Canada's Olympic hockey men draw inspiration from 'mystery man'

Canadian adventurer Jamie Clarke emphasizes focus, team work in message to players

Canada's Olympic hockey men draw inspiration from 'mystery man'
Canadian adventurer Jamie Clarke, who has successfully climbed the highest mountains in each of the seven continents, addressed Canada's Olympic men's hockey team on Monday. “The important thing for each player to remember is the importance of playing a role," he says. © Jamie Clarke

By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports

RIGA, LATVIA — A fit middle-aged, outdoorsy-looking, bearded man showed up a few days ago at the Canadian Olympic men's hockey team training camp here.

Who was this mystery man? He could be seen talking to a coach or a trainer or leaving for dinner with general manager Sean Burke and other members of the management team.

Then, on Monday evening, another team meeting was held. The players filed into a room in their downtown hotel and the mystery man got up in front of them. He spoke to a captivated audience for 90 minutes.

"It was so cool. He had so much energy, and a powerful message," said forward Andrew Ebbett, who along with Max Lapierre scored goals in Canada's 2-0 exhibition win against Belarus on Tuesday.

Kevin Poulin was solid in goal with a 29-save shutout as Canada killed off six penalties, including a 47-second 5-on-3 situation midway through the third period.

"The biggest thing he said that will stick with me is that we don't know what the outcome will be [at the Olympics], just like he didn't know what the outcome was going to be getting to the top of Mount Everest," Ebbett continued.

"But he threw all of his energy and focus on that goal, and we saw what happened in the end. We don't know what's going to happen in our case, but if we all throw our energy into it and we all work as 25 guys together, there will be a positive result."

'The important thing for each player to remember is the importance of playing a role. ... You have to park your ego at the door, yet bring confidence.' —Canadian adventurer Jamie Clarke on Canada's Olympic men's hockey team

The mystery man is Canadian adventurer Jamie Clarke. Between 1993 and 2008, the Calgary resident successfully climbed the seven summits, the highest mountains in each of the seven continents: Mount Aconcagua, Mount McKinley, Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus, Vinson Massif and Carstensz Pyramid. He also survived a 1.126-kilometre journey in 40 days by camel through the desert from Oman, Saudi Arabia to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Clarke has worked with Hockey Canada teams in the past at the World junior and national Paralympic team levels as well as the Washington Capitals, Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames. His message has several tentacles.

"Each person takes something different because it depends on where they're coming from," Clarke said. "But there are some overarching themes I'm trying to get across and those are the importance of the team, playing together, buying into the system.

"The important thing for each player to remember is the importance of playing a role. It may not be the role that you're accustomed to in your career. You may be called upon to play a bigger role or a smaller role or maybe not the role you want to play. But how do you reconcile that for yourself? You have to park your ego at the door, yet bring confidence."

The Olympic men's tournament will be 11 days long for the Canadians if they get to the gold-medal game. There is no secret chemistry is important, but can you fast-track team building?

"The gold-medal final at the Winter Games is like the 100-metre final at the Summer Olympics," Clarke said.

Different perspective

"This is our game. There is a lot of pressure on these guys and a wonderful, unique opportunity. Many of them have said to me that they never have dreamed of ever having a chance to be an Olympian and they take it very seriously."

Instead, Clarke has given the hockey team a different perspective. He doesn't talk about hockey, but the parallels to Clarke summit climbs. They've worked hard on the physical game and Clarke wanted to help them with the mental game.

As part of his talk on Monday, Clarke relayed a story about the dangerous Khumbu Ice Fall area of Mount Everest, in which you use an aluminum ladder to negotiate deep crevasses.

"I use a picture in my presentation going across a monster crevasse," Clarke said. "I posed the question to the group, 'where do you put the focus, on the rungs of the ladder or the crevasse?'

"Often, a crevasse is beyond your control. In the game of hockey, there is a whole collection of things that you can't control, like a referee's call. But you have to focus on your job, the trust you've built with your team.

Fighting through exhaustion

"To give them stories like this, that we can talk about in a relaxed way, they will have that language to use when they're under the gun. You can already hear them saying stuff like, 'I do get wrapped up in the crevasses.'"

Another part is pushing through exhaustion.

"We talked about when your legs are burning near the end of the game," Clarke said. "Are you the only one? No, you're not. Everyone is suffering. That's when you can get excited. Now you can accept it. You can go deep.

"When the pressure is on, how do you own those moments? You enjoy it. It's almost like, 'yeah, this is what we were building toward.'"

Clarke will accompany the Canadians on Wednesday's flight to South Korea and stay with them over the weekend, returning home just before Canada plays Sweden in its final exhibition game near Seoul on Tuesday.

"I wanted to be embedded with them a little bit longer because you can develop a deeper rapport and an everlasting impact. It's one thing to have a long talk and then leave. That has its place, but to be able to leave these guys with some more tools, ideas and techniques to manage the stress and opportunity of the tournament, it's nice to have the extra time."