Tommy Fallen is familiar with the term “underdog.” A product of Armstrong hockey, his teams were often pitted against bigger schools and associations.
“My first year Peewee we were playing against a highly stacked Wayzata team,” he recalled. “I think it went into four or five overtimes before we pulled out the win. We might have been the underdogs but both teams had great players and it was a really fun game.”
Fallen would go on to face individual adversity after high school in the United States Hockey League (USHL). He clawed his way up the Cedar Rapids Roughriders’ depth chart from being a regular scratch to a top point-producing defenseman who would eventually earn a roster spot at Yale.
Heading into the 2013 season, once again Fallen and his teammates were met with an underdog status. Despite coming in to that year’s NCAA tournament with a No. 15 ranking, the Bulldogs defied odds numerous times and eventually upset the tournament’s No. 1 Quinnipiac to be crowned NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey National Champions.
“We never saw ourselves as the underdogs,” said Fallen, captain of this year’s Bulldogs team. “We thought we deserved to be in that tournament from the start.”
Top dog or underdog, Fallen said that’s the same mentality every player should take into a game. Here are the top five ways to achieve just that:
1. Outwork Your Opponent: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Never give up.
“You have to outwork and out hustle the other team,” Fallen said. “That’s how you’re going to lead yourselves to victory.”
2. Leadership on All Levels: Strong leadership fuels a team to do great things – to capture great moments in great opportunities.
“We had great leadership from our seniors all the way down to our freshmen,” said Fallen of the 2013 title team. “No one really had any doubts and I think that was very evident in how we prepared for each game. No one seemed to be overly nervous and everyone was reaching their peak performance.”
3. You Have to Believe: If you don’t believe, you will not achieve. There must be belief within yourself and within the locker room.
“The thing about being the underdog is you have to go in and prove people wrong,” said Fallen. “I guess that’s one of the additional fuels to the fire. Whether you believe your team is the underdog or not, you do what you can to be that Cinderella story and prove to everyone that you deserve to be in that game.”
4. Trust in Your Teammates: A team is like a family unit. Have faith in your teammates and it becomes easier to overcome any obstacle.
“Teammates are a huge factor in your team’s confidence,” said Fallen. “Bring everyone together as quickly as possible and really become that family unit. There’s so much trust that has to be felt in the locker room, otherwise you may not lean on your teammates like successful teams do during the season.
“I’ve found, the closer the team, regardless of skill or talent, the better suited they are to win big games down the road.”
5. Embrace the Underdog Role: If your team is the underdog, so be it. Embrace it. Use it as motivation.
“Going up against the big-named school and highly ranked opponents may be intimidating, but don’t let them be,” said Fallen. “They might be taking an overconfident approach where a lower-ranked team might be more fired up because it’s a big opportunity to overcome adversity.
“For us, we approached every single game as a big game. Once we got to the big stage it really didn’t matter if we were the underdog – we knew we had earned our way there.”