As teammates meandered off of the ice at Xcel Energy Center after a Houston Aeros training camp practice, Mikael Granlund gathered an assortment of pucks and assembled them in a small area, about a quarter the size of the faceoff circle at center ice. The pucks had no formation and were randomly scattered around ice, much like leaves dotting the ground during the first days of fall.
This was when Granlund went to work.
The centerman took a puck and began weaving it in-and-out of its twin members of six-ounce vulcanized rubber.
The 5-foot-10, 186-pound forward moved the puck like it was attached to his stick with a string, yo-yoing the biscuit while dipping his shoulders and evading imaginary defenders.
Occasionally the string would break, the spell broken, and he would snake another puck and continue on without missing a beat.
The most intense thing about watching Granlund perform this drill was how quietly he went about his business. He was workman-like in his concentration, cradling the puck with attentiveness of a new mother. Instead of the slapping and whacking that is often made when pucks and sticks collide, his stick worked together with the pucks, the maestro of a muted concert.
The drill emphasized why the 20-year-old has the gall to pull off moves like his lacrosse-scoop goal against Russia in the 2011 World Championships.
Practice makes perfect.
In the book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” Malcolm Gladwell writes about “The 10,000 Hour-Rule,” which he believes a subject needs to practice a skill 10,000 hours to become an expert. Granlund doesn’t know when he surpassed 10,000 hours of practicing puck handling, but it was probably at a very early age.
“I can’t say the number, but I played many hours growing up,” Granlund said. “The main thing is to touch the puck, be with a puck. Every time you do something, bring a puck and if you can’t be with a puck, then bring a ball.
“If you have enough hours with a puck, you can do pretty much whatever you want with it.”
How do you do whatever you want with a puck? Along with a set of soft mitts, it helps to have a surgeon’s patience and Granlund has an abundance of it. The forward waits for the right moment, just before it looks like a defender has limited his options, before making a breathtaking move or threading a laser pass to a teammate. But like his hands, he believes it is the time he spent on the ice through practice and repetition that developed his patience.
“That’s not something you have when you’re born,” Granlund said. “That is something you get when you play and play and play.”
Growing up in Finland, the forward had a couple of nets that he would place in the street and practice alone or play games with friends, but he wasn’t tied to hockey alone. If it was competitive, he wanted to excel.
“I used to play all kinds of sports growing up,” Granlund recalled. “Soccer, basketball or tennis, whatever. That’s how your eye can get better. You know where the ball or puck is, that helps a lot with hockey, too.”
For the Wild prospect, it is more about substance than style and the results in Houston have showed that early this season. Through five games, Granlund is the Aeros’ leading scorer with seven points (2-5=7). However, he plans on continuing to play with creativity and flare.
“That’s my style,” Granlund acknowledged. “I want to do things with the puck that other guys don’t. I wouldn’t be here right now if I didn’t do those things with the puck.”
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