One thing I have found of great use in my preparation for the season has been Saul L. Miller’s book Hockey Tough. Basically the book goes through sports psychology procedures you can run through in your head. Some of the things he has said in the book have become a part of my inner mantra that now resonates to my life off the rink. I suppose the greatest lesson I have learnt from the book is that a players’ mind is their greatest weapon and their worst enemy.
If harnessed and managed right at all times, players can remain more focussed and are able to energise themselves through repeating simple breathing exercises and visualisation exercises. What I have found of great use is visualising. I now dedicate five minutes of the time before we hit the ice to visualising the plays and other teams and playing with my line. Making good solid passes and taking shots on net.
However, one thing I learnt of my mind over the weekend was that it can be my worst enemy and a greater opponent than any other team ever could be. In a recent game and the heat of the action one of the players took a slap shot, which hit my blade and ricocheted straight into my mouth. I remember the puck hitting me and falling to the ice holding my mouth and trying to feverishly feel whether my teeth were still intact or whether my gumshield was the only thing holding them in. After I realised that there wasn’t any blood dripping from my mouth I skated off to the bench to re-group.
I suppose the expression on my face was comparable to the 1000 yard stare often talked about with war veterans. I was staring blankly into space with my feet and hands shaking from all the adrenaline that had been released into my body. After I had calmed down and gotten back into the game following the old Finnish proverb: Akkia uudestaan ennenkun tulee kammo (transl: Quick, get back into it before you get scared).
What I quickly realised though was that I was not focussed as I was at the start. I was hesitant to go and battle for the puck and I was generally shying away from sticks that were higher off the ice than my knee and I wasn’t driving the net with the same kind of force.
I was utterly lost and I knew it. I had started to squeeze the stick, I was tense and none of the breathing techniques seemed to work on me. I played at maybe 25% of my full efficiency in a tight game. If it wasn’t for a short bench I would’ve asked to be benched, and I’m sure the coach would’ve done the same.
However when we went into the 3rd period a tem mate gave me a good pep talk which really helped. I was playing a lot better in the third despite still being scared. Fear is something that I cannot carry with me to the rink. Despite my parents’ and wife’s concerns for my safety I must accept that these bumps and bruises are part of the game and part of life as a hockey player.
A piece of preparation that I need to work on beside my physical strength is the strength of my mind, so that small bruises such as these don’t hurt me. I’m OK being hit on the boards, that does not phase me, but a minor incident like a puck in the face seems to cripple me. Though I know it was a freak accident and something that I would normally block with my legs, it won’t slow me down. If it had slowed me down, I would’ve cried off from the game.
Besides, isn’t Purple the ‘IN’ colour of the season?