Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Better attitude and return to the basics helped Bryan Little leave slump in the past

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If there were some sort of concrete and plausible explanation, Bryan Little would either sprint to trademark it or stand in front of cameras to endorse it wholeheartedly.

It's also important to establish that the recent scoring streak for the Winnipeg Jets' centre -- four goals in four straight games, including two-game winners and eight markers in his last 11 -- isn't the byproduct of some magic potion or fancy diet. There is no revolutionary workout regimen. Acupuncture wasn't involved. And the answer didn't come after a session, or several sessions, seeking counsel on the psychic hotline.

So what gives? How and why did the 24-year-old former first-round draft pick spend the first 14 games of the season repeatedly staring into media scrums owning up to a goal-less slump and now faces the same throng speaking of goal-streaks?

"It's funny... I don't think I was getting frustrated, but it was getting tiring answering questions about it all the time," said Little, who had just three assists in his first 14 games as a Jet. "I wasn't shooting as much back then and I was squeezing the stick too tight when I was getting chances. Now our line is playing better, which makes it easier, and I'm shooting the puck more. I just feel a lot better, a lot more confident, than I did in those first few games.

"It's amazing how much that can mean, in that millisecond where you have the puck and a scoring chance and you're squeezing the stick too tight and over-thinking it. Now, when you have the confidence to shoot the puck without even thinking it's amazing how much it can do for you."

Yes, there you have it, kids. Little's formula for ending a goal-slump is hardly a complicated formula. In short, it is:

Goals=Shooting+Confidence.

Two other factors are in play, and Little is quick to point them out: 1. He's centring a line with an emerging star in Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler, the playmaker -- 18 assists this year -- in a power-forward's body; and 2. After scoring 31 goals in his first full NHL campaign and then 31 over the last two years, he's matured enough to have the perspective to help him through frustrating times.

"Before when I had streaks like that I'd get frustrated," Little said. "You're in a bad mood and it can kind of carry on longer than it needs to. You start thinking about scoring goals every game, that's all you can think about. That's one of the things I learned last year. You can't really take it home with you. You can't be in a bad mood all the time just because things aren't going well in hockey. I think I learned you kinda have to leave it at the rink, it's like leaving work at work.

"It's hockey. It's a game, but it's a job, too. And it shouldn't affect your life outside."

Again, Little's resurgence is part physical and a great deal mental. Confidence -- finding and keeping it, it would seem -- can be every slumping athlete's pursuit. Just over a month ago he was under the microscope and every time he hopped over the boards he wondered when, or if, he'd score again.

And now?

"Right now when things are going like this, it's like you're not even thinking about it," Little said with a grin. "You're just going out and playing. And you want to be on the ice all the time.

"It just feels like our whole line is going good and everything is going in for me. It's the best I've felt this year."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2011 C1

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Updated on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:37 AM CST: corrects typo in headline

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