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In the NHL, game analysts are constantly talking about the mindset of players and how it makes them more successful, but what specifically is this mindset and why is it so important? Hockey is a very challenging sport when it comes to having a strong mentality, as it is very easy for players to start thinking negatively when they are having trouble producing points. It is also a very physical sport where injuries are common, so it is vital for players to have a strong mindset when dealing with injuries throughout their careers.
Let’s take a look at two different players for examples of how players deal with adversity and setbacks in their careers, and how their mindsets made them even more successful after their respective injuries.
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Nashville Predators center Cody Glass is no stranger to the extreme highs and lows that accompany a professional hockey career. After being drafted 6th overall and becoming the Vegas Golden Knights’ first-ever draft pick, Glass was excited to finally start his professional hockey career, but soon faced a lot of adversity that changed the course of his career drastically.
Glass played 39 games and scored ten points for the Golden Knights during the 2019-20 season before suffering a season ending knee injury in March of 2020. Because he was injured right when Covid hit, Glass couldn’t get the necessary rehab and training that he needed for his recovery. During this time, Glass was struggling a lot mentally while trying to navigate his first professional season, as he wasn’t producing as much as he was used to in the juniors. In an interview during his time with the Golden Knights, Glass said, “I never really talked about my emotions away from the rink, and they were kind of eating me up on the inside.”
For many players, it can be very challenging when they are struggling to do what they have become so used to doing, and it is hard for a lot of them to separate their production from their confidence. They can score some really great goals for a few games in a row and feel really good about themselves, and then can watch tape from a bad game and feel really bad about the way they are playing. This is where Glass’ head was during his two years with the Knights, as he was beating himself up about his play. He was greatly overthinking what it took to score a goal, and this overthinking led to a disappointing season for him.
After playing 27 games and scoring 10 points for the Golden Knights and playing 14 games and scoring 10 points with the AHL’s Silver Knights, Glass was a part of a three-way trade and ended up with the Nashville Predators at the end of the 2020-21 season. He didn’t have as strong of a training camp as he hoped to have, and was assigned to Nashville’s AHL team, the Milwaukee Admirals, at the start of the 2021-22 season. Glass had hoped that this would be a temporary placement, but he ended up playing 66 games with the Admirals, and only got called up late in the season to play with the Predators, where he tallied eight games with one point.
Glass’ mindset at the end of that season was doing whatever he could do to not go back to the AHL. In an interview with the team, Glass’ dad talked about how amazed he was by the drive and dedication that Glass had during the offseason, and Glass himself said, “I would do all these little things to work on my game just to have no excuses going into the year.” Not only was Glass working hard in the gym and on the ice physically, but he worked hard on his mentality as well. He continued to see a sports psychologist that helped him get in the right mindset for the training camp.
Glass ended up having an amazing training camp, and earned his well-deserved roster spot for the start of the 2022-23 season. Glass reflected on his experience at training camp by saying, “Coming into the summer, I felt healthy, I felt good and I just went in with the right mindset. I’m here where I am now and I’m very thankful.” He put a lot of pressure on himself, but it was good pressure that made him a better player. He learned to never take his time on the ice for granted, and used his confidence as an asset to his playmaking. At the beginning of this season, Glass talked about how his mindset was to just be grateful for his time on the ice, and to make sure that he was still having fun with the game.
Overall, Glass has learned about the perseverance and dedication that it takes to be a professional hockey player, has developed great confidence in himself and his play, and has settled into a mindset that will set him up for success.
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Another example of a player with a great mindset throughout hard times is Arizona Coyotes left winger Clayton Keller. In late March of 2020, Keller was taken off the ice in a stretcher after breaking his femur in two places. In an interview with the team, Keller talked about his recovery and stated, “I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do,” as his mom had to help him even dress himself in the mornings due to the severity of his injury. Prior to the injury, Keller had never missed a game in the NHL, so having to sit for the remainder of the season and go through a gruesome rehab process was a lot for the young forward to deal with.
During his rehab, not only was he seeing a physical therapist and getting necessary exercise to speed up his recovery, but he was also seeing an occupational therapist, Darleen Santone, whom he called his “mental coach”. This coach made his transition back to the ice that much smoother as he was able to be mentally strong enough to get past the block of getting back on the ice quicker than he would’ve initially.
At the end of the 2023 season, Keller was named the Coyotes’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. In an interview with ESPN about his nomination, Keller said, “It's something that you wanna strive for, especially coming off my injury. I just wanted to show up every day, do the best that I can and let the rest figure itself out.” This incident really emphasized Keller’s mental toughness, as he was able to move past the doubt that himself and the people around him were having about him making his return so quickly.
Keller is no stranger to fans of the team being doubtful of his abilities and his worth, as after signing an 8-year, $57,200,000 contract, people were questioning whether his skills were worth such a large contract. He was well aware of the backlash and skepticism that he was receiving, but instead of it eating him up and getting in his head, he used it as motivation to work even harder to prove everyone wrong, and ended up having one of his best seasons the following year.
Keller is known for his extreme passion towards the sport, and he demands excellence from himself every time he steps out onto the ice. He reminisced about something his dad had always emphasized to him that he should “play every shift like it’s your last.” This type of mentality has made everyone around Keller better as well, because he expects excellence from not only himself, but his fellow linemates. He is the opposite of a passive player, and prides himself on having a “short memory” when it comes to making mistakes. Moving past a bad game or two is something that is extremely beneficial for a lot of players, and this is a quality that will certainly help Keller succeed even more in the future.
Courtesy of Zac Bondurant
When it comes to success for hockey players, mental toughness is just as important as physical toughness, if not more so. A lot of players attribute their success to making the most out of their time and really loving the game and the process. If you love the process of becoming a better player, you are far more likely to succeed.
One of the most important things for players to make sure that they have is great confidence in themselves and their abilities. Lack of confidence can cause players to not take as many shots as they normally would, and it can affect their game in a negative way. When players are more confident, they are able to feel good not only about their own game, but can inspire their teammates to feel more confident as well.
Overall, it is extremely important for hockey players to focus on their mindset both on and off the ice, as it can make or break their game. Players that have focused on the mental aspect of the game have seen much success throughout the league.