During every game, when Kenai River Brown Bears goalie Nick Nast puts on his mask, he takes his place alongside Patrick Roy and many of the other greats who have defended the net.
Not with his skill, quickness and reading of the game. All those things are still under development for the 18-year-old from the Los Angeles area.
But where Nast is right with Roy and all the others is the detailed amount of superstition he puts into his game.
“I think every goalie is a little weird in some way and that definitely includes myself,” said Nast, who goes 5-foot-11, 165 pounds. “The biggest thing is how superstitious I am.
“I always have a pretty strict game-day routine and I’m pretty focused on each thing.”
The routine starts at home, where Nast’s billet parent is Rick VanHatten of Kenai and his roommate is fellow Bears rookie Jeff Fasegha.
“The only person that really sees it is my roommate,” Nast said. “I’d think it can get pretty annoying. I tell him I need to shower at a certain time, and must do this and this and this.”
One of the big flourishes of the game-day routine is when Nast puts his mask on before a game.
“I push my hair back twice, then throw my helmet on every time,” Nast said.
“Pushing” his hair back is a meek way of describing it. Nast will throw his head back with his eyes nearly facing the lights above, tossing his hair back like somebody who is pretty proud of his mane.
Brown Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant said it is no surprise goalies from Roy to Nast have gained such a reputation for their game-day routines.
According to the Denver Post, Roy would carefully lay out his equipment and dress in a specific order, talk to his posts, never skate on the red or blue lines, and stare at the net and envision it as a smaller space.
Beauparlant, himself a former goalie, can recall his post tapping routine, taking three sips of water after every goal he let in, and the fact that the Friday pregame meal was two hamburgers, a salad and two cups of water, while Saturday was a pasta meal.
Hall of Fame goalie Glenn Hall took things to the ultimate extreme, not believing he would win a game unless he vomited beforehand.
“Whatever works for you,” Beauparlant said. “It’s a very psychological position. I relate it to singles tennis. You’re out there on an island by yourself.
“Yes, you have teammates, but just like singles tennis, you don’t get to go to a coach for feedback. Your teammates get to do line changes and get feedback. You’re out there hanging by yourself.”
Beauparlant said the game-winner in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Fairbanks shows why superstitions — or he likes the words “preparation ritual” — are so important.
The puck banged off the glass, rolled over Nast’s shoulder and right to Ice Dogs forward Logan Coomes at the back door. Coomes banged in the goal.
“There’s nothing you can do preparation-wise or training-wise to simulate something like that,” Beauparlant said. “You need something to calm your mind down, because the calmer you are in net, the better you will play.”
Believe it or not, Nast always wanted nothing other than this psychological torture test. The son of Tommy and Luanne Nast, he grew up a fan of the Los Angeles Kings, watching games with a little plastic goalie stick and imitating the goalie.
“I’d always imagine myself being the goalie in the net and making the saves,” Nast said.
He started skating at 3 and would have only played goalie, except his dad insisted he get out on the ice and try other positions. That lasted until he was 5, when Nast stationed himself between the pipes full-time.
With two rinks 30 minutes from his house, he has played hockey year-round ever since.
He first came to Beauparlant’s attention in late May of 2014 at a showcase in the Los Angeles area. His performance at Bears Main Camp before the 2014-15 season, then his showing at the North American Prospects Hockey League in the fall, convinced Beauparlant to tender him for this season.
“He’s mature for such a young kid, and what they value as a family resonated with me,” Beauparlant said. “That’s what we look for first, players that have the same goals, focus and values we share as an organization and I have as a head coach. School first, then being a good person, then hockey.”
Of course, Beauparlant said the player has to have the talent to be in the North American Hockey League. The coach said Nast is now showing he has that talent.
“I’m really getting a lot better,” Nast said. “Taking shots every day has helped me out a lot. I’m just focusing on competing consistently and getting better every game.
“It took me awhile to adjust. It’s definitely a different level.”
Living in Alaska has not been that much of an adjustment. Nast said his parents were concerned about the move at first, but the family knew several players who had played here, and that put them at ease.
“The first day it snowed was pretty crazy,” Nast said. “It was one of the first times I saw snow.
“Everybody was walking around and not paying much attention, but I kept turning my head to look.”
Nast, with his 0-9 record and 5.63 goals-against average, is like the rest of the Brown Bears — improving but still looking for that to pay off in the wins column.
“He’s done a great job the past three or four weeks earning the players’ trust,” Beauparlant said. “That’s an important thing because that makes them want to play for you, to battle and block shots.
“That’s what we saw Saturday night. The guys really battled for Nick, and he’s earned that.”
Nast said his goal is the same as other players in the league — to win a championship and earn a Division I scholarship. He said to do that he must improve on puck-handling and decision-making, and keep capitalizing on his aggression and quick lateral movement.
“The goaltenders have the most difficult time adjusting to his league due to the speed and release,” Beauparlant said. “He’s doing a good job staying confident, sticking to what he knows and what he’s trained to do.”
Even if that includes throwing back his hair twice before putting on his mask.