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The Beauty of Big Games

By Steve Mann, Special to Minnesota Hockey, 02/24/20, 8:30AM CST


University of St. Thomas assistant women’s hockey coach Kristi King has been a part of some really big games. Before joining the Tommies, King coached Centennial High School to the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament title game in 2018. Prior to her college playing days at Bemidji State University and the University of Maine, King skated for Stillwater High School, where she led the Ponies to two State Championships and one runner-up finish.

With all of that big game experience comes a learned understanding of how to handle adversity as well as pressure. As tournament play gets underway, King shared tips for young players facing the excitement, and anxiety, of playoff hockey.

Minnesota Hockey: You’ve played and coached in big playoff games. What are some tips you have for youth hockey players as the season gets to this critical point?

Kristi King: My advice to players of any age is to keep things simple and try not to overcomplicate things. Don’t do anything you haven’t been doing all year. Eat the same things you ate before regular season games. Listen to the same music. If you like to take a nap before games, do that as well. That consistency will translate from off the ice on to the ice. The second thing is to focus on having fun. I always told my high school players – some of these moments, like section finals, may be the highlights of your careers, so try to have some fun with them.

Minnesota Hockey: Do you have any advice for kids feeling really nervous, so much so that it is making them feel physically ill or impacting their play?

Kristi King: One thing that worked for me is hearing people tell jokes or watching a video before a game, something that made me laugh. Laughing tends to relax you. You need to take the time to breathe and almost go through a meditation before the game to calm your nerves. Then, usually after the first couple of shifts you’ll start to relax. Just know that once you get out there, you’ll be fine.

Minnesota Hockey: What about advice for goaltenders who shoulder a lot of responsibility?

Kristi King: It’s a game, have fun with it. Goalies can be extremely hard on themselves. So, having a short memory is important. Take it one shot at a time. Don’t overthink it. Try to have fun. You will make mistakes and let some goals in. You just have to have trust in your teammates that they will score more than the other team.

Minnesota Hockey: Are there pre-game routines that young players could use to try to be as prepared as possible for the big games?

Kristi King: I always ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich before the games. It’s something that will help the body recover between periods. Drink tons of water to keep your body hydrated. Sports drinks, I’d only drink minimally during the game when you really need those electrolytes. You don’t want to overdo it on the sugar. And definitely avoid soda or carbonated beverages. Eating right and sleep are the most important things you can do.

Minnesota Hockey: How about going into a big game as the underdog or the favorite?

Kristi King: Really, as an underdog, you need to understand there is zero pressure on you. You aren’t expected to win, so there’s no point in putting extra pressure on yourself. The beauty of big games is that anyone can win on any given night. Upsets happen all the time. Just remember what you’re good at, and work harder, be persistent, sacrifice a little more, to make up for maybe not having as much talent. Never count yourself out of any game.

If you’re expected to win, understand that there’s no taking time off or a period off or a shift off. Everything has to be 100 percent. Because no matter how much more talented you might be, if they outwork you, they will beat you. So, take care of little things, win battles, block shots, do some things that maybe you didn’t have to do in the regular season.

Minnesota Hockey: What should players be focused on, or not focused on, during the game so they avoid succumbing to the pressure?

Kristi King: It’s tough because there are so many outside factors going on in the playoffs. Just have to stay in the moment and take one shift at a time. You have to remind yourself to stay in it mentally, otherwise you may get caught up in the excitement and the louder crowd and not be at your best. Leaders of the team need to set an example and stay calm and positive.

Either way, players need to enjoy every moment. Win or lose, those feelings won’t go away and you will cherish these times forever. So have fun with it and take it all in. Those moments are what will make you want to go back and play again.

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