Psyched to save: Horak gets mind right

Jody Horak overcame a spell of troubles last year with help from a sports psychologist.

Bridget Haeg

Most hockey goaltenders would envy Minnesota women’s hockey goaltender Jody Horak: In her college career, she’s had one span of inconsistency.

And it only lasted about three weeks.

But for Horak, who has a 64-12-4 career record, the sensation she said she began to feel in the middle portion of last season had never visited her before. And the mental aspect of her game began to suffer.

After seeking the counsel of sports psychologist Shaun Goodsell, the senior helped the Gophers to a national title last season and is currently the nation’s leading goaltender, with a .976 save percentage and three shutouts.

Though her 22-4-2 record last season disguised it well, Horak did go through a stretch of inconsistency.

For someone used to giving up few goals, this inevitable part of the game proved especially frustrating.

“She had just been extremely consistent,” assistant coach Jeff Moen said. “So to go completely four years without a stretch of mediocre play for two or three weeks, I think, is almost impossible.”

Enter Goodsell, a sports psychologist she remembered from her high school. They began having weekly phone conversations to get her mental game back on track.

The two discussed how to deal with her frustration – much of which stemmed from giving up goals and placing the blame heavily on herself.

“There were a couple games in a row where I was really struggling, giving up some bad goals,” Horak said. “Then I started talking to him, and that’s when I started playing my best hockey.”

In Minnesota’s February sweep of Minnesota-Duluth last season, she made 31 saves the first night and relieved Brenda Reinen in the third period of the second game to get the win.

“She basically stole the game for us that night,” Moen said. “And then the second night came in relief and just played spectacular there, too. She just never looked back.”

Despite this new approach, Horak said she does not view her position differently.

But she said it did change her perspective of the game and her teammates.

“I see a lot more (of) what’s going on,” Horak said. “I can tell what’s going through people’s minds. I feel like I can read people’s minds.”

After keeping in weekly contact with Goodsell over the summer, Horak came into this season armed with a 59-12-4 record and a new approach to the mental part of the game.

Her toughest competition, which she said still awaits her, will help her determine if she now has the tools to handle her dissatisfaction with her play.

She has only allowed two goals in five games this season, but she knows challenges are out there.

“I think it will take a few more games to kind of see where I’m at,” Horak said. “Each week, it’s getting tougher and tougher.”

But with her technical skills proving successful, this means Horak can focus on improving her mental game.

Her coaches are confident she can combine the two aspects to continue with a successful season.

“I think right now she’s got all her bases covered,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “She’s playing as well as I’ve seen her play.”