Examining the rituals and mentality of hockey goaltenders

by | Dec 18, 2020 | Sports

To listen to Canadian paralympic gold medalist Paul Rosen tell it, hockey goalies are a breed apart. And, really, why wouldn’t they be?

“When a forward makes a mistake, the defence is there. When the defence makes a mistake, we are there. When we make a mistake, it’s in the net,” Rosen told Et Cetera, explaining why goaltenders often display personality quirks seen as different or weird.

“They have to be on their own a little, which makes everybody think they are a little weird,” Rosen said.

They don’t tend to prepare for games the way other players do, in large part because the roles are so different.

Rosen said goalies shouldn’t and don’t get ready the same way that players do, because the job they have to do bears little resemblance to the skaters in front of them.

The position demands the reflexes of a cat, the toughness of an airplane tire and nerves of a cat burglar.

Also, a willingness, as the last line of defence for every team, to face the music for blown saves, blown wins, and the team’s overall level of confidence.

So it’s not surprising that goalies have superstitions, the better to rally all possible forces — both athletic and supernatural — to their side.

“I would tape my shin pad onto my left leg from outside to inside 13 times,” Rosen said.

Then, before the first puck is dropped, he’d feel compelled to tap his stick on both his left and right shoulder, twice, then his head, then the crossbar. In that order. Every time.

Others in the weird fraternity of goaltenders agree.

“I get to the rink at a certain time, tape my stick at a certain time, and put certain pieces of gear on first,” said Luke Richardson, goaltender for the Queen’s Golden Gaels Varsity men’s hockey team.

Rituals are all part of mental preparation and the business of focusing on the task ahead, the two goalies agreed.

Such psychological gamesmanship can be seen almost every time a goal is scored. The victimized goalie will take off his mask, turn to the water bottle on his net and drink. He resets, refreshes, refocuses — puts that goal behind him and thinks only about the next shot, not the last.

Goalies need to be able to handle pressure in the tensest moments and most hostile environments.

“It’s the ability to not let anything bother you,” Richardson said, even when games are on the line, especially when things aren’t going his team’s way.

Goaltenders see the game from a unique vantage point, from one end of the rink, seeing the entire ice surface and the play unfold in front of them.

They spend much of the game alone, being fussy housekeepers to the ice around their crease, continually tapping their best friends — the goalposts — to make sure they’re still there.

They say they stand ready to go from relaxed mode to high alert within a heartbeat, staring down breakaways, peering through forests of legs for screened shots, hacking at attackers taking liberties in their territory marked by light blue paint, all the while knowing the red goal light behind them is a remorseless judge.