Between the virtual pipes
by Chris Jurewicz|24 JUL 2020
Brennan Baxandall, national team coordinator for Hockey Canada, facilitates a Zoom goaltending session with several of Canada's top up-and-comer netminders during the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence Goaltending Camp.
photo: Hockey Canada

Talk to a goaltender and chances are he’ll tell you that having mental strength is as important – if not more important – than solid technique.

The ability to re-focus after letting in a bad goal, or having a rough start, is paramount to any goalie’s success.

Mid-June is usually the time Hockey Canada brings together its top goaltenders at the under-20, under-18 and under-17 levels. With the global pandemic continuing to impact so many aspects of life, including sports, Hockey Canada had to alter the 2020 Program of Excellence Goaltending Camp, which took place last month.

Like all other years, the top young goalies in the nation were invited to the camp but this year’s event was done via video conference and a large portion of the information sharing had to do with the mental side of the game.

“Right now, we’re trying to get as much mental stuff together and prep them that way,” says Fred Brathwaite, who played in 254 NHL games along with dozens more in the AHL, KHL and German Elite League. “I personally think the majority of goaltending is mental. If we can get them mentally strong and know what to expect and try to cover all of those other things, then when it’s time to get on the ice, they don’t really have to think about that other stuff. They just have to play or learn the more technical part of goaltending.”

Twenty-three of the top goalies in Canada were invited to the four-day virtual camp, with five at the U20 level, six at the U18 level and 12 making up the U17 group. The online sessions included goaltender development, mental and physical performance, the ins and outs about preparing for short-term competition, how to create environments for success and even embracing the role of back-up.

Canada expects to win gold whenever it ices a team at a world championship or best-on-best competition an Brathwaite says goaltenders, especially young ones, can get overwhelmed by the pressure of media, fans and others. Brathwaite represented Canada at two IIHF World Championships, in 2000 and 2001, and, as goalie consultant for Hockey Canada, has attended several U18 and U20 championships.

“When things are great, I’m there, and when things are not great I’m there to let them know that it’s a short tournament, we need them to be focused, dialed in and just get ready for the next day,” says Brathwaite. “I try to teach them to just be in the moment. You can’t worry about tomorrow or the next day or what happened in the past. It can be a lonely position and it can be, especially, for Canada. If things don’t go well, the way things are supposed to, it can turn people off pretty quick and get guys down.”

One of the young goalies who took part in the four-day camp is Jacob Goobie. He has already amassed some experience with Team Canada, having played for Canada Red at the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, an event that also included teams from Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

Goobie, like many hockey players, hasn’t been on the ice in weeks and has been staying in shape in his basement gym at home in Nova Scotia, on the eastern tip of Canada. This was Goobie’s second Hockey Canada goaltending camp and, though the 2020 version was unique, he says he took a lot away.

“It’s honestly been awesome. I’ve got to learn so much about the whole selection process for U20 and how to prepare for it,” says Goobie. “I have also learned different stuff to work on and get prepared for during a short tournament like that. There’s so much information they’re handing out to you about getting back on the ice after this COVID-19 situation after not being on the ice for so long, and mental strength stuff. Even one of the things like playing the puck as a goaltending is sometimes overlooked. They have included everything.”

Goobie was also named one of 46 players that would have been invited to Hockey Canada’s U18 summer selection camp which is used to finalize a roster for the annual Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August. With the 2020 tournament being cancelled, there won’t be a U18 selection camp but Hockey Canada will continue to monitor the group of 46 players and others in preparation for the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

And as much fun as Goobie had during the POE goaltending camp, nothing beats putting on the pads and hitting the ice. Since the age of 6 or 7, he says, all he’s wanted to do is stop pucks.

“I haven’t been on the ice here yet, they’re going to open up here shortly,” says Goobie. “I’m extremely excited. It’s one of the longest breaks I’ve ever had from being on the ice.”