Goaltender Brandon Halverson was admittedly not focusing on the right things during the first half of this past season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.
After he posted 40 wins a season prior on a veteran-heavy team that included several several key departures for the pro ranks, Halverson and the Greyhounds found themselves with a much younger team and in a transition.
“At the beginning of the year, I was frustrated,” Halverson told BlueshirtsUnited.com in a telephone interview Monday from his home in Traverse City, Michigan. “I was looking at other people and trying to help other people get better and work on things, and at the same time, I lacked focus on my end. My focus was on other places outside of myself, and I think that hurt me.”
Halverson then called Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, who had some sage advice for the young net minder that changed his season.
“I had a talk with Benny and he told me you just need to focus on yourself,” Halverson said. “Don’t worry about anyone else. Just go out and stop pucks.”
“He gave me what I needed and it totally turned my game around,” Halverson added.
Halverson had success down the stretch and into the playoffs, all while facing a lot of rubber on a nearly nightly basis. In fact, Halverson faced 35 or more shots on 15 different occasions from the start of February through the postseason. In the playoffs alone, Halverson finished with more than 30 saves in seven of 12 playoff games, including three 39-plus performances.
Halverson finished the regular season with 27 wins, down from the 40 the year prior, and helped the Greyhounds advance to the second-round of the OHL playoffs. While the team fell short of last year’s OHL conference final, Halverson said he may have learned more from this year than last.
“I think compared to last year — it was a year we knew a lot about winning,” Halverson said of 2014-15. “I learned what the job was like when you had a strong team in front of you. This past season, I had to figure out the opposite, how it feels to not have as good a team in front of you.”
“It’s made me a lot better,” Halverson continued. “It’s made more more focused on myself and what I need to do better to keep a team in it no matter what. I got to know how it works being on a good hockey team. I just look a little bit from both years and it’s helped me quite a bit.”
Whether Halveson will be returning for an overage year in the OHL or making the jump to professional hockey is still unknown.
He said he hasn’t had any discussions with the Rangers as to what the plan is for him in regards to where he’ll be playing if he turns pro but said that if he does make the jump, he’s going into camp with the goal of taking someone’s job.
“Nothing is set in stone yet,” Halverson said of his next move. “I’m just really excited. I’m just going to work hard this summer and try and take someone’s spot [at training camp].”
The two-year starter said the toughest part about being a No. 1 guy is fighting off those who want to usurp you, and that’s the position he could find himself in come September.
“I love it. I feel like that’s the toughest part of being the starter,” Halverson said. “It’s the best thing for me. Being an underdog. As long as I work hard and stick to what I know, I’ll be all right.”
Halverson said he’s working with a new trainer this summer and will focus on getting “stronger and faster” before and after this summer’s prospect camp. If he does find himself as a professional hockey player come September, he said one of the biggest things he’ll have to prepare for is improving his patience, which is part of the mental aspect of training.
“[The physical training] will happen,” the 20-year-old said. “But the patience part is between my ears.”
“Everything,” he said, “is in the brain.”