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Erika Vanderveer's Blog: Struggling goalies need to get back to basics

Vanderveer works on her fundamentals at the Canadian Goaltending Academy.

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Vanderveer works on her fundamentals at the Canadian Goaltending Academy.

Having to watch the opposing team celebrate in front of your net is hard to bear, but having to watch this over and over in one game – now that’s just straight-up gut-wrenching.

After letting in multiple back-to-back goals, goalies are called upon to stand tall and strong and believe we can still be the hero in a game that has obviously gone to the dogs.

But as the remaining seconds dwindle to end a game, only doubt and humiliation flood our brains:

“If only I had stopped that last 2-on-0, we would have still been in this game!”

“What the heck was my defenseman thinking?!?”

“Where the heck were the backcheckers!?!”

It would be a lie to say goaltenders never lose their confidence and begin to feel tiny in front of a huge net. While the Average Joe already thinks goalies are crazy, there is undoubtedly a lot more going on in our heads than you can imagine. Let me indulge you with a little goaltender insight during these rough times.

First and foremost, we will never surrender. We will never give up. We want to win more than anyone else. We may stand there with a straight face, showing no emotion after a bad loss, but deep down inside we’re cringing, wanting so badly to turn back time and make just four more saves in that game.

We get undressed, leave the rink and only until we are in complete solitude do we really begin to reflect on what just happened. “Did I really just let in five goals?” “What the heck happened?” “Am I going to get another shot to prove myself?” “That was ridiculous!” Add in a few more choice words and that should be about right. 

We can fail over and over, but at some point we’re driven to pick ourselves up off the floor and return to playing the way we know we can - the way we have for so many successful years.

But where do we begin? It’s quite simple, actually. It’s all about returning to fundamentals. Personally, that consisted of returning to the ones that have guided me through my entire career: Ray Dyke and Mike Rosati of Canadian Goaltending Academy.

With their guidance and advice, I have narrowed down and focused my game on the following five fundamentals:

Stick on the ice
Probably the most noted piece of advice a goalie is given throughout their entire career. Focus on your stick, track the puck and always lead with your stick on the ice.

Square Up
Always stay square to the puck. Square up your shoulders and hips to the shot and be prepared to adjust on the rebound. If you focus on being square to the puck, nine times out of 10 it will hit you, rather than you having to make an over-exerting stretch save.

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Focus
When it all comes down to it, the only thing that matters is that six-ounce piece of rubber. You can practise your butterfly slides all you want, but you must stop that puck, any way you can.

If you’re focused on that puck, constantly tracking and following the play, your instincts and natural goalie reactions will kick in. After all, you have practised every save millions of times through your career…Focus on the puck and trust your skills.

Patience
This was key for me. Rosati’s insight was that it might be necessary to readjust to the speed of the game; whether that means increasing your own foot speed to keep up, or remaining patient and allowing the game to come to you.

“Normally when a goalie’s confidence level is low,” he said, “they will tend to be over-eager to make the save and most times that complicates matters even more.”

Mental Game
A goalie’s game is 100 percent mental – all the training and hard work will mean nothing if the focus isn’t there – so when confidence levels are at an all-time low, analyzing your mental game is a good place to start. Rosati trains goalies to stay composed throughout the 60 minutes of the game. The best way to do so, he explains, is to have a really bad memory:

“You need to be able to put behind you that last save or that last goal and prepare yourself for the next shot or before long you will have two goals to worry about.”

He calls this the game within the game.

“It can be an emotional roller coaster at times,” Rosati said, “and goalies who are able to control their emotions the best are the ones who will be consistently successful.”

Erika Vanderveer is a goaltender with the Burlington Barracudas of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, a six-team circuit featuring many the game’s top female players. Vanderveer is in her second season in the CWHL after spending four years tending goal at Ohio State on a full scholarship and one year in Austria playing in the European Women’s League. She will blog for THN.com throughout the season. Read her other entries HERE.

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