Puck Daddy - NHL

While young kids are off to their first day of school, the big kids who play hockey are headed to their first day of training camp. Bags are being unpacked, handshakes are being exchanged, and new friendships are being made. And if there's one thing new teammates can count on, it's that they'll be able to find the same cliques on this team that existed on every other team they've ever been a part of. It's only natural.

Most players have learned how to deal with the typical groups that exist behind closed doors -- they've had to.

But, it's not exactly jocks, nerds and goths like it used to be. Here's a look at the cliques you can find on every professional hockey team:

The College Guys

Overview: If you ask the college guys, they'll tell you that they're the ones capable of grouping words together to form sentences (take Tylenol for any headaches, Midol for any cramps), and occasionally even create coherent thoughts. If you ask the next group, they'll tell you the college kids are a bunch of elitist jackasses that deserve to JUST GET PUNCHED IN THE FACE.

Natural Habitat: Before practice, you can almost always find The College Guy in his stall, drinking coffee and doing a crossword puzzle. He's capable of scribbling in 39-down (of a real newspaper, not the one in People Magazine) while soaking in stories from the previous night that are flying around the room. Even if this group of guys has wittier comebacks and taunts, only a select few (other college dudes) get the snark anyway, so it usually goes unrecognized.

Social Life: Like 95 percent of the guys that play hockey, these guys like to tear it up, but usually only when the time is right. They're spot-pickers, more prone to having a drink at home on a weeknight than sneaking out to some bar. Still, they haven't forgotten the college lifestyle, and are a blast to go out with. (I tried to water down my bias as much as possible, but failed.)

The Major Junior Guys

Overview: These guys grew up with a single focus -- to play in the NHL. While an admirable goal, it's fitted them with blinders that limit their awareness of a world outside hockey. They are, in fact, the paint in which the brush of stereotype dips, before painting all hockey players. Still, they value camaraderie, they love hockey, and they're usually a hard-nosed group of dudes you're proud to have on your team. If you can't deal with this group, you can't be a hockey player. Also, they like chicks and booze. Deal with it.

Natural Habitat: You can find this untamed beast unnecessarily naked, possibly with a dip of Copenhagen or Grizzly in, and most definitely being social, funny and loud. They're roaming the room, getting iced/taped/laying-on-the-medical-tables-cause-it's-a-fun-hang-out-spot, and B.S.'ing about the night before, the game before, the year before. Think Moe from "Slapshot."

Social Life: Tough to nail down because these guys vary in age so much, but when the night is right, they'll end up with the best (craziest?) stories of anyone the next day. Wait, she only had one arm?

The Up-and-Comers

Overview: These kids can play, but are utterly devoid of those all-important "muscle" things. They started the year at an NHL training camp, were probably drafted, and everyone (including them) is aware this team is merely a stepping stone. These guys get to play in situations over currently better players who are on the decline of their career, which is frustrating when you're trying to win. You'd love to hate them, but they're often super-nice, in an innocent, not-yet-jaded kind of way. But still -- it'd be nice to give ‘em a decent slap out of jealousy/quit-being-a-geek-ness.

Natural Habitat:  He's an absolute monk in the dressing room, vow of silence. He's a rookie that got stuck with a corner stall that's by the ever-rotating locker -- every time a new guy moves up or down, and someone comes in to fill that roster spot, they sit beside each other and think dull, productive hockey thoughts. Again, slap for that.

Social Life: He plays a lot of Call of Duty or Halo, and has a long-distance girlfriend that he talks to on the phone for an hour-plus a night. He uses his computer to stay in touch with his myriad of high school buddies. He's on Facebook. If he's feeling spicy, he'll hit a movie. He'll go out with the fellas two-three times (when he's feeling really crazy), guys will be super-excited about it, feed him shots, and he'll vow to never go out again. Also, someone probably slapped him.

The Over-the-Hill Guys

Overview: For the most part, these guys are beauties. Keep in mind, I didn't play in the show, I played with guys who were playing in the minors at 30-plus for the love of the game and the lifestyle, not the dough (like we see from some old NHLers). I sent an email to a pro-hockey buddy for his thoughts on this, and he wrote back:

"I remember talking to [an older guy] on a long bus ride, and he was telling me about how Facebook and cell phones have changed the game. How on a long bus ride they used to have to pull over to the side of the road so the boys could call their wives {or whoever} from the pay phones with a stack of quarters." 

I always enjoy the words of wisdom (wise or not) from the journeymen. "I used to be a prospect, now I'm a project." Love it.

Natural Habitat: No wasted movement, ever. This type of guy tapes his stick while sitting in his stall with a coffee. His ankle is already taped and he's changed into his undergear before most of the team shows up, and he has zero intent on leaving that stall until the very millisecond practice starts. Standard thought from his teammates: What time did that dude get here this morning?

Social Life: Wild card. Some of these guys are playing in the lower leagues and not the NHL because they love to party. As in, too much. Some of them are just happy to settle down in a city with a wife and not get traded, cut and signed all over the globe. When they do come out, it's like winning the lottery to get a bar stool beside them. Oh, 14 years of pro hockey stories and a couple pitchers of beer?  I'm in.

*****

Of course, the major groups have subsets.

These mini-crews can come from any of the above cliques. If you manage to be a part of one of the above groups and one of the ones below with another guy?  Lifetime besties. ...Yes, I said besties.

Bad Relationship with Coach Guys -- Do not sit by any of these guys when they're drinking. Yes, woe IS you.

Good Relationship with Coach Guys -- Traitors! Phonies! Um... hey wait -- why do those guys keep getting so much ice time?

Party Guys --  Always seem to have a secret, always seem to be battling a hangover. Hmm.

Long-term Injury Guys -- Aww, lookit the cute couple doing their own workout again today... Forced friendships: awkward.

French Connection -- I get it, you speak two languages. Well one of those is English, so if you choose French, I'll just assume you're talking shit about me. Good dudes, but the Denis Lemieux parody of them? Not far off. Who ownnns the Chiefs?

And last, but not least...

Weird Probably-a-Back-Up-Goalie Guy. Goalies, while quirky, can fit into any of the groups we've talked about today. But for some reason, one of the two always has a personality that's, um, a little eclectic, if I may dance around the subject so I don't end up on a list written in lipstick?

While the majority of guys are able to get along with damn-near-everyone, there's always a select few that don't quite have it figured out.

The guy that can dance between them all? He's the "great locker-room guy." 

The guy that can't dance between any? Well... he's probably applying for an internship at Vogue.

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