What it Takes to be a D1 Goalie (Part 3)

What does it take to be a D1 goalie?

In Part 1, we examined the extraordinary amount of talent, commitment and hard work required for a goaltender to reach elite level hockey, as well as the tenacity it takes to succeed in the role of a team’s number one goalie. For insight from the crease, we began with Joe Calvi, a senior and starting goalie for Bentley University.

In Part 2, we move on to the WCHA, where Joe Howe of Colorado College hit the ground running his freshman year as the Tiger’s starting goaltender last season – an impressive feat in itself – and hasn’t slowed down yet.

In Part 3 we meet Joe Cannata, starting goaltender for Merrimack College. Hockey East is widely considered to be one of the most challenging conferences — both in on-ice talent and off-ice harassment from fans — and is the home of the last three National Champions. Cannata has proven to thrive under pressure, however, and remains an intimidating force in net, with no problem shutting the door on any powerhouse team.

A junior at Merrimack College, Cannata is a major in Business Management. He earned a bronze medal backstopping the US National team in the 2008 U18 World Junior Championships, and was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the sixth round in 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

In his first collegiate game he posted a 44-save shutout for a 1-0 win against Army, and continued on to mark a 101:09 shutout streak to begin his career. He also holds the record as the first goaltender in Merrimack history to record a shutout in his first career start. In his sophomore season Cannata posted two shutouts (including one that required 42 saves against UMass) and posted outstanding numbers in GAA (2.35) and saves percentage (.918), both of which ranked in the top 25 nationally.

Collegiate awards thus far include:

HOCKEY EAST Rookie of the Week (twice)
HOCKEY EAST Defensive Player of the Week (three times)
HOCKEYEAST Defensive Player of the Month
HOCKEY EAST Goalie of the Month.
Merrimack Defensive Player of the Year

During the game, most of the attention of opposing fans is focused on YOU and they do everything they can to get inside your head. What do you do to keep that from happening?   How do you handle the pressure to play well?  How do you handle it off the ice?

“I try not to pay attention to it, but that is one of the best things about college hockey is the fans! Without that, the league and the atmosphere wouldn’t be the same. I think one of my strengths is being able to handle the pressure. I have been a calm guy my whole life and that transfers onto the ice.  The pressure off the ice isn’t too bad and really I enjoy all of that pressure.  It is one of the things that attracted me to college hockey.”

Does being a high profile player ever have an effect on your daily life around campus? Has there ever been a time when being so recognizable has been a hindrance?  Has there been an instance when it has been particularly helpful?

“Being at a small college, you don’t think it would affect your life around school, but this year I have noticed a difference. The students coming up to you saying good game, asking questions about the upcoming weekend. Overall, the experience with being noticed on campus for me has always been a good one and never really affected me in a bad way.”

How do you handle what is said about you in the press and on message boards? How do you stay focused when sometimes it seems there is an entire city that has an opinion on how you should play?

“Well if I am in the press, hopefully it is for a good reason! If not, I try not to pay attention to it and just prove people wrong. My focus is with my teammates and my coaches and our mission this year to win a Hockey East championship.

If the press is saying something good about me it just helps me to keep working hard — again I enjoy the pressure. A lot of pressure comes with being a goaltender and if I didn’t love it, then I should have picked another position! Also, I need to thank my parents for being there with me from the beginning. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am right now without them.”

How do you manage to keep your grades up AND keep up with a demanding hockey schedule? Where do you find the time?  How does it affect your life outside of school?

“The academics combined with the hockey can be hard at times, but you learn from the upperclassmen as a freshman when to get your work done when you are on the road. We do not actually travel very far, so that makes getting schoolwork done a little easier. I take classes in the morning before practice, which starts at 2:30 pm every day. I have always dreamt about being a college hockey player, so you find a way to get your work done in order to play the sport you love.”

You spent a long time dreaming about being a D1 goalie, how does the reality compare to what you expected?

“It has been everything I expected and probably a little more! I grew up watching it and in high school was not sure if I had a chance to play Division I, I was just hoping to play college hockey somewhere. Coach Dennehy has made my experience a very good one; I would not want to play for any other coach.”

What do you do after a bad game? How do you mentally prepare for the next one?

“I tend to reflect with my goalie coach, Jim Healey, and watch film, looking for tendencies throughout the game. One of his things he likes to say is ‘you never played as good as you think you played, and you never played as bad as you think you did.’ After that, I just try to move on from it and focus on the next game or practice.”

What does a typical day during hockey season entail? Is there anything you wish you could change in that schedule, something you’d like to have more time for?

“Well, a typical day would usually be two to three classes in the morning and early afternoon, eat lunch anywhere from 11:30am to 1pm, then to the rink for a 2:30 practice. We have some video, skills practice, and then the real practice starts. After practice, the team goes to dinner around 5 and then the guys head back to their dorms get some work done or hang out.

I enjoy the schedule. One thing I would change if anything would be maybe some time for a nap after class, or a little downtime before practice.”

When you are a high profile athlete that is playing well,  everybody wants to party with you. You get all kinds of offers all the time. Some players end up partying too much, it affects their game and before they know it, they have ruined their chances for a pro career. Why hasn’t that happened to you?  How do you keep from getting distracted?

“Well, the most important thing in my life besides my family is hockey and I won’t let anything get in the way of that. There is a time to have fun and our team knows when to have fun and when to stay focused. I have been a quiet kid my whole life, so the party scene or getting into trouble has never been a problem for me. My parents raised me well and I have them to thank for that.”

What sacrifices did you have to make to become a D1 goalie? And now?  Is there one that you regret? Something you wish you could have done differently, or an event you wish you hadn’t missed? In the end, has it all been worth it?

“I don’t get to visit my friends much at school and I don’t get vacations much or spring break, but those sacrifices are all worth it for the game of hockey. Everything has been worth it. The games are what I (and all players) look forward to. We are all trying to make this our career for the most part.”

What is the one bit of advice you wish someone had given you when you started college hockey?

“I would tell them to cherish it every day and every year because it goes by so fast. I am already almost half a year into my junior year and I feel like I just got here. All in all, my experience as a Division 1 goaltender has been amazing and I don’t regret anything.”

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4 Responses to “What it Takes to be a D1 Goalie (Part 3)”

  1. John
    January 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    Really enjoying this series, this is the first time I’ve seen so much in-depth coverage on college goalies. It’s pretty cool.

  2. Jason R.
    January 30, 2011 at 12:12 am #

    Cannata is on fire this season! His attitude toward pressure is pretty interesting – it’s true, I’ve seen him play and nothing seems to rattle him. He and his team look like serious contenders for the NCAA finals this year.

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  2. What it Takes to be a D1 Goalie (Part 4) | INSIDE HOCKEY - February 2, 2011

    [...] in Part 3 we met Joe Cannata, starting goaltender for Merrimack College. Hockey East is widely considered to [...]