From Own Goals to Goals Against: Steve Smith's Journey of Resilience and Lessons for Lacrosse Goalies

Uncategorized Nov 16, 2023

In the world of sports, certain moments become etched in history, not just for their triumphs but also for the lessons they impart. Today, we revisit a pivotal moment in hockey history: Edmonton Oilers defenseman Steve Smith's unfortunate mistake in the 1985 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Calgary Flames and how you can take those lessons and apply them to the lacrosse goalie position.

Edmonton Oilers 1985-1986 Season

The Edmonton Oilers of the 1985-1986 season were nothing short of legendary and often considered one of the most elite teams in NHL history. Boasting the top record in the NHL, and six future NHL Hall of Famers led by Wayne Gretzky (who set and stills holds the single season points record at 215), the Oilers were heavy favorites to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup Championship. Hockey Reference

Steve Smith's Crucial Error:

Picture this – it's the 1985 Stanley Cup playoffs, Game 7 of the Smythe Division Final, and tensions are high between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames. A game dubbed the Battle of Alberta – in describing the series one player famously said “When you look back and you think about the Battle of Alberta, every time you went into that building, you knew you were going to shed some blood,” “And hopefully you were going to take some with you.”Battle of Alberta .  Steve Smith, an NHL rookie drafted in the 6th round, was playing in only his 63rd NHL game (was also his 23rd birthday), had retreated behind his net to start the break for the Oilers. Tied 2-2 in the third period, in a heartbreaking turn of events, Smith found himself inadvertently sending the puck into his own net off the skate of his own goalie Grant Fuhr, sealing the fate of the game and the series. It was a moment that echoed through hockey history, a moment that could have defined Smith's career.

Lessons Learned:

From the ashes of that unfortunate play emerged crucial lessons. Steve Smith, rather than succumbing to despair, demonstrated resilience and humility. He faced the media, his teammates, and the fans with courage, taking ownership of his mistake. "It was human error and I guess I'll have to live with it," he said after the game. "I don't know if I'll ever live this down, but I have to keep on living. The sun will come up tomorrow."ABC News. It was a testament to the human spirit's capacity to learn and grow from adversity just moments after carrying the shame of letting his team down.





Team Support and Redemption:

Rather than abandoning their teammate, the Oilers rallied around Steve Smith. The support from his teammates was unwavering, a testament to the resilience embedded in the team's spirit. Oilers star Wayne Gretzky backed Smith in his postgame remarks -- Gretzky went so far as to say anyone pointing the finger at Smith "should be looking in the mirror."  Smith, in turn, used this setback as a catalyst for personal growth and redemption.That moment  could have very easily derailed his career, instead, he came back and was undeterred. His coach at the time, Glen Sather had this to say "You have to live with it. You can't worry about what's happened in the past. You have to focus on going forward, and really, that's what he's done. That's what he did the next year. That's hockey. Part of learning how to win is being able to lose and accept it and move on."  ABC News

1986-1987: The Comeback Year and Beyond

In the wake of his pivotal error in the 1985 Stanley Cup playoffs, Steve Smith's redemption story unfolded during the 1986-1987 season. The lessons learned from that setback laid the foundation for a remarkable comeback:

1. Resilience Gratitude and Mental Toughness:

  • Smith's ability to rebound showcased remarkable resilience. The mental fortitude required to overcome a high-profile mistake and reestablish himself on the ice became a hallmark of his character. He finished the season in the conversation as a top tier defenseman tallying 22 total points. Smith said " "I still look back to the very first day I played an NHL game, just getting a NHL jersey for the first time," he says. "I do this because I'm passionate about it, not because of any defining moment. I've been fortunate." ABC News

2. Redemption on the Ice:

  • Smith's dedication to improvement and honing his skills was evident throughout the 1986-1987 season. His commitment to defensive excellence not only contributed to the Oilers' success but also served as a personal vindication.  
  • Smith would later say, "That moment taught me very quickly that you can be knocked off that pedestal really fast," says Smith. "I approach it now instead from a standpoint of how lucky we really are to be around this game and how quickly it can be taken away. I always think of it like the line from 'The Godfather': It was the business that we chose. If I didn't choose a business where I could possibly be exposed, then I would never have had the possibility of being exposed. It doesn't define you as a person. It doesn't define you as an athlete or competitor. You have to understand that there's a possibility that things could go wrong within a game, and they certainly did." ABC News

3. Team Support and Unity:

  • The unwavering support from his teammates highlighted the importance of team unity. Smith learned that a cohesive team, one that supports each other through thick and thin, is essential for overcoming challenges.

