How to Be Clutch in Hockey (when the game is on the line)

Ben LevesqueLeadership, Mental Game2 Comments

being clutch in hockey

If you want to succeed in hockey, whether that’s making it Pro or just being a go-to guy on your beer league team, then you’re going to want to be clutch.

Being clutch is another one of those things—like hockey sense—that people believe you’re either born with or without.

I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. Anyone can be clutch, not just goal scorers or goalies. Grinders can be clutch. Defensive defensemen can be clutch. Heck, even coaches can be clutch.

If you want to learn how to be clutch and make the right play when the game is on the line, no matter how much pressure there is on your shoulders, then you’re going to want to keep reading…

Below, I outline my 3-step process for being a clutch hockey player in ANY situation, regardless of what’s on the scoreboard, who’s in the stands, and what’s up for grabs.

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Step 1: Let go of the outcome and what it means if you fail

If you only remember one thing from this entire article, let it be this—let go of the outcome. If you haven’t read my blog post on outcome versus task thinking, then I suggest you give it a read.

The key is to forget about what happens if you succeed or fail. Whatever it is that you’re nervous about, whatever part of your game you’re trying to be clutch at, you need to forget about what happens afterward.

Way too many players start drawing out these elaborate scenarios in their heads about scoring the “golden goal” like Crosby did, or worse, missing an open net that leads to losing the championship.

And even though positive thinking can be useful at times, you want to make sure you’re focused on the present—the here and the now—so that you get the job done.

That’s what step 1 of the ‘being clutch’ process is all about: letting go of the outcome and focusing strictly on the task at hand because nothing else matters.

The ability to ‘let go’ is what makes these 50 hockey players so clutch, but the best example of ‘letting go’ and focusing on the task at hand actually comes from outside the hockey world…

Professional snowboarder and two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White is the epitome of being clutch when it counts.

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Hockey players train for months and have an entire 80-game season to make up for mistakes and bad plays. Shaun White on the other hand, trains for four years straight and is judged on just a few short minutes of snowboarding.

That’s way more pressure than we’re used to as hockey players!

He has to be clutch in the moment. He can’t be thinking of failure, success, or anything in between. All that matters is the task at hand. The next jump.

And then the next. And the next.

What’s Shaun White’s secret to being clutch? How has he managed to win two Olympic gold medals, 10 EPSY awards and the most X-games medals in history?

In his own words, “It’s simple, really.” Before the gates open, he tells himself two simple words that allow him to perform exactly like he does in practice, with no added pressure or nervousness: “Who cares!

Those are the last two words that flash in his mind before the gates open. That’s what allows him to relax in the moment and be clutch, regardless of what’s on the line.

You can and should add this “who cares!” trick to your arsenal too. I personally wish I had heard his story earlier (if you’re interested, you can hear Shaun’s story on Episode #140 of the Tim Ferris Podcast: Shaun White – The Most Unholy Snowboarder Ever)

Bottom line is this: whether you succeed or fail, everything is going to be okay, so who cares!

If you succeed, you’ll be happy. If you fail, you’ll learn what to do for next time, and your life will go on. You’ll go home to your family and get back to doing the things you always do, plus you’ll have a little motivation to work harder next time.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about goofing around and not taking things seriously. It’s about realizing that, at the end of the day, it is just a game, and the guy that realizes this will deal better with pressure than the guy that is afraid to fail.

The takeaway: The next time you’re faced with a situation where you need to be clutch, instead of mapping out “what if” scenarios in your mind, change your thought process to “who cares.” If you succeed, who cares. If you fail, who cares! Let go of the outcome and focus on the NOW, because it’s really the only thing you can control.

Step 2: Recall successful attempts

So you know that you’ve gotta focus on the NOW rather than what happens if you succeed or fail, but how do you put all the odds in your favor?

That’s where recalling successful attempts comes into play. Even though this is step 2 in the process, this is something that should take place in the moments leading up to the event where you need to be clutch. Think on the bench, when you’re skating towards a face-off, or between whistles.

In a nutshell, what you want to do is remind yourself of a time where you did exactly what you were about to do and succeeded. For instance, if you’re a goal scorer, your coach might put you on the ice with a few seconds left to try and score the winning goal.

