Coaches and parents are constantly stressing to their young and developing hockey players the importance of fun; the importance of teamwork; the importance of keeping a positive attitude—especially when things aren’t going your way.
And while it’s easy for players to roll their eyes at the barrage of cliches, they might feel differently if they knew that those three ‘cliches’ are echoed on the NHL ice, too.
“Cliches are cliches for a reason, right? And that’s usually because they work,” said Minnesota Wild coach Dean Evason, who has emphasized the same three keys to his entire roster this season. “I don’t even necessarily think those things are cliche; I think if you can live that way, it’ll give you a better opportunity to have success, certainly in the small picture of winning hockey games, and beyond, too.”
Clearly the cliches have worked for the Wild, who are coming off an exciting and successful, albeit shortened, regular season, going 35-16-5 and earning themselves a No. 3 seed in the Honda West Division of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
We caught up with Evason and his team to get their perspective on what has made them successful this year.
Spurgeon patting goalie Kaapo Kahkonen on the back after a tough goal or teammates encouraging one another down the tunnel after a poor period are just two of the many ways the Wild has stuck together.
“There’s times where it doesn’t go your way in a lot of games, or life in general; it’s something where you have to keep chipping away at it,” said forward Marcus Foligno. “Our line in a few games this year, we didn’t feel great the first two periods maybe, but we ended up getting that big goal in the third period to help with the game and it’s just staying with it. That’s been our mentality all year. Keeping things light and just knowing that if you have a good work ethic, you’ll get the good results eventually.”
“It’s about just sticking together as a team,” added Evason. “Being really good teammates. We stress that right from the start. We just wanted to be team first. We wanted everybody to be close and tightknit. Mistakes are made, games go either way, wins and losses come, and they go and what have you, but if you stick together through all of it, you’ve got to believe that good things will happen. Our group has done a real, real great job of doing that and I think that’s a great trait of our hockey club.”
When Blaine native Nick Bjugstad was a healthy scratch this season, he stayed positive.
“There’s no time, especially when you’re at this level, to feel sorry for yourself in any way. You just have to be grateful. I think that’s the No. 1 thing,” Bjugstad said. “Don’t be content with where you’re at, because you always want to be better, but be grateful that you’re walking on two feet and playing a game that you love. I think it’s better to face adversity when you’re a young kid; I think that really sets you up to learn about yourself, become a better all-around person. So whenever that adversity hits, it puts things in perspective. Being 28 years old and playing hockey, playing for my hometown team in the playoffs, that’s awesome. I’m so grateful. There’s people around you that help you get to that point, and you have to be conscious of that too and be thankful for that.”
When wins are hard to come by, positivity is needed most.
“If you have a negative thought process, a negative attitude, you’re not going to give yourself an opportunity to have success,” Evason said. “You come in with the right attitude, fresh and excited, and you know what we’re here, what do we have to complain about? We’re playing hockey, we’re in the playoffs in the National Hockey League, and you think about all those good things, you can put yourself in a really good mindset to go out and compete and have success.”
It’s a word that makes some parents and coaches cringe, but it is, without a doubt, crucial to the Wild’s winning ways and to having a great youth hockey experience.
“It’s one of the biggest things,” said Foligno. “You want to come to the rink and enjoy your teammates, enjoy the environment you’re in. It’s been a fun environment when you’re winning, but even with some losses, the mentality with losses has been fine too. We’re right back on the horse the next game and we’ll get the next one. It’s been a good, good vibe all year and all the guys have been great getting to know each other a little more. A lot of laughs and we want to keep it rolling with a deep playoff run.”
“We all enjoy being around each other, and we're having fun,” said Wild captain Jared Spurgeon. “And each day we come to the rink, we’re working hard and, like I said, enjoying it.”