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Simple Things You Can Do to Help Your Goaltender

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Much has been written about how a team must treat its goalie, with the majority of that relating to game play.  However, many of the things you can do to help make your goalie’s life easier and allow her to stay healthy, happy, and focused on the game are things that you can do while the puck is not even in play.

I’m one of the many people who’s had the fortune of playing both as a goalie and skater.  I can say from experience what little things complicate my existence while working the honeycomb hideout, and I can also see that when I am a skater, helping my goaltender with certain seemingly small issues is greatly appreciated.

1)      Don’t Crowd the Goalie in the Changeroom

We’ve all been there—an arena seemingly built in the 14th century where, for unknown reasons, the changerooms may accommodate seven skaters and their equipment, yet we have fifteen skaters and a goalie show up on game night.  But goalies have nearly twice the amount of equipment as skaters, both in weight and volume.  Imagine trying to not only carry in 40 pounds of gear but then finding a space to set it out and get dressed.  Kitting up for goalie is generally more time consuming and definitely more space consuming than putting on skater equipment.  You know how, as a skater, you have those days where once you’ve put on your equipment before the game, you feel exhausted, as if you’ve already had a workout?  Now imagine that you have twice as much equipment to put on, some of which requires contortionist skill to buckle, snap, or Velcro.  Do you want your rec team’s goalie to go out on the ice already exhausted, irritated, and possibly with a pulled muscle???

Leave space in the changeroom for your goalie, preferably in a space where no one is going to have to walk on her equipment.  This should be a priority for any team.  Make it one.

2)      Open and Close Doors

Goalies don’t have gloves.  They have a blocker and a catcher.  For a lot of goalies, once the catcher (or blocker) goes on, it has to be cinched tightly and in such a way that it is not easily removed and put back on during games.  This leaves us goalies with lobster claws instead of hands; no digital dexterity of any sort.  Some goalies are able to take their catchers and blockers off easily, but even if they do, they still have to manage their water bottle and unwieldy stick.

We’ve all been at those 14th century arenas where the doors from the benches to the ice are made of some sort of wrought iron gate latches that seem more designed to keep out an attacking medieval cavalry than to let you and your teammates on and off the ice.  We’ve all had to bang on these to get them to open or close, we’ve all pinched our hands in them, and we’ve all sworn and kicked at the doors that wouldn’t open.  Now imagine trying to do that with lobster claws while holding your water bottle and unwieldy stick.  See my point?

And for heaven’s sake, if your goalie is going to be the last one out of the change room, don’t leave her on her own to fiddle with the lock on the changeroom door. 

3)      Put the Nets on the Moorings Before Games

One of the most disturbing trends I see in women’s rec hockey is the goalies putting the nets on the moorings themselves.  I know this can be perhaps attributed to a lot of us starting hockey later in life and 1) not knowing how to put the moorings in or the nets on, or 2) not knowing that it’s not the goalie’s job.

We’ve had some very animated discussion in my league about whose job it actually is to secure the nets before a game, and while some say it’s the arena staff’s job, and others say it’s the referees’ job, and still others say it’s up to the team’s skaters, I will only say here that it is NOT the goalie’s job.

Once you, as a skater, hit the ice for warmup, if the arena staff is nowhere in sight and the refs are not out yet to help, then get one of your teammates to help you put the nets on.  It’s a simple exercise that takes less than thirty seconds when done with a helper.  However, for someone wearing 40-50 pounds of equipment and lobster claws for hands, it’s tiring, frustrating, and not how your goalie should be spending her warmup.  As we women’s rec players know, we are often lucky to even get a whopping 90 second warmup.  So don’t waste that precious time waiting for someone else to put the nets on.  The sooner you can get the nets moored, the sooner you can start warming up your goalie.  Which brings us to our next topic. . . .

4)      Properly Warm Up Your Goalie

Once your goalie gets on the ice before a game, her first priority will probably be to stretch.  Once that’s done, she’ll head into the net to get warm. . .WOAH!!! INCOMING!! SLAPSHOT TO THE HEAD!

