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Where is My Mind and How do I Get it Back?

With your feet in the air and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it, yeah
Your head will collapse
But there's nothing in it
And you'll ask yourself
Where is my mind

"Where is My Mind" - The Pixies


With the current status of the team, this seems like an interesting time to take a look at the Oilers' mental status. Edmonton fans aren't exactly happy and have plentiful and varied suggestions to solve whatever it is that ails the team.  But what do you think is going on with the minds of the players?  Professional athletes play to win.  The Oilers are not winning right now.  Perhaps management saw this coming, and knew that it was going to get far worse, and that's why they brought in the sports psychologist.

Interviews with the players lately have been cliche.  I've been looking high and low for an interview in which a player says this "this is ridiculous," or what they're really thinking. Instead we get quotes such as "We all want to win... It's tough and it's been a stressful time for all of us. It's been a really hard 10 days, but I think at the same time, they're hoping to just relax us a bit and just let us go out there tomorrow and just get back to playing hockey and not thinking so much."  This comes from Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff on Wednesday, November 17th following the Oilers shutout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.  It was a brutal roadtrip for the Oilers and Oiler fans alike.  Most of us likely wouldn't wish results like that on the Flames.  Ok, well you may not have, but I would have.  I do like that Horcoff is suggesting the team is too wound up, too stressed out over wins to just go out there and play hockey like they were born to, but is it really that simple?  Do they just need to relax?  Maybe the team should volunteer at an animal shelter.  What better way to relax than looking at a puppy?  No?  Ok, well maybe the game of shinny was a better idea than a hard practise or a bag skate following the Blackhawks game.  The team did come out and earn a 3-0 lead on the Coyotes the following night.  How strange is it that so many of us were more upset over the 4-3 loss to the Coyotes than we were about the 5-0 loss to the Blackhawks.

Two days earlier on Monday November 15th, Dustin Penner told the media "You're all professionals. You've got to put those games or those bad days at work out of your mind no matter how many you've had in the past week."  Maybe the players and the fans need to take things one game at a time and think take things one day at a time. Maybe these cliches are that common because it is all they can do, all they can say at times like these. Personally, I would rather not see Dustin not give a standard expected calm interview, I want to see him get mad about these blow-out losses.  I want to see him say that he knows he can do better, that the team needs to do better.  So on the same day, I enjoyed hearing Ryan Whitney say "Guys are sick and tired of losing like that... We're not even one third of the way done [the seasons] and its up to us to rebound."  If nothing else it is confirmation that some of the players are thinking what I'm thinking.

Wouldn't you know it though, if you have a look at some sports psychology books or websites, it seems that most players are only saying what they are supposed to be thinking.  One of the main goals of sports psychology is to relax the athletes and calm their emotions so that their natural skills can take over; allow them to deal with the ups and downs of wins and losses and the unexpected that occurs with every game.  At this point though, as a fan I bet you can't help but wonder if the Oilers are really believe in what they say.

I know that several people are still not happy with the Oilers' decision to bring back big guy Steve MacIntyre for another season.  I know many people feel he is a misuse of a roster spot, and didn't agree with me when I said  MacIntyre is here to add to the mental aspect of the team.  MacIntyre is here to relax the players into thinking that they have a big guy who can go out and fight battles.  MacIntyre, in my opinion, is also here to take away from the psychological game of the opposing team.  It is easy to go into another team's barn and talk trash, or go on about the physical play the other team can expect to see, but to do so when the opposing team has a heavyweight that will look to follow up on anything you say or do... that's a bit of a different story.  If you played for, say the Vancouver Canucks, would you not be a little put off by the idea that if you do something Big Mac doesn't like, he will go out of his way to get to you, or one of your teammates?  I'm not trying to change anyone's mind or opinion of having MacIntyre in the line-up, just saying that it has an impact on the psychological aspect of the game.

Remember, the Oilers hired sports psychologist Dr. Kimberley Amirault earlier this month with hopes that she would be able to help prepare this young NHL team for each game, and to help them deal with the mental aspect and development of their game.  Will Dr. Amirault aid the Oilers in any way?  It's hard to say.  Going into this season we knew that things would be much like last year, so it's not as though we were anticipating more wins from a move like this.  All we can hope is that the wins are enough to carry the team through the crushing defeats, that once the missing pieces are brought in and the rookies have been seasoned everyone will have found a focused mental state.  How many fans do you know that have walked away from, or given up on this team?  Don't do it yourself, imagine what it must be like for Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, or anyone else on the team.  They aren't just watching what's happening, they are out there actively participating.  Seemingly they are, for the most part, able to get out there and play each game as if the results from their last game don't matter as crushing as they may have been for you or I.  What I am suggesting is that maybe we as fans need to take a page out of a sports psychology book or two, maybe we just need to relax and go into each game with a clean slate.  It can't hurt.