Building a winning culture

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.  

But it isn’t easy.  With the level of parity in the NHL, winning is downright difficult.  So how do some teams do it consistently, season after season, while others, with similar talent, struggle to find the formula for success?

Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards believes he began to see his team grasping the concept of winning hockey in last season’s second half.  The Blue Jackets started to find themselves in the final months of the season and started to collect the points that were so frustratingly elusive in the first half.  To Richards, it isn’t so much about winning; rather, it’s about building a team culture that leads to the much-coveted W’s.  

“Winning (more games in the second half) was the byproduct of the culture changing.  To me it was the little things.  It was a little bit more commitment in certain areas.  It was blocking shots, it was going to the net, and it was those types of actions throughout a game that led to the winning.”

Ironic, isn’t it that it’s the little things that allow good teams to reach the goal that’s the biggest in any team sport, to win?  But maybe we sell the little things short by calling them little.  It isn’t easy to always finish checks, or drive to the net instead of peeling off and looking for a trailer, or blocking a 97 MPH slap shot from 10 feet away.  Little things?  Hardly.  They’re huge in the context of what it takes to win in the NHL.  And they’re hard to do.

Veteran Columbus forward Vinny Prospal has been around enough winning teams to know what it takes, and he says it takes a lot more than just working hard.

“It takes the willingness to give more than everybody else because it’s not easy,” said Prospal.  “Everybody works hard; that’s a given.  But you have to do extra, on the ice and off the ice, when nobody’s watching.  You have to have the drive, the passion, the energy to be better than the guy beside you or the guy on the other team.”

Another Blue Jackets forward who is no stranger to a winning culture in the NHL is Brandon Dubinsky, who came over from the New York Rangers in the Rick Nash trade.  He loves what he sees so far inside his locker room and believes his new team has what it takes to track a winning path.  

“We may not have a Pavel Datsyuk on our team, but we have a group of guys that enjoy each other and enjoy doing whatever it takes, and I think those are the important things for winning hockey games,” Dubinsky offered.  

“Winning is about momentum and confidence, he added.“If we can impose our will and outwork teams, play hard defensively, limit the time we’re playing in our own zone, use the energy of our forecheck, and create some ugly goals, I think we’ll put ourselves in a good position.”

And when teams finally get there, when they develop the culture that leads to making the commitment to doing those not-so-little things night after night that lead to wins, what does that do?  It leads to more winning.  Nothing may be truer in the NHL than the adage that losing and winning are both contagious.  Here’s Dubinsky on the feeling that comes with knowing you’ve built the kind of team and culture to beat any given opponent on any given night.

“When you win hockey games, you know, you get confidence.  You get a good, healthy arrogance about you, and you go into each and every game believing you can win that night.  When you’re winning and you’re playing well and feeling good, you feel like you’re getting all the bounces and the breaks.”

In other words, the feeling – like the team that’s made the commitment to a winning culture – is hard to beat.