It's easy to see how practicing yoga, with its emphasis on flexibility and balance, could be beneficial to any goaltender. But Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens planned to take it to another level this season by going barefoot.
Just like yoga students often are encouraged to spread their toes for better balance and a better foundation when doing poses, Price believed that taking off his socks in his skates did the same on the ice.
"I felt like I could grip the soles of my skates better with my toes," Price said after a sockless goalie session in August. "Especially when I am just standing there, I can really grip and really hold onto those things."
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Unfortunately for Price, the realities of being in skates as often and as long as he is ended the barefoot experiment by the time he helped Team Canada win the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in September. Lace bite forced Price to put socks back on, but as he pointed out a new type of material in the tongue of a new pair of skates in the Canadiens locker room recently, he seemed hopeful of trying again.
"I liked it better without socks," he said. "So we'll see. I might go back."
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Barefoot or not, Price is one of many NHL goaltenders who has embraced the benefits of yoga. He added it to his offseason routine a couple of years ago and said he practices as often as he can early each summer with a trainer near his offseason home in Kelowna, British Columbia, ramps up to daily sessions in August, and maintains a short morning routine during the season that is designed specifically to lengthen his hamstrings and back.
"Yoga makes sense for goalies," Price said. "I heard of a few goalies doing it, and as you get older and wiser, you have to change how you prepare, you have to do a little extra to maintain."
Yoga is not an everyday staple for all goalies, but some of the best have talked about its benefits. Tim Thomas credited yoga for helping him win the Vezina Trophy in 2008-09 with the Boston Bruins despite a hip injury that eventually was repaired surgically. Former NHL goaltender Ray Emery said he used yoga and Pilates during his recovery from a career-threatening hip injury. And Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers has talked about using yoga early in his NHL career, saying it helped for flexibility and being able to relax.
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Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller said he practices yoga each summer to help his posture recover from position-specific work during the season, so as he said, he can "look like a human being again."
"In the real world, I don't want my shoulders to be rotated in like a goaltending stance or I'll have neck problems," he said. "The foundational movements in yoga work through the range of motion you spend the entire season limiting."
Miller said during the season he has seen the links between yoga and daily workouts increase.
"The vast majority of the stuff I do in the weight room is so closely related now," he said. "You are adding weight to some things, doing body weight for others, core control for some, but it's become more blended. The workouts have become more functional over the years. Before they were, 'Add mass, get strong.' But now it's more about core, posture and tailoring your body to what you are going to be using it for rather than just, 'How much can I squat? How much can I bench?' Now you need core control for everything, you need oxygen for everything."
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The benefits of linking breathing to movement in yoga also can benefit goalies.
When New Jersey Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid was asked about playing what he described as a "calmer, less chaotic" style this season, he talked about breathing techniques rather than goaltending tactics, and identified breathing as a key to staying patient on shooters.
"Focusing on the breaths to get that heart rate down," he said. "Before you go out there, in between whistles or when someone is coming down on you, just breathe out deep so your heart rate is not pumping. … It's kind of hard to explain but breathing techniques and calming your heart rate so you are a lot calmer with your reactions, if that makes sense."
It did to Miller, and so did Price's theory about feeling the toes in the skates. He may not go barefoot, but it's why Miller asked for a wider foot bed in his custom-made skates.
"As a goalie, as you lean forward your feet kind of spread out," Miller said. "And if my toes spread and are not cramped I can really dig in with my toes, really lock in and use my toes to change direction."