sports psychologist & clinical psychology

THE PANTHERS PRACTICED TUESDAY FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE TEAMMATE RICHARD ZEDNIK’S NECK WAS SLASHED BY A SKATE TWO DAYS EARLIER, BUT THINGS WERE HARDLY BACK TO NORMAL

South Florida Sun Sentinel – Feb 13, 2008 – Steve Gorten – “It was definitely a little different,” winger David Booth said.

“It’s still fresh in our minds,” defenseman Bryan Allen added. “It’s something you can’t just forget about. It was a pretty traumatic experience. But we have to try to go on, especially now that we know it looks like he’s going to make a full recovery.”

Zednik was upgraded from stable to good condition Tuesday afternoon and moved from the intensive care unit to a patient room, according to a statement released by Buffalo General Hospital.

He’s expected to be released by this weekend. The rehab time for his team’s psyche, though, is unknown. Center Olli Jokinen said he hadn’t slept much the past two days.

“I think every single guy in the locker room has been feeling the same,” Jokinen said. “You’re going to remember that the rest of your life, but you just have to find a way to deal with it and live with it.”

The Panthers, who were within two points of first place in the Southeast Division through Monday’s games, will play the first of their final 24 regular-season games tonight at home against the Canadiens. The challenge of making the playoffs for the first time since 2000 just became harder.

“It’s going to have an impact of some sort,” Hall of Fame defenseman and Panthers broadcaster Denis Potvin said of Zednik’s gruesome injury, when a major artery was nearly severed and teammates feared for Zednik’s life. “The key is for them to channel it into a positive impact.”

How will the incident affect them on the ice? More specifically, how will it affect Jokinen, the team’s captain and leading scorer? Jokinen is a close friend and linemate of Zednik’s, and he’s the player whose skate cut Zednik.

“Personally, I definitely am concerned for him,” Allen said. “It’s a tough situation. It could have been anyone’s skate, anyone’s neck. Unfortunately it was his [skate], but it was not his fault and nothing he could prevent. I asked him [Tuesday] morning how he was feeling. I’m sure it’s something that’s gone over and over and over in his mind.”

Atlanta-based sports psychologist Jack Llewellyn said that in his 30 years of working with athletes, he has found hockey players to be the strongest mentally.

Llewellyn said experiencing what the Panthers did can aid their performance.

“When things are not going well, one way really to get away from that is to play,” he said. “What usually happens is the focus of the players will be as good and even more so than it would be otherwise. I’d be surprised if it had a negative impact on their play.”

John Murray, a West Palm Beach sports psychologist, said he doesn’t think the aftereffects of Zednik’s injury will linger.

“But you have to understand, there’s a whole world out there below the surface that involves thoughts and feelings,” Murray said. “It’s another stress on an athlete. There could be a possible post-traumatic response to that.”

The team held a meeting before Tuesday’s practice and Panthers coach Jacques Martin said he spoke to Jokinen twice the past two days about Zednik. At this point, Martin said, the Panthers “must rally as a group” and “continue to go about our business.”

While stressing he doesn’t know Jokinen, Murray said an analogy for how Jokinen might feel would be if Jokinen was driving a car in which Zednik was a passenger and a crash occurred. Even though Sunday’s slash wasn’t Jokinen’s fault, there might be some feelings of guilt and anxiety.

“If I had to guess, 90 percent of them will probably put it behind them completely and there will never be anything more than, ‘Ooh, that was a nasty experience,'” Murray said. “But what about the other 10 percent? I wouldn’t at all be surprised if none of them had trouble dealing with this, or one or two or three of them.”

Lineup changes
With Zednik out, Martin said, Ville Peltonen will take Zednik’s spot on the first line and right wing Rob Globke, who was called up from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester on Tuesday, will play on the third line. Left wing Rostislav Olesz (hand) resumed practicing with the team Tuesday and could return Friday.

Center Stephen Weiss didn’t practice because of the flu.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

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