For Pavelski, Preparation Is Key
SAN JOSE — Joe Pavelski scored his 13th goal of the 2014-15 season against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 9 after he received a pass with his back facing the net and flipped a backhand over his right shoulder as he spun to the ice like a swirling tornado.
It looked like the type of goal that only a natural could score, one of those players who possesses so much innate talent and instinctive creativity, the game appears to have been invented for their individual pleasure.
In reality, though, the highlight-reel tally was the product of his labor, a move that he perfected through hundreds repetitions before and after practice, just in case a scenario presented itself where he could put it to use in a game.
“Pav (Pavelski) is very deliberate with his practice,” assistant coach Jay Woodcroft said. “He’s specific about what he wants to accomplish and that comes with some thought and foresight. Fortunately for him, he’s seeing the fruits of his labor.”
Pavelski wasn’t born with Alexander Ovechkin’s speed, Sidney Crosby’s vision or Shea Webber’s shot. But he knows how to put in the work and get results.
Hard work and dedication are how the 205th overall pick in the 2003 NHL entry draft (7th round) managed to finish third in goals last season (41) and lead the league in tallies for the calendar year of 2014 (44). The 30-year-old forward’s commitment to detail is also why he currently ranks fifth in goals after notching his 25th tally of the season on Thursday.
“When you think about Pav, you think about his superior will, his intelligence, his work ethic,” Woodcroft said. “Those are things that help him stand apart, help him succeed because he’s not blessed with some of the gifts that some of the other players in the league and on our team are blessed with. Like I said, he puts the work in to maximize his potential.”
Pavelski inherited his Midwestern work ethic from his father, Mike Pavelski, who runs his own business painting wallpaper back in Plover, Wisc.
“My dad’s always worked hard, putting in an honest day’s work and that’s what it’s about,” Pavelski said. “That’s what this game’s about.”
The University of Wisconsin product knew that if was going to put together a career in hockey, he would need to bridge the gap between himself and the more talented players in the league with his relentless drive. By outworking his competitors, he managed to get selected by the Sharks late in the 2003 draft, earn a spot on an NHL roster and win a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with Team USA.
“I never thought of myself to be on a really elite level and I was just going to have to work to get there and work to create those opportunities and when you do get them, you want to make good on them,” Pavelski said. “That’s the biggest thing, trying to improve your game, trying to hopefully close the gap from the high-end players to you.”
Even in the NHL, a league filled with dedicated athletes, Pavelski’s work ethic stands apart.
“There are a smaller group of players that come to the rink every day to practice to get better,” head coach Todd McLellan said, including Pavelski in that group. “I think there’s a larger group of players that come to the rink every day and practice because it’s scheduled.”
Pavelski brings the same commitment to practice to the golf course in the summer, which is why his handicap is a mere one. Similar to his work at the rink, Pavelski has fine-tuned his golf game through repetition and by practicing a variety of different shots over and over again.
“Really good golfers have great course management skills,” McLellan said, acknowledging that he himself isn’t a great golfer. “They know what shot to play, when to play it. They take into consideration all of the conditions and what’s in their surroundings and they put themselves in those situations at the range and on the putting green and in chipping practice and in the bunkers and they repeat, repeat and repeat until they need it. It’s a good way of describing Pav.”
And when Pavelski practices shots, like the over-the-shoulder flip, after practice and then executes them in games, the younger players take notice.
“It’s good for us to see that,” sophomore forward Matt Nieto said. “He’s one of the best scorers in the league and half of his goals come from tips in front of the net and his in-tight skills that he’s always working on.”
Pavelski’s work ethic, along with that of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, has established a culture of dedication at Sharks Ice, which is key with so many young players, like Nieto, Barclay Goodrow, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Mirco Mueller and Matt Tennyson, on the roster.
“The best encouragement those young guys can have is to see the success that Pav has achieved in his career and how there’s a direct correlation between the work he puts in and the results that he’s getting,” Woodcroft said.