Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Effect of the Lockout on Player Careers

The NHL Lockout has gobbled up all games up to December 30 and time is running out on having a season. What effect might this have on the careers of players? Check out my thoughts on the unintended side effect of the lockout at Get Real Hockey.

Get Real Hockey - Unintended Effect of the Lockout on Player Careers

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dr. Larry on ESPN Outside the Lines

Dr. Lauer discusses youth football bounties on ESPN Outside the Lines

My part is not included in the link, however...

The show re-airs Friday, December 7 at 3 pm eastern on ESPN.

The podcast is also available on itunes search Outside the Lines

Go to for my thoughts on the show

Monday, November 26, 2012

Answering the Question How Do I Become a More Consistent Hockey Player

I have the fortune of working with some of the best players in the world. And, while they have the best skill sets, speed, power, you name it they all wrestle with a question that will determine the fate of their hockey careers. How to become a consistent hockey player at an elite level.

I am asked this question often by players and coaches. I think they sometimes assume either I have a trick to make it happen or the answer is so difficult that it is unrealistic for a player to carry out. The answer is, however, somewhat simple but requires much discipline. Brett Henning writing for the Avalanche Cares web site breaks it down rather simply: You, the player, chooses whether to be average or great in the way you prepare for and think about each game.

Playing Consistent Hockey comes down to a Greatness Approach by Brett Henning

I agree with Henning that your approach, mindset, preparation plan for each game are the keys to consistency. You need to consistently make the commitment to be your best. Messier's approach was to play each game like it was his last. Bringing that kind of intensity is good for many hockey players, however, the mindset does not work for all players.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How to Think About Poor Games as a Goaltender; Lessons from Brodeur

If you are a goaltender you are going to suffer from poor games now and then. Face it, the position of goaltender is tough. Everybody knows when you make a mistake, the puck ends up in the back of the net. So, any goaltender recognizes that the key to success is not being perfect, but instead being able to bounce back from poor games.

The way we think about our losses is important to either bouncing back and playing well or beginning to lose confidence and potentially spiral in to a slump. You want your thoughts to be flexible, focused on what you control, positive and productive.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Are hockey parents worse today?

(first posted on the NWCA Youth Sport blog)

Sport parents are getting as much press as professional athletes these days. And, it is not in a positive way. "Bench the parents" (1) and "Are Parents Ruining Youth Sports" (2) reflect the mood towards sport parents in the US. Parents are often seen as crazy and the root of all issues in youth sport.

Coaches want more resources on working effectively with parents? Link to my webinar on the Resources page.

The "crazy sport parent" has become modern lingo for parents that are overinvolved, controlling, too demanding, and outright just annoying and dangerous. I talk with sport parents frequently in my work as a sport psychology consultant. It is funny to me when a parent is about to try and convince me of their decisions about their child's sport and he or she prefaces it with "I am not one of those crazy parents." There is great concern about the actions of parents on our fields and courts. But, are parents really that much worse today?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Even the Cup Finalist Kings and Devils Experience Nerves

Do you get nervous before an important game? Worry not, you are not alone. The NHL's best feel nerves, too. Rewind back to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. Los Angeles won in overtime 2-1 over New Jersey, but both teams felt they played far less than their best game on the brightest stage. After Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals the Devils and Kings cited nerves as a reason for the sluggish start and poor decision making .

The Devils pointed to poor execution, careless play with the puck and Game 1 jitters. President and GM Lou Lamoriello spoke to the team after the Eastern Conference final about the distractions of the Cup.
The team still felt nerves, however.
"The reality is, you know, until the puck drops and the games start, this is a different situation you're dealing with," said DeBoer. "You have to handle it the best you can."
While acknowledging hindsight is 20-20, the Devils coach said there wasn't anything he would have done differently in the leadup to the game.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter said a lot of his players said they felt sluggish Wednesday.
"I thought we had some nervous players," he said. (from
More on a nervous Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals:
Devils show some nerves in Game 1
So, the best in the game, playing the best hockey of their lives felt nerves that caused them to be sluggish and make mistakes. When you get nervous you are not alone, and there is nothing wrong with it.

To experience stress and anxiety often called nerves is not unusual. In fact, if you look at it in the right way it can help your mindset going in to a big game. It is all about how you interpret the physical and psychological symptoms of your body preparing for an important game. Sweating, butterflies, heart pumping, accelerated breathing, mind racing are all things that are attributable to stress. But, a little stress is not a bad thing. It helps us prepare to play our best. Martin Brodeur, who has often been considered one of the most mentally tough goaltenders in league history, describes thinking beneath his cool demeanor under pressure:

}“I love it! I like the fact that whether there is going to be ten shots or forty shots, I’m going to make a difference. Just one of those shots could mean a win or a loss for us, and that for me is a great pressure, knowing that I can make an impact at any moment of the game.” (Rush, May 2001)

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils, when asked about the pressure of being a goaltender
The message then is to interpret, or view, your stress as a normal part of the process of preparing for a game. Most players will tell you once you start the game the nerves go away, especially after the first shift when you take or give a hit.

In the end it is normal to experience nerves before games. If you did not experience nerves then you might question whether you are ready to play. The key is to not allow butterflies in your stomach to create doubt. Like Brodeur interpret the pressure in a way that helps you feel confident and ready. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Player's Perspective on the NHL Labor Contract Negotiations

We hear many different views on the potential for a lockout next season. I found one NHL player's anonymous blog and his perspective on the contract negotiations quite interesting.

The Player/Puckdaddy blog

The easiest complaint for hockey fans is that professional athletes are pampered, entitled, spoiled and overpaid. This is an often-used and tired complaint. If you were in the top 1% of all the professionals in your field and you were paid accordingly you would take it. The market determines what players are paid. If fans stop buying tickets and merchandise then the market would shift downward eventually.

Furthermore, to assume that players do not work hard enough for the money they make is inaccurate. Sure, some guys take the money and slide through, but the players I know or have seen working out are giving an honest effort. In an 82-game schedule there will be nights when teams do not have jump or intensity. Do you go to the office with the same intensity and "jump" every day? Yes, they are professionals and they are paid handsomely but they are also human, just like you.

With the specter of another NHL lockout looming please try to argue something other than the players are overpaid. For the risks they take with their health, the travel and training schedule they go through, and the level of expectations that are placed upon them by the public I would expect to be paid very well.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

When TV Analysis Affects Contract Talks: Semin a "Coach-Killer"?

Is Alex Semin a coach-killer? Pierre McGuire says he is and said it on TSN's Free Agent Frenzy telecast on July 1.

