How Islanders prospect Matt Maggio changed his off-ice habits to make on-ice leap: ‘Focus on the now’

How Islanders prospect Matt Maggio changed his off-ice habits to make on-ice leap: ‘Focus on the now’

During the pandemic, wanting to avoid boredom, Matt Maggio started diving into his own brain.

The Islanders prospect, who played in Sweden with the 2020-21 OHL season canceled, had seen motivational speeches and taken inspiration from Kobe Bryant’s mentality. That does not make him especially unique among athletes. Nor did wanting to take pieces from the best and work them into his routines.

The 20-year-old did begin separating himself, though, in the way he went about that pursuit — studying as if for an exam.

“I think I’ve done a lot of reading mindset books and stuff like that about just having good habits every day,” Maggio told The Post after Islanders rookie camp ended Tuesday. “Getting into a rhythm and routine and how much that really benefits athletes. The more you can get into a routine — some people will say my routine is pretty insane in the summer — I think once you get into it and dive into it, it just becomes pretty natural and just becomes what you look forward to.”

Maggio said he particularly enjoyed the book “Mind Gym” by Gary Mack, a sports psychology counselor who has worked with the Phoenix Suns and Mercury. It stresses good habits and avoiding negative self-talk, even on bad days.

He used his performance on the ice Tuesday as an example.

“Even days like today, I didn’t feel my best,” he said. “But you don’t wanna get down on yourself and have it linger in other days. You wanna just stay in the present, which is something that they’re big on. And really not worry about the future or the past and kinda just focus on the now. And I think that’s really helped me a lot in my hockey, not to get caught up in a mistake or something that happened last shift.”

Matt Maggio on the ice at the Islanders' 2023 rookie camp.
The Islanders’ Matt Maggio credits his work with a mental skills coach in avoiding self-defeating thoughts and elevating his game.Robert Sabo for the NY Post

Maggio also uses visualization, a technique he honed with a mental skills coach. The night before a game, he focuses on what might happen, from the moment he came out of the tunnel on. It’s a common practice, but one he didn’t realize the value of until he did it.

“I think it’s something you hear all your life that you kinda brush off,” he said. “But then you keep seeing videos of all the best athletes in the world doing it, so why wouldn’t you? … I’m gonna keep trusting it and keep doing it.”

Routines lead to habits, habits lead to improvement, improvement leads to confidence, confidence leads to performance. That is the hope, anyway, and it is helping Maggio move in the right direction.

After getting drafted in the fifth round in 2022, Maggio put himself on NHL radars by winning the OHL’s MVP award last season with a 111-point campaign and signing his entry-level deal with the Islanders.

He turned in a solid rookie camp and enters training camp as one of the organization’s more intriguing young players.

Maggio spent the summer focused heavily on building a routine that can help him start the season on the right foot. He would work out first thing in the morning, then after eating breakfast, go skate. That is what a lot of players do.

Where Maggio tried to set himself apart came later in the day. Early in the summer, he said, he would work out a second time in the evening. Later in the summer, he would utilize the shooting room in his basement.

Matt Maggio on the ice at the Islanders' 2023 rookie camp.
Matt Maggio has put himself in prime position to make his Islanders debut this season.Robert Sabo for the NY Post

“So every night it’s one or the other,” he said. “Kinda that extra hour that you have. Most guys come to the rink, they do their skate, they do their workout, they’re done for the day. Obviously I want to enjoy my summer and I want to have a good balance, but I think if I can get all those hours in during the summer and constantly improve, it’s gonna help in the long run.”

It’s unlikely — though not impossible — Maggio will make the Islanders out of camp. But an NHL debut this season doesn’t seem out of the question. Nor does Maggio eventually being an everyday player with the team.

He does not make it much of a secret that he wants to be in the NHL as soon as possible. But Maggio possesses the ability to talk about his goals without sounding arrogant.

“Obviously I’m still 20, turning 21 [in November] here,” he said. “You wanna be a guy that peaks around 24, 25, right? Right in your prime. So I know that’s where I want to be my best self. And you want to outwork everybody up to that point, so when you are in your prime, you’re ready to make an impact and have that big impact, which is my goal.”

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Notes from rookie camp

Some scattered observations from rookie camp, which wrapped up Tuesday

• Isaiah George made a strong impression, showing good defensive instincts and mobility while playing a consistent game throughout camp. It’s not clear whether he’ll be in NHL camp or for how long — he said Tuesday he was unsure of the plan because his OHL team plays its opener on Sept. 29.

