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.