Watch it here thanks to Kukla's Korner

Semin's agent, Mark Gandler, was not happy because he feels it will effect his client's talks with potential teams. I can see Gandler's frustration, McGuire's comments could cost him and his client money. But, that is if you think that general managers listen to these telecasts and use the information discussed on them as data in making their decisions. That could be a stretch. I would imagine general managers interested in Semin have already done their own research talking to whomever they can. They likely have formed their own opinions.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Will the NHL have a Work Stoppage Next Season?

After a banner year that saw revenues increase again in the NHL there is concern that another lockout or at least work stoppage will occur. At the end of the Finals it was a bit depressing. In my mind I was thinking is this the last live NHL hockey game I will see for over a year? Are we in for a repeat of 2005 - the lost season? If the NHL and NHLPA are wise they will not do this to their fans again. Hockey fans are loyal, but losing more games due to politics will damage the game greatly.

I am by no means a professor of sport business or even business. So, let me link you to several posts I found helpful as we look forward to the NHL Draft tonight, free agency July 1, and then the black hole of CBA talks.

HK Sport Business Blog

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mentally Tough Performer of the Week #8 2012 NHL Playoffs: Jonathan Quick

The Los Angeles Kings won their first Stanley Cup in team history Monday night capping an unbelievable run. The Kings went 16-4 in the postseason, 10-1 on the road, and ended the Devils' hopes with a 6-1 stomping in Game 6.

As a team the Kings demonstrated tremendous grit, toughness, preparation, focus... you name it. LA reached its potential in this years playoffs and provided a great example of how a group of players can come together and win a championship despite a recent history of not reaching their potential.

Hockey Mental Edge Quote Anze Kopitar on Winning the Cup

"This is unreal. Every single emotion in me is coming out. The biggest thing has been the belief inside the locker room. We had 25 guys believing in one thing. I can't be more proud of the guys."

Kings' forward Anze Kopitar on winning the Stanley Cup (from

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Devils Not Finished Yet Force Game 6

New Jersey is the first team in 67 years to lose the first three games in the Finals and force a Game 6. How have they staved off elimination? Perseverance, timely goal scoring, and big time goaltending from Martin Brodeur.

I think the turning point in this series came in Game 4. Despite a tough boarding call on David Clarkson in the third period and then giving up the game-tying goal, the Devils responded with impressive effort and intensity. The Devils had the better of the play after the Kings tied it and they eventually won that game on a rocket to the top shelf by Adam Henrique.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Response to LeBrun's Save it for June: How to Reduce the Grind

Is the quality of play in the Stanley Cup Finals poor compared to previous rounds? I think that is debatable but it is the core argument made by ESPN hockey blogger Pierre LeBrun.

Save it for June: How to Reduce the Grind

LeBrun argues to reduce the physical and mental wear and tear on players the following five things should occur (albeit some are not realistic as he admits):

Mental Toughness Quote of the Week Adam Henrique

If you are going to win four straight games to win the Cup and do the improbable then you better have an attitude like Adam Henrique:

"There's no quit in the group in here. We know we can do it. We know we can put 4 together and come back."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kings One Win Away from History

Are you convinced now? The Los Angeles Kings are putting on a dominant display of tight checking, brilliant goaltending, and timely goal scoring. The team of destiny has 15 wins in these 2012 playoffs, one short of making history. I personally have not seen a run like this in recent years. You have to harken back to the 1988 Edmonton Oilers who lost only two games en route to the Cup. You kind of expected it from that team. But the Kings? They have streaked to a 3-0 lead with the first two games on the road in every series. Amazing. Time to get over the surprise, they will make history soon.

You  know what number I would like to see? Of the number of minutes the Kings have played in the playoffs how many minutes have they been behind. I bet is a very small percentage of time.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mindset of Kings and Devils after Game 2

Two overtime victories for the Los Angeles Kings has them two games away from hoisting the Stanley Cup. The team of destiny continues to find a way to win close games. The inevitably of the Kings winning the Cup as the #8 seed from the West seems clearer than ever. It was no more evident than when Kovalchuk hit the crossbar late in the third period of Game 2. The Kings cannot lose even when their captain hand delivers the puck to the Devils best sniper ten feet from the net.

With a 2-0 lead in the series LA must not change their game. There are two pitfalls in the Kings' leading position.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mentally Tough Performer of Week #7: Drew Doughty

This week's mentally tough performer came down to overtime and between Martin Brodeur and Drew Doughty. With the Kings winning 2-1 again in overtime in Game 2 I decided to choose Doughty as the Mentally Tough Player of the Week for week 7 of the 2012 NHL Playoffs.

Doughty has opened the scoring in Game 2 with an end-to-end rush. He has been a steadying force on the backline for the Kings and a constant threat to create offense. In this low scoring series offense from the defense will be huge as the forwards are struggling to create many scoring opportunities in close.

What sets Doughty apart is his fearlessness to join the rush and his confidence with the puck in tight spaces and under pressure. While he makes a mistake with the puck here and there, far more good things happen when Doughty is lugging the puck. He makes plays consistently throughout a game and is a constant force for the Kings.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kings Win Game 1; No Mental Edge Yet

In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals Anze Kopitar scored in overtime to give the Kings a 9-0 record on the road this post-season. I have never seen a run like this in any sport. What the Kings are doing is remarkable.

According to most pundits, including yours truly, getting off to a good start and winning the first period would be crucial in this series. The Kings did just that. While New Jersey was able to hang in there with good goaltending by Brodeur, LA could have easily been up by two or three goals. In Game 1 the first period was not the difference; the Devils tied the game in the second and it would stay 1-1 until Kopitar's breakaway goal in the first overtime.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mentally Tough Performer of the Week #6 2012 NHL Playoffs: Martin Brodeur

Week six of the NHL Playoffs saw the Kings make their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1993 and the Devils defeat their rivals the Rangers in overtime. Players in these playoffs have exhibited mental toughness throughout. But few players have shown greater mental toughness over the last two decades than 40-year-old goalie Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils.

I feel Brodeur deserves to be the Mentally Tough Performer of Week 6 of the 2012 NHL Playoffs for three main reasons. First, Brodeur is 40 and most people at that age are talking about their reducing skills and old age. Not Brodeur. He has exhibited the ability to compete at the highest level into his forties.

Second, Brodeur was outstanding against the Rangers. Being out shot in the last two games after the first period pretty convincingly, Brodeur kept the Rangers at bay and gave the Devils a chance to win each game. For the series Brodeur had a 2.00 goals against average and nearly 93% save percentage. Outstanding effort under intense pressure.