That is not how warmup should work for the goalie.  Most goalies want to be warmed up gradually.  And don’t shoot at them until they are clearly ready to take shots (hint:  if her back is to you while she situates her water bottle on the net, she is NOT ready for you to shoot at her).  Start with shots directly to her pads and catcher or blocker.  The purpose of shooting at the goalie in warmup at our level is only TO WARM UP THE GOALIE.  It’s not about YOU!  If you want to practice your new hard snapshot, do that over against the boards.  If you want to practice your fancy Datsyuk deke, do that in a remote corner of the ice.  The goalie should be warmed up first by being given shots that she can see, easily stop, and use to get a feel for her pads and the ice.  As a skater, you want to not only get your goalie used to using her pads to stop pucks, but you don’t want to undermine her confidence by hitting top-shelf water-bottle zingers and then celebrating like you just won the Clarkson Cup—in warmup.  And trying to deke out the goalie during warmup will probably just annoy her as she’s not going to risk pulling a muscle to stop your cool moves with the puck.

Most importantly—ask your goalie what she wants from you in warmup and do exactly that.

5)      Pull the Puck from the Net

As a goalie, hearing the puck hit the net behind you and the subsequent celebrations of the other team is hard enough.  In the immediate seconds after being scored on, I just want to crawl under the ice surface and disappear for about a minute or at least until the next faceoff.  What can prolong this moment of agony for a goalie is the task of pulling the puck out of the net.  Sometimes the puck is lodged in the net itself or stuck under the net.  The unwieldy stick isn’t really helpful in dislodging these pucks.  And the very act of having to remove a puck from within the net area when you should have never let it in at all can be humiliating.

When your goalie is scored on, unless she makes a move to remove the puck herself, as a skater, get the puck out of the net so she doesn’t have to and can instead take a few extra seconds to try to re-compose herself.

6)      Give Credit Where Credit is Due in Shootouts

I once watched a championship game in a rec league where the outcome was left to a shootout.  The shootout must have gone about six rounds before it was decided, as simultaneous shootouts often are, when one team’s shooter scored and that same team’s goalie made the save.  The skaters all rushed over the boards to swarm the shooter who had scored.  And there stood the goalie, who had made the save to give her team the win, all alone on the other end of the ice.  She eventually joined in the celebration, but I wondered why none of her teammates realized that it was both the scorer and the goalie who had won that game.  If the goalie wouldn’t have stopped her opponent’s shot, the team would have had to go on to another shootout round. 

I believe that this mentality starts at a young age in our society which far too often recognizes the achievements of goal scorers over defenders.  I was at a Chicago Blackhawks game with my nephew last season.  The game went into OT and then into a shootout.  The game went into the second round with no one scoring until Patrick Kane scored his shootout goal.  The very next shot was taken by Steven Stamkos shooting on Corey Crawford, and Crawford stopped the shot, sealing the victory for the Blackhawks.  When my nephew and I got back to his parents’ house after the game, his dad asked how the game went.  My nephew immediately exclaimed that Patrick Kane had won the game for the Hawks.  I said, “Hey, that’s not exactly true.  Crawford won the game by stopping that last shot.”  It was interesting to see the look on this face as his brain considered what I just presented, and to my delight he said, “Well, actually you’re right!”  It was a paradigm shift for him that I hope still stays with him to this day.

In our rec league games, we usually have simultaneous shootouts, and chances are good that if your team wins in a shootout, it was because your shooter scored AND your goalie made the save.  Be sure to celebrate with them both.

I am going to leave the game play logistics of taking care of your goalie to the experts.  Here I have listed just a few easy things you can do to help out your goalie, arguably your most important teammate.  There is a simple proverb that sums this all up:  “Take care of your goalie, and your goalie will take care of you.”  The more you can try to understand the ways in which you can make your netminder’s life easier, the more successful your team will be—or at least the more harmony will be found while you are packed like sardines in your 14th century arena’s changeroom before and after games.

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