Before the season ended, I caught up with goaltender Kimberly Newell for a feature story. In the interview for the feature, Newell talked a lot about her mental approach and other thoughts on goaltending. I thought Newell provided some great insights and interesting answers, so I’m running a portion of the transcript that deals explicitly with goaltending and her approach.
In it, Newell speaks of her mental improvement, her pregame preparation and the difference in shots she faced this year compared to later years.
Jashvina Shah: I don’t think you’re facing as many shots as you have in seasons past…
Kimberly Newell: “No definitely not (laughs)”
JS: Is it tougher or easier to not face as many shots as you’re used to?
KN: It really depends. There are like a range of different kinds of games that I might face. I think that one thing that has changed is in previous years I can kind of expect that every game I’ll get a lot of shots and they’ll all be relatively dangerous. But this year it depends on the teams that we’re playing, so I think that we’ve really gotten a lot stronger and sometimes we’ll play weaker teams and I won’t get that many shots. That’s a completely different game where, going into that, I need to have a very different mindset where I’m making sure that I’m staying focused for the 60 minutes because I might get a stretch of 10 minutes or so, that’s a long time to go without getting a shot. And I have to make sure that I’m still ready when that next shot [comes].
You can compare that to other games where I’m still getting a decent number of shots but maybe they’re not as dangerous because my team can shut down a lot of the more dangerous plays like the backdoors, maybe they’re clearing the front of the net better, maybe they’re not giving up as many odd-man rushes and things like that. Those games tend to be a little easier for me to play because I don’t need to worry about a lot of those very dangerous situations that I often face against the best teams, which makes my job simple. I just need to make that first save, control the rebound and I can count on my teammates to handle the back.
Then obviously there’s still a few games where we’re facing the top teams in our league and my mindset there is going into this game I’m expecting to get a lot of shots and be very busy, especially in the first period because those teams know they’re good teams and they know how to come out strong in the first few minutes and try and put the pressure on and put teams away. My focus in those games is to really be prepared. As soon as the puck drops, I’m going to be ready because I’m going to be getting all kinds of different situations and my job is to keep my team in the game so that we have a chance to later in the game [to] start to get momentum, especially in the middle of the first and through the second period. I find that once we’re given a little bit of time to adjust to the higher level of play that we actually do really well. I think that over the season, as we’ve kind of discovered this new identity almost of being a good team, we’ve gotten a lot better at not taking that first period to kind of get going against a better team. We’re coming out and we’re ready to go because we know that we can keep up with them, and so we’re not taken off guard as much. I think that kind of summarizes a lot of the different situations and different mindsets I need to have going into all those games that I might be facing.
JS: You were used to one mindset last year … and now you know you have different scenarios … was there an adjustment period for you coming into this season where you realized you’re going to have to have these different mindsets because the team is so different this year?
KN: I think that my previous experience, especially in minor hockey, helped me a lot. When I was still in minor hockey, I was playing at the Burnaby Winter club and we were a very, very good team. We only had one other team in our league that was our big rivals, the Northshore Winter Club. I think that playing on those teams helped me to learn how to play in those games where you’re not getting that many shots, so I have developed various techniques and different methods to keep myself focused. One of the things that I’ll do is during whistle when there’s a break in the play, if I feel myself getting kind of cold or whatever, I’ll always skate out and tap the boards and skate to my net. Or I’ll do a few slides or something like that to make sure that I’m keeping the blood flow and keeping myself warm.
And then after minor hockey I played major midget with the Kootenay Ice. They were the bottom of the league. So I got a lot, a lot of shots. It was really fun but I probably got more shots per game on that team than I did in like my first year here, which is kind of crazy. But I was getting like easily 45 shots. It was a lot and playing on that team really taught me to probably conserve my energy, because you can’t take 50 shots and be going all out the whole time. You have to kind of learn how to manage, basically it’s called crease management. [I learned to] manage my depth so I don’t have to move as far on certain plays where it’s not necessary. You’re cutting out a lot of excessive movement, unnecessary movement and trying to conserve energy that way. But it’s kind of a tricky balance, because sometimes you might get caught off guard if on a certain play you’re reading it as a backdoor or something like that. So you’re kind of backed off a bit, but then the situation changes and now you’re kind of caught off guard a little bit because you’re trying to conserve [energy]. But there’s a bit of a tradeoff between crease management and conserving your energy and your optimal play.
I think a year playing on that team where I got that many shots really helped me to learn how to do that, and so I think I brought some of that here at Princeton too, where obviously first couple years it was a kind of that sort of game. Not as extreme, but it was the same sort of mentality and so coming into this year with a few games a little more like back in minor hockey where I wasn’t getting very many shots, I kind of brought back some of those methods and techniques, dusted them off a little bit and reused them. And so I think that helped me a lot to deal with the different kinds of games that I’ve been facing.
JS: What area of your game do you think has improved the most over your time at Princeton?
KN: Definitely the mental side of the game. I think everyone at this level has mastered all the techniques. Goaltending’s a very technical game and there’s a set number of moves, there’s actually a couple that have been added in recent years that’ve gotten more popular, but the technical side of knowing your angles, knowing your depth and everything, figuring out your style, all the goalies can do that. What really separates goalies at this point is the mental side of the game. I think that my first year I would say that like certain things like having a routine before the game and really preparing myself for the puck drop wasn’t as developed as it is now. I think that I’ve really come to understand myself and how I get ready for games and how I have to be feeling and what I have to be thinking in order to be at peak performance.