Third, Brodeur gave the puck away in Game 5 to allow the Rangers to tie the game in the third period. The give away did not faze Brodeur. He bounced back to shut down the Rangers the rest of the way and then play an excellent close-out game in Game 6. Mental toughness is not about being perfect, but it is about bouncing back when you have made a crucial mistake. Brodeur came up big time after a big time mistake.

Friday, May 25, 2012

New York Rangers need to win two straight just like in 1994

Any one in the Rangers locker room want to guarantee victory in Games 6 and 7? Have I gone back in a time machine to 1994? How interesting it is that the 1994 rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals between New Jersey and New York Rangers is exactly where it was 18 years ago - 3-2 Devils going back to New Jersey.

Back in 1994 Mark Messier, captain of the Rangers and the NHL's model alpha captain, proclaimed that the Rangers would win Game 6 in New Jersey to force a Game 7. Messier scored a hat trick in that Game 6 victory believe it or not (for the younger readers) over Martin Brodeur.

Can the Rangers repeat history? Can they buck history by winning three straight seven game series? These are hard to answer questions. The Rangers are really good at limiting their opponents offensive chances and Lundqvist is normally solid to brilliant. However, the Devils have that look of a team of destiny. They believe. Their role players are producing. They are not backing down. Their back was against the wall versus Florida and they won two straight game to win the series. After losing Game 1 to the Flyers they took control and won the next four games. The Devils are going to be difficult to handle in Game 6.

Mental Toughness Quote: DeBoer on Closing Out the Rangers and Pressure

Peter DeBoer, coach of the New Jersey Devils, talks about trying to close out the Rangers and how winning the fourth game is the hardest.

"I don’t think there’s any extra difficulty, other than the difficulty you put on yourself, that pressure that you put on yourself," DeBoer said. "I don’t really buy into that, that it’s the hardest to win. It’s the hardest to win because of the pressure you put on yourself to do that. For us, it’s business as usual. We just have to play a game and win a game." We'll see if that strategy pays off for the Devils on Friday as they attempt to eliminate the Rangers and advance to the Stanley Cup finals. May. 25 - 1:38 pm et
Source: The Bergen Record

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rangers, Kings, Devils, Caps Amazing Commitment to Blocking Shots

The commitment to sacrificing your body for the good of the team. Would you do it? The Kings willingness to block shots and discipline to constantly have stick on puck defense has put them within a game of the Stanley Cup Finals. But, it is not as easy as just saying "Yeah, I'll block shots". It takes commitment. The Kings, Devils, Rangers, and Capitals have made it routine to drop down to the ice and take a shot for the team. Their commitment to blocking shots has been amazing.

When a player does not sacrifice by diving in front of a puck it becomes news. Supposedly Coach John Tortorella benched Marian Gaborik, star Rangers forward, in the third period of Game 2 when he did not go down to one knee to block a shot. That shot would be redirected in to the net and give the Devils a lead they would never relinquish. It was an interesting decision to sit Gaborik for all but three minutes of the third period as the Rangers needed a goal to tie the game. The Rangers did not and the series is tied 1-1. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mentally Tough Performer of the Week #5 2012 NHL Playoffs: Jonathan Quick

For Week 5 of the NHL Playoffs it was a toss up as to who would be the mentally tough performer of the week. They both come from the same team, the LA Kings, who are dominating the Western Conference. Seven straight playoff road wins is an unbelievable feat. They have lost only one game this post season and are a scintillating 10-1. Two games from the Finals and six from hoisting the Cup, the Kings have had outstanding performances from a number of players up and down their lineup.

So, I was stuck between Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick. I am going to give Jonathan Quick his due here as the mentally tough performer of Week 5. Quick has stopped 49 of 51 Coyotes' shots and has become an intimidating force. He is in the heads of opposing shooters and is providing the kind of consistent, focused effort that we saw from Tim Thomas last year. I think there is a good chance Quick's season may end like Thomas' but that is down the road. For now, Quick has again given his opponent nothing to rejoice about; no hope and nothing to make them think he is going to have a bad game or even period. He is stopping everything and is staying unbelievably focused. Quick has gone to a stratospheric level of performance and showing the confidence and focus of a player worthy of the Conn Smythe.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mental Toughness Quote: Rangers Win Second Game 7 in 2012 Playoffs

"It's a great feeling to see we stayed focused whatever happens," said Lundqvist, who made 22 saves, 11 in the second period, to reach the conference finals for the first time in his career. "Yeah, we give up a goal and they get on the power play but we know what we have to do. We've been in this situation so many times this year and I think it helped us a lot today and moving forward as well." From Rangers defeat Caps 2-1

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Lundqvist's Mental Preparation for Game 7

Going into a big game finding the right mindset is as important as being physically ready. Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers is preparing for Game 7 versus Washington by taking a mental break first before he ramps up his focus and intensity.

This article comes from Dave Lozo at

Lundqvist ready mentally for another do-or-die game

Any young goalie should read this article. It gives great insights into the mindset of an all-world goaltender as he prepares for one of the biggest games of his life. Great quotes about not trying to focus too much on the game and taking a mental break because the playoffs are physically, psychologically, and emotionally draining. Furthermore, loved the quote about managing the emotions of the game. You have to get to an appropriate intensity. In Game 7 it is easy to get high; players should attempt to stay relaxed in what will be a rocking Madison Square Garden.

Friday, May 11, 2012

NHL Game 7s, the Best Theatre in Sport

A Game 7 in the NHL Playoffs provides, in my opinion, the most exciting dynamics in all of sports. The finality of it all. Knowing your opponent inside and out after two weeks of battling. The rivalry that is formed and the match-ups that have been played out with success and failure. Adjustments that are made on the fly during games and in the day off between games. Physical punishment that has been delivered and accepted. The anxiety of the teams and their fan bases. The release of emotion when one team is able to gain a significant advantage in the game. The looks to the sky to say thank you when the goalie makes a huge save, when a defenseman blocks a shot on an open net, or just to look at the scoreboard clock as it ticks down.

The thrill of Game 7, so much energy and intensity. The Caps and Rangers have played a Game 7 already in the first round, but each series takes on its own personality and has its own flow and rhythm. For Washington and New York the series has bounced back and forth with neither team being able to carry momentum very long. This Game 7 will be a test of composure and patience. It will be low scoring and tight checking. Both goaltenders are playing well and the defense is blocking tons of shots. The Caps and Rangers are fully committed to a team game and Game 7 should be no different.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mentally Tough Performer of the Week #4 2012 NHL Playoffs: Brad Richards

As the second round of the 2012 NHL Playoffs closes we are seeing remarkable goaltending, physical hockey, and good defensive play. While three of the four series have already ended in four or five games, Washington and New York will be playing a Game 7 Saturday night. There are many players that have played pivotal roles in this seven-game battle, but no one has scored a bigger goal than Brad Richards of the Rangers.

