Savor the Moment

by Ryan Krzykowski

Over the years I’ve coached football, baseball, track and basketball.  I’ve competed in golf, tennis, swimming, volleyball and triathlon.  But ice hockey is a different story — I’ve always been on the outside looking in.  The only time I put on a pair of skates I was about 7 years old, and certainly don’t know the first things about teaching the technical side of the game.  Floor hockey in PE class was pretty great, but there’s something about 10 skaters flying around on the ice that is amazing to watch.

In 1993, when the NHL expanded to South Florida, about 100 miles from where I lived, I went all in, and the Florida Panthers became my hockey team.  I watched every televised game, checked the standings regularly, and was bummed when that team barely missed the playoffs in its first year.  Two years later, the Panthers went on a crazy run through the playoffs and advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before falling short, getting swept by Colorado.  As my career got rolling, our family grew quickly and the space I had for hockey in my life shrunk considerably.  Moving away from Florida in 2008 basically put the nail in the coffin of my Florida Panther fandom.  Until a year ago, that is.  In 2023, the Panthers finally returned to the Cup Finals. and although I can’t say I paid any attention during the regular season, my sons and I thoroughly enjoyed their playoff run.  We watched every game, got to know the team’s players, and were mildly disappointed when they lost to Vegas, this time in 5 games. 

In the NHL season that just wrapped up a week ago, once again I paid very little attention during the regular season, but after the fun of last spring, the boys and I were ready for another couple months of playoff hockey.  This year there would be an even greater payoff, when after jumping out to a 3-0 series lead against Edmonton, then getting boatraced in 3 straight games forcing a decisive game 7, the Panthers played a nearly flawless game and came out on top.  They were Stanley Cup champions for the first time in franchise history.  And while I in no way claim to be a real, full time fan, it was a blast.

It was enough of a blast that after the last game ended, my oldest and I stayed up to watch the postgame celebration.  We saw the teams line up and shake hands, a terrific NHL tradition.  We watch men skate around with the cup one at a time with the happiest looks on their faces.  Connor McDavid of Edmonton was deservedly named MVP of the playoffs, despite his team falling short in the finals.  And when the network coverage started to drag, we switched over to ESPN to watch Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter.  Van Pelt was about to interview Florida head coach Paul Maurice, a man who had won his first title after 26 seasons as an NHL head coach. I’ve heard hundreds of these types of interviews over the years, and rarely does anything memorable happen.  But as a part time hockey and Panthers fan, I knew little about Maurice, and was curious to see what he’d have to say.  You can watch the interview here, and it’s worth the seven minutes. Two parts in particular stood out to me — when asked how winning the cup after waiting so long would change his life, Coach Maurice gave what feels like the perfect answer: “I hope it doesn’t.  I hope I’m learning to live my life well enough that a trophy won’t change the way I treat the people around me.”  Not only does Maurice recognize that a trophy shouldn’t change the way we treat people, when asked to reflect on something like winning a championship, his mind immediately prioritized how he treats others.  It was clear that Maurice is intentional about people, and there’s no way that doesn’t help the team he leads.

The other part that really got me — the Panthers had a lead going into the final period, and Van Pelt asked a simple question about how hard it must have been to watch the seconds come off the clock, wanting it to go faster to end the game and become champions, and Maurice said something I’ve never heard before.  He talked about how special it was for him and the team to be in that position, and while they certainly wanted to end the game as champions, he was in no hurry to have it over with.  He loved being in that moment so much he didn’t need it to end.  I’ll say this — every time I’ve ever watched a team I cheer for play for a title, or the times I’ve coached in championship games, that’s never been my mindset.  Once we had the lead I wanted those games to end as quickly as possible so we could enjoy the result and call ourselves champions.  Coach Maurice’s mature perspective is something I hope I can take to heart and share with the players and coaches around me.  Being in that position is special, and choosing to savor and enjoy it does nothing but make it even better.  I’ll most likely never get to thank Paul Maurice for that message, but I’m grateful he chose to share it on TV that night.

Let’s Coach With Purpose…