Training camp 2.0 is underway. Players and coaches are happy to be back at the rink preparing for postseason. Before we know it, the real games will be here.
We can talk all we want about the matchups, the fitness level of players and all those other things normal to this situation. But one of the most important things we need to consider is the mental side of this equation.
Distractions & The Mental Side
Think about it for a moment. Starting in just 11 days, teams will begin their travel to either Toronto or Edmonton to start what they hope is their journey to the Stanley Cup.
However this is not going to be any ordinary journey. Far from it actually. From the moment the teams step into the bubble, they will experience something they’ve never experienced before.
Assuming their lengths of stay is beyond the first series should they win, teams will stay in one city in one hotel over multiple games. Should a team make it to the conference finals from Toronto, they would then have to travel to Edmonton to continue their quest for the Cup.
In order to do that, teams will have to play playoff games with no fans in the stands. Everything that players and coaches are used to will be thrown out the window.
A New Normal
But just imagine every moment within that bubble. There will be nothing normal about their experience. That’s where this story beings. Think of all the distractions that could possibly take place along this new journey.
A tournament like this is the ultimate test in mental toughness. Every decision that the player makes while in that bubble can and will affect their teammates.
Remember, although the return to play plan passed overwhelmingly at nearly 80%, that doesn’t mean everyone is happy with the idea. Will the idea that being in a bubble for so long away from their family distract them enough from the task at hand?
What about their day in and day out agenda? How will players spend their time away from the rink? Can they stay focused or will their minds wander to other things? A team with a long run in this tournament will be spending from the end of July through the beginning of October in this environment. What about as time goes on through August and September? The mental side of the return to play is going to be fascinating to watch unfold.
Which teams can shut the noise out and which teams will fold under the overwhelming pressure? I asked Blue Jackets’ head coach John Tortorella about the importance of the mental side of this tournament and what if anything they are doing to help the players prepare.
Tortorella Talks Distractions
“I think it’s going to be a tournament of distractions or changes or circumstances that may change,” Tortorella said. “I think the team that handles it best and doesn’t get flustered or flies off the handle, that’s the team that (won’t) lose track of themselves.”
This kind of situation and how to handle it is right in Tortorella’s wheelhouse. He knows the importance of it. In fact this talk was one of the first things the Blue Jackets talked about as a team. Not only was this discussed in regards to the players, it was discussed in regards to the coaches as well.
“They’ve (the players) got to keep the coaches in check too,” Tortorella said. Coaches want it all planned out. This isn’t how it’s going to work. There will be a lot of different things going on. I’m not sure what our locker room situation is up there.”
There are a lot of unknowns still despite there being a plan in place. From the locker rooms to the actual accommodations and more, the teams won’t know the full scale of what all is happening until they arrive at the bubble. But in the end, Tortorella made the definitive statement when it comes to which teams will be successful and which ones won’t at this tournament.
“Whatever is thrown at us, whatever is given to us and told what we need to do, we need to do it. We need to go straight ahead, attack it and go about it the proper way and not complain about it.”
A Straight-Ahead Approach
This is how the Blue Jackets will attack their series against the Maple Leafs in Toronto. It will be hit straight on as they do with everything else.
But not only is this a Tortorella thing, it’s an entire team thing. Everyone has to go into the bubble with the same mindset. Coaches will keep players accountable and players will keep coaches accountable.
Hockey players and coaches are creatures of habit at heart. But it will be up to them to find a way to not let all of the different distractions get the best of them. There’s a Stanley Cup on the line.
In an environment like this, expect the unexpected. But the teams that advance will be the ones that were best able to make the necessary adjustments to their normal routine.
For the Blue Jackets, going straight ahead and ignoring the noise is just like another day in the office. It’s no wonder Tortorella is up for a Jack Adams award for the fifth time in his career. He thrives in moments when leadership is needed. If anyone can navigate the distractions, it’s the Blue Jackets. They can overcome distractions with the best of them. That makes them a dangerous team in this kind of environment.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.