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Gregg Sutch's Blog: Mental preparation key to playoff success

Gregg Sutch scored 28 points in 53 games with Mississauga this season. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

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Gregg Sutch scored 28 points in 53 games with Mississauga this season. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The playoffs are the most exciting time of year for both fans and players. The games are much more intense, players grow thick beards (or at least attempt to), hairstyles are a bit odd and wins bring the team much, much closer.

The grind gets more difficult as you go deep into a series and deep into the playoff run. The grind of the post-season consists of fatigue, injuries and bruises, but that's all part of the fun. Fatigue can stem from heavy travel if you face an opponent that isn't close to where you play.

One personal example was playing the Ottawa 67's last year in the second round, which went to a Game 7 thriller. Ottawa from Mississauga is roughly a four-hour drive and when you go back and forth in a span of a couple days, fatigue sets in. Another example is in the series I am in the midst of right now against the Belleville Bulls. We played in Belleville Saturday night and then returned to Mississauga for a game Sunday afternoon - a quick turnaround.

Nowadays with all the nutrition advice, recovery proteins and a better understanding of how to prepare your body, there are many ways to counter fatigue and reduce its effect on players. Another important factor is rest and sleep. Once we get into the playoff run, coaches and trainers start to pay extra attention to the team's energy levels and health to combat any fatigue or illness from sinking in. Practices become shorter and more sleep is suggested.

One of the biggest factors in reducing the effects of fatigue is a natural one: adrenaline. It's playoff time, the players are amped up and that often shuts down any fatigue issues when it comes to game time.

On top of that, with the heightened intensity in games, bruises and nagging injuries are bound to happen, but any player knows we battle through. The constant travel and persevering creates camaraderie amongst the boys on the team and the victories are much sweeter. Winning a playoff series is even more special and gives the whole squad a boost in confidence.

An extremely important factor to being successful in the playoffs is the environment the players create. Everything has to be positive. As our coach Dave Cameron puts it, we are in this for the long haul and we go into each series knowing we have seven games to win it. If a team goes into a series expecting to sweep or win in a certain amount of games, it isn’t mentally in the right state.

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If things go wrong, panic will creep in, which creates more problems. Everything that we do is in a positive manner. Lineup tinkering and system changes are all for positive reasons, to create a better chance at being successful. There are always obstacles on and off the ice and how you overcome them as a team is a testament to the environment instilled by the players and staff.

Sometimes the bounces don't go your way on the ice, questionable refereeing is bound to happen, injuries occur and games can be lost, but that's all part of the process. It's crucial to be mentally positive and prepared for when these frustrating obstacles come up. As soon as the team becomes rattled as a whole and negativity sinks into morale, that's when things can start to get ugly and turn for the worst.

One of the ways to create a positive atmosphere within the dressing room and off the ice is by staying loose. My roommate, Derek Schoenmakers, is the epitome of keeping things loose, which goes a long way in providing positivity in the dressing room. When things get frustrating, you can count on guys like him to keep things upbeat.

Another way the guys stay loose is by going out for team meals and movies every week. We've been doing this throughout the course of the season and we still do during the playoffs. This allows the guys to get their minds off the game for a bit and just have fun with teammates. With a combination of the right mental attitude and staying loose, success will come with hard work. Besides that, it makes the grind of the post-season more fun.

The playoffs are the best time of the year for a reason and the only thing that makes it better is winning. With a great team environment and the right health and attitude in place, success is inevitable. The grind is second nature once you get deep into the playoffs and the fun never dies. That's what the playoffs are all about.

Right winger Gregg Sutch is in his third year in the Ontario League. The 19-year-old native of Newmarket, Ont., was a fifth round pick of the Buffalo Sabres at the 2010 NHL draft. He will blog throughout the season for THN.com. Read Sutch's other blogs HERE.

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