Next to getting sent to the minors, being a healthy scratch is one of the most embarrassing things that can happen to a hockey player. The coach is saying, “our team will stand a better chance if you didn’t play tonight” – ouch.
I’m sure most of you have seen the headlines about Jason Blake, Dustin Penner and Brendan Morrison (to name a few) who have been healthy scratches in the past couple of months. I know it’s especially hard on these guys because at this point in their careers they figure this part of the game is behind them.
Not so, my friend. I can tell you from experience – lots of it – that getting scratched sucks. And not just the mental effects it has on a player, but the logistics of it.
Being a healthy scratch for a home game is a little easier because you can usually find a place to hide. You prefer not to see anyone, you don’t want anyone seeing you and you certainly don’t want to have to answer the question, “Why aren’t you playing tonight?”
This is about the time I fake a limp and tell them, “Tweaked my knee in the last game,” and they’re thinking to themselves, “How do you tweak your knee on the bench?” Oh, it can happen….
Nowadays, almost all home dressing rooms are designed so you can be in the change room or weight room and not get in the way of the ‘regulars.’ What really sucks as a healthy scratch is when you have friends or family in town – that’s always fun.
Your parents fly halfway across the country to watch their boy play and you come home to break the news, “not tonight folks.” (Near the end of my career I’m pretty sure they had it figured out.)
Being a healthy scratch for a road game, though, is where it really sucks. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the away game routine, it looks a little like this:
The pre-game skate is where you get the ‘tap’ from the coach at the end of practice. Who me? Really? I thought I was practicing on the sixth line to throw off the other team.
For the select few who won’t be playing, the morning skate turns into an early-afternoon bag skate.
Let me make sure I’m hearing this right. I don’t get to play and I have to skate until I nearly puke? Beautiful, where do I sign up?
After the skate it’s back to the hotel; but wait, there’s no bus! (Note: experienced journeymen would have had the trainer call a cab after getting off the ice.) You take a cab back to the hotel and eat whatever scraps the ‘regulars’ have left behind. (I once got back to the hotel so late the entire room was already cleared out. Son of a %^#&!)
Game time is the part that sucks the most as a healthy scratch. First of all, you must decide whether to take the bus to the arena with the team two-and-a-half hours before the game or take a cab close to game time and try and battle your way into the arena. Either choice bites.
If you go early, how are you going to spend your time? Most coaches don’t want the ‘Black Aces’ floating around the dressing room while the ‘regulars’ are getting ready – heaven forbid we make eye contact with someone and throw them off.
So where do you go? On the road there is no change room or weight room to hide in. Your choices are either the press box or the stands – awesome. In the press box you’ll have management and scouts eyeballing you, but if you sit in the stands with your suit on, you might as well have a sign on your back that reads ‘healthy scratch.’
Later in my career, I found the perfect spot to watch the game: the team bus.
Sean Pronger, the brother of Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger, played 260 NHL games with the Ducks, Penguins, Rangers, Kings, Bruins, Blue Jackets and Canucks. After playing four years at Bowling Green, the Dryden, Ont., native bounced around several leagues, including the ECHL, IHL, AHL, NHL and Europe.