“The will to prepare often outlasts the skill of an individual,” says Brandon Cullen. Brandon grew up in Canada and had a very common dream people from around those parts, to one day play professional hockey. When he started, he says he was blessed with just enough ability to play – but as it turned out, he eventually cultivated the kind of skills needed to play in the NHL.
Before he made it to the NHL, though, he was faced with two options: he could seek a hockey scholarship to college or get on the fast track to NHL. He says facing that kind of choice at 16, as he did, means you’re forced to grow up really quickly.
Brandon says he enjoyed a fairly successful junior career, playing for Charlotte Checkers for nine years before he skated his way into an NHL contract. His very first week playing, he got a concussion. It was a huge disappointment, he felt his career was over and that he’d lost his place in the world. He’d lost his direction and had little education – hockey was all he knew. He knew he had to move fast, and learned some important lessons playing minor league hockey along the way.
He learned that showing up late was unacceptable. “We weren’t expected to arrive on time, we were expected to arrive early. Players were fined, suspended and even cut from the team if we showed up late. Everyone was held accountable.” He still has that same genuine respect for people’s time.”I expect this from everyone. Showing up on time is a choice, it may define you. Plan accordingly to arrive early.”
Another lesson was the importance of dress code. “As players you wore a suit and tie. Today, I feel like you need to look the part. We all have a mirror in our house, we all take one last look before we leave for the day. Before you stare into the reflection, ask yourself one questions, “do I look professional?”” He believes you should have pride in your personal style, but know what your field expects because people will notice.
In the minors, Brandon says, you were expected to show up to training camp in mid-season form — which means you’re ready to perform, always. He knew the off season was the key to my success. The off season is where you made your gains and addressed your weaknesses. His advice is to work behind the scenes, and says, “I’ve often found progress is made when no one is watching.” He says he’s been told that he needs to work smarter not harder, and that’s a nice idea, but also says, “Unfortunately for me anything that I’ve ever achieved comes from the grind and I take pride in this. I believe it comes from hard work.”
And a final lesson he learned playing in the minors. “We were asked to play to our strengths and know our limitations – I was always at my best when I played within my limitations. I tried to outwork everyone on the ice.” Brandon believes the trend of seeking balance is reasonable on a human level, but wonders what would happen if we were to remove the word balance and replace it with potential. “I believe everyone has something unique about them, something they’re above average at. There lies your potential. What if you were to exhaust that potential. What if you were to do everything possible to leverage your challenge. Forget balance, why not excel, when it comes to your passion.”
“My childhood dream was to share the ice with those I respected, and I was able to walk away because I had nothing left to give. I left it all on the ice. This helped me channel my true work ethic, it showed me that the off season is where most contracts are signed. This lead to routine, then to discipline, then confidence,” says Brandon, “Welcome to the minors.
About the Speaker…
In my past life as a struggling minor league hockey player it took me 9 years to grind my way into my first NHL game. In this very same week I signed my first NHL contract and also received a career ending conclusion, I never laced up my skates to play again. At the height of my career I was told to find a new occupation with zero education. And now I am here to tell you what I believe it takes to run a successful business. Makes absolutely no sense, right?”