Scott Mayfield is a pretty bright hockey player, but he's also smart enough to understand there are things he doesn't know. Like why, when he messed up a drill with the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League, his coach would yell at him.
Spending the spring working with a peewee team near his home in Webster Groves, Mo., has given Mayfield a whole new perspective on the player/coach dynamic.
"It's frustrating when kids mess up a drill you just put together and drew it up on the board," Mayfield told NHL.com. "We still do that in the USHL. We mess up drills all the time. Just kind of happens. Gives me a different light on hockey.
"It's hard when you sit there and draw up a drill for 20 minutes and then it takes another 30 for them to get it, but that's just how it is. … I think it only gets harder when you're dealing with 18- or 20-year-olds messing up drills."
Hockey coaches everywhere are nodding in agreement.
However, those same coaches have had few problems with Mayfield over the years. The 6-foot-4, 197-pound defenseman had 7 goals, 9 assists and 154 penalty minutes in 52 USHL games this past season. NHL Central Scouting ranks him 24th among North American skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft.
Mayfield's season started off with a bang, as he helped the U.S. win gold at the 2010 World Junior 'A' Challenge and was named tournament MVP. He had just 1 assist in four games, but his strong defensive effort earned him recognition.
"I played a different style of hockey there than I had to play in Youngstown," said Mayfield. "I had to be a little more offensive in Youngstown, that's what the team needed. But at the Junior 'A' Challenge I was all shut-down defense. I had one point they told me in the tournament, but at the same time, I had four, five, six blocked shots a game. Confidence-wise that was huge for me."
Mayfield was less than thrilled how the rest of his season went, however. His offense dipped from the 10 goals and 22 points he had in 2009-10 with Youngstown, and the Phantoms missed the playoffs.
"I had some numbers in mind I didn't reach," he said. "I made it to the (NHL Scouting) Combine, which was a goal of mine. I wanted to be ranked by Central Scouting at the end of the year. That was a goal of mine. I hit some of my goals. I was fortunate to win a gold medal with USA at Junior 'A' Challenge. That was a great experience. Individual success there was also great. There were plusses to the season. But we missed playoffs by two points. I try to take the positives out of everything, and that showed every game matters. If we had won one more game we'd have been in playoffs and we would have stayed an extra two weeks, three weeks, four weeks even. That was rough, missing the playoffs. My offense wasn't as good as the previous year. But at the same time, I got bigger, I got stronger and just moving away (from home) helped me grow up."
He's going to be moving a bit farther from home in the fall, when he starts at the University of Denver. There are some family ties to the area, however. His father graduated from the University of Denver School of Law and his older brother, Patrick, plays club hockey less than an hour away at the Air Force Academy.
"I feel like it's the right fit for me," he said of the Denver program. "The coaches are great; the coaching style plays exactly how I play. I'm a little more offensive, I like to jump into the play and that's what they emphasize in their (defensemen)."
While Mayfield enjoys creating offense from the back end, he said he knows he can't forget about his other responsibilities.
"I have to find that median," he said. "I can't be in the offensive zone the whole game. With my size, my skating ability, I need to be back on defense, too. There's a median, but at the same time I'm never going to be just a stay-at-home defenseman. I love skating the puck up the ice. I feel like once I find that balance between both is when I'll play my best hockey."
Helping him find that balance will be the coaching staff at Denver. And based on his experiences the last offseasons, he'll have a new appreciation for how tough a job his coaches have.
"It's more about giving him a better perspective on the relationship with coaches," Dave Gareth, the Webster Groves Ice Arena facility manager who coaches the peewee team and has worked with Mayfield as a player and guest coach for more than eight years, told NHL.com. "Now he's looking at it from their perspective, rather than just a player's perspective."
Gareth also sees Mayfield's work with younger players -- something Mayfield also said he did in the Youngstown area -- as Mayfield's way of giving back.
"He loves the game," said Gareth. "He knows he's a fortunate kid and he was jumping at the chance to be on the ice, but also start putting something back into the game. That would be a life-long goal for him, to always trying to pay back."
Mayfield also said whenever his playing career ends, he could see himself behind a bench rather than sitting on one.
"I love hockey so much. I feel that if the NHL, if professional hockey doesn't work out, I want to stay around," he said. "Whether it's media, coverage, anything -- coaching, anything with hockey."
Before then, though, he'll continue working toward his goal of playing in the NHL, with a bit of a better understanding of what goes into getting a player there.
"I understand a little more," Mayfield said of coaching. "I understood it in Youngstown, when the coaches get mad at different things I didn't understand. I get it a little more."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK