Sometimes what separates good players from great ones simply is one player believing he's great.
For Mike McCourt, who coached the Niagara IceDogs last season, he saw that same issue with his goaltender, Mark Visentin.
Playing behind of one of the youngest teams in the Ontario Hockey League, Visentin won 24 games, posting a 2.99 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, and he jumped four spots to No. 4 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goaltenders for the 2010 Entry Draft from the midterm rankings in January.
That confidence is something that grew during the season.
"Early on he might have doubted himself a little bit," McCourt told NHL.com. "He lacked a little bit of that self-confidence. I think there came a point where we had the belief in him all the way along, and he finally believed in himself. Once he got over that fact, he started having a little bit of a swagger, just a quiet confidence."
It certainly showed in his play over the second half of the season. He went just 10-16-2 with a 3.38 GAA and .904 save percentage in the first half of the season. When play resumed in January, however, he was a new goalie, going 14-10-3 with a 2.59 GAA and .912 save percentage in 27 games. He was even better at home, going 10-3-1 to help the IceDogs reach the playoffs.
"Once he got that self-belief," said McCourt, "he went from a good goaltender to a great goaltender."
"He's got a good mix of size and agility," said a scout from an Eastern Conference NHL team. "He's got a lot of tools to work with, that (scouts) look for. … He's got good athleticism, he moves really well and he's got good size (6-foot-2, 187 pounds), which is a good combination."
Confidence issues aren't something new for Visentin. They've been an issue almost since he stepped on the ice as a 6-year-old.
"My first year I only played goalie once," Visentin told NHL.com. "I didn't score a single goal so I wasn't enjoying it too much -- I ended up crying every time before I went to the rink. My parents put me in the second year and they said if you don't like it this year then you don't have to play if you don't want to. I started as a goalie and I played a couple games and I liked it. I started being a goalie here or there, and by the end of the year players would have to be goalie and they'd say no, you be goalie. I think that's how it began. The next year I tried out as a goalie for Double-A and I made the team, and that's how it all started."
Now, he's ranked as the best draft-eligible goaltender in the OHL. It's a spot he's held all season, despite his early struggles, and he also earned an invitation to January's CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. He showed he was worthy of invitation by being the only one of the four goalies invited not to allow a goal -- he stopped all 19 shots he faced in 30 minutes of action.
"I wasn't really expecting it because I was having an up and down year," he said of his lofty spot in the rankings. "It gave me a little boost of confidence, to say that you might not be on the best team, but you're still working hard and its showing. I didn't take any steps back; I tried to take as many steps forward, take that and run with it. I worked harder and harder, day in and day out at practice, and I used it as a motivational tool."
McCourt said no one worked harder this season than Visentin, and his technical skills are excellent. It was just making the adjustments between the ears.
"He's a very technically sound goaltender," said McCourt. "The biggest hurdle for Vis was getting over the awe factor of being in the Ontario Hockey League. He's one of those guys that studies all his counterparts. I think he has so much respect for everyone else, he might have sold himself short at times. Once he started believing a little bit more in his ability and how good he was … goaltending is more mental than physical. It's just getting over those mental hurdles and believing in himself."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org