The past few weeks have been a buzz with playoff hockey. From Denver to Chicago, the Minnesota Wild has extended its season once again. And they’ve done so with great fanfare. There’s been Zach Parise’s team leading 11 points and top-notch goals. Charlie Coyle’s, Erik Haula’s and Mikael Granlund’s emergence as young talent. And Nino Neiderreiter’s overtime heroics to continue the run into round two.
As fun as it is to watch our hometown team compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs, young players should also be paying close attention to how the best players and teams in the world conduct themselves. Here are a few takeaways to look for to improve your own game while cheering on the Wild.
The Better Team Doesn’t Always Win – There has to be a winner and a loser in the game. Both teams are working toward being on the winning side. But there has to be someone on the other end of the ice. Playing your hardest doesn’t always guarantee a win and a team that plays their heart out might not get the final score they deserve.
Again you can’t let it get you down. The real accomplishment at the end of the game isn’t the final score, but it’s what you achieved as a team. Knowing you worked hard and played the game the right way every shift for three full periods is a victory in itself.
Take a Break – We’ve said it all season. Players need a break from the constant hockey grind. After a Game 7 victory, the Wild jetted off to Chicago with just one day to prepare for Game 1 with the Blackhawks. Chicago on the other hand, wrapped up their series with St. Louis a week earlier, giving them time to recompose.
While the effort was there for the most part in Games 1 and 2, you could notice the difference between the teams. The Wild made a few key mistakes that they hadn’t made in the final games against Colorado.
“We didn’t have the legs, and that was a big factor,” Wild head coach Mike Yeo said after Game 2 against Chicago. “You could see it in our puck support. You could see it when we get a puck and we weren’t taking two, three strides before we made a play. We were making a lot of stationary plays.”
You are not an NHL player and you are not playing for the Stanley Cup. It’s not necessary to squeeze in seven games in a weeklong span. Have some fun away from the ice. It will make a difference in your motivation, performance and development.
Overcoming a Bad Call – Things don’t always go your team’s way. A lucky bounce or a call that slipped by the officials might hinder the eventual outcome – but only if you let it.
“To sit here and dwell on [the missed offside], I don’t think it’s going to do us any good,” said Yeo after Game 5 against Colorado. “Obviously, frustrating, obviously disappointing, but bottom line is it’s not going to do us any good…I’m not going to dwell on what could have been’s. This is playoff hockey. You get highs and you get lows and it’s how you deal with it.”
Officials are people, too. They make mistakes. You can’t let those mistakes cause your team to make mistakes. Continue to play your own game, even if you disagree with what happened. You can’t blame the officials for the overall loss, but you can prove why you should win the game based on you team’s hard work.
Confidence – A team is nothing without a little bit of confidence. You have to go into every game, believing you can win.
“…It’s the challenge that you face every day and as much as anything having the confidence of your teammates, knowing that we can fight through adversity and keep battling and keep pushing forward,” Yeo said during a press conference. “Certainly we're going to face a lot of similar challenges and we're going to have to feel confident that we'll be ready to handle them.
If you believe your team can win, you’ve already taken a step in the right direction to do so. Trust in the hard work you’ve put in and have faith that it will work.
Be Positive, Be Prepared – It’s never an ideal situation, but it happens. Sometimes coaches mix up the lineups and can leave players watching more than they play.
But it’s OK. How you deal with it will speak volumes to your coach and your team.
“I've had experience with older players and they find themselves out of the lineup, and I can honestly say that I've never worked with someone who has handled it the way [Dany Heatley] has as far as No. 1 not being a distraction and making sure he's supportive for his teammates but more importantly making sure he stays on top of things and works and is ready for this opportunity,” Yeo said of Heatley in the Star Tribune.
If you find yourself sitting on the bench, it doesn’t mean you’re not part of the team. Cheer hard, take notes, be helpful and figure out ways that you can make sure you’re back on the ice the next game.
Bouncing Back – It’s hard to bounce back from a tough game. It’s even harder to do in playoff or tournament situation. Minnesota rebounded well – especially at home – against Colorado and have the opportunity to do so against Chicago.
“We have to make it feel like [we’re down 2-0],” Mikko Koivu told Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. “We proved that last series, but that doesn’t matter anymore. Game 3’s a huge game. That’s the biggest game of the year for us.”
Remember that each game is a new one. Wipe the slate clean and play 100 percent. Don’t focus on the previous game’s result, just try harder for a different outcome the next time around.
Minnesota comes home down 2-0. But it’s not over. There are still two more guaranteed games, both with home ice advantage starting tonight. Look for them to improve in all these areas and others.