At the end of a disappointing 2006-07 season, Edmonton Oilers center Shawn Horcoff
looked himself in the mirror and pledged to make some career-altering decisions that would help bolster his intensity and spirit.
So over the summer, Horcoff hired a new strength and conditioning coach, traveled to the Easton factory in Mexico to redesign his stick, and even checked in with a sports psychologist in California twice a week. The transformation in Horcoff’s game came full circle on Jan. 10, when the product of Michigan State University was named to represent the Western Conference in the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 27 in Atlanta.
Horcoff, who leads Edmonton in goals (19) and points (44) this season, will be one of seven first-time All-Stars playing for the Western Conference.
”I’ve worked really hard to reach this point in my career,’’ Horcoff said. “But being named an All-Star was never a goal of mine. My goals were aimed at becoming a first-line center and elite forward in this League. I feel once you can accomplish your personal goals, then the other awards usually follow. It’s very gratifying to know that I worked my way up from being a fourth-line left wing to a first-line center.
”Nothing has come easy for me and I had to work for everything, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.’’
After posting career highs in goals (22), assists (51) and points (73) during the 2005-06 season, Horcoff, a fourth-round pick (99th overall) by Edmonton in 1998, chipped in with seven goals and 12 assists during the Oilers’ remarkable playoff run, which carried them all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Horcoff was re-signed as a restricted free agent to a three-year contract in July 2006. But the native of Trail, British Columbia, didn’t live up to the extension – by his standards – scoring just 51 points (16 goals) in 80 games, and the Oilers failed to make the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
”After playing for the Stanley Cup the previous season, I was disappointed with the way things went last year,’’ Horcoff said. “I didn’t get the proper training in and felt I wasn’t prepared for the start of the season.’’
The bitter taste of 2006-07 forced Horcoff to revamp his summer preparation.
”I really put the time in to make sure I was ready,’’ Horcoff said. “I took on a new strength and conditioning coach in California and trained for almost four months with him. I changed my sticks and went to a sports psychologist a few times a week. The psychologist helped me focus and visualize things to enhance my game. As a result, I feel I have more of a shooter’s mentality, whereas I used to think pass first. I have the confidence to get into position and find the open ice and it has resulted in more goals.’’
Horcoff, to some extent, also was determined to prove to the organization that its attempt to sign then free-agent Michael Nylander over the summer was never even necessary.
”I think when the Nylander thing went down, it was obvious they were looking for a top center at the time and that maybe I wasn’t the guy for them,’’ Horcoff said. “But I couldn’t involve myself with that. I realize this is a business and, personally, it really didn’t affect me that much. I came into training camp ready and knowing I would have to earn that No. 1 spot. I was perfectly fine with that.’’
In addition to leading the team in scoring, Horcoff is 10th in the League in faceoffs won (438; 50.6 percent), is first among Edmonton forwards in shifts (26.0) and ice time per game (22:10), and is tied for the team lead in power-play goals (six) with Dustin Penner. Horcoff, who appeared in the 2003 YoungStars Game at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., admits having his sticks custom designed during the summer at the Easton factory in Tijuana, Mexico, also has helped elevate his game.
|Horcoff is hoping his success this season will carry over to his first All-Star Game appearance. |
”Playing hockey is my job, and if the stick doesn’t feel comfortable in my hands, that could only lead to frustration,’’ Horcoff said. “I talked to a guy at Easton and he told me that if I went down to the factory, he would help me design a stick that would be just right. I went down over the summer and spent the better part of a half-day explaining what I wanted and what felt best.’’
At Easton, Horcoff met with Mike McGrath, Easton’s pro hockey manager, whose company churns out almost 7,000 hockey sticks a week.
”I asked for a different curvature and finish and I sat down with Mike until we nailed down something that was the right fit,’’ Horcoff said. “I had to wait four or five weeks for them to come in, but by that time, I was already skating a little bit in August. So when they arrived, the sticks were to the exact specifications I requested. Everything felt right and the stick is so comfortable in my hands. The only way to put a price on something like that is knowing I can go out on the ice every game and have confidence that the puck is going to feel good on my stick each time. It’s invaluable to me.’’
Horcoff is hoping his success this season will carry over to his first All-Star Game appearance.
”I have a little bit of an idea of what to expect since I played in the YoungStars Game earlier in my career,’’ Horcoff said. “But more than anything, I’m just going there to have a good time. I will have a lot of family coming to the game, including my wife and kids, so I’m looking forward to a fun weekend.’’
Contact Mike G. Morreale at email@example.com