Everyone knows that there is no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’ In order to achieve success on any level, and in any sport or career, there’s the ever-important element of teamwork.
Without everyone working together for the betterment of the team, the outcome usually isn’t a positive one.
Take for instance Gopher freshman and Eden Prairie native, Casey Mittelstadt. Not only is he supremely talented, but he makes everyone around him better.
“It’s really important to be close to the guys you’re playing with because they’re the guys going through it with you,” said Mittelstadt, the eighth overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2017 NHL Draft. “When you face adversity in the big games, or when you win that championship, those are the guys you turn to.
“Your teammates are really everything.”
Fresh off a bronze-medal win at the 2018 World Junior Championships in Buffalo, N.Y., where he was named tournament MVP with 11 points (4 goals and 7 assists), Mittelstadt recognized the importance of not only being a good teammate, but playing with good teammates.
“Especially in big-time settings like [the World Juniors], or at the State Tournament, your teammates are definitely important,” he added. “You realize on those stages pretty quick that you can’t win anything on your own.”
But just what does being a good teammate mean? A good teammate…
“I don’t think I’ve ever played on a team where we didn’t all support each other,” Mittelstadt said. “I think that’s so important to what it means to be a teammate. You’re not going to win every game, so the support you have for each other when you lose is just as important.”
Every team has its ups and downs, and being there for one another in the highs and lows is what separates a good team from a great one. Mittelstadt recalled the 5-3 loss to Wayzata in the 2016 State Championship.
“Having those boys around made it sting just a little less.”
Pick up a teammate after a rough game or tough shift. Pointing out faults after a bad play or a loss will do nothing to make the team better. Keep things positive. Have fun – it’s contagious!
Mittelstadt points to U.S. National Junior Team and Gopher teammate Ryan Lindgren as the perfect example of a teammate that knows how to communicate.
“He knows when to say the right thing,” said Mittelstadt. “He does a really good job at that. He doesn’t say too much but knows when to speak. I would say that’s probably one of the better teammates and leaders I’ve played with that knows how to really communicate well.”
Whether it’s a simple “let’s go, team” or a deeper conversation, a good teammate knows how to communicate not just with the players, but coaches, too. Talking on the ice, on the bench, in the locker room and at school is critical to developing trust and camaraderie. Communication is a two-way street – always remember to listen.
Body language is another form of communication. Don’t shrug, hang your head, roll your eyes or slam your stick after things don’t go the team’s way. That negativity is also contagious and can be a real hit to player and team confidence and chemistry. Giving a teammate a subtle pat on the shin pads after a mistake goes a long way for the player, and for the team.
Mittelstadt also complimented St. Cloud State University forward and Lakeville native Ryan Poehling as one of the best around.
“I grew up playing with Ryan a little bit and he’s always just had this leadership-type of presence,” said Mittelstadt, who reconnected with Poehling for the World Juniors. “He knows how to help push players and he does it in such a great way, it makes it really fun to play with him.”
Great leaders easily translate to great teammates. Those who know how to lead with the right communication, work ethic and accountability are the ones you want on your side of the ice. You’ll also notice they’re the hardest workers when things are going well, and especially when they’re not.
Mittelstadt has long been pegged as a star. He helped push the Eagles to three State Tournament appearances – including one championship game. He was named Minnesota’s 2017 Mr. Hockey and selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.
“I think it’s always been a bit of a challenge when there’s a buzz surrounding just one person,” Mittelstadt admitted. “It’s flattering but I think that’s why for me it’s very important to stay humble. Sometimes the eyes are a little more on me and I’m just trying to help out the guys and just want to be treated as a part of the team, not just one player.”
Is a Good Friend
At the end of the day, you will find some of your best friends on the ice. It’s a lot easier to be a good teammate with people you know will be lifelong friends.
Why do so many Minnesotans end up becoming captains in college and beyond? Minnesota’s community-based model allows neighborhood kids and classmates a chance to stick together throughout their youth hockey and high school careers. That undoubtedly fosters a culture of friendship and caring that is the foundation of being a good teammate.
“Playing in Minnesota growing up, I wouldn’t change a thing because it really is the best way to grow up,” Mittelstadt said. “I got to know all of my buddies super well, playing with them from the time I started playing hockey. Being able to grow up with them and play together through all those different stages, it was the best.”