Mental Strength on the Sports Field of Battle

TC Cummings
Guest Contributor

Being a “fan” of individual performers isn’t in my nature.

I am more a fan of displays of effort, especially when overcoming adversity.  We can often see this in sports.

As stressful as tennis or golf may be, the ice hockey goaltender carries an enormous, unrecognized and under-appreciated burden on his shoulders. The “net-minder” can either lose or not lose the game. Sometimes they go the extra mile and we get to see their hard work pay off!

As a mental strength coach, I’ve worked with goaltender Casey DeSmith since he was in college. The focus was his mental strength. As a coach, I was watching this one specific game intently, and it turned out to be one of the most amazing games ever!

It was mid-January, 2020 and the Pittsburgh Penguins were hosting the Washington Capitals. The Capitals scored with seconds to go in the first period making the score a painful 3-1 in its favor.

It’s not uncommon to see a change in goaltenders when three goals are given up in the first 20 minutes of play.

However, the coach made his decision and DeSmith returned to the ice with his team in the second.

In my opinion, the returning team looked very lazy. Very different from the previous period of play, as seen from missed plays, poor stick handling and less-than-optimal decisions.

However, DeSmith protected his net, undaunted as a trustworthy professional.

His mental strength was tested and put on display in a situation I’ve never seen in the NHL. One of those “less than-optimal decisions” led to a 3-man breakaway for the Caps … from the center line!

See 3:50 timestamp for breakaway.

DeSmith demonstrated his unwavering resolve. At a time when every other goalie would hunker back to protect his net, DeSmith did the unthinkable: he stepped far out from his crease to meet the attackers! 

Wearing body language that loudly read “you boys wanna dance,” DeSmith shut down their assault! His boldness appeared to breathe life back into his team.

But DeSmith wasn’t done!

Late in the second period, while killing a 3-on-5 penalty, DeSmith caught the puck, placed it at his feet, re-gripped his stick with his glove hand, and lofted the disc up over the heads of numerous players. The puck landed perfectly on the blade of his teammate’s stick who then broke the spirit of the visiting team with a dramatic shorthanded goal!

Re-inspired, the team caught up while DeSmith kept them in the game. In sudden death overtime, Captain Sydney Crosby buried the puck in the goal for a Pittsburgh win!

I’m honestly covered in chills as I retell this story. I can only hope that I did it justice.

Later in the season, DeSmith lead the NHL Goalies as #1 statistically, and was honored by his city with the nomination for an award recognizing him as emulating the sport spirit. In The City of Champions, that’s saying a lot! 

Hooyah for overcoming adversity!

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