Edmonton Oilers' mental coach has been team's 'secret weapon' during roller-coaster season | Globalnews.ca

George Mumford saw the notification pop up on his screen.

The message sent via the social media platform LinkedIn came from Edmonton Oilers CEO Jeff Jackson.

The executive, hired by the club last August, had an idea. Mumford listened intently.

The 72-year-old sports psychologist and mental skills coach helped Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls and Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers reach the top of the NBA.

Jackson hopes Munford can assist Connor McDavid and the Oilers in reaching those same heights.

“We think you can help us win the Stanley Cup,” Mumford recalled hearing during their first conversation. “And I said, 'I'm in.'”

Edmonton Oilers mental skills coach, psychologist George Mumford, poses before Game 2 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final in Sunrise, Florida, Monday, June 10, 2024.

The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette

Less than a year later, Edmonton has taken several steps forward — but faces another daunting challenge.

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Mumford has been instrumental behind the scenes throughout the team’s up-and-down season, including a disastrous 2-9-1 start, a coaching change, a 16-game winning streak and an up-and-down run through three rounds of the NHL playoffs to the final against the Florida Panthers.

Edmonton looked good in Game 1, falling 3-0, before falling 4-1 on Monday to trail 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, which moves to Alberta’s capital later this week.

Click to play video:

Preview the Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers

Munford may need to tap into his reserves to help the Oilers out of their troubled situation.

“My job is to help people be themselves,” the Boston native said hours before Game 2. “There’s no better feeling than being able to truly be yourself.”

Author of two books – The Focused Athlete: The Secret to Perfect Performance and Unlock: Embrace your greatness, find your rhythm, discover success — Mumford can both listen and give advice.

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“I try to help people let go and express themselves,” Mumford said.

“When I talk about performance, I’m talking about some really profound things like being able to win a Stanley Cup, or just being able to have a goal and be able to achieve it.”

A former financial analyst who suffered from substance abuse problems earlier in life due to chronic pain, he focuses on mindfulness and living in the present moment.

“I had to learn how to self-regulate, I had to learn how to change my lifestyle and also be responsible for my health,” Mumford said.

“That’s why I got into this business — out of necessity. The best way to learn something is to teach it, and the best way to keep something is to give it away.

“That’s what I’ve been doing.”

Click to play video:

Edmonton Oilers hope to win Stanley Cup again after 30 years

McDavid said the quiet, unassuming mental coach is a welcome addition.

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“He was brought into the team for exactly that reason – to help in these crucial moments,” the superstar captain said. “He provides great support to the players, guiding their mentality in pressure situations.

“Our guys have been really good in these big moments. He played a big role in that.”

Mumford said his overall message is that there is “huge potential” in every person.

“It’s only as good as you can access it,” he continued. “To the extent you can access it, you can help other people. But you can live a full and creative life, whether it’s sports or anything else.”

Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch first met Munford after taking over as Edmonton head coach in November, when the team was one of the preseason Cup favorites but was struggling.

“The modern player places too much emphasis on practice, skill development and systems,” he said, “and neglects the mental side of the game. George filled that gap by talking to his players about how each person on the team can excel.

“Try to get these guys in the right mindset.”

For example, in the second round against the Vancouver Canucks, Mumford came in for goalie Stuart Skinner, who had lost two straight games under backup Calvin Pickard.

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“It went a long way in helping me refocus,” Skinner said.

“He’s just an amazing guy.”

Munford was in the background for much of the game, but he celebrated on the ice with the Oilers after their win over the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference final.

Zach Hyman called him the team's “secret weapon.”

“It really helped us change our perspective on the game,” the Edmonton winger said.

“It’s great because it’s not hockey specific, it’s sports specific, it’s life specific.”

Click to play video:

Edmonton Oilers GM discusses ups and downs leading up to Stanley Cup Final

Hyman said Munford told everyone that despite the early season being tough, everyone still believed things would get better.

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“We have confidence,” he said. “A lot of it comes down to having a strong belief in our team and each other, and treating every day as a new day and a new opportunity.”

Mumford never thought he'd be part of a team that made a run at the Cup. Now that the unexpected moments have arrived — starting with Jackson's unexpected pitch — he's soaking up all the knowledge he can.

“It’s an honor and a privilege,” Mumford said. “And a great pleasure.”

Click to play video:

Are the Edmonton Oilers 'Canada's Team'?

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