Richards probably saved the Rangers season by scoring a goal with 7 seconds left in Game 5 to send it to overtime where the Rangers would score again to win it. Not only was Richards' timing impeccable but he had to beat about three Caps players to a loose puck in front of the net and slip it past Holtby who has been playing outstanding. Richards showed perseverance and mental toughness by staying in the game mentally, not panicking when an opportunity presented it's self, and coming up big when he was needed. Brad Richards is leading the Rangers in scoring in the playoffs and has been the playoff performer they were hoping for in New York. For his clutch goal and for all-around leading by example in two very tough rounds, Brad Richards is the Mentally Tough Performer of Week #4 of the 2012 NHL Playoffs.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Six Factors that are Needed to Comeback from a 3-1 Series Deficit

Is there a great comeback in the cards for Philly or Washington?

The dust has settled on the second round in the West. Phoenix and Los Angeles emphatically moved on to the Western Conference Finals. St. Louis and Nashville were unable to extend the series and push for a comeback. In the East, however, both series continue. The Rangers stole a victory from the Caps tying the game in the last seven seconds of regulation and then less than two minutes into overtime they struck for the winner.

If the Capitals are to win this series they will have to win two straight. They cannot allow the disappointment of Game 5 to carry over. They must move on and be ready to play intense, urgent hockey.

In the other series New Jersey has aggressively jumped out to a 3-1 series lead on Philadelphia. The Flyers have been beaten by an attacking Devils forecheck that has them playing on their heels. The Flyers skate tonight at the brink of elimination.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hockey Edge Newsletter April 2012 is available

Hockey Edge Newsletter April 2012

The latest Hockey Edge Newsletter is available. In it you will find information on how to manage emotions in pressure situations, be resilient when things are not going well, and close out a series.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mentally Tough Performer of the Week #3 2012 NHL Playoffs: Mike Richards

The mentally tough performer for week #3 of the 2012 NHL Playoffs was not easy to select. I will give it to Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards who has shown again that he brings his best in the playoffs. Richards started Game 2 of the series against the St. Louis Blues with a big hit and then scored the first goal in the Kings win.

Despite not wearing the "C" as he did in Philadelphia, Richards has continued to lead in LA with his gritty, tough play and knack for making big plays in the playoffs. He does not back down from much larger defenseman. Richards exacts a physical toll on his opponent, and himself, every time he hits the ice. He has set the example for consistent, intelligent play that will help the Kings make a run at the Cup. Richards is leading all scorers in the first three games in their second round series against St. Louis, but he has done more than that. He is leading by example every time he hits the ice and is making a huge difference for the Kings.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Los Angeles not Playing the #8 Seed

Last time I checked Los Angeles sneaked into the playoffs as the #8 seed and lost their final two games to San Jose to lose the division lead. So, you would expect them to be knocked out quickly in the first round by the defending Western Conference champion Canucks, right? Not so fast. Los Angeles jumped on Vancouver early winning both games on the road and outplaying the Canucks in a five-game series win.

Ok, so the dream run will end with the young St. Louis Blues who looked very impressive against a veteran Sharks team. Again, not so fast. LA has jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the home team and higher seed. How have the Kings been able to dominant the two top seeds in the West?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mental Toughness Quote

"Is it pressure? It's fun," he said. "I grew up watching playoff hockey when I was a kid and I always dreamed that one day I'd have the chance to play in those big games. When I have the opportunity, like I have right now this year, like I've had the past few years in the playoffs, you try to make the best of it, try to enjoy it as much as possible. It's not really pressure; it's actually a fun time, an exciting time." 
Danny Briere on pressure in the playoffs from April 29, 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Rangers vs. Capitals Preview

The Rangers survived a seven game battle with the Ottawa Senators. The Capitals also survived a battle and upended the defending Stanley Cup Champions in OT. Who has the edge in this series? It sure is a tough call.

New York must feel like it woke from a nightmare just in time. A huge second period push in Game 6 allowed the Rangers to win in Ottawa, and then in a tight Game 7 Lundqvist was solid and the Rangers survived. I am biased here; I think pressure-tested teams often go on to have success. However, the critic in me wonders where is the dominant Ranger team from the regular season? New York is a balanced team with a very good defense and all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers will likely not dominant the Caps, and will need to hold their composure in close games. Lundqvist gives the Rangers tons of confidence and I expect him to continue to frustrate the opposition.

Washington came up big time. How happy are the fans in DC? After several years of being considered playoff underachievers Ovechkin and gang pulled off a big upset. Braden Holtby was huge for the Caps to say the least. If the Caps are to pull another upset they will need Holtby to continue to play like a playoff veteran and not like a rookie. Furthermore, the Capitals must continue to play physical, desperate hockey that earned them the victory over Boston. There can be no letdown against the Rangers. Winning either Game 1 or 2 will be crucial to a second consecutive upset.

In the end Holtby must win the goaltending match up against Lundqvist. If the Caps can get leads and shut down the Rangers attack they have a chance to frustrate NY. If, however, the Rangers are able to mount a consistent attack on the Caps defense

Predators vs. Coyotes Preview

Alright, so you knew that Phoenix and Nashville would be meeting in the second round of the Playoffs right? The surprise Coyotes may be should not be a surprise. They won their division despite being dogged by the Kings and Sharks. Now they take on the stingy Nashville Predators who shut down the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. This will be a great goaltender battle between Pekka Rinne and Mike Smith.

For Nashville this is the second time in two years they made the second round. Are they ready to take the next step? The Preds play a strong team game and get great goaltending from Pekka Rinne seemingly every time out. When I watch the Predators I see a very confident team that believes it not only belongs in the second round but that they will be going even deeper in the playoffs. If the Predators can score enough against the hot Mike Smith they will be at a big advantage because Rinne is not going to give much up. Moreover, having Weber and Suter on the backline is a huge advantage. They are two of the best defenders in the game and can steady the Predators when things are not going well.

Phoenix has been impressively resilient against the Hawks and in a Game 1 OT win versus the Preds. Consistently they give up the lead but go on to win anyway. These results have convinced me that the Coyotes believe in themselves even if nobody else does. They play an excellent team game and do not rely on one or two guys to do the scoring. Of concern was how badly Phoenix was outshot by Chicago. Nashville also has the ability to take over the game and possess the puck. In my opinion the Coyotes need to continue to get the first goal, they do not want to play from behind against the Preds. Ultimately, Mike Smith will be the key for Phoenix. If he continues to stand on his head they will win this series. If Nashville can get on top early it will be real trouble for the Coyotes.

