(The following article originally appeared in the InGoal Magazine newsletter last week. To sign up for the FREE weekly edition, get your chance to ask NHL goalies a question, and see articles like this one before anyone else, simply enter your email address in the form on the right side of this page.)
When InGoal Magazine caught up with free agent goaltender Dan Ellis to talk about his recovery from a turn ground and abdominal surgery last week, the former Nashville, Tampa Bay and Anaheim goalie graciously agreed to spend some time answering questions submitted by our readers via email and the InGoal Facebook page this week.
Ellis, who is just getting back on the ice in Omaha as he does every July, talked about everything from reading shots off the stick blade, to improving reaction time between the pipes, and how to bounce back from an off night.
It’s invaluable insight into the position from a guy who has played it at the highest level, with a handful of tips that goaltenders everywhere can use to try and improve their own game. So our thanks to Dan, who also declared himself a regular reader of InGoal, for taking the time to share his experiences in the NHL, and advice for on the ice.
We’ll start with a couple of questions from InGoal before getting to the readers inquiries:
InGoal: You’re just getting back on the ice now. Can you walk us through your summer and preparing for the next season?
Dan Ellis:: “Yeah, I always get on the ice late in July. I’m fortunate to have Corey [Wogtech of W Goaltending] here all year because I work with him every time I go on the ice. So instead of doing your basic scrimmage and summer hockey with a bunch of guys, we usually try to get seven to 10 guys and just do drills, goalie drills.
“It’s goalie specific, Corey runs it all and you don’t pick up those bad habits like you would in Shinny hockey and stuff like that where you’ve got no defence or something like that and just constant breakaways or 2 on 0s. Your game is the same – it would transfer right into practice, right into games.
“I’m usually the only goalie (in that group). We just have a small group that we can just kind of rep it out, so it gets a lttle tiring, especially the first week or so when you’re doing an hour or an hour and 15 minutes of straight goalie drills but it’s the best way to get conditioning, to get back into that game shape.”
InGoal: Do you transition at all, maybe add a little bit of scrimmaging into the mix as you head to camp? If you approach it the right way can you get anything out of it ? Or do you just try to avoid it entirely?
Dan Ellis:: “No, you can. But the thing is for us, we’re usually on the ice for about an hour and a half three times a week and that’ll start basically from now until training camp. We might even get a couple more sessions in here and there. We usually do about a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour of drills, because a lot of the guys I skate with play in Europe or college and there’s a few that are up and down in the NHL and the American League so they develop their skills and their timing as well. So I’m fortunate to be around a group that wants to do drills, so it works out well.
“We always finish with about a half hour scrimmage, just to lighten it up. Because it gets tough on some of the guys just to do drills and guys just want to have a little fun. So we get a good balance of both. You get your game stuation action and the scrimmage is short enough that guys are still trying as hard as they can the whole 30 minutes, as opposed to an hour where that last 3o minutes becomes just – you may as well hold a shootout.”
~ InGoal reader Nick Kotz asks: How have you worked on your reactions (reflexes) off the ice?
Dan Ellis: “Nick, I have tried a number of different ways to improve reflexes and hand-eye co-ordination over the years. Reaction time is something that is difficult to improve. I find that if you can improve your tracking skills and puck reading skills then it will seem as though you are reacting quicker. Juggling, catches off a wall with racquet balls or lacrosse balls, reaction ball drops etc can help improve your tracking and reaction skills.
“Nike has came out with an amazing product called Nike Strobe Glasses. You wear the glasses during your ball throws and other exercises. On the side of the glasses is a button where you can adjust the level of difficulty of the strobe. Speeding it up giving you more vision time or slowing it down which gives you less vision time. I have found using these glasses has drastically improved my tracking skills!”
~ InGoal reader Marcus Fischer asks: What is your pre-game routine, off and on the ice?
Dan Ellis: “Marcus, game day always starts with a good breakfast. It’s important to start your day with proper nutrition so that you have energy for your day. Pre-game skate I try to take as many shots as I need to feel comfortable. Some days I will need a few extra shots to get a good feel, other days I will need no extra shots.
“We always have a good video session before each game so I make sure to pay attention to all the situations where the puck is being directed towards the net. After pre-game I always have a good pasta and chicken meal and try to hydrate as much as possible. After my meal I will take a nap for about 1.5 hrs, wake up and head to the rink … usually with a stop by Starbucks on the way to the rink. At the rink I always tape a fresh stick before the game, check over my equipment, say a prayer up in the stands, play soccer with the fellas to warm up, get an additional stretch and then a little mental imagery.
“I try to prepare the same way each game not out of superstition but, to make sure that I feel as though I have everything covered before each game.”
~ The Klamath Falls Storm ask: How do you recover from a bad start and keep strong?
Dan Ellis: “To get over a bad game I usually try and take a look at why I had a bad game. I will look over the mistakes that I made and visualize the same situation but with a positive result. I will visualize making the proper save, adjusting to the proper angle, sealing my body, moving properly, etc … basically getting a second chance in my mind, that way I learn from the mistake and minimize my chances of repeating it again.
“Once I have gone over the mistakes I will then think of the positives from that same game to regain any lost confidence that came from the mistakes. Mistakes are gonna happen and the quicker that you can learn from them, then remove them from your mind the quicker turn around you will have.”
~ InGoal reader Adam T. Thomas asks: Do you have any superstitions?
Dan Ellis: “I have always tried to not create any superstitions. I do not want something completely unrelated to the game being a cause for failure. Superstitions can cost you a game before the puck drops. Routines are one thing-they keep you active or give you a feeling of being prepared. Superstitions are something which people rely on to give themselves success. I never want to base my success on a certain way I drive to the rink, a certain food to eat or a lucky pair of socks!”
~ Dave Cassey asks: What are some hints to reading a shooter and knowing where he’s gonna shoot or place the puck (pass)?
Dan Ellis: “Reading a shot takes practice. The stick blade and body position will give you valuable hints to which direction the puck will travel. If the blade is cupped over the puck generally it will be a low shot. If the stick blade is open generally you will get a high shot.
“Based on if the players body is opened up or closed will help determine which side of the net the shooter is looking to shoot. Lastly, the shooters follow through will help determine both the side of the net and the height of the shot.
“It is important to gather as much information as possible from a shooters body and stick position but you always have to track the puck all the way into your body. Players can change puck angles quickly by turning their wrists so its also important to have the patience to wait for the shooter to make their release. Don’t move or drop until the player has released the puck, be patient and work to stay square on all shots.”