A goalie’s missteps are magnified like no one else’s on the ice. Imagine if lights flashed, a horn blasted and colleagues gathered at the center of your office every time you made a mistake at work.
And what if you were yanked from your desk and replaced when you made that same mistake a few too many times? That’s a goalie’s life.
It’s his job, however, to quickly put errors behind and regroup. Getting rattled incites the opposing team; remaining positive calms your own bench.
Blackhawks goalie Cristobal Huet, now in his second season with the team, is about as calm and composed as goaltending coach Stephane Waite has seen. “I’ve been a goalie coach for 28 years, and he’s one of the best about controlling his emotions,” says Waite, who works closely with Huet and backup Antti Niemi every day.
“He’s never too high and never too low. After a great save or a bad goal, he stays even, and he bounces back well,” says Québec native Waite, who coaches his two goalies in English but chats about off-ice matters with Huet in French. “Every time we think he’s down, he comes back stronger, and I respect him a lot for that. You can’t teach that.”
Huet heard the boos, of course. They rained down especially hard during last season’s playoffs, and fans chastised him early this season, too. But the 34-year-old, who finds solace after games with his wife and two young sons, understands the message. “I don’t blame the fans – they pay a lot to watch me stop pucks.”
Whether the object of cheers or boos, the key is to stay in the game and table mistakes for later work. “You don’t want to listen to it too much,” says Huet, who’s just the second French citizen (after Philippe Bozon) and first French goalie in the NHL. “It’s the same thing when the crowd cheers for you. You don’t want to be affected by a moment – you have to do your own thing, so I try to ignore it.”
|"Every time we think he’s down," says coach Waite, "he comes back stronger." |
Waite says last season’s boos actually made Huet even stronger. “I tell goalies that you can’t control the booing. The only thing you can control is stopping the puck, working harder in practice, watching video and seeing if you can fix something. Just stay positive and work harder.”
Coming off an up-and-down first season with the Hawks where he shared time with Nikolai Khabibulin, the 6’1, 205-pound Huet has flourished in his second season as he grows into the number one spot. And while some Hawks fans questioned the four-year deal he signed in July 2008, the naysayers couldn’t have been aware of Huet’s history.
Among the highlights: being named to the 2007 NHL All-Star Game roster, winning the Roger Crozier Award for best save percentage (.929, for the 2005-06 season as a Montreal Canadien), and leading the Washington Capitals to a playoff berth in 2008 with 11 wins in 13 starts, just before signing with Chicago.
“Every point in his career he’s had to fight,” says Waite. “Everywhere he’s gone he was the underdog, but in the end he gets recognized.”