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Komets' Baptista finds cool way to juggle hockey pressures

By Blake Sebring of The News-Sentinel<br /> <br /> Komets Garrett Bartus, left, and Mason Baptista juggle as part of their pregame routine before a recent home game.
By Blake Sebring of The News-Sentinel

Komets Garrett Bartus, left, and Mason Baptista juggle as part of their pregame routine before a recent home game.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Forward uses pregame routine to relax and refocus

Friday, March 03, 2017 12:00 pm
Every professional athlete says playing takes as much mental work as physical. That's because there's less play and more work at each successive level. Part of the mental game is finding the perspective to be ready to play each night, even during the dog days of the season. While looking for the proper mindset, Komet Mason Baptista found the right way to juggle those pregame responsibilities. See, he actually juggles.

About 15 minutes before the Komets gather for their usual pregame meeting, or about a half hour before warm-ups, Baptista will head out to the bench to think and toss some pucks.

"I actually picked that up this summer," Baptista said. "I kind of wanted to see how long it would take me to learn something new, and it turned into something where it helps me clear my mind. It forces me to think about the next puck and focus on that which translates into focusing on the next play. I don't dwell on the past or the future, just the now. It forces you to focus on the next one even if you mess it up and you keep going."

He started trying it for five minutes a day and it took five days to become somewhat competent. Now he says he can juggle just about any three objects that are hand-sized such as pucks or tennis balls.

"I knew what the rhythm had to be so I started pretty simple," he said. "The first five days I was running around chasing balls the whole time, but around Day 5 I could do 20 in a row and now I can do it for four or five minutes straight."

Baptista is not the only Komet who juggles, not even the only forward. Center Mike Cazzola also tosses pucks during pregames to kill time, and, like every goaltender, Garrett Bartus juggles.

"I taught myself when I was 15 just to get the hand-eye going before games," Bartus said. "It's kind of like brainless now. When I first started doing it, it helped a lot, but now it's just something you do. You are watching the pucks and warming up the eyes a little bit. You warm up the muscles and goalies should warm up the eyes, too. If you don't do it, you go out on the ice and the first few shots take a second to adjust."

Besides helping him prepare for games, Baptista also uses his juggling ability when he's coaching younger players, telling them that if they can concentrate on a fundamental skill each day for five minutes they'll gradually improve or learn new techniques.

Everyone has a different method to clear their head. Some of his teammates listen to music or stretch or get dressed in specific ways before games, but everyone has a routine to help get themselves ready. Some coaches preach positive visualization, while former Komet Brent Henley used to build puck sculptures on the wall in front of the bench.

One of Baptista's favorite movies is "For the Love of the Game" where Kevin Costner plays a veteran Detroit Tigers pitcher who tells himself to "clear the mechanism" before each pitch. Juggling helps serve that purpose for Baptista.

"It's just taking a step back and finding what clears your head," he said. "Some days you are feeling it and other days you are more normal. This really helps on those days when your head is going a million miles a minute sometimes. The biggest thing is staying in rhythm and finding ways back to normal.

"I'm naturally an over-thinker so I need to keep an eye on it for myself. Other people naturally clear a little bit faster. This works for me and it's fairly simple. When I have my head going like that, I don't try to add more to that chaos. It makes you focus on the next toss, and in your head you start to lose all that extra thinking."

It seems to have helped Baptista who is putting up career-high numbers this season.

"Thinking is what causes your head to get all jammed up," Baptista said. "This is just an understanding of what will help me clear my head on its own. I went through a lot of different processes, and I can really tell the difference with this. It has really helped me."

For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.

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