Goalie focus is the key. A clean mental slate helps you stop those pucks.
By Evan Tabachnick
This previously published article has been updated
Goalie Focus is the key to winning. They are the golden words.
It starts the moment you first think about your next game. Are you worried about opposing players? Good. Look at the stats, the league leaders. Find out their numbers and keep them in your head. I always study opposing players’ attire (or ‘swag’)—mainly socks and sticks—to keep my eye as close to the puck as possible. In these leagues, the hotshots will do the majority of the scoring for their teams. That’s why this is where you should place a good share of your pre-game preparation.
When your opponents get their stick on the puck, come out a few extra strides to give them little to shoot at and force them to try to go around you. The longer you force a player to hang on to the puck, the greater the chance you give your defensemen to make a play and the more likely your opponent will lose the handle skating around you.
Relax and Stay Loose
Key scorers aside, you’ll want to relax and stay loose before the game. I always find that my best games happen when I’m having a lot of fun with my teammates in the locker room beforehand (after all, that’s the whole reason we play this game, right?). If that isn’t your bag and you’re real intense—the prototypical “weird goalie”—then establish a pre-game routine and whatever you do, don’t deviate. Listen to the same playlist before every game, have a dressing routine—whatever it takes. My superstitions are very subtle, but I always dress from left to right, even taking off my right skate and starting over if ever I accidentally begin on the wrong side.
When you get out there to warm up, routine becomes paramount. I skate a few laps around the ice to get my heart rate up, take a few shots without dropping down to get my hands loose, then head off to the side boards for a quick stretch (I don’t stretch in front of the net because I don’t want to be hit by anyone’s warm-up shots while I’m defenseless and vulnerable). With the remaining time, I’ll head back to the net for a few real game shots—dropping, flopping, diving, you name it.
Live in the Moment
Goalies know that every shot you face needs to be stopped, and that is a winning attitude. You don’t want any thoughts (good, bad, or ugly) to be lingering in your head before, during, or after the game. I learned about this valuable skill at a goalie camp I attended led by Mitch Korn, renowned NHL goalie coach: Close your eyes and count to 10. Any thought that creeps into your head (“Damn, we’re losing”; “All this sweat is burning my eyes”; “Cool, I just made it to nine”) starts you back at one. When you can make it all the way to 10, you are truly focused.
Goalie focus demands that you keep a clean mental slate and live in the moment. But most of all, have fun out there. When you overthink the game, it’s no fun at all. That is how you maintain your goalie focus.
Evan Tabachnick served as goalie for his high school varsity team and now plays forward on two adult hockey teams.