As amazing as Howard Dean's free fall, Mighty Ducks goalie J.S. "Jiggy" Giguere has, in less than a year, sunk from record-breaking Stanley Cup Playoff MVP to Mr. Anonymous. "Back-up" goalie Martin Gerber continues to play more often (and better) than Giguere, who signed a four-year, $20 million contract in September. This season's staggering numbers: Giguere has won nine games and lost 22 with four ties. Thirty-three goalies in the NHL have more wins. His save percentage (.909) and goals-against-average (2.72) are forgettable.
But there has to be something deeper behind this unfathomable disappearing act. How can a puck look to our fallen star like a basketball one day and a BB the next?
"Star athletes like Giguere are conditioned to respond with tremendous precision while under intense pressure," says clinical psychologist Wayne Schroeder, Ph.D., of the South Coast Psychological Center in Irvine. "When things go bad for you, fear runs through your limbic system, and it affects your ability to respond in a focused way. That fear neutralizes one's natural rhythms, and it adds to the trapped adrenalin that's cooking inside. And when you're struggling, your anxiety and expectation of failure only feeds the fear—and bottles it up."
"I'm sure people had bigger expectations for me," Giguere told The Orange CountyRegister's Dan Wood in December. "But my expectation for myself is to come to the rink and work hard."
Schroeder says working hard, or harder, may actually be counterproductive. "Sometimes the harder you try, the worse it gets," he suggests. "I think the antidote is to recognize this and then to work on some relaxation techniques. When you're struggling to perform well, your system is unbalanced. To regain the confidence that will return you to form requires learning to control that nagging negativity by channeling it into a positive outlet, like excitement and anticipation."
Giguere may have discovered that for himself in the past few weeks. He looked spectacular in the Ducks' recent 2-1 road victory over the Vancouver Canucks, making 34 saves against one of the top teams in the league. Afterward, he beamed, "I felt great out there. When there is no time to think, just play, it's better. I felt great out there, probably the best I have felt this season."