To any St. Louis Blues fans bold enough to show up for Saturday night’s rematch with the Bruins at TD Garden: Brandon Carlo will be looking for you.
He means you no harm. This has nothing to do with last season’s Stanley Cup Final. If you wear your team’s colors, you’re helping him keep his head right.
The Bruins defenseman has a ritual during the national anthem, whether in Boston or elsewhere: He scans for a jersey, sweatshirt, or sign, and finds a bit of pregame peace.
“I look for blue in the crowd,” he said, “to convince myself I’m going to be positive and upbeat and ‘blue-brained.’ ”
The Bruins learned that term from their sports psychologist, Dr. Stephen Durant. It means a serene state of mind, being present, controlled, and rational. The negative state, “red-brained,” is a jittery, off-kilter, and impulsive kind of attitude that leads to poor decisions.
Carlo’s clinical description: “Blue brain is when you’re calm and just in a good place. Red brain is when you’re about to break your [expletive] stick over somebody’s head.”
During the 90 seconds or so it takes to sing the anthem — double against Canadian opponents — some Bruins focus on their opponent. Zdeno Chara is “going through the lines, the individual players, their habits and tendencies,” he said, and “focusing on what we talked about in the morning meetings.” Some refer to their own games. David Krejci reminds himself to “keep my feet moving and get my teammates involved.” Goalies Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak try to let their minds go blank.
Charlie McAvoy shuts his eyes.
“It’s my own little reflection time,” the third-year defenseman said. “Game things, life things, just how amazing the opportunity is, just kind of take it all in and be thankful and grateful for the opportunities that I have. Close my eyes and not let the moment be too big.”
No matter their habits, they stay cool with the help of Durant, who co-founded and co-directs the sports psychology program at Massachusetts General Hospital. A former rugby player, the 64-year-old doctor’s mental strength helped him overcome the loss of an eye during competition. He meets with the Bruins regularly during the season.
Durant, who also works with the Red Sox, declined to discuss his work at length — “It’s about the players, not the shrink,” he wrote in an e-mail — but he credited several others for the red-blue concept, including Gil Enoka, mental skills trainer for the All Blacks, New Zealand’s storied rugby team. A book outlining Enoka’s work, “Legacy,” by James Kerr, has reached the nightstands of several Bruins, including defenseman Kevan Miller and coach Bruce Cassidy.
Cassidy has dog-eared a few pages.
“I get red-brained during games,” he said. “I’m working on that, as every coach should. Listen, I’m emotional, I tell it like it is. During games, that will happen. I think players are OK with it, as long as I don’t get carried away.”
When he does, he knows to take a deep breath to get back to blue. Carlo uses a visual cue. When winger Jake DeBrusk goes sideways, he gets moving.
“I usually skate,” said DeBrusk. “My reset is usually during TV timeouts, skate around, get moving. Once I’m in my zone, I do anything I can to stay in it.
“When I’m feeling it, when I’m hot, I’m thinking the same way on the ice and off the ice. It’s hard to do. Days go by, and you’re trying to stay feeling it.”
In addition to seeing Durant individually as needed, the Bruins stay grounded with bimonthly team meetings. Grievances are aired. Feelings are shared. The leadership group, particularly Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and David Backes, encourage expression.
“It’s nice to know where everything stands,” defenseman Matt Grzelcyk said. “It’s important to know where each guy is, so you know where they’re coming from.”
Cassidy considers the room its own ecosystem, but Durant will let him know “if there’s an underlying theme of these meetings that will help us be better, if there’s too much anxiety in the room, too much stress. He’s not going to sit there and say, ‘Kevan Miller said you’re a [bleep bleep] today.’ ”
As a player, Harvard-educated general manager Don Sweeney found sports psychology fascinating, taking bits and pieces from various books. He sees it as a vital part of the Bruins’ operation.
“There was a time it was voodoo,” said Sweeney, who played 1,115 games in the NHL, the vast majority with the Bruins. “I believe people are much more open-minded now.”
Veterans such as Krejci, 14 years and 855 games into his career, are trying to keep their brains blue.
“The season’s really long, so you’re going to go through stretches where the red brain activates,” he said. “You have to find a way to activate the other side. Everyone has their approach.”
It’s seen in Carlo when he looks for someone, anyone, wearing a shade of royal, navy or indigo. It’s never hard to find in Toronto, Tampa or Buffalo. It’ll be easy in New York on Sunday, with all that Broadway blue in the crowd.
Carlo’s even covered in Calgary, where there’s nary a speck in a sea of red. He just stares at the boards.
“Geico sign,” he said. “There’s one in every building.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports