March hockey in Minnesota is its own special kind of madness.
Coaches, players and families have been preparing for the final stretch run during a unique season with plenty of challenges, all for a chance at the State Tournament.
But with playoffs comes nerves and pressure to perform. Bowling Green State University head coach Ty Eigner knows a thing or two about handling that level of stress. Eigner previously coached high school hockey at Rosemount, Brainerd and Eden Prairie before making the jump to Division I.
Communication & Consistency
Eigner is no stranger to postseason hockey in Minnesota. Making sure his teams are focused on the same goals is most important.
Reinforce the same messaging and try to keep things light and loose at home, in the car and at the rink. Stick to the routines that hockey players become so accustomed to. New schemes, game plans or ideas can be confusing and stressful.
“We try to be consistent with our message and make sure we focus on the things that we do to make us who we are as a program,” said Eigner, whose Falcons are gearing up for a WCHA and NCAA playoff run. “The main thing is you want players to feel confident in what you are doing going into the playoffs. So making sure that you are all on the same page is important. That way when the playoffs start, the players can just go out and play.”
Fresh, Fun & Full of Excitement
The regular season can be a grind, no matter the level. And the players know what’s at stake: One bad night and the season’s over. They don’t need constant reminders.
“We try to make sure our guys are fresh and have a lot of energy coming into the postseason,” Eigner said. “We also want to make sure that they are confident and excited about the opportunity.”
Team bonding activities can keep spirits high and jokes can loosen a tense room. Incorporating small-area games that are fun, fast-paced and highly competitive are an excellent way to keep players sharp and morale high during practice.
Leaders Step Up
No matter the level, Eigner has always looked to his experienced players and leaders. But it doesn’t always have to be the top goal scorer to lead their team to victory in a big game.
Playoff heroes can come from anywhere on the bench. In fact, for a team to be successful in the playoffs, every player needs to contribute in their own way.
“Experience is a big part of success in the postseason,” Eigner said. “Often games are very close, so one play may be the difference and sometimes there can be a role player who steps up and makes a big play.”
But it is just a hockey game. Don’t overthink it and make things more complicated. The team has worked hard all season to get to this point. Let them play.
“End of the day, hockey is hockey,” he said. “The same things that make teams successful at the youth or high school level are the same things you need to do at the college level. Your goalie needs to play well, special teams must be good, scoring the first goal, etc. All those things matter at every level.”