.

I'd far rather the veterans on the hockey team I love worried about ways to help the young guys get better than about ways to screw them on the dining bill. There's a place for pranks, but there's a line as well. I'm glad Quinn got an early start on squashing that BS.

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#96 Robin Brownlee
September 15 2009, 10:08PM
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@ MikeP: Well said. One-for-all-and-all-for-one rings rather hollow when it's based on a mentality of, "That's my seat, kid, bugger off."

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