Mastering the mental side of the game
Being a great goalie is not just about puck control & good hand-eye coordination. The mindset of the goalie is just as important.
Coaches talk about body and glove positioning, a balanced stance, watching the puck, and keeping on top of your butterfly. Being a great goalie is not just about mastering puck control and having good hand-eye coordination. It is as much about the mindset of the goalie—what’s going on in your head—as it is technique. Protecting the net can be an isolating and often unforgiving role. That means it takes a certain amount of mental strength to excel at it.
Corey Hirsch is an NHL veteran goalie whose playing career spanned 14 years and in 1994 netted him an Olympic silver medal. He told si.com that goaltending is 80% mental. The mindset of the goalie is about staying alert at all times while remaining physically relaxed. When not directly focused on the game, it is easy for goalies to become complacent.
Professionals past and present say it’s vital to stay switched on at every moment. This is whether or not the puck is in your zone. It ensures that a sound technique will flourish when called upon. It also means having the emotional capacity to deal with the disappointment of conceding. It’s the ability to reset the brain and stay focused.
Dealing with Disappointment
For goalies, accept the fact that some days you’ll be the villain, other days you’re the hero. On such days it’s important to keep your feet on the ground. True, the point scorers might be the ones who get the video games named after them. But fans and players understand the importance of the person assigned to keeping the pucks out of the net.
That’s why many of the greatest Stanley Cup performances have come from goalies. Think Dominik Hasek in 2002, Jean-Sebastian Giguere in 2003, and Tim Thomas in 2011. The Bruins star recorded a save percentage of .967 in seven games against the Vancouver Canucks that year, including two shutouts in Games 4 and 7.
Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2020’s race for the Cup was one reason behind the franchise’s favorites tag. Going into Game 6, bookmakers’ money-line odds had the Lightning at -170 to win, prior to what would become the Stanley Cup decider. Understandably, they were fancied in puck-line betting too. This spread betting option can be a bit confusing. But, as explained at howtobet.com, the favorite must win by two clear goals. Tampa Bay did just that, with Vasilevskiy instrumental in shutting out Dallas in a 2-0 victory.
USA Hockey regional mentor and goalie consultant Justin Goldman co-authored the book The Power Within with Dallas Stars goalie coach Mike Valley. Goldman says that mastering your emotions is a huge advantage for a healthy mindset of the goalie. In an interview with icehockeysystems.com, he advises players to set aside their anger at playing a bad game. He emphasizes that they should consider instead how they can make adjustments to improve for the next one. Anger can be a good thing as it displays a hunger to win. But it’s more about channeling that anger effectively, by turning a negative into a positive.
Former goaltender Hirsch suggests finding a quiet spot prior to a game to focus and visualize plays. He also reminds goalies to accept that disappointment and defeat are part of the game. As author and psychologist Dr. Dan Schaefer says, the bounce-back mentality separates the good from the great.
Goaltending Is Not for Everyone
It’s true, tending the net in hockey is a unique position that not everyone is suited for. Sure, technical ability may help goaltenders accomplish great things. But it’s the mental side of the game—the mindset of the goalie—that produces the best goalies. Dr. Saul Miller, author of Hockey Tough and Performing Under Pressure, says the following mantra is what must be at the forefront of every goalie’s mind at all times: “Next shot. See it, and stop it.” That way, the brain remains focused and emotions are kept in check. And that’s the recipe for great goaltending.