Why is mental toughness important in hockey? You could ask 20 hockey players and you would get 20 different answers. Mental toughness and preparedness is something that is individual to each player, but all of the 20 players would still agree that mental toughness is important. Each individual will respond to different mental stimulus and mental toughness is something that each player achieves in their own way, though the coaches will always raise the explosiveness and emotional charge for a game.
But why does it matter? Will it make a difference if a player comes into the game 'flat' and not charged up mentally? My view is that yes, yes it does. Hockey, when played at a high level is a physical battle and your body and mind is constantly looking for excuses to give that one inch in order to give your body a break. The only difference is that the body might have the energy, but what goes on between the ears of a player will greatly diminish the energy reserves available.
Toughness is particularly important in situations when you are fighting a game where you are down but you know its not out of reach. It is players who think that all is lost who will drag teams down, where the teams' leadership, from captains to coaches need to make sure that they use their experience and passion to guide the team to victory.
Hockey is a momentum game, where events like goals, hits, fights and good plays can swing the momentum to one team. The team that scores will of course have the momentum and knowledge that the other team needs to fight back, where as the team that has to claw back the differential, needs to dig deep and demonstrate mental toughness and get back in the game.
When I look back at last season, whenever we went down by a goal, we didn't have the type of leadership on the bench or on the ice (myself included) that would've stood up and said, 'C'mon guys, there's only one goal in it, we can do it.' Or 'This is our game! Let's fight to win this.' Whenever we went down by a goal, the mood on the bench and changing room was far from motivational, but more like in a mortuary. We, as a team, didn't have mental toughness to compete in those situations and we basically let our heads fill with thoughts of fear and not being good enough, though with good and positive encouragement we could've pulled back a few of the games.
When a team goes into a game with a losing mentality, there's very little anyone can do to turn that around. The terrible thing about this mentality is that, hockey having somewhat of a pack mentality, it quickly filters down to each player. Even those who want to perform will not give their optimum performance.
Therefore I can only say that mental toughness is still important, Perhaps equally important if not more than physical toughness. If you are not mentally tough, a big hit, a goal against, or a bad play will destroy what little confidence you may have had, where the mentally tough player will use these things as a catalyst to play better.