Leading up to that moment, whether it’s on the bench, between whistles or skating to the face-off, you want to think back to all the times you were in the same position and succeeded. Think about past games. Think about during practice. Think about a time where you were in a similar situation and made things happen.

(NOTE: Want to stop making mistakes with the puck and start taking control of the game? Grab a copy of The Hockey Sense Handbook and take your Hockey IQ to the next level. Click here to learn more.)

hockey sense handbook

The key is not to dwell on this. Think of Step 2 as a quick reminder that you’ve done this before and you’ve succeeded. You don’t want to be thinking about anything other than the task at hand once you’re actually in the play (think back to Step 1).

In other words, it’s a glorified confidence booster before the puck drops.

You may feel like Step 2 isn’t all that necessary, but believe me when I say that the clutch players you see pulling off the unbelievable plays are all recalling successful attempts one way or another, perhaps without even realizing it. It’s what allows them to perform under pressure without really feeling that pressure. When you can approach a tough situation with the confidence that you’re able to succeed (because you’ve done so in the past), being clutch becomes a whole lot easier.

The takeaway: During the moment leading up to your challenge where you need to be clutch, think back to a time where you were in a similar situation and succeeded. It can be during a game or even a practice—it doesn’t matter. The key is to see yourself getting the job done.

Step 3: Find a way to reset

Last but not least, you need to reset.

You need to calm your mind and body so that when the time comes to ‘be clutch’, you’re ready. You can’t be overstressed or overanxious. You need to be just right.

Calm. Cool. Level-headed.

Focusing on the task at hand (Step 1) and recalling successful attempts (Step 2) will help you get there, but it’s not enough.

You need to get your head, hands and feet ready, and there’s no better way to do that than with something I like to call a comfort routine.

Let me explain…

Back in Major Junior, one of my tasks (and one I truly excelled at) was shutting down the opposing team’s top players (guys like Brad Marchand, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and more). More precisely, that meant I was out on the ice in the dying seconds of games and whenever we had a penalty to kill.

ben levesque and taylor hall

Me trying to strip the puck from Taylor Hall at the 2009 Memorial Cup Tournament

That meant I had to be ready to ‘be clutch’ at any moment, regardless of how I was playing that day or how I felt (if you’ve never played an 80+ game season, trust me when I say that it’s impossible to play well every single night).

The trick that allowed me to ‘turn it on’ almost like a switch and be clutch when I needed to be was my comfort routine. Before lining up for a face-off, I would just:

  • Take a deep breath and exhale slowly
  • Roll my stick loosely in my hands
  • Bounce on my skates a little bit

That’s it. That was my comfort routine. That’s how I let my mind and body know that it was go-time—that it was time to ‘be clutch’.

That’s how I knew that both the good and bad plays I made earlier no longer mattered—it was all about the next play, the here, the now.

My comfort routine was my reset switch, and it allowed me to prepare my mind & body to be clutch in even the toughest of situations.

The takeaway: Come up with a comfort routine that you can use before a shift to help calm your mind and body and help you get into ‘clutch mode.’


There you have it…my simple 3-step process for being clutch in hockey when it counts!

To recap:

  1. Let go of the outcome and what it means if you fail.
  2. Recall successful attempts from your past in order to boost your confidence.
  3. Find a way to reset with your own unique comfort routine.

Being clutch in hockey is all about being confident and calm, and this process helps you achieve exactly that.

I can’t guarantee you it’ll work 100% of the time, but if you use this process each time you’re called upon to be clutch, you’ll come out on top way more than you fail.

How do you stay clutch? Leave a comment below because I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(NOTE: Want to stop making mistakes with the puck and start taking control of the game? Grab a copy of The Hockey Sense Handbook and take your Hockey IQ to the next level. Click here to learn more.)

hockey sense handbook

2 Comments on “How to Be Clutch in Hockey (when the game is on the line)”

  1. Dylan Anhorn

    This article is unbelievable, I’ve been struggling with this exact thing for years and really wanted to make sure my mental side of the game is on of my biggest assests as the stage (including the pressure that comes with it) only gets bigger when you move up the chain. I’m really impressed on how you managed to give such a great strategy in a single article, truly thankful!

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