This series will be close, low scoring, and be characterized by strong defense and goaltending. The team that composes themselves and stays out of the penalty box has the advantage. Furthermore,  both teams have played well in one-goal games. The team that can get the lead will have a big edge in this series.

Mentally Tough Performer for Week 2 2012 NHL Playoffs: Mike Smith

The first round of the NHL Playoffs was full of overtime games. Two of the three Game 7's went to overtime with the Devils and Capitals coming up with the victory. The first round was also full of great performances, especially from the goaltender position.

No one was better, though, than Goaltender Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes. He helped the Coyotes post their first playoff series win over the Blackhawks. Check out these stats (courtesy of Smith allowed four goals in Game 2, but then he bounced back and only let in two per game for the next three games. His impressive Game 6 effort saw him make 39 saves in a shutout of the Hawks to close the series. Then there is this stat: the Coyotes were outshot 241-159 in the series, but outscored the Hawks 17-12. Amazing. That is an average of 40 shots per game but only 2 goals per game.

While Quick of Los Angeles, Rinne of Nashville, and Elliott of St. Louis may have been more dominant throughout the series, no one was under more pressure to win the series for his team. Both LA and St. Louis limited their opponents opportunities. Chicago peppered Smith and he was brilliant. While carrying the load for this team Smith came up big time. For that he is the Mentally Tough Performer of Week 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Why Closing Out a Series is Difficult

Closing out a series in the NHL Playoffs is a difficult prospect because the team behind has nothing to lose. Rich Hammonds of the LA Kings insider reports that over the last two years teams in the first "close out" opportunity had a record of only 13-17. You might expect it to be the opposite.

Given the huge upsets that have either materialized, great effort Los Angeles, or are on the verge of materializing there has been a lot of talk about "closing out" teams. The team in the lead wants to finish it off and not let the other team hang around giving them hope that a comeback is possible. I have heard numerous times this week that "the fourth game is the hardest to win". 

Giroux and "The Shift"

Claude Giroux's opening shift of Game 6 on Sunday had Flyers' fans reminiscing of "The Shift" inspired by then Captain Mike Richards in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. Not only did Giroux send a physical statement by blasting the Pens C Sidney Crosby, he then ripped a puck off the post and in the net to let Fleury know that it was Game 5 no more.

Now it is coming out in the media that Giroux asked Coach Peter Laviolette to put him on the ice for the shift and he told teammates to watch him. Clearly, Claude Giroux was looking to change the momentum of the series. And, he did just that. The first 30 seconds gave the Flyers the lead and sent a clear message that the Flyers were going to close out this series. The comeback was over for the Pens. It inspired the fans and his team. The Flyers played the best defensive game of the series. While Pittsburgh outshot them and Bryzgalov was good, when the game was close the Pens were unable to muster grade "A" scoring chances.

Friday, April 20, 2012

In the Playoffs Players Must Control Emotions, Not Let Emotions Control Them

How often have you heard players talking about staying disciplined, not taking penalties, and controlling their emotions? Just about every night. The Flyers credited their 3-0 lead to being more disciplined, but in Game 4 they were the team that took the penalties and lost control. Likely they became overexcited by the opportunity to close out the Pens in a sweep and lost their discipline. Daniel Briere suggested that they got complacent, maybe after getting the 3-2 lead, but then the frustration set in as the Pens pounded home four power play goals.

"One of the things that we did a really good job of since the beginning of the series was staying composed and disciplined," Briere said, "and those two things we completely threw out the window [Wednesday]."  (From

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Signs of Pens and Canucks Struggles Visible in Game 1

Sometimes you can see the cracks in a team's mentality that gives you the ability to anticipate bigger problems coming down the road. Pittsburgh and Vancouver revealed cracks in Game 1 that are leading to their struggles.

On Sunday the Flyers and Kings won on home ice to deal a fatal blow to the Cup hopes of the Pens and Canucks. Prior to the 2012 NHL playoffs Pittsburgh and Vancouver were favorites to win the Cup but are now on the brink of elimination. What has gone wrong? There were signs early in Game 1 that both of these teams were in trouble.

Pens Losing Emotional Control

For Pittsburgh the breakdown has been as much emotional as it has been defensive. The way the Pens started Game 1, and how the Flyers had come back on them in the last month of the regular season, made the Pens emotionally charged up but also fragile. Losing Game 1 in overtime after having a 3-0 lead put the Pens emotionally on “tilt”. They have been unable to manage the extreme intensity of this series. Good starts all three games, but they lose focus, breakdown defensively, Fleury gives up rebounds, and they are again on an emotional rollercoaster.

Mentally Tough Performer for Week 1 2012 NHL Playoffs: Sean Couturier

Just as in 2011, each week during the 2012 NHL Playoffs the Hockey Edge Blog will choose one player as Mentally Tough Performer of the Week. This is a player that exhibits toughness and performs well under pressure, bounces back after a big mistake, stays positive in the face of adversity, deals with pain and continues to perform, and/or leads with their performance. This player performs at a high level in a tough situation.

There are many deserving candidates in the first week of the NHL Playoffs, but no one is more deserving than Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers. Couturier, a 19-year-old rookie in his first playoffs, is playing a starring role for the Flyers. Couturier has been assigned as the man to mark the league's leading scorer Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins. He has not only stopped Malkin from scoring a goal, but also had a hat trick in Game 2. Philadelphia gave Couturier a very difficult role, one in which most players in the NHL would have not succeeded. At a young age Couturier has the confidence and mental toughness to play a key defensive role and provide offense. Many 19-year-olds are just finishing the first year of college, but Couturier is shutting down world class players on the big stage. A big stage that could have easily froze him.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hockey Edge Quote of the Week

Don't play the game just to let it go by. Play the game to make a difference.
Peter Laviolette

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hockey Edge Quote of the Week

"When you're able to come back in a game like that, again, I think it speaks volumes about the character in the room. Fighting back like that is not easy, and the players were just so resilient that it's unbelievable, really." -- Flyers coach Peter Laviolette on Philadelphia's comeback win against the Pens Friday night (

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Myth of Mental Toughness Column Focuses on Semantics

Dr. Denis Boucher wrote a column for The Hockey News entitled "The Myth of Mental Toughness". Dr. Boucher made some excellent points about managing thoughts and feelings by using mental skills training. There is no doubt that a hockey player that is able to control how he thinks and feels on the ice will be more confident, focused, and motivated.

