Jason Robertson picked up a few points early in his rookie season, but his inconsistency quickly came under fire.
The Dallas Stars forward stretched for the puck, not moving his skates, and played with fear rather than instinct.
Robertson felt it and knew it. Tom Mannino, his Detroit-based private skills trainer, noticed it too.
« I knew we had to give him more confidence, » said Mannino.
So ahead of a three-game series against the Florida Panthers starting Feb. 22, 2021, they had a FaceTime call during which Robertson went through with Mannino all of his recent game appearances, what worked and what didn’t work, the trends and the areas for improvement with a view to future matches.
The method worked and even became a pregame habit for Robertson, like tying his skates or taping his stick. The pre-game video sessions with Mannino are one of the reasons Robertson is now one of the NHL’s stars.
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He will also represent the Dallas Stars at the next Honda All-Star Game on the circuit.
« Obviously getting to the top is tough, but staying there is even tougher, » Robertson said. But I think you have to stay the same person, without trying to distort yourself. I’ve wondered how some people do certain things. You don’t have to do that! »
The 23-year-old winger is fifth in the NHL with 60 points in 45 games this season, then tied with Jack Hughes and Mikko Rantanen in the sixth echelon of scorers (29). The Stars (26-12-7) are tied with the Winnipeg Jets for the top in the West with 59 points and will have a chance to add to their roster against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; TNT , SN NOW).
“You have a window during which people talk about you. Just keep this window as long as possible, mentions his teammate Tyler Seguin. What aspects have you improved? How to keep this progress? I grew up in this league. To see [Jason] continuing to improve is good! He is a hockey “nerd” in addition to being at an age where it is not a chore, but simply a dream, fun. He still has that spirit and he puts it to good use. »
Mannino has known Robertson since the latter played minor hockey in the Detroit area. They more specifically met in 2010, when Robertson was 11 years old. The coach has also worked with Nicholas, Jason’s brother who currently plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Stars forward has a video session with Mannino scheduled for Wednesday. Maybe he will take a nap, but one thing is certain, he will have a snack at 3:30 p.m. and join his personal trainer via Facetime to analyze the 22 appearances of his last game, won 4-0 by Dallas against the Vegas Golden Knights Monday.
Then he will put on his jacket and head for the arena.
« Usually we call each other directly before I leave for the game, » Robertson said. It’s this moment that I prefer, because if there are aspects to improve, I can go directly to the arena and remedy the situation. »
The video session takes him between 30 and 45 minutes. Mannino has an app on his iPad that allows him to isolate all the sequences his client is on the ice. With a screen share, he can deliver his impressions to Robertson.
« It’s concrete. There is a reason for everything that happens on these sequences. We identify the elements, we learn from that and that allows him to move on to the next game more informed and more confident, ”explains Mannino.
The latter adds that his favorite moment of the meeting is the end, when they discuss the next steps.
“It’s a motivational conversation about the night itself and what might happen, to allow him to visualize the next few hours and make sure everything becomes automatic the moment he steps on the ice, explains the coach. We look forward to the game with the lens of »how can I improve? » Even though you played a good game, you got goals, points, a few shots on goal, the team played well […], it’s all about the next game and how to raise the bar for this encounter. I really believe that video is the key to highlighting the positive aspects that can help confidence, so that you can trust what you’ve been doing well for years. We can detect the regular trends, »I have to go there, I have to do this, I’m successful like this ». It’s contagious. »
At least it has been for Robertson since he started those pregame sessions.
Chosen in the second round of the 2017 draft, he finished the 2020-21 campaign with 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in 51 games and was close behind Kirill Kaprizov in the ballot for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the best rookie of the season.
Last year, Robertson did even better. He led the Stars with 41 goals, then had 79 points in 74 games.
This season, he is the undisputed star of the Stars, a role he cherishes.
« It fits with who I am, » he said. I think it’s exciting! »
Stars head coach Peter DeBoer agrees. “He has a swag in him. I don’t know how much it was something he already had or if he developed it over time, but he has a confidence in his own game and a desire to influence the game every night. » he explains.
Two qualities that he developed together with the work done.
He’s a star player, but the next FaceTime call with Mannino is never far away. A 30 to 45 minutes of truth that keeps him grounded, then motivates him to be better.
« Kobe Bryant was like, ‘I just have to see the basket and I’ll do my job,' » Mannino said. It’s a commentary on the importance of working hard to be in the right place and doing the right things, and then performing what you’ve been practicing for years once in those situations. For Jason, it’s all about putting the puck in the net.
“He is extremely focused, determined. His actions follow his words. And he gets the results. »