I still remember the first time I was a healthy scratch.
It was October 22, 2015 in Chicago. I had been scratched before that in my career, but this was the first time where it really stung. I was a regular guy, someone who was expected to play all 82 games, coming out of the lineup after a rough game in Pittsburgh the game before.
That's when I called Dr. Derek Anderson.
Derek has been our team's sports psychologist for about four years now. He's worked in the NHL, NBA and MLB, but he didn't really know much about hockey when he started. But the way he tells you how to think and just kind of where to put your thoughts really transcends the sport.
From that game until now, he's been a huge help for me in my career.
When any of us need to talk to Derek, we don't need to make an appointment. It's an open-door policy and he's always around when we need him to help clear our heads. You can sit down in his office, pull him into the lounge, or just grab a bite to eat and talk about life. He's even had a couple of us over for dinner at his place a few times.
I really think he's a huge part of our team that doesn't get a lot of recognition. He's kind of an unsung hero that has definitely helped a lot of guys in this locker room get to where they are. When you're in a rut, he's the guy that helps you get right back up.
When you sit down to talk to him, it usually starts off pretty simple. You know, the usual "Hey, how's your day going? Yada yada yada." From there, the conversation evolves into whatever is on your mind. We're actually pretty good buddies. In fact, a lot of guys are pretty good buddies with him on the team. After speaking to him, you'll feel like a million bucks.
I think it's good to have a guy like that around because it's not something that the coaches should have to deal with. They need to be worried about our next opponent, not sitting down with us to talk about our feelings. That's a good thing though. They're focused on something that's going to help us succeed as a team. Meanwhile, Derek's there to help us succeed as individuals so that we can help the team.
I remember this one time, a few years back, when Dmitry Kulikov was going through a no-point drought for like 10 or 20 games - I don't remember the exact number. At some point, he and Barky were talking in their hotel room and Barky was just like "Hey, call Derek." So, of course, Kuli ended up calling him that night. They talked for a bit and the next game he went out and had a goal and an assist.
As you can see, Derek is a magical guy.
When the healthy scratches started piling up for me earlier in the season, he really helped me keep my head on straight. I never want to get into that position again, so he just told me that the best thing I can do is just to remember how that whole situation made me feel and then use that. I'll tell you right now, it's not a good feeling.
When you're scratched for long periods of time, you're not secluded from the team, but you're also not really helping by being out of the lineup. I really, really hated that feeling. You can go home, try and stay positive, but it drags on you. I even lost a little sleep because of it. There are some guys that don't care, but I take that stuff seriously. It's been really good my get my feet back under me.
Now that I'm back in the lineup, I've been playing a bit looser and with a lot more confidence. Derek told me that after every game, I should come up with one good thing that happened and one bad thing that happened that I can improve on for the next game and write them down. He said that once you get something on paper, it's a lot easier to go out and do it in practice.
It's doing little things like that that will keep you at your best. Even when things are going good, you can still improve on little stuff. And even though I've been back on the ice for a while now, I still usually talk to Derek about once a week either in person or on the phone.
I know that I've been playing better lately, but as a team I think all of us are playing good defense. When the puck gets dumped in our zone, we're really supporting our partners right now. I think that before we were way too spread out. Now, we're a lot closer together and supporting each other. No one is just slapping the puck around and turning pucks over anymore.
I think that before I was just kind of getting the puck and waiting for someone to call for it, wondering what to do with it. Now I'm just going back, moving my feet, getting my feet moving. When I do that, I feel like I get into games much quicker.
We've also had to make some adjustments since Lu went down. There's going to be a little less messing around with it down low. We've got to keep it simple. If you've got nothing, just get it off the glass and out, just simple plays. We don't need anything special or highlight-reel worthy. We can do that on the other end.
Lu's been the backbone of the defense since I first got here. It sucked to see him injured on the ice. It was like "Ah, jeez, here we go." He's a huge guy to have in the room. There's nothing bad you can say about him. He makes huge saves at big moments. Thankfully, we've got Reims back there now and he's also a very solid goalie. As a defense, we're lucky to have two guys like that behind us.
And, of course, we've also got Derek.