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January 5, 2021

Podcast 105: Stanley Cup Winner Alex Killorn on Perseverance, Meditation & Channeling Nerves

As hockey season begins, we’re excited to have a member of the reigning Stanley Cup Champions on the WHOOP Podcast.

By Will Ahmed

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Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn discusses his journey to the NHL and why patience proved to be a virtue on his way to the top, why meditation is one of his keys to success on the ice, and what he’s learned about nerves and how to channel them in a positive way. He also explains how he and his teammates overcame the adversity of the COVID-19 playoff bubble on their way to winning the Cup.

Alex was also one of the first athletes on WHOOP. He explains what he’s learned about his body and how recovery has become a huge focus in the NHL.

 

Alex Killorn Podcast Show Notes:

2:28 – Becoming a Hockey Player. “I always wanted to be a professional athlete,” Alex says of his lifelong dream to play in the NHL. “I always wanted to be a professional hockey player, but I never knew if I was good enough.”

6:04 – Finding Confidence in Sports. “I think it takes a ton of confidence [to be a successful professional athlete]. When you think about how many people try to do it and how many people don’t succeed, you just have to have a true self belief that, regardless of what happens, you’re going to overcome situations.”

6:37 – Staying in School. Alex details how the Lightning and former general manager Steve Yzerman encouraged him to stay in school and finish his degree at Harvard. “He said, ‘Man, you’re at Harvard, you’ve gone 3 years … if you want to stay, stay. We won’t hold it against you.”

11:21 – NHL Call Up. “I remember the call up to this day. I was in Syracuse [playing in the American Hockey League] and the general manager called and said, ‘Are you ready to play in Madison Square Garden tomorrow night? Be ready.’ I didn’t get any sleep, I was so excited.”

14:03 – How the NHL is Evolving. Alex details how the style of play in the NHL over the last decade has changed from a more physical brand of hockey to a speed and skill game. “It seems like all the young guys who come into the league are such great skaters.”

14:49 – Recovery in Hockey. “A lot more emphasis is being put on recovery and making sure that the strength training and the conditioning we do is done so we can recover properly. Luckily we have a coach who understands that and understands how important recovery is, since we have a little bit of an older team.”

15:27 – WHOOP Insights. “I think I wore the first one ever,” Alex jokes, noting he’s been wearing WHOOP since the first generation of the device. When Will asks him what he’s learned, Alex quickly responds, “When you drink, your recovery is terrible.”

17:31 – High Golfing Strain. “I find that golfing takes a huge strain out of my day compared to other sports that I play, especially when I’m hitting balls on the range in the hot Florida summer. It just kills me. … My strain is huge when I golf.”

18:43 – COVID-19 Shutdown. Alex shares what it was like to have the NHL stopped for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

22:46 – Playoff Upset. Alex details the Lightning’s 2019 playoff loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the biggest upsets in NHL history. “It was tough. We had the best season in the history of the NHL [in the 2018-2019 regular season], and the NHL has been around for a long time. … No one expected us to lose that series.” The Lightning beat the Blue Jackets in the 2020 playoffs.

24:49 – The 5-Overtime Game. The Lightning and Blue Jackets played a 5-overtime game in the 2020 playoffs, with Tampa winning 3-2. “I thought that game showed us how difficult [winning the Stanley Cup] was going to be, but also that it’s possible.”

28:57 – Meditation. “This is my first year really meditating. I do it the day of the game, before my pregame nap, and the night before a game to sleep. For me, in hockey, there are so many highs and lows. It just keeps me level. I remember when I was younger and I used to score a goal, I’d get so excited. But then when I didn’t score for 10 games I was so low on myself. It seems like that’s gone away and I’ve been able to stay very stable. It’s made me a more consistent player.”

30:56 – Grounding Yourself. “I try to have cues that help me calm down while I’m playing. A lot of times I’ll think about how my skates feel when I’m on the ice, that’s all I think about. That helps ground me. Let’s say there’s a big part of the game or a situation where I got scored on or something’s not going well, usually if I just breathe and think about that, it puts me in such a better place.”

36:19 – The Bubble. Alex describes the grind of being in the NHL playoff bubble for months on end and the toll it began to take on players and staff mentally. “A lot of guys my age have very young kids, and they were missing huge big parts of their lives. I know certain guys left their 2-month-old baby and they came back and the baby looked like a completely different person.”

38:18 – Meeting Expectations. “There was a mounting pressure on our team because we were the team that was so close [to winning over the last 5 seasons]. Even after we had been swept [by Columbus in 2019], all the analysts picked us as the favorite to win the Cup again. There was a ton of pressure mounting on us.”

40:48 – Dealing with Nerves. “For me, personally, and I think for our team, the more nervous we were the more focused we became. We’ve had coaches that talk about that because a lot of times when you get nervous it can go the other way. You can make mistakes. But I always tell people that before a game, if I’m a little nervous, I know I’m going to play better. It’s waking me up and it’s making the situation more important, and for me that makes me focus more.”

42:03 – Winning the Cup. “When I first lifted the Cup, for me, being a Canadian kid, that’s all I’ve ever dreamed of my whole life, to be able to win that Cup. For the rest of my life to be known as a Stanley Cup champion is so important to me.”

46:01 – Durability. Alex shares how he’s been able to stay on the ice for the majority of his NHL career, missing only a handful of games since breaking into the league. “It’s all about recovery and finding ways to make sure your body is going to be healthy. … As I get older, I’m not training for strength so much, I’m not trying to lift as much as I can. I want to make sure I’m as flexible and as durable as I can be.”

Connect with Alex on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance. WHOOP today works with everyone from professional athletes to fitness enthusiasts to executives. Ahmed has raised $200 million from top investors and has an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, and designers. He wrote “The Feedback Tool: Measuring Fitness, Intensity, and Recovery,” which sparked the underlying physiology and engineering for his work today. Ahmed was named a 2011 Harvard College Scholar for finishing in the top 10% of his class and a CSA Scholar Athlete; he captained the Harvard Men’s Varsity Squash Team. He was also recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal 40 Under 40.

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