Ask Penn State’s standout goalie, Nicole Paniccia, and she’ll say that goaltender is the most stressful position on the ice.
“Defense has somebody behind them, forwards have somebody behind them. We don’t have anything behind us,” Paniccia said.
While freshman goalie Brooke Meyer was quick to point out they have the goalposts behind them for support, fellow freshman Celine Whitlinger admitted that they can work against goalies, too.
In order to manage this stress and stay composed during games, Paniccia falls back on a personal ritual to clear her head. Between every whistle, she takes a few sips of water or skates around in front of her net.
“That’s just something that I do to kind of re-focus and get my mind set for the next shot,” said the junior, who has saved 228 of 244 shots during her six games so far.
The mental preparation is not limited to the ice, though. Paniccia does a number of things before games, too.
She always jumps rope (which she called “skipping” back at home in Ontario) until she feels like she is in a good rhythm. Before she’s ready to play, Paniccia also has to catch squash balls 37 times, which is her jersey number.
“If I screw up, then I have to start over again,” Paniccia said.
As it turns out, Paniccia isn’t the only netminder on the team who finds a rhythm through repetition; every goalie takes part in certain routines, at least to some degree.
Paniccia is not even the most superstitious goalie the Lions have. According to the three goalies and assistant coach Casey McCullion, Brooke Meyer holds that title without question.
Meyer does many things for good luck, both on and off the ice. Her habits don’t go unnoticed, either.
“[Brooke’s] whole life is based on how she prepares for the game that day,” said McCullion.
Before games, she likes to listen to music and get certain songs in her head, ranging anywhere from Eric Church to Eminem. She also picked up juggling recently.
“Jill [Holdcroft] on our team did it, and she looks like a total boss,” Meyer said. “And I’ve always wanted to juggle, so she taught me and I caught on.”
On the ice, she always touches certain parts of the boards — the spot directly across from the crease when she is in net and by the penalty box in between warm-ups. She also hits the posts in a certain way. If for some reason she didn’t do all of these things, Meyer said she would “freak.”
Meyer said she is not sure how her superstitions started, but they do come in handy.
“It blocks out the rest of the rink to me if I’m so focused and in the zone,” Meyer said.
Celine Whitlinger, who has been between the pipes during the two games Paniccia hasn’t started, is the least superstitious of the bunch. She said she does not do anything special, and only makes sure she feels loose and has fun in the locker room. Between whistles, she simply takes a breath and tries to clear her mind.
However, Meyer’s superstitions became contagious, and Whitlinger now shares a pre-game ritual with her. They each split a Gatorade bar before every game, which Whitlinger joked she got pulled into involuntarily.
Meanwhile, Meyer and Paniccia share Gatorade energy chews prior to games. The process is more complicated than it may seem, though; Paniccia always has to open the box and take the top half of the chews, while Meyer takes the bottom half.
“Some of [the rituals] are so crazy, that I don’t know how they keep track of them,” McCullion said. “But I’ve talked to my teammates, and they said I was just as crazy.”
McCullion, a former goalie herself, went through sequences of motions after whistles when she played. She said she started out touching the goal post surrounding her to make sure she was positioned right, and it eventually became a habit.
“I even do it now when I’m playing pickup hockey, and don’t even realize I’m doing it,” she said.
McCullion said the rituals before and during games aren’t coached. She said they are things that are naturally picked up by each individual.
She also said she thinks the sillier things the goalies go through for every game are a good change of pace, too.
“I think it’s good that not all of them are super-serious superstitious,” McCullion said.
“I think it’s good that there are some fun ones, because it keeps them loose before a game.”
While McCullion said other players also do certain things the same way before games, like having their stick taped a certain way, the fact that goalies are such a different breed of players brings their personalities out more.
“Because the nature of the position is so individual, they sort of get isolated in how individual their superstitions are,” she said. “They kind of just go about things a little differently.”
Superstitious or not, McCullion said whatever it takes for the goalies to find a comfort zone is a good thing.
“As long as they have what they need to get ready for the game, we support them,” she said.
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