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Head games no issue for Flames goalie Rittich

25-year-old rookie latest to take superstition to next level

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

Calgary Flames backup goaltender David Rittich likes to have his head in the game as early as possible.

So, on days he is scheduled to start, he asks someone to take shots at his mask at the end of the morning skate, a ritual with roots to his 36-save shutout Oct. 14 while playing for Stockton of the American Hockey League.

That morning, goaltending coach Colin Zulianelo accidentally shot a puck off Rittich's mask. Rittich's next start did not feature puck hitting mask during the morning skate, and he allowed five goals. So a tradition began.

It has continued in Calgary since his promotion to the NHL on Nov. 24, and the duty now falls to Flames goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet.

Each time Rittich is scheduled to start, Sigalet meets him near center ice at the end of the pregame skate and does his best to put two shots off his mask.

 

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"[He] just crouches down and puts his head down and I flip them straight up at his cage pretty hard. As soon as I get the second one, he gives me a high-five and skates off the ice," Sigalet said. "It usually takes me about six shots to get him twice, depending how accurate I am that day."

In the fine line between superstition and preparation, Rittich may well have put himself on the side of the crazy-goalie stereotypes. Many of his puck-stopping peers shake their head in disbelief when informed of Rittich's ritual but don't think there aren't other odd habits out there.

Video: CGY@SJS: Rittich makes two great stops in a row

Braden Holtby's extensive pregame routine was well-documented during his first Stanley Cup Playoff run with the Washington Capitals in 2012. It includes a variety of warmup exercises for his eyes and body that seemed odd to outsiders.

Even goaltending coach Mitch Korn worried the routine might be too much for Holtby when Korn began working for the Capitals in 2014.

"Holtby said it best to me: 'I control my pregame routine. My routine does not control me,'" Korn said. "It was the right answer. I never asked again."

Not all habits involve getting ready to play a game.

Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens has become famous for quickly fishing any practice shot that beats him out of his net.

"It doesn't bother me when they are in there, but the last thing I want is pucks in the crease and in my feet when I am trying to move around," Price said. "That's kind of the mindset behind it, but also a clear workspace, clear mind type of mindset."

Martin Biron, who played 16 seaons in the NHL and is a TV analyst for the Buffalo Sabres, developed a similar habit during warmups. When his teammates formed a horseshoe around the edges of the zone and took turns shooting on him, Biron would pull out of the net any shot that beat him and flip it into the stands.

He stopped when he almost injured a loved one.

"I stopped doing it after a game in Montreal because I flipped one into the stands and it landed right next to my mother, so I was like, 'I could have hit her in the head and that wouldn't be good,'" Biron said.

Biron also shared another example of a pregame ritual that amazed him. He discussed it recently with Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, a fiery goalie who had a 13-season NHL career.

Hextall liked to touch the four face-off dots on his side of the rink and the one at center ice after he finished warmups. During the 1993 Adams Division Semifinals, Hextall was playing for the Quebec Nordiques against the Montreal Canadiens. Not long into that series, the Canadiens figured out Hextall's ritual and sent a player out to stand on the center-ice dot to mess with the pattern.

"At the end of warmup, Hextall touched one dot, second dot, third dot, fourth dot, and he went to go to center ice and [the Montreal player] gave [Hextall] a slash and said, 'Get out of here,'" Biron said. "Both teams got to center ice and started to push each other and, in the background, is Ron Hextall trying to get with his feet to touch the dot; that was his superstition.

"Most of the crazy superstitions, and I was one of them, if you didn't do your superstitions, you really thought the world was going to end."

It's hard to see how the Rittich ritual helps him come game time, but Sigalet said he doesn't think it will negatively affecting the fun-loving 25-year-old rookie from the Czech Republic.

"I'm not worried he needs this because he's such a high-character guy with extreme focus, but he is a goofy kid who likes the quirky stuff," Sigalet said.

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