After playing juniors in the OHL my pro career startet out better than I could have ever hoped for. Expecting to play my first year pro in the ECHL, I caught a break and got a chance with the Syracuse Crunch in the American Hockey League to start the season. Playing off the confidence from my time in the OHL, things went well right from the start. Before I knew it, I had played there the whole year but 5 games, racking up 26 games and a .914 svs% along the way. In the off season I signed with Peoria, the AHL affiliate of the St Louis Blues and I was excited to continue my development at the level right below the NHL, maybe even get a chance at the big club if things kept going as well as the year before.
But things did not go as expected. Peoria wanted to use Ben Bishop more and sent me a level down to Alaska in the ECHL to play instead. After a hot start we got into a funk as a team and I lost the consistency I had delivered the year before. Around New Years, Peoria assigned me to Bloomington of the IHL(now part of the ECHL) instead to see if that would spark my game. But the bouncing around did not improve my consistency as I had hoped. The top level was still there, but with 5 teams in two years I was never long enough in the same place to mentally build up the strength I needed to be succesful as a pro in the long run. The next year things went from bad to worse. By beginning of November I had still not found an opportunity worth pursuing in North America and ended up flying back to Europe. After try-outs in Norway and Denmark my season finally started in December. However before the rust from not playing games was gone the season was over as the European seasons start playoffs already beginning of march. On top of it all, I didn’t even make Team Denmark at the World Championships where I had been the number 2 guy, not even as the number 3 now.
At this time it was clear that if I didn’t want my pro career to be over, I needed to find stability and consistency in my game again. It had been two years of spiralling downward and I needed something to hold onto. I picked up the phone and called Mike Lawrence, who had helped me reignite my career in juniors. After a long talk with him, I signed a two-year contract in the Danish league and flew Mike in to work with me in the first week of the season. In that week we went back to basics to build my game from the ground up. We also talked about a new mental approach to the game in general. A pitfall that many goalies fall in, I had become to obsessed with stats and results. Everything had become about ”putting up numbers” to prove to myself and everyone around me that I was back on track. Rule number one was to not even look at my stats. Till the season was over at least. Rule number two was to play the whole season with a ”One shot at a time”-attitude. When you have the abilities as a goalie, worrying about a goal you have already let in or worying about how your stats will look if you let in one more does not help you stop the next shot. That was rule number 3: Trusting my abilities, and acknowledging that I would never stop every shot. One thing is to get confidence in your game, but the key is to be able to keep it when facing adversity. I knew from my year in the AHL that I had the abilities, so by trusting my gameplan and sticking to it, I started to become more and more consistent shot by shot. When I made mistakes or had bad games I didnt allow them to make me doubt myself, and I moved on so fast they didnt get to impact my game as they did before. Also playing in the same place for more than 4 months gave me a chance to settle down and allowed me the time to go to work both mentally and technically.
I ended up playing 4 years for that same team eventually being considered one of the top goalies in the whole league, still working one shot at a time, still not looking at the goalie stats pages. After the 2nd season I was back on the national team at the WCs, and at the end of the 4th I started for team Denmark in 5 of the 7 games at the WCs in Czech Republic putting up the second best svs% at the tournament beating guys like Pekka Rinne and Sergei Bobrovsky.
That tournament was the highlight of my career, but also ended up being the beginning of a new chapter as I got scouted by a team in the Austrian EBEL-league that is very comparable to the AHL. But this time they wanted me as the starting goaltender. Had it been 4-5 years ago, I would have had all kinds of thoughts about wether I was good enough and looking at the stats pages after every game to look for prove that I was. Luckily, with everything I have been trough, I know that the only way I transition to a new level with success is by trusting my abilities and playing one situation at a time. I dont need stats to tell me if Im good enough, I need to trust my gameplan and sticking to it, one shot at a time. Only then will I reach my true potential and then the stats will come all by themselves.
Written by Sebastian Dahm