Have you ever noticed the reaction of Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff after giving up a weak goal or making the most unbelievable save of the night? It is exactly the same. He raises his mask and takes a drink of water, expressionless. Why? Because he, like every other high level goalie, understands that particular play is just one small episode of a game that requires at least 60 minutes of total concentration to complete.
Every goalie strives to attain that feeling of quiet, calm confidence, but maintaining it isn’t always an easy task. Quite honestly, it takes years of playing experience, suffering losses and celebrating victories to understand this fine balance is needed not only throughout the course of the season, but within each game. So the next time you see a goalie go for a skate after the whistle, understand he is trying to settle down and recompose himself for the next faceoff. He is either trying to contain his excitement from the big save he just made or attempting to quickly reflect on his error before re-engaging himself in the game.
I try to explain to my younger goalies the easiest way to maintain composure is to have a really bad memory. You need to be able to put that last goal behind you and prepare yourself for the next shot - if you don’t, before long you’ll have two goals to worry about.
I explain to them they have as much time as it takes for the next faceoff to occur to think about the goal and discard it - this is the game within the game. It can be an emotional roller-coaster at times and the goalies who are able to control their emotions and stay in the moment best are the ones who will consistently be successful.
When I trained Cristobal Huet during the NHL lockout, I knew he was destined for success not just because of his abilities, but also because of his temperament. He never allowed himself to get too high after a great win or too low after a defeat; he just didn’t get rattled. This serenity allowed him and his team the ability to compete against any other team on any given night. It is never hard to keep a positive attitude when everything is going well.
However, when facing adversity, it is even more important to remain upbeat. You must maintain the same passion and work ethic so you can demonstrate you have the ability to rise above it all when everyone is expecting you to fold under the pressure of the situation. You can be the glue that holds your team together.
Then there is the game between games. Whether it’s a professional sports journalist or your teammates’ parents, you will always be praised and/or criticized. Unlike the game within the game, here we can allow ourselves to dedicate some time to understand what our mistakes were and practice to correct them. However, as game day approaches, once again you need to dismiss and clear your head in preparation for your next opponent. After all, the season is long and so much of any team’s success depends on riding the wave of a confident goalie.
It is always a great moment when an experienced player passes on some of his wisdom to the younger generation. For myself that player was John Vanbiesbrouk. At my first training camp with the New York Rangers in 1988, he warned me of the New York media and how important it was to accept and disregard both the accolades and criticisms. He also noted that through the course of a season, the positives always outweigh the negatives.
Although shoulder surgery and the arrival of Mike Richter prevented me from ever having to deal with the New York media, 10 years later I represented Italy in net at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. At one point, I found myself standing with John outside the players’ dressing rooms chatting about how two completely different career paths brought us back to the same place in search of realizing the same dream of playing for an Olympic medal.
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.