Hockey players tend to be creatures of habit.
You get up at a certain time, you arrive at the rink at a certain time, you spend so much time on the ice and in the gym.
You eat your meals at a certain time. You take a pre-game nap at a certain time.
When you’re a young hockey player, life is straightforward and organized.
Newborn babies don’t care about this routine. And any new parent quickly finds this out — like Vasily Podkolzin and his wife Sasha, who welcomed their daughter Alisa to the world this summer.
Alisa is 3½ months old and her parents have got used to her routine, Podkolzin said Wednesday morning.
“On my day off, I like to change diapers, or something like that,” he said with a laugh. He says he’s found his way to his role as a dad as well.
“My wife is doing a great job. I’m not really worried about anything … When you have a day off, it’s all about your family and your daughter. In that time, I feel happy. I’m a happy young dad.”
One thing you discover as a new parent is how much time you were wasting before the baby was born. But once the tiny being arrives, spare time becomes a thing of the past. Your daily schedule fills up fast.
And there’s a relatability from learning how your day flows as a parent to how you organize your life as a hockey player.
“That’s part of being a pro: we all have lives. And you need to be present for the people in your life. And you also need to prepare so you can be an elite performer. That’s part of it. And that takes time,” said coach Jeremy Colliton, who’s a father of three.
“It takes time for young guys who don’t have families. That is still a challenge for them, like how can they balance what they want to do in their life with what they need to?”
Which brings us to Tuesday night, where Podkolzin scored a sensational overtime winner for the Abbotsford Canucks against the Colorado Eagles.
He collected the puck in the neutral zone, then paused to let Arshdeep Bains get back onside. In that moment he spotted a gap to attack, accelerated into the Colorado zone and powered past Eagles defenceman Jack Ahcan.
He then cut across the top of the Colorado crease, then backhanded the puck over Colorado goalie Justus Annunen.
It was a spectacular goal. It was also Podkolzin’s fifth goal in five games.
Podkolzin is finding his hockey confidence again.
“I didn’t play well last season,” he admitted. “But this time, it’s time to focus on hockey and just go and play and enjoy it.”
The AHL game is different. The pace isn’t quite as quick as the NHL. Plays tend to be more disjointed. But it also means he has the puck on his stick a lot more than in the NHL and that is where he and his coaches think he’ll rediscover his confidence — and recognize how much every touch of the puck matters, no matter how much ice time he’s getting.
“I feel confident right now. I have a lot of (puck) touches here. I make a lot of plays,” he said.
Colliton said that of the five games they’ve played so far, there have been two or three periods where Podkolzin has utterly dominated, winning puck battles all over, creating chances for his teams and also unleashing his hellacious shot.
The task in front of him as a coach and in front of Podkolzin as a player is to make that kind of dominance the young Russian’s standard mode, as opposed to flipping a switch on and off.
“It’s not something you do every once in a while. It’s who you are. And that will allow you to withstand the pressure and the schedule of the NHL and the high demands and the small margin for error,” Colliton said. “If it’s just something you do when you remember to do it, that won’t work. I needs to become part of your identity.”
He’s an improved player from the one Colliton first encountered at the beginning of 2023, when the 2019 first rounder was demoted to Colliton’s AHL squad. Podkolzin openly admitted at the time he was struggling with his confidence.
He was a player who lost sense of what made him best and how to execute.
He’s come a long way, Colliton said.
“He’s much more assertive with the puck and believes in his ability to take people on one on one and drive the net and also shoot the puck,” he said.
“He’s a better player, for sure. And I think it’s just continuing that progression — that’s the challenge.”
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