Physically fit Higgins, Komisarek also armed with mental tools

0mentalcoach.jpgCanadiens’ Christopher Higgins with Institute 3E mental conditioning coach Gary Parks, photographed at Higgins’s summer-ending barbecue at his home on Long Island, N.Y. Parks also worked with Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek.
Photo courtesy Gary Parks

Understanding the benefits of the smallest edge in today’s NHL, young Canadiens stars Christopher Higgins and Mike Komisarek spent part of their summer working with a mental conditioning coach. The two close friends, keys to the Canadiens’ success this season, believe that the lessons they learned will help sharpen their focus during the marathon campaign.


Canadiens captain Saku Koivu (centre) jokes with Mike Komisarek at the team golf tournament earlier this month. In the background, at left, is Christopher Higgins. The Canadiens are counting on both Komisarek and Higgins to provide leadership this season.
Phil Carpenter, Gazette

Work with mental conditioning coach geared to helping over the long haul of marathon season

The Gazette

Leadership on a hockey club is a fluid thing, changing through seasons, months, games, even shifts. A player needn’t wear the captain’s C or the alternate’s A to assume a leader’s role; by word, example or deed, he can be the locomotive pulling a 20-player train.

With Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, and others, Christopher Higgins and Mike Komisarek expect – and are expected – to play conspicuous roles in the team’s leadership this season.

It’s no secret that the close friends from New York have an uncommon off-season devotion to their trade. Higgins and Komisarek don’t work merely to maintain their conditioning, they sweat to lift themselves to new levels.

Much of that work is done with their personal trainer and mentor, Jon DiFlorio, at Institute 3E on Long Island. But a good deal of it is also done between their own ears, their exhausting physical efforts complemented by attention paid to the mental side of hockey.

A blinkered focus will be required to achieve the players’ ambitious personal and team goals, and to that end they work with Gary Parks, the Institute’s mental conditioning coach whose pupils include other NHL, junior and minor-pro athletes and major-league ballplayers.

If DiFlorio’s job is to build the physical foundation, then Parks designs the attic as an architect of the mind. His lessons will be carried by Higgins and Komisarek to the ice, back to the bench, and away from the arena during a marathon season.

Parks was impressed that both players wanted to almost immediately return to training after the disappointing end to last season.

“They both came in feeling a bit beat up. The long season had taken its toll on both their bodies and minds,” he said. “But I was impressed they didn’t take a long period to get back to work. Their attitude was, ‘Our first day (of training) is the first day of this coming season.’ ”

Parks began his sessions by asking Higgins and Komisarek, “What do you want to be?” to create a sense of commitment and vision.

“This is necessary to accomplish anything,” he said. “Not just in hockey, but in life.

“Chris replied, in a very confident voice, ‘I want to be a 40/40 (goals/assists) man with a big fat (Stanley Cup) ring on my finger.’

“Mike leaned his big body back in his chair and smiled. I turned to him and joked, ‘What are you laughing at? If Higgy gets a ring, so will you.’

“Mike then said, with complete certainty, ‘I want to be the best defenceman in the league, win the Norris Trophy and get a big fat ring just like Higgy.’ ”

While Higgins worked with Park at the Institute, Komisarek chose the deck of his own home.

“Easy house to find,” Parks said. “It’s the only one on Long Island with Canadiens gloves airing in the sun.

“Mike’s confidence and maturity grew so much in the summer,” he added, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed during the first few days of training camp.

“He’s one of nicest guys around, but he likes his fun, too. He and one of the Institute’s trainers, an ex-fighter, had a little contest in which Mike ended up throwing the trainer into the wall and smashing a huge hole in it. He felt terrible, but also had a huge smile on his face.”

To mark the occasion, if not disguise the damage, the Institute moved its framed Komisarek jersey to that spot on the wall.

NBA great Charles Barkley has said, “Pressure is something I put in my tires.”

Parks reinforced that concept with Higgins and Komisarek, then laid out a three-point strategy for dealing with it.

“1. Focus on the one thing you can control with the most confidence. Rather than focusing on scoring, which happens after a series of other events first, focus on the first step – skating hard or getting the puck or getting into position. Rather than focusing on trying to block each shot, focus on the first step: getting into position.

“2. Focus on the smallest time period. Rather than the whole game, focus on one shift or one shot at a time. This accomplishes two important things: it makes dealing with the things you have to do much easier, and when you focus your energy on a smaller time period, it will increase the intensity of your focus.

“3. When you’re between shifts or periods, keep your mind active with positive things. Focus on your ingredients. What makes you great? If you’ve come off a great shift, what went right? If you’ve come off a bad shift or period, do the three Fs: Find it, Fix it and Forget it.”

Parks sent Higgins and Komisarek north with a 50-page manual recapping this and much else, and will refresh the principles by phone and text message during the season. But he’s confident the basics have been absorbed by two athletes who are deadly serious about their jobs.

He recalls the mid-June day that the pair signed their new two-year contracts, “not at a fancy dinner, but while dripping wet after a hard workout. It was appropriate that the sweat of these two remarkable young men is on their contracts.”

Both had returned to their off-season homes last April “carrying their Habs hearts with them,” Parks said, “and both returned to Montreal this month with a renewed attitude and commitment to winning and becoming leaders.

“Mike’s departing words to me were, ‘Damn, I’m not going back up to just make the playoffs. I want to win the Stanley Cup.”


Christopher Higgins shares a laugh with the media outside the Canadiens’ Bell Centre dressing room as he leaves the arena a few days after the Canadiens’ elimination from the playoffs last April.
Allen McInnis, Gazette

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