Where I take issue is that Dr. Boucher, an exercise physiologist, suggests mental toughness is a myth. His argument is that focusing being tough means hiding from how you feel and not admitting your are anxious or need help. I totally agree with the idea that you don't want players to avoid their feelings and thoughts. This is what I call fragile confidence. Awareness and acceptance are the foundation of resilient confidence.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Team Resiliency Bounces Back Again in Game 1

The Philadelphia Flyers have made it a habit of getting behind in games. More importantly they have made it a habit to bounce back and win from behind. The Flyers have the most comebacks in the NHL. Their aura of never stopping, always sticking with the game plan, and constantly pressuring their opponent is paying dividends. 

The Penguins are a tough team, no doubt about it. However, how many times can you watch the same team come back on you? Three times in the last weeks of the season the Flyers were behind 2-0, 2-0, and 3-0 in Game 1. All wins. The only time Pittsburgh maintained their early lead was when Claude Giroux and Danny Briere were out of the lineup in Game #82 to close the regular season. That win likely gave Pittsburgh little confidence; when both teams bring their full lineup the Flyers have found a way to frustrate the Pens.

Western Conference Mental Game Breakdown: #3 Coyotes vs. #6 Blackhawks

#3 Coyotes vs. #6 Blackhawks

Advantages Phoenix: Good performance down the stretch, Defensive approach

Similar to Florida, many pundits think the higher seeded Coyotes are the underdog in this series. However, Phoenix was hot down the stretch and owns the season series against Chicago. The Coyotes are getting excellent play from Mike Smith with an amazing .930 save percentage. This gives the Coyotes confidence that their goalie will come up big and can possibly free them from the nerves of playing at home. Phoenix also relies on a more defensive approach and will attempt to limit Chicago’s potent offense which should make for an interesting story throughout the series. The Coyotes are good with leads and will need to get in front early in games and withstand the Hawks ability to create scoring chances from skilled forwards and defense.

Western Conference Mental Game Breakdown: #2 Blues vs. #7 Sharks

#2 Blues vs. #7 Sharks

Advantages St. Louis: Energy of crowd and youth, Disciplined style, Goaltending

Who could be more excited about the upcoming playoffs than St. Louis? The Blues had an amazing season after Ken Hitchcock took over the reigns as head coach. The Blues bought into Hitchcock’s disciplined, defensive style and have a lot of confidence from a better than expected regular season. The Blues will get tons of support from a loud home crowd and will want to have good starts to their home games to keep that energy in the building.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Western Conference Mental Game Breakdown: #1 Canucks vs. #8 Kings

#1 Canucks vs. #8 Kings

Advantages Canucks: Experience, So close in 2011, Goalie tandem 

For the defending Western Conference champs it is all about how they look at the pressures that exist. The Canucks have the spotlight of Canada shining on them. The only other Canadian team in the playoffs is Ottawa and they are not expected to contend for the Cup. If the Canucks can seize the energy of the attention they will be receiving and use it, they can go deep in the playoffs. My guess is that the experience of the Canucks will pay off big time, especially in this series against LA that will be harder than many expect. Goals should be at a premium, and the Canucks will need to be strong in one-goal games.

Western Conference Mental Game Breakdown: #4 Predators vs. #5 Red Wings

#4 Predators vs. #5 Red Wings

Advantages Nashville: Experience, wins the last two games against Detroit, Disciplined team game, Shea-Suter defense pair, Rinne

The Nashville Predators run into the Red Wings again in the playoffs; their playoff nemesis. All signs show that the Preds are ready to take out the Wings. They won the last two games in the regular season against the Wings, including a convincing win at Joe Louis arena. Nashville can now finally say that they have won a playoff round, and can focus instead on going deep in the playoffs. Their experience of beating Anaheim last year should help them; they know they can get it done this year. 

Western Conference Mental Breakdown: #1 Canucks vs. #8 Kings

#1 Canucks vs. #8 Kings

Advantages Canucks: Experience, So close in 2011, Goalie tandem

For the defending Western Conference champs it is all about how they look at the pressures that exist. The Canucks have the spotlight of Canada shining on them. The only other Canadian team in the playoffs is Ottawa and they are not expected to contend for the Cup. If the Canucks can seize the energy of the attention they will be receiving and use it, they can go deep in the playoffs. My guess is that the experience of the Canucks will pay off big time, especially in this series against LA that will be harder than many expect. Goals should be at a premium, and the Canucks will need to be strong in one-goal games.

Mental Game Breakdown: #4 Penguins vs. #5 Flyers

#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Philadelphia

Advantages Pittsburgh: Experience, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang, Depth, Want it

This will be one intense series. The teams do not like each other and definitely are ready to get at it in Game 1. The Pens have the look of a team that can go a long ways in the playoffs. They are confident with getting Crosby back and Malkin having his best season that this is their time to win the Cup. The experience of previous playoff runs will help the Pens manage a very difficult first round match up against the Flyers and remain confident and attacking in pressure situations.

Mental Game Breakdown: #3 Panthers vs. #6 Devils

#3 Florida vs. #6 New Jersey

Advantages Florida: Underdog and disrespected, not playing under bright lights

The Florida Panthers won their first division title in team history and were consistently in playoff position the whole season. It is no fluke that they made the playoffs. The Panthers ended a long absence from the playoffs, but they have some experienced playoff performers in Campbell, Versteeg, Jovanovski, and Bergenheim. Yet, no one is picking the higher seed to win this series. It is expected that New Jersey will win this series quickly and move on to the second round. Florida can use the fuel of being disrespected to play a high energy, disciplined game. From a mental game perspective, Florida is not under much pressure to win as fans will be happy to just see the playoffs.

East Mental Game Breakdown: #2 Bruins vs. #7 Capitals

Mental Game Breakdown

#2 Boston vs. #7 Washington

Advantages Boston: Experience, Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Been there/done that, hot down the stretch

The defending Cup champion Bruins are coming in to the 2012 playoffs playing well. They finished the season winning 7 out of 10 games. During this stretch Goaltender Tim Thomas looked like the 2011 playoffs version of himself which is bad news for the rest of the field. If Thomas is hot in the playoffs it will give the B's the kind of confidence needed to go on another Cup run.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

NHL Playoff Mental Game Breakdown: #1 Rangers vs. #8 Senators

The NHL Playoffs kickoff April 11 and the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs have four interesting match ups. Many prognosticators are leaning heavily towards a favorite in each series. experts are pretty much picking the Rangers, Pens, Devils, and Bruins across the board. I believe there will be at least 1-2 upsets in the first round. Why? Take a look at the mental dynamics that are going on in each series.