4. Stanley Cup Redemption:

  • The crowning moment of Smith's redemption came when Wayne Gretzky handed him the Stanley Cup first after the Oilers' victory in 1987. This symbolic gesture emphasized the collective nature of success and redemption within a team.

5. Personal Growth and Maturity:

  • Smith's journey reflected not only on-ice success but also personal growth and maturity. Taking responsibility for his actions and facing challenges with grace demonstrated a level of maturity that would undoubtedly carry over to his current career as an NHL coach.
  • Jeff Petry, a defenseman Steve Smith coached while with the Oilers, had this to say about Smith. "He had a big impact on me when I got called up. He always told me to come to the rink and approach every day as a new day. You can't dwell on things in the past, and I think that helped me along the way. Obviously, you don't want the highs to get too high and lows get too low. He kind of told me, 'The game's over, the shift's over, you just have to refocus on the next one.'" ABC News

Applying the Lessons to Lacrosse Goalies:

Now, let's transition  from hockey to lacrosse. In the world of lacrosse, goalies face challenges similar to those of any athlete. They stand as the last line of defense, shouldering immense pressure and responsibility. Mistakes happen; it's inevitable. Steve Smith's journey provides valuable insights for lacrosse goalies:

  1. Resilience Under Pressure:

    • Lacrosse goalies face intense pressure, much like Smith did. The ability to rebound from goals allowed and maintain focus is crucial for success. One strategy to help deal and thrive under pressure is to use the past as way to prepare for the present. By understanding why you feel pressure and how your past experiences in the goal shape that pressure, you can learn to stay present no matter the magnitude of the situation. Preparation = Confidence
  2. Team Support in the Crease:

    • Goalies, often the last line of defense, benefit greatly from team support. A cohesive defensive unit contributes to the goalkeeper's confidence and overall success. It's important to remember, that no matter how big or small the mistake, the fact is you can't go back and change it. Most goalies tend to fear making mistakes in the future, constantly worrying about the opinions of their coaches and teammates following the mistake. The truth is, on any successful team like the Oilers, everyone is pulling their weight toward a common goal. In that shared drive toward achieving goals, the team uplifts and supports those who struggle along the way. The best thing you can do in support of that team goal  is to move forward and to control what you can control, keeping in mind that you'll never know what your teammates are truly thinking or anyone for that matter so let it go and play for yourself.
  3. Humility and Support to Find Success:

    • Following the own goal, Smith mentioned "I teach my kids on a daily basis about humility,"  "I really believe that incident had a lot to do with making me a much humbler person. It probably taught me more about humility than a person could ever learn. From that day forward, I sincerely cheered for people. I didn't want to see people fail. I didn't want to ever see people have that type of day."  This theme is relevant for a lacrosse goalie competing for a starting spot as it underscores the significance of approaching competition with a humble mindset, respecting others, and cheering for teammates rather than reveling in their failures. It suggests that a humble and empathetic approach can contribute to a positive team dynamic and personal growth, fostering a supportive environment even in a competitive setting.
  4. Maturity in Adversity:

    • The maturity Smith displayed in handling setbacks is a valuable lesson for lacrosse goalies. Maintaining composure and taking responsibility for mistakes are signs of a mature athlete. It's understanding that as a goalie, you will get scored on and you will make mistakes. What matters is how you respond to those challenges. THAT is a key trait for a lacrosse goalie!

Closing Thoughts:

As we delve into the lessons from Steve Smith's journey, let's remember that sports, be it hockey or lacrosse, are a series of challenges and triumphs. The ability to learn, grow, and bounce back is what sets exceptional athletes apart.

Here's to a season of resilience, accountability, and turning setbacks into stepping stones.

All the Best,

The Focus Lacrosse Team


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