Mathieu De St. Phalle finds a quiet 15 minutes, closes his eyes and visualizes the outcome he’s looking for.
In his mind, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey sophomore forward sees himself getting into great scoring positions on the ice, regardless of the obstructions around him.
He sees the puck getting off his stick, flying past the goaltender and hitting the net.
Translating the mental pictures to ones everyone else can see, too, has been a challenge that few imagined when De St. Phalle came to the Badgers.
He led the United States Hockey League in points two seasons ago, 30 of them on goals, but he has scored only three times in his first 45 games with UW. As a freshman, a lack of opportunity had something to do with it: He was in a complementary role in a potent offense with various weapons.
This season, he has been given first- and second-line minutes but hasn’t been able to crank up the production — an outcome that has played out with many of his teammates as well.
The Badgers (4-10) have scored two goals or fewer in 11 of 14 games and carry a five-game losing streak into a non-conference series against Clarkson (7-4-2) on Friday and Saturday at the Kohl Center.
De St. Phalle goes back to the good experiences in his mind and keeps faith that they’ll materialize.
“I just think staying positive is the biggest thing in this game, especially in college hockey,” De St. Phalle said. “You just can’t dwell on the mistakes. You’ve just got to look forward to the opportunity.”
Don’t get the impression that De St. Phalle is only picturing things and expecting them to happen. He’s on the ice before and after practice trying to get better, Badgers coach Tony Granato said. He’s watching video to help him regain confidence.
“It’s hard to be patient in college hockey because the season goes fast,” Granato said. “But he works. He cares. He cares more than I can tell you. I mean, he brings it home with him. He does everything he can to try to get on track.”
De St. Phalle has scored once this season — in the first game — on 24 shots on goal and 47 attempts. With more time on the ice, his shooting frequency has gone up compared to his freshman year (two goals on 35 shots and 59 attempts in 31 games) without a boost in goal production.
Working his way into good scoring positions is one of the challenges for De St. Phalle, who walked off the ice after Monday’s practice talking with associate head coach Mark Strobel about things he can improve.
He then said in an interview that repetition in practice is what makes converting on quality chances in a game become second nature.
“Everyone’s looking at themselves, saying they’ve got to be better,” De St. Phalle said. “I’m thinking I’ve got to be better. But a lot of the time this can be seen as an overthinking thing. Sometimes I think I’ve got to take a step back and take a deep breath and realize I’m doing a lot of good things. A lot of guys in the team are doing a lot of good things and it’s just that last little execution.”
That’s where meditation comes into De St. Phalle’s life. He also considers himself a perfectionist, always looking for the right finish that is rare in reality.
Mental wellness is a priority in player development and in navigating a season that can be grueling, Granato said. That’s even before things like a five-game losing streak and a 4-10 start come into the picture.
“When things are going well, if things are all good, you just keep going and you hope you keep your momentum going,” Granato said. “When things go bad, you have to look at it as an opportunity to realize, ‘OK, how are we going to address this? How are our players going to grow through this so if we have to deal with it again, they’re better prepared for it?’”
The opening seven weeks of the season have produced a variety of headaches for the Badgers, and a team-wide scoring shortfall is at or near the top of the list. UW has scored on only 5.3% of shots on goal, worst among 59 Division I men’s teams.
Frustration setting in can make matters worse. De St. Phalle is trying to not let that take hold of him.
“I think it’s a big mindset thing,” he said. “And just be happy with getting chances in general because if I wasn’t getting chances, that’d be something else to worry about.”