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Away From the Pipes: Inside an NHL Goalie's Offseason Training

Photo courtesy of Chris O'Meara

For many hockey fans, it may feel like a very long period of time between the last game of the season and the start of a new one, but for the players, the offseason goes by faster than any other time of the year. This is especially true for goaltenders, who tend to carry a large burden during the regular season and playoffs, and usually end up getting the least amount of rest compared to other players. Unlike the rest of the team who get to leave the ice when their shift is done, goalies have to stay on the ice for the entire duration of a game, unless they get swapped out with their partner due to poor performance or an injury, which no player hopes for. Because of their rigorous seasons, goaltenders cannot take as long of a break during the offseason as their teammates, and with training camp just around the corner, it is vital that these players stay in shape during their time off the ice. Let's look into three very different goaltenders’ routines and attitudes about the offseason and training camp, and what they do to make sure they are ready for the regular season.

Photo courtesy of Steve Babineau via Getty Images

Jeremy Swayman:

If you’re a fan of goalies-or even just hockey in general-you know all about the dynamic duo that is Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. The pair is known for their close friendship, and they never fail to mention how their friendship is also built on the constant competition that they give each other and how it makes them better players. This duo set multiple different records with the Boston Bruins this season, but 2023 Vezina trophy winner Linus Ullmark usually ends up getting most of the credit. But in hockey, it takes two to create a strong team between the pipes, and Swayman’s efforts and accomplishments should not go unnoticed. The 24-year-old 111th overall draft pick had a .920 save percentage in 37 games and recorded four shutouts during the 2022-23 season. If the stats don’t speak for themselves, Swayman's work ethic and attitude show what a great player and teammate he is. This offseason, Swayman stayed in Boston with his performance coaches Kevin Neeld and Tim Lebbossiere. The three of them set up a plan for the goaltender on how to not only stay in shape this offseason, but also to get even stronger.

Swayman stated in his last post-game interview of the season that he never again wants to feel like he did after the Bruins’ game seven loss to the Florida Panthers in round one of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and said that he would do whatever he needed to do to keep his team out of that position again. He also emphasized the important balance between the intense offseason training regimen and having fun and spending time resting with family and friends. He wanted to make sure that he wasn’t overworking himself, while also making sure that he had the confidence needed for any goalie heading into a training camp with lots of competition.

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Juuse Saros:

Juuse Saros is no stranger to having to carry an entire team on his shoulders, but this season without a doubt proved the underrated talent of this Finnish netminder. If the chants of “Juuuuuuuuuuice'' echoed through Bridgestone Arena after every miraculous save by the goalie aren’t proof enough of his likeness and skill, his stats and performance can speak for themselves. After selling at the trade deadline, all talks of playoffs for the Nashville Predators were silenced―until Juuse Saros stepped in and had an unreal end of the season, including a record-breaking game against the Carolina hurricanes where he made 64 saves, leading the Predators to a 5-3 victory and setting a new franchise record for most saves in a single game.

In 2022, Saros experienced a season-ending ankle injury that ended up costing the Predators a solid playoff run. This led to a very unique offseason and training camp for him, as he opted to stay in Nashville for a while after the season ended in order to get the proper rehab and attention needed for his injury. Saros worked very closely with athletic training staff and was given special exercises to ensure that he would be healthy come the 2022-23 season training camp. All of his offseason work paid off during the regular season, as he finished fourth in Vezina voting and dragged a near-AHL Nashville team as close as possible to a playoff run.

Saros never fails to mention how much he learned from his former teammate and fellow goaltender, Pekka Rinne, about how to handle the work ethic and mentality of being an NHL goalie. In an interview with Sports Network, Saros mentioned how not only was Rinne one of the greatest of all time between the pipes, but he was an extremely hard worker off-ice and made good use of his offseason and training camp. Saros tries to mimic Rinne’s work ethic and attitude, and has been extremely successful at it since becoming the starting goaltender for Nashville after Rinne’s retirement.

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Jake Oettinger:

When speaking of workloads and intense regular season schedules, it is impossible to ignore the 6 '5” elephant in the room that is Jake Oettinger. The 24-year-old goaltender for the Dallas Stars played more games than any other goalie in the NHL this season, tallying 81 games throughout the regular season and the playoffs. This was largely due to his partner, Scott Wedgewood’s, injury early on in the 2022-23 season. While Oettinger ranked seventh in goals against average in the regular season, his stats rapidly declined during this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, and most fans have reason to believe that it wasn’t because of nerves, but because of overuse. Oettinger was pulled three times during the playoffs, ultimately leading to the Stars getting eliminated in the third round. Even though the season didn’t end the way he intended, Oettinger has a lot to be proud of, especially given the amount of pressure that was put on the young goaltender.

Oettinger’s intense offseason training no doubt contributed to his ability to finish the season relatively healthy. Before the 2022-23 season started, Oettinger had 5:45 a.m. workouts with his personal trainer Mike Brasch. After his gym sessions, he then moved to mobility training with mobility and performance coach Grace Witthuhn and worked on the all-important range of motion that goaltenders need. Lastly, he would strap on his pads and skates and take the ice for drills and more training with his coaching staff. Although this does seem like a large workload for the offseason, it did end up helping him significantly in the long run, as he was able to put up excellent numbers throughout the season. Oettinger is famous for saying, “You can’t perfect it, but you can always get better,” and that mindset definitely helps motivate his offseason and training camp work.

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Now that we’ve looked at three specific goaltenders’ offseason routines, let's look at what kinds of things they are doing in the gym with their trainers. During training camp, we often see clips of the players in the gym doing hockey-specific workouts, but we don’t always see how different the exercises are for the goaltenders. For these players, mobility is equally if not more important than strengthening. The difficult positions that these players have to put their bodies in is very unnatural and requires many very specific and intricate exercises to help perfect.

Leg exercises are the first thing many goalies focus on when hitting the gym. The immense leg strength needed for them to push from post to post and to hold very abnormal positions requires lots of work in the gym. Lots of lunges and squats are practiced, and large weights are added for an extra challenge. Even though the legs are the primary focus for goaltenders, upper body strength and mobility are also needed in order to reach and hold positions to keep the puck out of the net. Being able to quickly reach up and catch the puck with their glove requires a lot of upper body and back strength. This leads into the last exercise that most goalies practice: power exercises. Jumping quickly onto a box and pushing away weight as quickly as possible helps these players practice their sharp transitions that they need to use in the game.

Lastly, mindset training is also very important for all goaltenders to stay mentally sharp because in some circumstances, the entire game can depend on the quality of their performance. Their work in the offseason and during training camp greatly helps these unique players get ready for what is sure to always be an intense and demanding season.

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