"I think confidence, in any walk of life, means a lot. It doesn't matter what occupation."
There were definitely times when Levack native and former NHLer Troy Mallette was not lacking, in the least, when it came to his self-assuredness on the ice.
Selected first overall in the 1986 OHL draft by the Soo Greyhounds, the 6'3" forward would justify the pick, recording 169 points in 191 games for a team that never exceeded the .500 mark during his three year junior hockey tenure.
An equal mix of skill and toughness, certainly at this level of the game, Mallette was only just beginning to truly gain his bearings in a sport that he had grown to love.
"I remember going to the rink, with my grandmother bringing me as a toddler," he said, recalling the days when the Onaping Falls Huskies still existed as the outlet for young competitive hockey talent in that neck of the woods.
"I started off in figure skating," Mallette noted. "I would go to school and the boys would make fun of me. But after two years of skating, my parents put me in hockey, which was a great thing. As soon as I started playing hockey, I was head and shoulders above everybody else, just because of my skating."
"The confidence level was there from a very young age, just because I could skate."
And lest the confidence wander over to the less favourable side of cockiness, well, his talented uncle, Robbie Demers, six years his elder, was there to help keep things in check, partly due to the hockey environment of the times.
"Back then, you might only get on the ice twice a week," Mallette recalled. "Everything else that you learned was playing with a ball on the road or at the outdoor rinks. I really had a passion for the game, but more from playing road hockey. Robbie let me play with the older boys, even if I didn't do much."
Still, the increased competition served a purpose. As a minor midget, Mallette would crack the roster of the Rayside-Balfour Tigers major midget crew, the very first time that the Levack Arena would not serve as his winter-time home.
"I was playing AAA hockey for the very first time. From what I remember, my dad had a hard time getting a release for me to go and play AAA, but there were a couple of board members who went to bat for me and gave me the chance to get drafted."
Not that this was top of mind for the 16 year-old physical specimen. There were but a few months remaining, prior to his selection by the Hounds, before Mallette and family firmed up the involvement of an agent. "I was very naive heading into the OHL draft," he said. "I just wanted to play and have fun, which was easy for me."
It also helped shaped the approach he would share, after his playing days were done, whether it involved his son, Trent, who also suited up for three years in the OHL, or the young lads that he assisted last season as an assistant coach with the Nickel City Major Bantam AAA Sons.
Positive feedback can be a powerful influence. Mallette still recalls his first training camp with Sault Ste Marie. "We were playing the Wolves in Lively and I'm trying to prove to my teammates that I am a multi-dimensional player," he reminisced. "I remember getting into an altercation and getting pat on the back from our coach, Don Boyd, saying good job."
"I understood, as a 16 year-old, that you don't have to score a goal to get in the good books with the coach."
That willingness to do whatever it takes came in handy, once again, in the fall of 1989. A second round pick of the New York Rangers, 22nd overall, in the 1988 draft, Mallette was attending his second camp in the Big Apple, fully expecting to be sent back for a fourth year of junior action.
"As training camp kept going, I'm reading the New York Times, reading all the papers, and they're saying that the Rangers need a physical left winger - and I'm an offensive centerman," stated the avid outdoorsman, who would call it a career, after 451 NHL games, following a neck/back injury in the late 1990s.
"I knew I was a good enough player to do what they needed. I played a physical left wing role and earned a spot in the opening night roster. I had played one more NHL game than I ever thought I would. The second game, I didn't dress, figured I was going back, but then was back in the lineup for the third game and never missed a game for the remainder of the year."
His time in New York was good. Scoring enough to play up and down the lineup - Mallette netted 25 goals in his first two seasons - the soft spoken man would also compile more than 550 minutes in penalties, quickly making friends with the Blueshirt faithful. "Mallette had become very popular ... a stand-up teammate, endearing himself to the home crowd with a wild fighting style that rocked The Garden," penned Jim Cerny in a 2009 story that appeared on NHL.com.
"I played a physical role, but Roger Nielson (coach) gave me every opportunity to play in every situation," said Mallette. "That gave me the confidence to play in the league. In my two years in New York, Roger never told me to go out and fight - most coaches don't. Roger wanted me to be a player. They were the best two years of my career."
Through no fault of his own, Mallette soon felt the flip-side of the sword of confidence. He would be awarded as compensation for the free agent signing, by the Rangers, of Adam Graves - not exactly what the Edmonton Oilers had in mind when they countered with the offer to receive a package of Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk.
"Here I was, going to a team that I idolized, and right from the get go, Glen Sather tells me that he doesn't want me there, that he's going to try and get me out of there as quickly as possible, for the best deal he could get."
And so would swing the pendulum of Mallette's career, with forgettable stints in both Edmonton and New Jersey, but far more enjoyable stays with both the Ottawa Senators (three years) and the Boston Bruins (1996-1997). Again, he returns, to the one word that remained prevalent throughout out discussion.
"The difference between an average player in the NHL and a good player is strictly confidence," Mallette opined. "The difference between a good player and a great player is confidence. If you could take away Sidney Crosby's confidence, and I don't know how you could ever do that, but if you could, he would still be a really good player, but he's not a superstar."
Making his way back to Windy Lake, near the start of the new millennium, spending the next five to six years striving towards what would become a 15 year career as a fireman, one that began at age 35, Mallette would never forget the lessons of his playing days. They were front of mind, with his own son and other young prospects that he encountered.
"These are kids, and if you can get a kid to play one really good game for every bad game, that's not bad," he said. "If you can get him to play three out of four good games, that's fantastic, because that's pro caliber. Even NHL players can't play well every game."
"It's funny how confidence works, at every level."