NCAA DIII Expectations & Goaltending Adversity
Updated: 5 days ago
People always ask me if I made the right choice by going the NCAA D3 route, and my answer is still yes. Although I wish I had changed some other aspects of my college career, I don’t regret playing for the NCAA.
Some of my favourite memories from my time as a college athlete include all the different arenas and crowds that I was fortunate enough to experience throughout my career. Warmups with the boys were another highlight. These were always fun, especially when we were figuring out how to play sewer ball in trophy-filled hallways.
One of the biggest benefits of playing for the NCAA is that the student-athlete environment is very structured with few divergences. Although this can feel somewhat repetitive at times, it’s nice to know exactly what to expect each week.
Practices and workouts are pre-planned, and the practice schedule was pretty consistent across all four years of school. Below is a quick outline of a typical week, and I selected to break down Monday as an in-depth example of what takes place in a day.
We ran three goalies during my first three years at school and four goalies my last year. Having a minimum of three goalies is an NCAA rule; four goalies can be on the active roster for recruiting safety in case two goalies are seniors. The same applies for players, as you can expect six or more scratches per team. Therefore, your work ethic can be your ticket into the lineup.
I wasn’t the starter, and I never truly accepted it because I knew I had the ability to at least be given a fair chance. However, I dealt with it by accepting my role and not being hostile toward the situation. In the NCAA, you can't request a trade, although you can transfer to another school. (You can find more information on the NCAA transfer process on their website.)
Goalie coaches at the D3 level are volunteers, so their presence is limited, but it varies from team to team. I coped with the lack of goalie development by collaborating with my other goalie partners. We would ask questions about each other’s games and dive into new or different techniques. I found reviewing film to be rewarding for critiquing my game. Aside from game film, I used a GoPro placed behind the net to record myself during practices.
One of my biggest struggles as a student athlete was that I used to base all of my decisions on the impact they could have on my career. In doing so, I created high expectations for myself that ultimately destroyed my confidence when I couldn’t meet them. I used to be the guy who always said, "I'm being called to go in; it's my time to shine. I have to save the game so they notice me and let me play more." This mindset made me focus on factors that I couldn’t control and diverted my attention from the present.
When a backup goalie is put into a game, it has likely already gotten out of hand, giving the goalie limited potential to turn things around. Once I took the pressure off myself and focused on being happy about finally playing, I calmed down and had fun sharing in the team’s positive energy.
The best thing a backup can do to help their team win is to be a team player and a locker room person. Be someone who everyone enjoys being around. Talk to your teammates about things they could do better or differently, because every little piece of advice can help.
During my first year, we were facing the #1 team in the nation on the road. I was slated as the third goalie in the lineup, so I had no expectations of getting into the game. However, a few minutes into the second period, we were losing 4-1 and I suddenly heard my name called. "Get in there," my coach said. I panicked, and my mind started racing. "This is it. This is my time to show everyone what I’ve got. I can't mess this up," I thought to myself.
I grabbed my stick, skated straight to the net, put my head down and shut my eyes to try to calm down. When I opened them, I had a crowd of 3,000 people staring at me. I immediately felt like I was being judged, surrounded and trapped. I let in two goals on three shots and was taken out of the game after 7 minutes.
Fast forward a few weeks, and we were facing another nationally ranked team, this time at home. Early in the second period, our starter got pulled with the score 5-1, and I was called to go in again. The other team scored a goal 38 seconds into the power play, and I thought, "Here we go again with another one of these games." But then I told myself that I needed to think positively to manifest a good ending. We ended up finishing the game with an 8-8 tie in overtime (NCAA overtime is 5 minutes 5on5, and if no goals are scored, then the game ends in a tie). I made 26 saves and was named player of the game by my coaches. My teammates told me that my energy on the ice and ability to stay positive helped tremendously in the comeback.
When the world went into lockdown after my college career, I continued to learn how to foster a more positive mindset by doing the things I loved, which allowed me to destress about not playing, gave my mind a refreshing break, and made me a better person overall. The closer the team is to a family and the more the team buys into the program, the better they play as a unit. The best example of this is when the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019. They started the season in last place, so they brought in some players to help out with team chemistry, and the next thing you know, they finished on top. They may not have been the best team on paper, but they sure as heck played like they were.
When you're 16-18 years old, it’s good to have a clear objective and even pick a college you want to go to, but make sure to be present in the moment. Focus on your upcoming game and practice. D3 schools generally recruit 19- to 21-year-olds with junior experience from Tier II and III junior hockey leagues such as OJHL, GOJHL, NAHL, NA3HL, EHL.
What interests you about playing NCAA hockey? What are some things you are doing to prepare for the next step? Continue this discussion in the comments, and I will respond.
Editors: Nick Dahan, Carly Sisson