Inside Saint Mary’s University Centre for the Study of Sport & Health’s Goaltending Symposium

Hockey is a slow game to adapt, painfully slow. Yet goaltending over the last quarter century has been completely revolutionized, far outpacing the myths the game thrives on. Hockey in Society alumus Cheryl MacDonald organized an interdisciplinary online symposium that brought together athletes and academics from science, social science, and arts backgrounds to discuss the various aspects of goaltending. A goaltender herself, MacDonald was tasked with organizing a speaker series at her workplace– the Saint Mary’s University Centre for the Study of Sport & Health (CSSH)–and assembled a lineup of individuals who approach the unique position of goaltending from various perspectives. She managed to hit some major points by finding individuals who addressed the social psychology of goaltending, mental health support specific to the position, nostalgic representations of goaltenders, identity markers such as gender and race, and even the biomechanics behind goaltending equipment for better performance and injury prevention. 

Speakers included Dr. Jim Cameron, a psychologist at Saint Mary’s University; Cassie Shokar, a U SPORTS goaltender for Mount Royal University; Sami Jo Small, an Olympic goaltender and former professional hockey player; Dr. Brian Kennedy, an English professor at Pasadena City College and member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association; Justin Goldman, founder of The Goalie Guild and Emergency Backup Goaltender for the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche; and Dr. Ryan Frayne, a Kinesiology professor at Dalhousie University. The symposium ran online where videos were added once a week for six weeks to the CSSH YouTube channel. The event will culminate in a live question and answer session with all of the speakers on Monday, November 30th at 6:30pm Eastern time. 

The symposium centered around three main themes: the solitary nature of the goaltending position, perceptions of goaltender identity, and the requirements for keeping them mentally and physically healthy. Dr. Cameron opened the symposium by sharing his co-authored work with Dr. Lori Dithurbide of Dalhousie University on goaltender personalities. They concluded that, although goaltenders tend to be more individualistic than other hockey athletes, perceptions of the bizarre or “crazy” goaltender are largely stereotypical and may be more exaggerated or illusory than they seem.

These findings dovetailed nicely into Dr. Brian Kennedy’s theorization of the loss of distinct goaltender personalities over time. As goalies have retreated into their protective shells and their movements increasingly standardized, they are now more subtle than the mythologized or romanticized neurotic and “crazy” goaltenders of the past. 

Dr. Frayne approached Kennedy’s point from the opposite perspective in his talk about how increasing goaltender performance and injury prevention has necessitated a more regimented and universal approach to the position, including a loss of ‘styles’ in the face of a greater reliance on what is known as butterfly goaltending. While Kennedy pointed out the scars goaltenders once carried on their faces without masks, Frayne notes that goalies now carry scars on their hips, as a result of the internal rotation that can bring about bone-on-bone contact.

The new cerebral, tactical, perfectionist approach to goaltending changes mental demands from the melodramatic fear of the pain formerly inevitable to the position to one battling for perfection and safety. The mental demands on the goaltender were not lost on Frayne, who recommended that goaltenders track both their physical and mental wellbeing in order to ensure overall success. Justin Goldman picked up on the importance of thoughtfully attending to goaltenders’ mindsets in his overview of the Lift the Mask initiative, which he developed to promote mental health in a solitary position where every mistake is magnified. Goldman points out that goaltenders can experience a whole spectrum of emotion during play, could feel alienated from teammates, and may be prone to conditions such as anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders given the pressure and perfection that the position often demand. 

Mindset also featured prominently in Sami Jo Small’s discussion of the development of girl and woman goaltenders. A trailblazer of the women’s game herself, Small spent a bit of time on the need for more visibility and participation opportunities for girl and women goaltenders. She also briefly noted that goaltenders should expect more traffic in front of the net and better shot accuracy in the women’s game compared to the men’s game. Her main message, however, centered around making sure that girl and women goaltenders feel supported and encouraged.  Between the solitary experience of the position, the necessity of bouncing back mentally at the drop of a hat, and the barriers that girls and women already face in sport participation, Small says that it is crucial for parents, coaches, and the athletes themselves to always have a positive and resilient outlook. Cassie Shokar capitalized on this advice in her talk about being a Punjabi woman goaltender at the U SPORTS level. Shokar mentioned that alienation and feeling the need to prove yourself can be compounded when one is not only a racial minority, but also a girl who played an isolated position as a goaltender on a boys’ hockey team growing up. She also notes that this was her first time being able to speak publicly about her identity and she believes that such opportunities should exist more often in order to normalize the experiences of racial minorities in hockey. 

Click here to watch the goalie symposium videos

Click here to submit your questions for the speakers and reserve your spot for the live Q & A on Monday November 30th. 

The organizer would like to thank the Honourable Kody Blois for welcoming viewers to the symposium. Blois is a Canadian Member of Parliament for Kings-Hants in Nova Scotia and a former draft pick of the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Thank you to Cheryl MacDonald for assistance in writing this post.

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