Last year, especially this year, I’ve really had a solid routine before games, where everything is designed to prepare a certain thing. Like I’ll juggle before the games to get my hand-eye coordination going. I will visualize shots on the ice at the end of on-ice warmups, I’ll pretend there’s shots and really see the puck going into the glove and go through all the kinds of saves, like high glove, low glove, high blocker, low blocker and just really see the puck hitting me and then going into my glove or off my blocker into the corner, exactly where I want it. I think that having that solid routine has really helped me to control the mental side of the game, because every week’s different. I might be stressed out about school, whatever, or maybe nothing’s going on during the week and I’m super relaxed, but for a game you can’t be too relaxed. [I’ve learned] how to bring myself down if I’m too stressed or learning to bring myself up and get more excited for the game if I’m too relaxed. And so I start every game at the same level which is hopefully the optimal level for me to perform.
JS: Anything else that’s a part of your pregame routine?
KN: Yeah there’s a couple of things. I always tape my stick (laughs). That’s just something to make sure my equipment’s all ready. I’ll check everything, make sure there’s nothing broken or whatever. It’s like a safety thing as well as making sure that when I put my equipment on it’s completely comfortable and natural, feels like second nature when I’m wearing it. And I’ll also juggle a soccer ball with the team. We have like a little soccer juggling group or whatever so we always do that. I find that really helps me to get my legs moving. One of the things that actually, I said that the mental game was one of my biggest improvements, but another thing that I have been working on more physically is being lighter on my feet and more mobile. I find that a lot of times I tend to,
One of the things that actually, I said that the mental game was one of my biggest improvements, but another thing that I have been working on more physically is being lighter on my feet and more mobile. I find that a lot of times I tend to, actually a lot of goalies do this – this is a pretty common mistake is getting down and stuck in your butterfly a lot. It’s very easy to go down early on shots and then get stuck there and not be able to move for rebounds and stuff. And it’s also very energy consuming. That’s one of the focuses where I’m trying to stay on my feet as much as much as possible because you’re faster and more mobile on your feet than on your knees. It’s kind of weird because juggling soccer balls helps me to do that because it helps me with my foot-eye coordination I guess you would call it, but it gets me like on toes and it gets my legs moving. When you’re in your stance, you want to be able to bounce on the balls of your feet. If you can do that, you’ll be able to stand tall in your stance … you can be very mobile and move around quickly in your net. And then after that I do the rest of the warmups with the team and stuff. But I also, in addition to juggling, I also have a little racquetball, actually I don’t know if it’s a racquetball but it’s like a little bouncy ball and this is a pretty common thing that a lot of goalies do, you just bounce it against the wall somewhere and you catch it in your glove hand or your blocker hand and you just work on getting your upper body kind of in the right position, making sure your shoulders are rolled forward and your weight’s forward and your hands are in front of you, you can see it when you catch the puck and stuff. And [I] just working on the motion of catching.
I feel like doing that and the visualization on the ice, the purpose of that is to go through the motions and basically, because sometimes when you practice you don’t get all kinds of different shots, you get like a small sample shots. Like they’ll often go low blocker or something, but you’re not working high glove. So when you go into a game, you find out that your glove is dropped in your stance without you noticing. And so when the shot goes high glove, you can’t get to it because your glove’s too low. So going through these routines helps you to make sure that your gloves are in the right position so that you can make the high glove save and the low glove save, etc etc. It basically builds up confidence that these saves are, I don’t know how to say this, but like they’re strong. Because sometimes you can see in warmups you now goalies are letting in lots of goals in their high glove actually this is funny a lot of the NHL games that I watch … I don’t remember who it was, but they let in a couple goals high glove and it ended up being a goal high glove during the game that won the game for them. But things like that are really important too.
JS: Any additional preparation that you do to study shooters for games?
KN: Well we watch the video but my view on this is that for goaltending, we’ll divide different attacks up. So there’ll be like the backdoor situation, there’ll be like the point shot with screens or tip situations. There’ll be the odd-man rush situation, there’ll be like a walk off the wall situation, there’ll be behind the net situations. And it’s like yes, certain teams will have certain characteristics. Like I know going in against Dartmouth they have a couple girls who love taking hard shots. They like keeping the puck and they like shooting it. So I know that I can be more aggressive and keep my hands up because I know they like shooting the puck high. Or going in against Clarkson, I know they like to have girls in front of the net and they like to screen me and they like to get point shots and they’re big. But I think at the end of the day, all these situations are the same and it doesn’t really matter like who the players are, I’m going to deal with it the same way I know how. It’s like there’s a 2-on-1 situation, I’m going to play that 2-on-1 situation like okay I know there’s a shot through it and I just need to read that player in the moment and not be thinking oh she’s their best player, she’s probably going to shoot it or something or I know this team likes to move the puck around so I think she’s going to pass it. Because then you start to cheat, and when you start to cheat, if they do something different, you can’t readjust. So it’s just basically knowing how to play situations and then reacting in the moment. I think that’s the best way to approach different teams.”
(Note: The questions asked are paraphrased in the transcript and responses have been very minimally edited.)