Every netminder has their own way to prepare for a game, their own habits and superstitions that dominate the hours leading up to the puck drop. In the coming weeks, InGoal Magazine will explore some of these rituals with the NHL goaltenders that swear by them. InGoal caught up with Ondrej Pavelec of the Atlanta Thrashers in the visitor’s locker room after a morning skate in Tampa.
Pavelec, 22 years old, is a native of the Czech Republic. After leading the Czech Republic Under-17 team to second place finish in the 2004 Junior World Cup, he was selected by the Trashers as their second round pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. His first start in the NHL was on November 3, 2007, when he defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Selected as a member of the Czech Republic Olympic Team for the upcoming 2010 games, Pavelec supplies an interesting viewpoint on growing as an NHL netminder and the challenges a young man faces in a demanding game.
InGoal: What is your typical game-day routine?
OP: If I’m at home, I wake up at 8 a.m. or 8:30; I live just five minutes from the rink, so I’m there quickly. In the morning skate, I’m looking to take a couple of shots and then we have a team meeting. I’ll have lunch at the rink after that – usually pasta, soup, chicken, nothing changes. I like to take a nap after that – two hours or maybe sometimes more. I don’t think it’s that good to sleep that long, but I like it. So I wake up around 4 p.m. and just get some coffee and arrive at the rink two hours before game time and get ready for the game.
InGoal: What about when the team is on the road? Do you vary the routine?
OP: No, but I can sleep a little longer because we get on the ice after the home team, so maybe I’ll sleep till 9:30 a.m. I’m at the rink at hour before practice as usual, take a few shots on the ice and head back to the hotel.
InGoal: Are you trying to hydrate and get as much water as you can into your system during the day?
OP: No, none at all, really, during the day. But I do have some bad habits – I never eat a breakfast, either. Maybe I’m too lazy. Probably I like to sleep longer.
InGoal: You think not eating a breakfast on a game day is a bad habit?
OP: I think it’s a bad habit. Everybody has told me it’s a bad habit.
InGoal: So you have nothing to eat before the morning skate?
OP: No, I actually don’t. But I have lunch and go home and take a nap. I think the lunch is my only meal on the day of a game. I’ll eat a banana or orange before the game and that’s it. I drink coffee and a couple of bottles of water before the game and I’m ready to play.
InGoal: When you know you are starting in goal that day, is your preparation different than when you know you won’t be?
OP: Absolutely. But in this league you never know what is going to happen so you have to be ready to play. But if you are playing, it’s good to know who you are playing against and who the best players are that you’ll see.
InGoal: So that’s what you’d be thinking about?
OP: Yeah. You can’t really put that out of your mind. It’s hard. In the morning skate, I just try to relax a little bit and not think about the game that night, but when I nap, it’s starting to be in your head a little bit. Usually, two hours before the game, I start to really focus for a game. I know the players on the other teams, what they are like – do they like to shoot or pass? Playing against a team like Tampa tonight – you know those guys already but you have to still be ready because you never know what will happen or what the skater will do. It’s bad to focus only on one or two players. Everybody can score and everybody can make a play.
InGoal: If you expect a player to pass but he shoots, that can really throw you off?
OP: I’ll give you an example: against the Boston Bruins, we went to a shootout and Patrice Bergeron is up. I saw the guy a couple of times and he shot either high glove or he made a play on the backhand – but he didn’t do that against me. So, I was ready for it but he just made a sick play and scored a goal. Guys like that never do the same thing. They always try something different.
InGoal: So is it better not to anticipate what you think a shooter might do?
OP: Yeah, I think so, but it’s hard to do that. You have to react, but if you are in a situation thinking of what the guy will do, like go high glove, it’s in your head., and if it’s in your head and it doesn’t happen like that…so I know what the guys do but they always try something different, so I try to react right at the moment.
InGoal: How do you shake off a bad goal?
OP: That’s the biggest key, I think. That’s the difference between a good goalie and a great goalie. A bad goal – you have to put it behind you. I mean, you’re not going to change anything by thinking about it.
InGoal: Is there a trick to doing that? How do you do it?
OP: It’s hard to do that. Sometimes, it’s still in your head. Especially because I’m young. I have three years in the NHL and still, two bad goals and it’s still in your head. But like I said, it’s the difference between good goalies and great goalies. Brodeur and those types of guys – bad goals? They don’t care. I think it’s the same thing with a bad game. An example again – Brodeur played in Atlanta and got pulled in the first period; six shots, three goals. But next game he played against Pittsburgh and shut them out. I think it takes some time to realize it’s very important and to learn how to do that. It’s a process. It’s not a race. It’s taken me a long time to find the ways how to put bad goals and bad games behind you.
InGoal: In the locker room, when you start to focus on the upcoming game, are you a social guy or do you like to be left alone?
OP: I’m not a superstitious guy. I focus in my head. But we play a little soccer before the game. I’m not a guy that has to be in the corner and be left alone. I’m like I am on a normal day; nothing special. I know some goalies won’t talk to the newspapers and stuff like that but I’m not a guy like that. Two hours before the game, I prepare in my head. If you’re not prepared in your head and you sit alone in the corner, that’s not going to help anyway. You have to be ready.
InGoal: Have you ever gone out on the ice and felt unprepared? Maybe the day didn’t go right and you’re not as prepared as you’d like to be?
OP: Many times. Many, many times. If you know you can feel that way, it’s important to stay in your routine. I do the same things before a game and it works. One bad game can’t change anything. The next day you have to go right back to the routine. Sometimes you feel more tired or feel like you do everything wrong. Those games happen, and when they do, I know it’s going to be a long game.
InGoal: Some goalies feel the toughest time for them is after the game, not before. There’s the build-up to game time, and then it’s over. Does that affect you at all?
OP: It’s hard to go back home after a game and be there alone. If you have a family I think it’s easier to wind down – you play with the kids and your wife is there, but I have no girlfriend and no family here. It’s hard to go home and turn the TV on and there’s hockey everywhere, like on the NHL On The Fly, where you can see the highlights again. But I don’t mind seeing mistakes again after the game. You can see the mistake on TV and you can realize what you did, both bad or good, and then put it away. The next day is the next practice, and it’s very important to focus on the thing you might have done wrong the game before so you can work on it. There are so many good goalies in this league – those who can do that; learn from a mistake and put it behind, and then focus on the next day and the next game, he’ll be the best. It takes time, I think.
Lonnie Herman is a writer for Tampabaylightning.com and contributes to several other hockey publications.
Photos thanks to Kaatiya