GUEST WRITER: Dan Fagerhaug

The art of goaltending requires much beyond stopping a puck.  The mental strength and preparation is arguably greater than any other position in sports.  A goaltender must be prepared for any scenario, and understand the positioning that is required to make a save.  Unfortunately, the goalie is the last line of defense and is always considered the goat or the hero.  The goalie must be able to rebound from not only a poor game, but also recover from every shot that connects with the net behind them.

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Niklas Backstrom is the current goaltender for the Minnesota Wild.  He also played for the Finland national team in the Vancouver Olympics.  Failures earlier in this NHL season created a large fan base in Minnesota to criticize the goalie for his poor play.  This was unfortunate, especially since the goalie has been extremely successful in his four seasons with the Wild; including a nomination for the Vezina trophy in 2009, the trophy awarded to the leagues top goaltender.

The brutality of thousands of screaming fans chanting for the backup can only be an unbearable feeling.  However, Backstrom has handled the adversity and has composed his mental focus, trying to improve his game.  He has been the definition of a team player, just like every goaltender should be.  Without the team, the goalie is left defenseless with no chance of success.  He must be the anchor that holds the team together, and lead them out of losing streaks.

To change the woes that he has been facing, Backstrom looked into the mirror to correct his mistakes.  A goalie that has been the team’s unanimous starter for the past few seasons was suddenly battling for playing time with backup Jose Theodore.  He mentally gathered himself, realizing his mental focus and confidence was shattered and must be rebuilt to recover his play.  With a few weeks of hard work in practice and film study on his past play, he could correct his physical and mental mistakes he made in his failures.

Recently, the man behind the steel mask has showed improvement by going 4-2 in his previous 6 starts.  Fans are relieving the tensions and cheering for their hardworking goaltender once again.  By getting a few good bounces he regained his confidence and is again among the leagues best goaltenders.  Niklas Backstrom has become an icon for young goaltenders around the state and is an excellent example of a mentally tough athlete.