Here is a breakdown of each series in the East and the mental dynamics that are occurring. This is, of course, at the start of the series. Getting down 2-0 on home ice is a mental dynamic that may emerge for one of these higher seeds but I cannot anticipate. Thus, the mental game breakdown will change each game, but these factors are existing from the start of the series. Let's start with the New York-Ottawa series.

#1 NY Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa

Sunday, April 1, 2012

NHL's Western Conference Race will Come Down to the Wire

The race for the #3, #7 and #8 seeds in the Western Conference will come down to the last week of the NHL season. Currently Los Angeles holds the Pacific Division lead and so they are in third place in the Western Conference. Dallas, San Jose, Phoenix and Colorado are all fighting to get in the playoffs. Only three points separate the teams.

Having watched all of these teams in the last few weeks I would say the Kings are playing the best hockey. LA picked up 15 points out of the last 20 and pushed past the pack. Jonathan Quick is playing amazing in the net and providing the Kings the confidence they need to play a solid game. They don't have to worry about making mistakes because they know Quick will be there to stop the puck. Trustworthy goaltending is crucial to the confidence of a team and right now LA has to be feeling great about their chances every night.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 Hockey Edge NHL Playoff Blog Starts April 11

On April 11 the 2012 NHL Playoffs will start. There is nothing like the speed and intensity of the NHL playoffs. Two months of great hockey.

I will blog more regularly bringing back more game-focused analysis and the mentally tough player of the week. Prior to the playoffs and before each ensuing round I will anticipate the mental dynamics of each series and give readers some insight on what just might happen to their favorite team.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gaustad Fitting into the Preds Lineup; Now They Add Radulov

Nashville still adding to its roster three weeks prior to the playoffs. It is interesting to see how new players fit into an existing team. Nashville, who already has looked impressive, has added Paul Gaustad from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline and now Alexander Radulov has returned from the Kontinental Hockey League.

The Tennessean published a nice piece on Paul Gaustad attempting to fit into the Preds already close team culture. Fitting into a new team

Some pundits now believe the Preds are the favorites to come out of the West and play in the Finals. Let's see what Radulov looks like first. It has been four years since he played in the NHL. Know this; the Predators will be competitive in any series they play and will have a chance to win against anyone.

Personally I believe teams often play a game of risk and reward when adding players this late in the season. In Nashville's case Gaustad is a solid guy that will fit in, and Radulov was there before. Nonetheless the Preds are changing a lineup that has been working.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How to Make Certain Your Mental Training Program is Successful

As we watch high school hockey playoffs finish up, as well as clubs beginning to wind down their season, we see many instances where the brain is the biggest difference between winning and losing.

Even in the NHL you see how the mental game makes a huge difference as teams try to keep a playoff spot or get into position.

As a coach this may have you thinking about working with a sport psychology consultant. If so, good for you. Be mindful that it should be based on the benefit you think your team can derive from it based on their level of skill, age, and experience. However, what I have learned from years of working in sport psychology is that the mental skills and attributes that are taught can be beneficial to children or adults, to novices or experts, and to rookies and veterans. The key is how you approach it.

Dr. Sean McCann of the United States Olympic Committee's Sport Psychology Division has listed out 10 very important principles for successful mental training.

"USOC Sport Psychology's 'Top Ten' Guiding Principles for Mental Training"
By Sean McCann, USOC Sport Psychologist (Excerpt from Olympic Coach Magazine, Fall 2007)

Review these principles if you are thinking about bringing in sport psychology consultant. Your team will benefit from taking an appropriate approach to the mental game.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Buffalo Comeback Fueled by Ryan Miller

The Buffalo Sabres are making a huge effort to get into the playoff race. If they are able to get back into the playoffs this year it will come after being more than 10 points down after the all star break. That kind of turnaround does not happen often.

The Sabres' off season acquisitions fueled expectations of a Stanley Cup run. Instead the team was free-falling in the East standings and looking all but done. On January 29 the Sabres were in 14th place, ten points out of 8th, and 2-7-1 in their previous 10 games.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Canucks end Red Wings home ice dominance, for now

The Red Wings home winning streak ended at 23 Thursday night against the Canucks. Vancouver played an excellent game and out shot the Wings, but still needed a late game-tying goal to send it into overtime and then a shootout where Alexandre Burrows would be the hero.


"We got outshot (17-5) in the first, and Howie did a good job for us just to survive the first," Babcock said. "As the game went on, we got better. They dominated in the overtime and then won in the shootout. We can skate way better than this." (

Friday, February 24, 2012

Coaching Character and Performance, Hockey Edge Newsletter February 2012

Do superstar hockey players need to be characters and not brimming with character? Many coaches may think that the most talented players may also be the biggest characters. This is reinforced by images we see of Terrell Owens’ antics, for instance. But, I do not believe this is the case, especially in hockey. In my local area the Red Wings have had two exemplary captains the last two decades; Steve Yzerman and Nik Lidstrom. Both are hall of fame players with great character.

These are just two examples, but I am sure you can come up with others. Recent captains like Sakic, Messier, Niedermayer, and Brind’Amour were quality people who were great leaders and players. So, it is my opinion that character and performance can co-exist and should. As coaches we need to be teaching character not only to develop better people but also to enhance individual and team performance.

Hockey Edge Newsletter February Issue 2012 Locking in on the Moment

The ability to engage in and focus on a task in the present time, or as I say “lock in on the moment”, is absolutely necessary for performing well in big moments. Mario Manningham gave us a shining example of being locked in. For three quarters of Super Bowl XLVI Manningham was not noticeable. Eli Manning, quarterback of the New York Giants, had not thrown Manningham’s way much, if at all. Giants’ receivers had not taken charge of the game by making big plays down the field despite the predictions that they would be the difference in the game.

What transpired in the fourth quarter can be chalked up to being prepared and locking in on the moment. Manningham went from forgotten to the center of Manning’s attention. He was ready. Manningham stayed engaged in the game so that when the most crucial moments arrived he was ready to capitalize on the opportunity. Manningham’s circus catch on the sideline during the Giant’s final drive to take the lead was eerily familiar to David Tyree’s “helmet-grab” in the game-clinching drive of Super Bowl XLII. Manningham being ready to play and locked in allowed the Giants to win the Super Bowl.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Timeouts; An Important Tool for Coaches to Change Momentum

In Sunday's Atlantic Division battle between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, Rangers' Coach John Tortorella's decision to use a timeout early in the game helped his team stave off a persistent Flyers attack in a 5-2 victory. In today's NHL coaches are more liberally using their one allotted timeout. Whether it is to slow down the charging attack of a team on the comeback or to rest players after an icing call, coaches are more likely to use the timeout at any point during the game.

