Ontario hones mental aspects

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:08 AM ET

Most people believed that Ontario would not use its full two-hour allotment of practice ice yesterday.

Many of the players had just finished a gruelling beginning to a junior hockey schedule.

Expectations where the players would go on at 1 p.m. and be off around 2:30 as they prepare for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge being held in London at the end of this month.

Surprise!

Not only did the coaches keep the players on the ice for the full practice session, they would have liked a little more.

After all, they are only going to have three more practice sessions, all of them after Christmas, to get ready for the tournament. They'll be playing some teams, like the Americans, who play together all year round.

Coach Jason Brooks didn't skate his team hard but in a short time, he had his team work on the technical aspect of the game involving power plays, breakouts, forechecking and the trap.

Brooks said the purpose of the day was two-fold.

"We're trying to get as much of the systematic thing in their minds before Christmas," he said. "Obviously, when they get to the tournament there are so many other things on their mind, there's so much stuff they are thinking about that you don't want them focusing solely on systems.

"They just came off the first half of the year. Their bodies are sore and tired. There's no sense in going out there and giving them a skate. We can accomplish a lot mentally and that's what I thought we did.

"And then there's the team building. It gives them a chance to get together and bond a little bit."

Brooks has a talented group of individuals. His goal is to make them into a team. It's a tough challenge considering they only have three more practice sessions, before they open the tournament on Dec. 29.

"They'll be as good as they want to be," Brooks said. "There's an awful lot of talent on this team. We're going to be only as good as we play defensively.

"If we want to get into a run-and-gun game and play 8-6, we have the firepower for that. But we can play tight defensively as a team, we'll score the goals. I'm not worried about that."

Brooks will do what every select team coach has been doing the last few years. He'll have to convince players who are used to being the centrepiece of their teams to settle for a little less of the spotlight.

"The talent pool is great. When you look at this group of players in there, you don't have the role players. We have more of the four-line kind of team. The challenge for the players . . . you have to sacrifice. If you're not a power-play guy your going to be a penalty killer, you better figure that out. That's what your role is going to be."


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