How to help hockey players deal with a cancelled season

Dustin Manko

Dustin Manko is the owner of KC Crease, the Goalie Coach of the USHL's Omaha Lancers, and the Director of Goaltending Development with Carriage Club (KCYHA). You can follow KC Crease on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. When not at the rink, Dustin likes to spend time with his wife Heather, their daughter Isabel, and their two dogs, Titan and Jack.

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Having the right mindset is critical in times like this.

A phrase we often repeat to our goalies is “spring championships are built in the summer.”

The idea behind it is simple, it’s the work you do in the offseason that sets the tone for the upcoming hockey season. The work you do away from the lights and crowds. It’s the 5 am alarms to get on the ice by 6 when your peers are sleeping in. It’s the choosing a salad instead of that chilli cheeseburger.

While our goalies work through their drills, we plant visions in their heads of the upcoming season. We have them visualize feeling confident as they lead their team on the ice, making the big save in the final moments of the game, and lifting the trophy at the end of the season. We find these visuals help give them that extra push, and helps drive them to keep their energy up.

That tone in the summer then carries over to the fall and like the proverbial falling rock turning into an avalanche, by the time the playoffs roll around, our goalies are hopefully at the top of their game ready to give their best.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve spoken to countless goalies as they prepared for their end of season pushes, playoffs, and state/national tournaments. Some were fortunate enough to get to a point where they brought hardware home. Others dealt with the feelings that come from a season that ended in a loss. Others were preparing to play this upcoming weekend, then the call came in.

Season suspended. Season cancelled. Tournament canceled. The list goes on.

Just like that, it’s over.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no competing for that last playoff spot this season. No battles during the big game. No big save or winning goal. Nobody lifting the hardware.

It leaves us feeling empty, unfulfilled.

And it’s okay to feel like that. It’s okay to be angry. Your feelings are valid. If you need someone to talk to, our DMs are open across our social media channels.

Having the right mindset is critical in times like this. While this unexpected result isn’t something any of us wanted, to paraphrase Kevin Delamarter, it does not negate the work you’ve done this season. It does not diminish the growth you’ve made as a player or a person. It does not erase the accomplishments you achieved during this season.

The best people and best players I’ve been around have all understood that sometimes on the ice, and in life, situations arise that are beyond our control. It is now that we find ourselves in that type of situation and it is now that we have an opportunity. You can’t control everything around you, but you can control how you react to your situation.

You choose how you respond to this.

Do you choose to sulk or do you accept what you can’t control and move forward? Do you start skipping workouts or do you continue with your program?

Release what you can’t control. Take a breath and clear your mind. Focus on what’s next for you. Where do you want to go? What do you want next?

Are you moving up an age group or to a bigger league? Time to prepare for the increase in skill and speed. Are you aging out? You get to choose if you hang them up and move on, or work hard enough to land a tryout at the next level, be that juniors, college, or pro hockey.

If your rink has closed temporarily, get the golf ball and practice on dryland. Your gym being closed won’t prevent you from going for a jog. You have an internet connection, look up replays of hockey games and try to learn systems, tendencies, patterns or anything else you can from what you’re watching. Find some books that can help you grow as a person and athlete.

Everyone understands that this is not ideal. Everyone wants to have the opportunity to finish what they’ve been working towards. Understand that the people making that decision did not make it lightly. They know what this means to you, as they’ve likely gone through it themselves. Understand that they arrived at this point with your best interests in mind.

While this season may be over, the journey is not. You can start preparing for next season or the next phase of your life.

It will go on.

Understand that you can only control your attitude and effort going forward. Time to move forward.

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