Isaiah George participates in drills at Islanders camp.
Isaiah George, the OHL-bound defenseman, made a strong impression in camp.Robert Sabo for the NY Post

• Because of the NHL-CHL agreement, George is ineligible to go to the AHL. If that weren’t the case, he’d have a strong case to make the jump this year. “I think sometimes it’s better for them to go back and play with their peers as opposed to maybe rushing it and having them playing in a man’s league,” Bridgeport coach Rick Kowalsky said. “But his mobility, all the assets he has, they certainly fit into what we think would be an effective player at the American League level.”

• William Dufour came into camp with high expectations and passed with flying colors. It’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t in this sort of setting, but his skating looks good and Kowalsky noted Tuesday that Dufour’s conditioning looks as if it’s improved.

• The best day of Simon Holmstrom’s camp was the last day. He got past a defender and scored with a slick move in one drill, then went bar down on a wrist shot off a faceoff during a controlled scrimmage. Over the week, though, we would have liked to see Holmstrom rise above the group a little more than he did.

• Ruslan Iskhakov on his 5-foot-8 stature: “I’m not really trying to think about those things that people say, but obviously just gotta use my size as an advantage. I’m at a smaller size, so I’m more agile, more quicker on the ice.” In a conversation with The Post, he said his goal is playing NHL games this season.

• Justin Gill, the team’s fifth-round pick this summer, is 20 and therefore not constrained by the NHL-CHL agreement. He told The Post he’s looking to make AHL Bridgeport’s roster. “The guys are just way stronger, way faster,” the QMJHL product said. “So I just try to get as close as I can to them, try and beat them on that aspect.”

Ruslan Iskhakov skates at Islanders rookie camp in 2023.
Ruslan Iskhakov tries to use his 5-foot-8 stature to his advantage.Robert Sabo for the NY Post

• If Maggio ends up in the NHL at some point, he’ll be a favorite for reporters. He is personable and willing to engage in a way you don’t often see with young players. He turned in a solid camp, and though he probably still has some time before making a real NHL push, it will be interesting to watch him against the pros.

• Kowalsky on Calle Odelius, who was in his first camp after missing last year’s: “Moves well. Good skater. And he’s got good hands. … This is the first time seeing him for me, but it looks like there’s some offensive ability there and I was impressed overall in the one-on-ones in how he defended and competed down low.”

• Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk were on the ice every day working with the youngsters. No surprise, but it is confirmation that both are back for another season, though the Islanders have yet to give them official titles.

When 22 is more than 23

The final spot on the roster will probably come down to Holmstrom and Ross Johnston, with Dufour, Maggio, Karson Kuhlman and Arnaud Durandeau each holding an outside shot entering camp.

Another option, though, would be to bring a 22-man roster to opening night, instead of the maximum 23.

Holmstrom is waivers-exempt, and would play top-line minutes with power-play time in Bridgeport versus being a potential healthy scratch in New York.

The Islanders' Ross Johnson is ushered toward the penalty box during a game against the Jets.
What if neither Ross Johnston (above) nor Simon Holmstrom made the opening-night Islanders roster and the team carried just 22 players?Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Johnston could not crack the lineup last season despite a slew of injuries and carries a $5,759.16 cap charge for each regular-season day he is on the roster. Sending him down would mean exposing him to waivers, but in the current cap environment, it’s difficult to see anyone taking on his $1.1 million salary.

Kuhlman has shuttled between the AHL and NHL in his previous stops. Dufour, Durandeau and Maggio are promising to various degrees, but could benefit from playing in the AHL.

Of course, any one of these players could change the equation over the next few weeks, but unless it’s clear one of them needs to be in the lineup, it’s not obvious what benefit there is to a 23-man roster.

Carrying 23 would put the Islanders barely under the $83.5 million salary cap, with the specifics depending on who the last person is. Twenty-two gives them more room to work with at the trade deadline, especially if Zach Parise joins the team eventually.

The cost of this would be having just two extra players available instead of three, and if Lane Lambert wants to try out different lineups early in the season, it could be easier to just have 23 players.

But nine of the Islanders’ first 13 games are at home. If they want to shuttle players to and from Bridgeport, it would be relatively easy.