One would think that a 23-year-old professional hockey player making about $700,000 a season wouldn’t have a care in the world.
Think again. Professional athletes share many of the same problems and pressure that a 9-to-5 office worker has, perhaps even more. A store clerk’s mistake won’t be replayed on the stadium scoreboard or on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” that evening. That clerk probably doesn’t have his salary published or a plethora of talented people looking over his shoulder, trying to steal his job.
Panthers defenseman Dylan Olsen learned that the hard way last season when the fear of committing turnovers and letting his teammates down created so much anxiety that it soon became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It got so bad that after two misplays led directly to goals in a 5-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 27, Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon placed Olsen on waivers before demoting him to the minors.
After a few months of soul-searching back home in Calgary, where he tended to personal issues before reporting to San Antonio (AHL) in late March, Olsen is back with the Panthers in much better shape — both physically and mentally — as he competes for an opening-night job among a crowded blue line.
Harvey Fialkov Martin Havlat was a 20-year-old second-year NHLer when he played alongside his boyhood idol Jaromir Jagr on the Czech Republic team in the 2002 Olympics. Martin Havlat was a 20-year-old second-year NHLer when he played alongside his boyhood idol Jaromir Jagr on the Czech Republic team in the 2002 Olympics. ( Harvey Fialkov ) –>
Mitchell would prefer to keep his private mentoring of young players behind “closed doors” but he admitted going through similar struggles when he joined the New Jersey Devils right out of Clarkson University in 1999.
“Sometimes when we’re younger we’re guilty of overthinking,” Mitchell said after practice Monday. “I was an All-American and trying to do more than I could because I’m trying to impress everyone.
“So you chat about being a pro and of not thinking so much. I’m not saying don’t care because we all care, that’s what drives you. There is a point I truly believe of caring too much where you start overthinking things instead of letting the game come to you.
“He’s a really good hockey player and is in much better shape this year,” Mitchell added of Olsen. “You could see he’s got a belief in himself and that he’s in the right space where he owes it not to anyone else but he owes it to himself.”
Tallon, who drafted Olsen in the first round (28th overall) in 2009 when he was running the Chicago Blackhawks, said the Salt Lake City native’s perfectionist nature affected his play.
“He’s got a chance to be a really good player, but it’s up to him. He’s got to fight for a job,” Tallon said. “Physically, mentally, just be all-around.”
The Panthers’ defensive corps is deep with Mitchell, Dmitry Kulikov, Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson, Brian Campbell and Alex Petrovic seemingly locked into roster spots. That leaves Olsen battling versatile Steven Kampfer and highly touted prospect Mike Matheson for the final spot.
“The competition for these open spots, it’s insane,” said Olsen, who had eight points in 44 games with a minus-7 rating last year. “All that’s in the past, and I’m not worried about it anymore. I’m focused on coming in here and knowing what I need to do to solidify a spot on this team. I feel more confident on the ice; I feel stronger and quicker, so I’m going to do whatever it takes to stay here this year.”
Luongo to play Tuesday
Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said that No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo will play the first two periods of Tuesday’s preseason home opener against the Dallas Stars (7:30 p.m. at the BBT Center), with Mike McKenna entering in the third.
Panthers cut 8
The Panthers got their roster down to 43 by sending four players to Portland (AHL), including forwards Chase Balisy and Wade Megan; goalie Colin Stevens and defenseman Yann Sauve.
They also sent goalie Samuel Montembeault back to juniors. They released forwards Rob Flick and John McFarland, a former second-round pick, as well as defenseman Sena Acolatse.
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