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Ability to quickly reset hot-button issue for goalies

Different paths lead to common goal of mental toughness

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby doesn't have a reset button. Instead, he searches for a drop of water each time the puck gets past him.

Holtby's post-goal routine never changes: He lifts his mask, grabs the water bottle from the back of his net and squirts a stream of water high into the air, picking out one drop and focusing on it as it falls to the ice. What started as a way of refocusing during a junior game with Saskatoon in the Western Hockey League has morphed into a constant in his routine, thanks, in part, to work he has done with sports psychologist John Stevenson.

"Sometimes my vision would get a little shaky or my mental focus was off a little bit, and working with my sports psychologist when I was younger, he told me to find something small and focus on it in between whistles to try and bring your focus back into one point," Holtby said. "I just found something that was moving and small and a drop of water was the way it turned out. I started doing it before I was on camera the whole game (in the NHL), so I didn't even notice how weird it was, but now it's definitely noticed."

Former Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff used to take one drink of water, spit it out, then spray his face with the water bottle. It was the first step of what goalie coach Marcoux, now a contributor to the Coaches Room feature on, calls the five Rs of resetting after a goal: release, relax, review, regroup and refocus.

Not every goaltender has a post-goal routine as strict, or as easy to spot, as those of Holtby or Kiprusoff. Some, like Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, simply skate into the corner. Others clean their crease, as if wiping away the goal. Some don't do anything specific. But they all know how important it is to move on quickly.

Dwelling on one goal often leads to another.

"You can't do anything about it," Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner said. "It's useless for you to think about it. It's not going to help you. It's not going to bring that goal back, so just try to be positive and focus on the next puck. One or two big saves after the goal can make a big difference, and if you think about it too much, that's when it kind of snowballs."

Lehner doesn't have a routine after a goal, but backup Chad Johnson does.

"For me it's all about breathing; I usually just take a big deep breath and just breathe in and exhale and gather myself," said Johnson, who works with sports psychologist Dr. Saul Miller. "I'm really focusing on [breathing in], and then you exhale and release any kind of negativity. It's like meditating, which I do a lot of. That helps me to just refocus."

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Jeff Glass has developed a similarly subtle post-goal routine while working for the past two years with Pete Fry, a skills coach. Fry, a goaltender who was selected by the New Jersey Devils in the 1987 NHL Draft, has a 30-day program to work on a mindset for goaltenders. Glass credits his work with Fry for helping him get to the NHL at age 32 this season after seven seasons playing in Russia.

"It's more a body-posture thing for me: Stand up tall, push your chest out, try to take a couple of deep breaths and reset," Glass said. "We started working on body posture, body language, reactions to a goal, things you can control on the ice that I never used to believe I had control of.

"I know it's cliche, but lots of goalies tend to dwell on the last goal, and I have been guilty of it too, but you have to be able to learn from it and move on and very quickly get yourself back into a rhythm and put yourself in a mental position to get ready for the next shot."

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price usually grabs a drink of water after a goal but doesn't have any planned physical actions.

"Not consciously anyway," he said.

Like a lot of goalies, Price looks at the goal replayed on the video scoreboard over center ice.

"I already know what I should have done before I watch it," Price said, "but I usually look at it, process it, park it and move on."

Holtby and Glass watch the replay too. Johnson only looks up if he isn't sure how the puck went in because of a bounce or screen.

"I never watch on the Jumbotron," Vancouver Canucks backup Anders Nilsson said. "Sometimes the replay gets slow and they are almost dropping the puck and you are like, 'I just want to watch it one more time.'"

Of course, that would mean he hasn't moved on from the goal yet, and that's hard enough to do without waiting for another look at it.

"The toughest part of goaltending is to accept you let in a goal and there is nothing you can do about it," Nilsson said.

Which is why so many goalies search for their own way to wash it away and quickly move forward.

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