Sunday, April 23, 2006

Blueberry Confidence

(Photo courtesy of Jeff Kubina at

Today is a soggy Sunday. The San Jose Sharks are on TV against the Nashville Predators. But I’m not concentrating on the NHL play-offs today. I’m thinking about my AMHL Bruins and our opening round game against the Stars last Thursday.

Driving north from Natick to Concord, en route to the game, I noticed on my left, a Sudbury street with a unique name: Confidence Way.

I’d become more aware of this attribute since I started reading Dr. Saul Miller’s The Complete Hockey Player, which focuses on the mental approach to hockey, three years ago. I’ve intermittently practiced the methods Miller proposes to induce and maintain confidence: drawing deep breaths to focus my attention, reciting affirmations, and visualizing peak performance. Worried about work and preoccupied about moving from one apartment to another (even though the new place is closer to the rink), my commitment to improving my mental game had slipped this season.

But the street sign reminded me of the psychology of winning hockey.

We bolted to a two-goal lead against the Stars, the team that beat us two weeks ago. Still in the first period, Stars’ rookie Scott Gelin out-muscled me in the crease, got his stick on a loose puck, and slid it past my goalie.

On the bench, telling my teammates the goal was my fault, I didn’t get upset; I simply acknowledged that next time, I would need to do a better job of tying up my man.

We didn’t panic after the Stars tied the game either.

In the second period, I had a clear lane to carry the puck. I crossed the Stars’ blue line as Stars’ defenseman Charles Bradley slowed his backward skating to intercept me. Rather than dump the puck in the corner and retreat to my defensive position, I pushed the puck toward the gap between his feet and went around him. I was in alone on goalie Ken Tarr, but Bradley had busted my move, stopping the puck’s progress. I slammed on the brakes and busted my butt to get back in the play.

My team doesn’t need me to score goals to win anyway. I let Peter Mahoney and Aaron Sherman do that. And Mike Schneider. In the third period in a tight game, the Stars left Schneider alone with the puck, not more than ten feet from their goalkeeper. The Stars watched Schneider, who realized that he had plenty of time. Instead of rushing a shot, he waited for Tarr to drop to his knees and then lifted the puck over the netminder’s shoulder to regain our two-goal lead.

“Was that Schneider?” Sherman wondered from the bench. “That was beautiful!”

The Stars scored again, but we refused to fold. I watched the last two and half minutes from the bench, taking prolonged breaths to bolster my confidence should my teammates need me to spell them.

Self-confidence is critical, but confidence in your teammates is just as important.

Schneider had the puck on his stick in our zone. Rather than fling the puck toward a constellation of Stars and hope that it would find a way over our blue line, Schneider skated from along the boards opposite our bench to open ice, retreating behind our goal line. In control, he skated behind our goal, waiting for an opponent to approach him. Schneider rounded the curve…and only then did he wrist the disc out of danger. Beautiful!

Despite today’s dreary appearance, I’m happy, savoring Thursday’s victory—and the Blueberry donut, Mike Schneider’s favorite, I had this morning—as I anticipate next Thursday’s game against the Capitals. I’m confident my team will win the Koffey Cup.