Staying Engaged When It’s Not Your Game

Be The Best Backup You Can Be

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Hey guys,

Earlier this week I was going through team schedules to plan my month and I saw an article from the OMHA about staying engaged when it’s not your shift. I took a gander at it and decided that most of that advice applies to us as goalies as well, and I can think of a few more pieces of information on that topic that are more goalie specific as well, so I’ll share them here.

As any of my former teammates can attest to, I am more than qualified to speak on being a backup goalie. I remember a time playing high school hockey when I actually got a start, and we had a one goal lead going into the third period. I was waiting on the bench for the Zamboni to finish and the coach said “Corchis! Shut the door here!” He was obviously referring to holding the lead for the rest of the game, but, not realizing that, I literally walked over and shut the door to the bench. He just shook his head, “I mean don’t let them score!” Not my finest moment, but I knew what my skill set was!

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Most coaches in minor hockey will have a goalie rotation going, so you should know when you’re starting a game long before you get to the rink. Your pregame warmup shouldn’t change very much. Whatever dynamic stretching or hand eye work you do leading into a game is still good practice even if you’re not supposed to start.

Once you’re dressed, let the goalie who’s starting lead the team out for warmups, especially if you’re a goalie who gets the bulk of the playing time. Those goalies who only get a few games a month appreciate every opportunity to feel like a big part of the team, so leading them out is a small gesture that carries a lot of weight.

In warmups, let the goalie who’s starting take as many or as few shots as they want in each warmup drill. Some goalies want to see a ton of rubber before a game, and some only want a couple shots to feel the puck and save the rest for the game. Whenever you jump in, you can be a big help to your team by giving 100% effort on each shot. The starter may just want to watch pucks into themselves or be selective about which shots they’re going down on for instance, but since you’re not starting, playing each shot like a game shot will help your shooters get sharp for the game and give you some good work in case you do have to get into the game.

On the bench during the game, take the opportunity to be a part of the team. There’s nothing worse than the backup goalie who’s sitting there like a statue, not engaged in the game. In fact, if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend working the defense door. It helps you stay in touch with the pace of the game and it develops your chemistry with your defensemen. You and your D have to work together a lot so it’s important to cultivate a good relationship with them.

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Make sure you’re closely watching the game. This is a great opportunity to watch how plays develop. You can get a great feel for the speed of the game. You can watch how other goalies handle situations and think of what you might do differently or see things you might take and incorporate into your own game. Show your teammates you’re involved by giving them specific praise and feedback. Not just “good shift” but “hey, way to look off that forechecker. Great breakout pass.” Your teammates will appreciate it, and your coaches will be impressed that you’re staying in tune with the game.

Be and extra set of hands when your team needs it as well. Refill a water bottle. Grab tape or a stick if someone needs it. Be useful. Be a good teammate.

You’d be surprised what people in the stands notice about what goes on away from the action, and you never know who’s watching.

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