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Wild Prospects Learn About Mental Side At Development Camp

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild

After conducting off-ice testing yesterday, Minnesota Wild Development Camp was in full stride today. The camp blends on-ice practices with off-ice classes and training sessions, helping the organization’s top prospects learn what it takes to become an everyday NHLer.

“It’s about seeing where they’re at, but exposing them to the Wild’s culture,” Iowa Wild Head Coach Kurt Kleinenorst said.

Between today’s two on-ice sessions, the first led by power-skating coach Barry Karn and the afternoon practice run by Kleinendorst and his staff, the prospects were in a classroom session with Hans Skulstad from the Center for Sports and the Mind. The Twin Cities-based organization's goal is to enhance an athlete's performance, regardless of circumstance.

“Not only do we help manage their own performance and help self-coach themselves, we also help them address the physiology of performance,” Skulstad said. “Because the mental side of the game feels unfamiliar, athletes don’t know how to train it, my job is to make it familiar and give them a language and a set of concepts to manage their own performance.”

The mental side of sports is often what separates elite athletes from the very good ones. The integration of the mind, along with the body, is one of the many steps in the developmental process for the club's youngsters.

That’s where Skulstad comes in. The Center started in 2009 and Skulstad has worked with athletes for 12 years, including the Benilde-St. Margaret's High School boys' hockey team. He used yesterday’s lopsided World Cup game between Germany and Brazil, where the Brazilians fell apart in the first half of an eventual 7-1 loss, as an example of how quickly the mental game can come unraveled.

“What often happens, there’s a physiological process where everything you’ve coached them goes out the window,” Skulstad said. “We help athletes retrain their brain so they don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.”

Today, Skulstad gave a presentation on managing their personal physiology and how to keep their individual performance at a high level.

Kurtis Gabriel, the Wild’s third-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, believes that learning to improve an athlete’s mental approach is like lifting weights to increase muscle mass. After the presentation, he stuck around and chatted with Skulstad about the presentation.

“We train our bodies so much, but everyone always says 90 percent of the game is mental,” Gabriel said. “Today was a lot about what kind of player you are…and how to get into that optimal performance zone.”

At the end of the class, the players wrote down any questions that they might’ve had. Skulstad will visit the camp on Sunday for another training session and help answer any questions from their young inquisitive minds.

Wild Agents

Thomas Vanek made news waves in Minnesota when the Wild signed him as a free agent on July 1, but there are a handful of recent free agent signees who are looking to make a splash in the State of Hockey at Development Camp this week.

Five players under contract for the 2014-15 season are at camp, including Christian Folin. After finishing the season at UMass-Lowell, the defenseman signed with the Wild on March 31 and appeared in one game, adding an assist and a plus-3 rating. He’ll be a player to watch, along with recent free agent signees: forward Michael Keranen, who spent last season with Ilves Tampere of the Finish Elite League; defenseman Guillaume Gelinas, who played in the QMJHL for Val d’Or; Zack Mitchell, who played for Guelph in the OHL; and Brady Brassart, from Calgary of the WHL.

WildTV spoke to Folin, Brassart and Mitchell about signing with Minnesota and participating in Development Camp, here.

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