Marc-Andre Fleury has a 28-16-5 record with a 2.37 GAA with the Penguins this season. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
You’ve all heard them say it before: “You have to be crazy to be a goalie!”
Although I’ve met my share of crazy goalies over the years, that statement continues to grow further from the truth. Sure, back in the day of no masks and extremely minimal body armor, you had to be crazy to stand in front of one of those wicked banana-blade slappers - maybe that’s part of the reason why Glenn Hall was sick before every game.
Nowadays, with the technological advances in the production of equipment, goalies no longer have to fear anybody’s shot, no matter what type of stick or curve they are using.
Are goalies quirky? Do they have superstitions? Absolutely. Hall of Fame goalie Tony Esposito, who was one of the innovators of the butterfly style, wouldn’t speak a word to anyone on game day until it was over. Ask any goalie about their game-day routine and you will see a trend: their pre-game meal is consistent, the length of their nap will not change, the order in which they put on their equipment is always the same and the route they drive to the rink and the music they listen to on the way will only be altered if the previous game didn’t go so well.
When I played and found myself in a slump, my wife’s lentil soup was the cure and I always dressed the left side of my body first - it started at home and continued with putting on my gear at the rink.
I can go on forever about goalie quirks. However, keeping that in mind, goalies have a vision of the game like no other player on the team. They stand in their crease and see the entire ice. They are constantly processing information. Goalies are true students of the game and pay attention to every detail. They can tell you who has the puck just by looking at that player’s stick blade. They know who the opposition’s key players are and when they are on the ice at all times. They understand which players are shooters and which look to make the extra pass. This information is of vital importance because the speed of the game does not allow them a delay in reaction.
As goalies progress with age and playing level, coaches will ask their netminder for input on the team’s defensive zone coverage and, especially, penalty-killing situations. Why? Because like a quarterback in football the goalie “reads” the opposing team’s offense, recognizes where the danger is and what area requires special attention. Most of a goalie’s preparation is physical, but come game time, it’s all mental. No matter how quick, flexible or big the goalie is, if he is unable to think at the speed of the game, he will never be able to make the right decision at the right time.
Yes, goalies are unique. Do not mess with their equipment on game day; they’ll notice. But also know that not one facet of the on-ice game will go unnoticed. They will pick up on everything - even if a slumping opposition player has changed the way he tapes his stick. Goalies know which rinks have lively boards and recognize how that may factor into the game. They will take all this information and prepare themselves physically in practice so that come game time their reactions will be automatic and smooth when a situation presents itself.
It is no wonder that many of today’s TV hockey analysts are former goalies. Kelly Hrudey, Glenn Healy, John Garrett, Greg Millen and Darren Pang - whether they were in the net or on the bench, they, like all goalies, developed an eye for the game and an understanding of it most people struggle to comprehend.
Mike Rosati is a former professional goalie and current owner of the Canadian Goaltending Academy in Barrie, Ont. He grew up in Toronto, played in the OHL before being drafted by the New York Rangers. He then opted to head to Europe where he spent 14 seasons in Italy and Germany's DEL winning eight combined championships. Between 1994 and 2003 he was a key member of Italy's national team, participating in two Olympics and nine World Championships.