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As you grow up playing hockey, you will find that the road to where you want your career to go is not always an easy one. The goalies that achieve their goals find a way to overcome obstacles along the way. Every since I could remember, I dreamt of playing college hockey. I knew what I wanted my life to be like, and it revolved around hockey. When I was around 13 years old, we had a strength and conditioning coach come to my team (Honeybaked AAA) to talk to about being physically fit. Around this age, players can start to weight train if their bodies have physically matured. The importance of training the correct way becomes monumental in a goaltenders development. I took these lessons of weight training and being fit to heart, and started to add a solid foundation of muscle to my body. I started to feel stronger when I was playing in net, so I continued to work out hard off the ice. I was determined to get stronger and better each day, as was shown by my routines off of the ice.
I was making sure that I was doing something athletic everyday, in order to become a better all around athlete. If I had a day off from any of my sports (hockey, soccer, baseball), I was lifting weights and continuing to get stronger and faster. Around 15 years old I had to quit my other sports in order to give hockey all of my time and energy. I got into more hockey specific training and became more determined then ever to play for a Division 1 college hockey program. Other kids on my team started to get recruited by junior hockey and college teams, as they were labeled “can’t miss” prospects. I was not labeled “can’t miss” prospect because I stood at only 5’5″. Scouts are trying to project the future and regardless of what they try to tell you, size is the first thing that they look at. Trust me, I was playing against all of the other goalies at this time that were being recruited by big time college programs, and none of them had done anything close to what I had accomplished in my career up to that point. I took that to heart, and didn’t settle to be second best. I started to work even harder and do everything in my power to get noticed.
Luckily, all you need to get a chance to advance your career is one team and one person that believes in you and is willing to give you a shot. Mine was Keith Fisher who was the scout for the Omaha Lancers in the USHL. I ended up being rewarded for all of my hard work and committed to play in Omaha for my senior year of high school. This is when my dream of playing college hockey seemed so close that I could almost taste it. This is when I made sure that I wasn’t going to leave my dream to chance, and I was 100% committed to becoming a high end college athlete. In my opinion, this is a time when some players can get complacent with their careers. Some players aren’t mature enough to live away from home and take care of themselves the right way. Outside influences start to tempt young players (alcohol, drugs, girls) and sometimes these things become the first priority instead of following their hockey dreams. Also, a lot of players just want the easy way out. They think that they are entitled to a college scholarship since they have made a junior team, and everyone else around them was being recruited so they should be too. Believe me, you have to create your own breaks and make the best of every opportunity that is given to you in order to advance to the next level.
I ended up taking advantage of an off ice incident of my goalie partner, and played almost every minute of the last third of the season. I ended up with a great year and was on the All-Rookie team and was a Second-Team All Star for the league. The only problem was that I was the only player on either of those teams that hadn’t committed to a college. The handful of schools that were recruiting me during that year had all decided to “go in a different direction with their goaltending.” Basically, that meant they thought another goalie was better than me. I looked up the goalies that they took instead of me, and made a mental note for the future. (More on this in a minute)
Finally, a break came through and Brian Renfrew of Michigan State University called me to come for a visit to MSU and speak to Coach Comley. As they say, the rest is history and I went to MSU after I played one more year in Omaha. At Michigan State, I had to work hard for every second of playing time that I got in the first half of my freshman year and finished at Christmas break with a personal record of 1-2-3. Obviously, this wasn’t the start that I was looking for numbers wise, but I felt I was playing well and continued to work hard each and every day as I was finally living my dream. At our annual Christmas tournament, the other goalie got pulled in the championship game, and I went in and played my best hockey up to date. From that point on, I started all but 7 games in my 4 year career. I treated every start like it was my last, and went in with the mindset that I had to earn my next start. Nothing in this sport is given to you, and as you can see my from stories, if someone gives you an inch, you take a mile.
Back to my previous point about taking it personally when other teams took other goalies over me; I ended up playing against 3 of those teams in NCAA Tournament games, and I ended all of their seasons. None of those schools won a National Championship during my 4 years, so it’s a great reminder that things happen for a reason. I made sure that my best games of the year were against these teams, as I wanted to make sure that they realized that they can measure my size, but they can’t measure my heart.
Every player that is playing college or professional hockey had some sort of driving force that propelled them to achieve their dreams. Some players have had tougher paths than others, but everyone has found a way to be the driver of their future and has continually gotten better in order to prolong their careers. There will be many distractions and naysayers along the way, but the feeling you get after you have achieved your dream is something that you will have forever. Always remember a great quote from ex-Edmonton Oilers coach, Craig Mactavish, “the only way to predict the future is to make it happen.”
As goaltenders practice each day, they develop muscle memory without even thinking about it. Each time a shot is saved, your muscles remember those distinct movements. There are both good things and bad things that happen when these muscles take shape. An example of the good happens when your body moves fluidly with your legs and arms in perfect position, and you make a great save. Some bad muscle memory occurs when your body likes something that isn’t necessarily the best for you as a goaltender. In my opinion, the bad habits can be formed in practice during shooting drills. We all know these drills. The coaches blow the whistle over and over and try to get the skaters up and down the ice as fast as possible. The goalies rarely have time to get reset for each shot, so we start to form bad habits. We are trying to stay up to this pace and stop every puck, so our body starts to do things without us even knowing. If you watch any goaltender, when he/she starts to get tired, you will notice that they do things that make their body comfortable. Some start to hunch over, while others brings their gloves lower than they should be, but the area impacted most by these bad practice plans is the legs.
As goalies, we all have a dominate leg that we feel more comfortable getting up on every time we go into the butterfly. So, as you may have guessed, when our body starts to get tired we get up on this leg after almost every shot. These shooting drills are happening so fast, that we aren’t playing out the rebounds because we will get killed by the next shooter. Since, we don’t have to move to follow the rebounds, we just get up the fastest way possible, which is using our strong leg. So after we just went down 100 times during the course of a practice, we probably got up 80-90 times on our strong leg. This becomes a cyclical process since our strong leg gets stronger and we continue to feel more and more comfortable getting up with it.
If you can’t tell, this is something that I have been working through. Over the past year and a half, I tore and rehabbed both of my ACL’s. The rehab is a long process, so I didn’t know what to expect my first time through. Like many things in life, I did things better my second time around. I knew what to do and rehabbed my leg harder and smarter and now my left leg has become my dominant leg. I have noticed that when I start to get worn down or need to get up quickly, that my left leg rapidly moves without me even thinking. So, I consciously try to get up with my right leg now when I have time. If I need to get up quickly then my left leg will take over, but I now make a concerted effort, to try get up on each leg around 50/50 each practice. Since, my right leg still needs extra work, I make sure to do about 50-100 butterflies each day after practice and only get up on my right leg.
The long term effects of developing both legs will help us become a more dynamic goaltender in many ways. As the play moves from side to side, we will be as equally effective moving both ways. Think about how many times we subconsciously push with only one leg to get around the crease. My goal as a goaltender is to not have any weaknesses in my game. I feel that developing both legs to be strong will give me the best chance to make any type of save that I need to make.
Here’s a great article from former NHL goaltender Kevin Weekes talking about the importance of skating for goaltenders. It is no coincidence that we do power skating drills at our camps and private lessons!