Editor’s note: Missouri Mavericks forward Jesse Root, who is out for the rest of the season with a lower body injury, is offering a player’s insight into the 2016 ECHL Playoffs for The Examiner. Root, who finished third in the ECHL Most Valuable Player voting announced Friday, is a graduate of Yale University and a former star for the Bulldogs.
Before we begin, I have a confession. This is my first venture into the “media.” Looking from the locker room out, there is a pretty distinct line between a “media personality” and a player. And usually, once that transformation occurs, it is irreversible. You are either on the inside playing, or on the outside writing about playing. I suppose, for the moment, I’ve entered the realm of the latter. However, I hope I can make the switch back to the “inside” a little more fluidly than this temporary transition to a journalist.
With this in mind, I want to take you into the Mavericks’ locker room during the 2016 ECHL playoffs. Actually, I think we can do a bit better. I want to take you into the mind of a Mavericks player during 2016 ECHL playoffs.
The playoffs, it has been said, are an entirely different animal than the regular season. The pace of the game quickens. Bodies detonate into one another. Shots on goal and passes are surgically precise. Most of all, the desire, the competitiveness and the will to win are swollen to the point of explosion. The players feel this, the coaches feel this, the trainers feel this, the front office feels this and, most of all, the fans feel this.
Is there anyone who doesn’t feel it? Or, perhaps, said better, is there anyone who is prohibited from feeling this rise in intensity? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. It is the players who are barred from this feeling. The players must not entertain or even recognize the game’s unmistakable transformation from regular season to the postseason.
“But wait,” you may ask, “didn’t you just say the players do feel it?” Therein lies, however, the contradiction: Just because we do, indeed, feel the elevation of the game, and do, indeed, need to raise our play, that does not mean we can surrender ourselves to the game’s change.
Let me clarify that. In my experience as a player, the most surefire way to achieve success is to channel, and when necessary deny, the emotion of the game, rather than become absorbed by it. In other words, you cannot let the game, or a moment within the game, engross your psyche just because the stakes are higher. The minute you do, it yanks your self-control, concentration and energy away from the mission and onto the distraction. Nerves, anger, frustration, anxiousness and excitement, all of which can heighten during playoffs, are toxic to accomplishing the job.
When I was 8 years old, after celebrating a dunk on a plastic hoop while playing basketball with my uncle Russell (a dunk he purposefully let me have), Dan Marino Sr. offered me some of the best athletic advice I’ve ever received. He said, “Jesse, act like you’ve been there before.”
Now, he was telling me to be humble, however ignore that immediate context for a second and think about it in a broader scope. “Act like you’ve been there before” seems like simple advice – so why is it profound?
What he truly means, besides teaching me not to gloat, is that although the moment can feel bigger – and maybe is bigger – you must not let it overwhelm your attention.
Back to the playoffs… “Act like you’ve been there before.” What this really means, is that you are utterly unfazed by any adverse twist in the game. Why? Because in your mind, you’ve already experienced it. You’ve already been there before.
When you score a goal to put the Mavericks up 2-1 late in the 3rd period – act like you’ve been there before. The game isn’t over yet, you must score another, and then another, to solidify the win.
Yet if that’s not enough, and the game slips into overtime, act like you’ve been there before too. It is just a continuation of a game you’ve played since you were five years old. Zero in your focus, recenter on your mission, and go accomplish it. Score another goal. Because you’ve already been there before too.
By now, I think you understand my point. Regardless of what the game throws at you, a Mavericks player must be prepared and unrelenting in his approach. However, here’s one final rhetorical question for you: Is there a time when you’re allowed to act like you haven’t been there before?
The answer, and I think my late cousin Danny would agree, is also yes – when you’ve finally won the Kelly Cup. Then, in that moment, no matter how many times you’ve visualized winning, no matter how many times you’ve actually won, whether it is your first championship or your fifth, you can never prepare yourself to act like you’ve been there before.
I hope, in June, we all get the chance to act like we haven’t been there before.
Let’s go Mavericks!