Zach Whitecloud is having the best season of his young NHL career. He’s already exceeded his career-high in points, he’s playing a much larger role both at five-on-five and on the penalty kill, and advanced offensive metrics have him up there with some of the best defensemen in the league.
This is, of course, when he’s been able to be on the ice.
Whitecloud has suffered two fairly serious injuries this year. His first came in late October when he blocked a shot with his wrist. That one kept him sidelined for just about a month. He was then having a run of success when he suffered a broken foot which kept him out for another four weeks.
Speaking today with the media, Whitecloud shared a bit about what it’s like to be out of the lineup for a while and then be thrust right back into NHL games. Interestingly, the toughest part for him when returning to play isn’t anything physical.
When you are out for three weeks, a month, you are not used to having those fast pace motions in your life. You don’t have those types of stimulus coming in. We are used to things coming at us fast and reacting and getting hit while making plays. We’re trying to think about making a play while also thinking about three other things. When you don’t have that in your life it takes a little while to get it going again. -Whitecloud
Whitecloud said you can’t mimic this type of test on the brain in practice and for him, it takes a number of live reps to get comfortable with making these quick reads again.
It’s not that you are squeezing your stick too tight or that you are nervous, you just don’t have that stimulus in your life. -Whitecloud
Part of the reason we all love hockey is the speed of the game. There’s simply no other sport like it and in many ways, there aren’t many things in life that require the pace of brain activity that hockey does. So, it’s really no surprise that when a player goes from the methodical process of rehabbing an injury to making reads and taking hits in an NHL game, it takes a while for their minds to catch back up.
Part of that is keeping the game simple. Making it easy on yourself, making it easy on your teammates by making simple plays and not overcomplicating it because you can put yourself in some bad spots. -Whitecloud
With the Golden Knights experiencing so many injuries this season, this is sure to be something to keep an eye on as each one returns from injury. Most of us focus on the physical aspect of the game when players come back, but according to a guy who has been through it multiple times this season, maybe we should be more focused on their minds, and more specifically, decision making.