Traditionally, NHL coaches saved their timeout until the end of the game in case they needed it to set up a play to tie the game or even to get the goalie out and ease the transition to 6-on-5 play. This is no longer the case. Flyers Coach Peter Laviolette's famed timeout in Game 7 versus the Boston Bruins in the 2010 playoffs helped to turn the tide of a series. As the Bruins' fans were near bedlam Laviolette calmly implored his players to get the next goal during a timeout in the second period. Down 3-0 in Game 7, the Flyers stormed back to win 4-3 and shock Boston who had a 3-0 edge in the series.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Support Jack's Pledge

This a call to the readers of this blog to support Jack's Pledge. If you are not aware Jack Jablonski, a Minnesota hockey player and more importantly a young man with a future, was checked from behind with a tragic result: a severed spinal cord. Now his future has changed and let's hope he will achieve some of the dreams he had before the injury.

Please go to to take the pledge. To support the movement to make the game of hockey safer go to

I am an ardent supporter of Jack's Pledge and playing the game of hockey safe while being competitive. Please support Jack's Pledge!

MSNBC article is good, but misses on need to teach emotional toughness on the ice

The hockey world is continuing to look at the incidences of concussions, and with recent traumatic injuries to teens playing hockey, how to make it safer. Here is an article from MSNBC...

After tragic teen hockey injuries, can a rough sport become safer?

I agree with the comments made by Dr. Tator and Dr. Stuart in this article. Players do need to strengthen their neck muscles. I remember doing this as a teenager. I do believe it made a difference in me being able to take a hit, control my head, and keep myself out of dangerous positions.

I also agree with the idea that players need to play safe and heads up hockey. No doubt about it. This goes without saying. The stop signs on the back of players' jerseys is a good reminder to not hit from behind. At the end of the day players need to respect each other...

At the end of the article the author started to get at the core issues with these quotes:

“We’ve witnessed, I think, more violence and aggression than there should be,” Tator explained. “This is one of the things that has been looked at carefully – increasing the emphasis on fair play and trying to reduce the influence of the win-at-all costs attitude. So when parents are in the stands shouting ‘kill em’ or ‘get em,’ they need to realize this isn’t conducive to safe hockey.”

Stuart agreed. “There is a certain culture in sports that overemphasizes winning to the point of promoting intimidation in order to achieve the goal of being victor. We have to teach sportsmanship and respect,” he said.
There is one missing piece here, however. Players most be taught the emotional coping skills to make good decisions under pressure. The game is fast and the mind has to make split-second decisions. If players are focused on how mad they are that their opponent cross-checked them in the back and didn't get a penalty, added to the fact they haven't scored in 5 games and their coach is about to take them off the power play, and you will get emotional decision-making.

Emotional decision-making is rash. It is based on feeling not on rational thoughts. Emotions are based in the immediate, not on stopping and thinking through situations. Thus, players must be taught to control their emotions and be emotionally tough - to stay positive and productive in adverse situations. This is why I created the Playing Tough and Clean Hockey Program, and the coach version Coaching Tough and Clean Hockey. Coaches are not necessarily equipped with the skills to teach players to manage their emotions in intense games. We need to teach these skills to coaches, parents, and players!

Winning-at-all costs does play a role in these horrible injuries. But, so does the macho attitude of hockey players. An eye-for-an-eye attitude leads to emergency room visits and suspensions. Let's change the course of hockey by teaching players to think clearly and make good decisions. To teach them to Play Tough and Clean Hockey.

Contact me if you want to learn more about Tough and Clean Hockey and incorporating athlete, parent, and coach education and skills training in to your hockey program.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Good Start to Season Crucial to Making Playoffs

I was talking recently to a friend about how teams are bunched tightly in the NHL Playoff races. On January 5th the #1 and #9 seeds in the West were separated by 8 points (pending the LA-Phoenix result) and 10 points in the East. This friend was saying how the Leafs have had a great first half of the season and yet are barely holding on to a playoff spot. Indeed, if you look at the Leafs on January 5 they are 1 point over the line.

This conversation made me think about the importance of the start of the season. Does a good start greatly increase a team's chances of making the playoffs? I came across an article written by John Kreiser on that discussed the percentage of teams holding a playoff spot at Christmas that make the playoffs. As tight as the races are amazingly over the last 10 years 80% of teams that were in the top 8 spots in their conference at Christmas went on to make the playoffs. I was a little surprised by the high percentage of teams able to finish what they started.

Holding Down Playoff Spot at Christmas a Good Sign -

This is good news for those teams in the top 8. While teams are breathing down their neck to pass them by it will be important to stay focused on continuing to rack up points. Avoid long losing streaks and the playoffs are likely. The New York Rangers, which only have a 10 point lead over the #9 seed Devils for all of their great work in the first half of the season, will have to continue to notch points despite sitting on top of the conference. Ten points does not seem that secure; that is only 5 wins. However, if you extrapolate that out to a full season that is a 20 point difference between the Rangers and the Devils. So, while the race is tight things will space out as the schedule goes in to February and March. So, the Red Wings flimsy 6 point lead on the Kings and Avs will be a hearty 12 points if the teams hold pace. Of course, they often do not hold their pace!

What about those teams barely below the playoff line? Of the 32 teams in the last 10 years that did overcome a slower start and make the playoffs 12 were within 2 points of the #8 spot at Christmas. Thus, if you want to make the playoffs starting fast is very important. Teams have overcome larger deficits to make the playoffs, however, the odds are clearly working against teams in the bottom of the standings. It is difficult to jump 3, 4, or 5 teams just to have a shot at the #8 seed. Therefore, the games in November matter just as much as the games in March. Get those points early so you don't have to count on a team winning in regulation time in early April.

The way I look at it is in 5-game increments instead of trying to focus on the big picture of reaching 96 points (which is about what you need to safely secure a playoff spot these days). If a team can consistently gain 6 of 10 points over the second half of the season they will significantly raise their chances of making the playoffs. That would come out to 48 points in 40 games. Add to that an extra 4 or 5 points by having a few very good 5 game stretches and unless a team had a terrible first half they will be in range of making the playoffs. Thinking of it in this incremental manner versus the big picture makes the goal of making the playoffs seem much more realistic and achievable despite sitting outside the top 8 at Christmas.