Komets’ Mason Baptista loves to study the game

Komets forward Mason Baptista is a versatile player who constantly studies the game. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

Every professional hockey player has talent and a work ethic, but sometimes the difference depends on how hard they are willing to work off the ice. Mason Baptista has always been one of the hardest-working Komets players, but he’s also using that tenacity to make himself one of the smartest.

Baptista is more than just a student of the game, he could teach it. A few years ago the versatile forward developed a business called “Baps Hockey,” and he uses Facebook to share his findings from studying every NHL goal, more than 6,000 last season. He can tell someone the percentages of where players score from, and how whether from shots, deflections or rebounds, whatever happens on the ice.

As an example, Baptista has determined that when the offense is able to slid the puck across the crease East to West or vice versa during a shift, its scoring percentage increases 20 percent over teams that simply carry the puck down the wall.

Baptista tries to take that information and then put himself into those areas on the ice.

“There is a degree of chance and luck, and I measure that as well, but the key is when you are doing the right things, you are in the right areas and you start to understand those concepts, luck starts to come toward you,” he said. “The phrase, ‘You need to be good to be lucky’ makes sense because the good players put themselves in those spots. When you train those little skills, it becomes automatic and now that’s where you can step up from just being good to great to the best.”

Another thing Baptista does is try to work specifically on one or two skills each summer to build up parts of his game. This year he worked on explosiveness and puck protection. He says he feels faster on the ice, and his timed skates show the improvement. As an example, there’s a common theory that players need to bend forward to go faster, but Baptista said it’s better to stand taller and create more downward force.

“Once I learned the mechanics and the physics behind the way hockey players are supposed to move, that really helped me a lot with my game now,” he said. “I have prided myself on learning little tricks here and there to keep guys away from you, buy yourself more time to create holes and space for your own teammates. When you start learning these concepts and applying it to the game and your body, it changes everything. I see the game in a completely different way now.”

Baptista has been working with Ron Johnson of Elite Hockey Science.

“I worked with him a little bit and that’s why you started to see my scoring start to go up last year,” Baptista said. “I started working with him and understanding the game’s the little nuances. We really dug deep into the mechanics. He really showed me with the help of videos and specific drills to help my acceleration and mechanics and foot positioning.”

While he’s trying to perfect himself physically, he’s also trying to improve tactically. Sometimes that means perfecting a skating stride, or learning to learn to turn the body to maintain control of the puck and keep it away from defenders. Some day he’s going to make an amazing coach.

“Maybe, but right now my focus is I want to play hockey the next 10 years,” he said. “I’m not in it just to play hockey at this level — and this level is great — but I want to move up, I want to be at the top level. It’s a process and you have to look at the long road, the long game. Even though sometimes in the short term you look at it and think things may not be going great, but you have to develop it and keep adding the pieces together, and eventually you make your way to becoming a better player.”

But right now Baptista is fighting for ice time as as a potential 10th forward. On another, less talented team, he might be able to play on a second line. He sees that as helping him anyway because he gets to practice against to many talented players.

“As much as there are a lot of great things people see about playing pro hockey, there’s a lot of downside that people don’t see,” he said. “It’s brutal sometimes, but you have to understand that you have to take the good with the bad. It’s something I’ve really learned. I don’t get discouraged because I understand what I can do and what I bring to the table. Regardless of how bad the situation is, how bad it gets, I’ll find my way through it because I can trust my skills and the knowledge I have for the game.”

Part of being a professional is dealing with the constant uncertainty which can be presented by the risk of injury, playing time or maybe even being cut or traded at any time.

“I understand the position where I am is an unstable one,” Baptista said. “I pride myself in having confidence in myself so that when I do get those opportunities I’ll make the most of it.”

As he said, he produced 16 goals last year playing mostly on the third line or as a 10th forward. He found a way to be productive and still improve. He also learned more about himself and how to keep pushing to improve. He always works hard, even in practice. He’ll always do whatever it takes to get the puck.

“No one wants play against me and I take pride in that because I’ll work my butt off, and now I add the knowledge and skill-set I’ve learned and it makes me a lot more dangerous,” he said. “The reason I came back is because I love the organization and the pride behind it. It reminds me of when I was in college. You don’t really see it a lot in pros. I love everything about the program here and what they’ve been able to accomplish and I want to be part of that by bringing a championship here and being a significant factor in that. Yes, I know I could probably be a second-line player somewhere else, but right now I have to wait and be patient and work for my opportunities.”