CAM TALBOT: THE MIND GAME

For me, the quality that separates real-deal winners from phonies and front-runners is resilience. Having the wherewithal, call it mental toughness if you like, to bounce back when things go sideways, when confidence wanes and performance dips.

It’s the ability to put an awful effort, be it a shift, a period, a game or even a stretch of games, in the rear-view mirror and climb back on the top of your game rather the going the other way – letting doubt creep in and fretting about what’s already done instead of focusing on what’s next. That quality is particularly important when it comes to playing goal in the NHL.

For all his physical and technical skills, it’s that ability to bounce back that stands out for me about Cam Talbot. He displayed it during his first season with the Edmonton Oilers and he found it again at the World Championship in Russia, backstopping Team Canada to 2-0 win over Finland in the gold medal final after getting lit up by the Finns earlier in the tournament.

Talbot has brass. He doesn’t fold when it goes bad.

THE WRONG STUFF

I had a brief stretch of playing goal as a bantam lacrosse player, one which proved beyond any reasonable doubt I didn’t have the resilience I’m talking about to play the position, even at a level that is, obviously, worlds away from the NHL. While that experience did provide me a sliver of insight into the challenges of manning the crease, I’ll defer to Ken Dryden on that.

“Because the demands on the goalie are mostly mental, it means that for a goalie the biggest enemy is himself. Not a puck, not an opponent, not a quirk of size or style,” Dryden said. “The stress and anxiety he feels when he plays, the fear of failing, the fear of being embarrassed, the fear of being physically hurt, all symptoms of his position, in constant ebb and flow, but never disappearing.

“The successful goalie understands these neuroses, accept them, and put them under control. The unsuccessful goalie is distracted by them, his mind in knots. His body quickly follows.”

The unsuccessful goalie? That would be me. Back in bantam, I was the designated back-up goaltender on our team. I practiced some in net, but never even dressed for a game – until our starter got injured. I started and went the distance in three or four games and did OK. Not great, but OK.

Then came the el-foldo. Late in a tie game with the final seconds ticking away, I made a save. Eager to make a play, I scooped the ball up in the crease and reared back to launch a pass to teammates breaking down the floor. First rule in that situation is to step to the side of the net. I didn’t. The ball popped out of my stick and I turned just in time to watch it bounce into my net as the buzzer went. As the other team celebrated in disbelief at their good fortune, my teammates stood in stunned silence. Crushed.

Rattled? The next game, I allowed five goals on the first five shots I faced. I didn’t stop one of them – I didn’t even get a piece of one of them. During the intermission, the coach told me he was putting somebody else in. I peeled off the gear. I never put it on again, even in practice. I’d made bonehead plays before that contributed to losses. I’d lost fights. But not as the last guy back. Not as a goaltender. Different cats, these guys. Anyway, enough about my Tommy Salo moment. Back to Talbot.

THE REBOUND

TalBOT

After allowing three goals on seven shots in the second period on the way to a 4-0 loss to the Finns, Talbot showed a lot of moxy the rest of the way – in a 6-0 win over Sweden, a 4-3 nail-biter over the U.S. and again in the rematch with Finland for the gold medal. Simply put, Talbot refused to let one bad game tarnish a tournament in which he played eight games, recorded four shutouts and finished with a .940 save percentage. Resilience.

We saw likewise from Talbot this season with the Oilers, a pressure-cooker situation if ever there was one with all the questions about whether he was ready to grab the starting job in the crease after being acquired from the New York Rangers. We had our doubts early, and with good reason.

Talbot would allow a bad goal here, a bad goal there – a loss in the final seconds against the Calgary Flames on a shot from the corner by Michael Frolik and a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings come to mind. Thirteen games in, Talbot was 3-8-1 with a .889 save percentage. Anders Nilsson had put together some solid outings. Talbot seemed to be on the ropes.

Turns out Talbot had lots of fight left. The rest we know. By the time the season was done, Nilsson was out of here and that .889 had turned to .917 as Talbot buckled down and went 18-19-4 after that through 56 appearances. Now, more of the same in Russia. Resilience. Mental toughness. Real-deal attributes. 

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

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  • Shredder

    Even Lundquist lets in a bad one every now and then. Same goes for every great goaltender. As a great goalie, they’ll face more shots, and are therefore more likely to be embarrassed. I believe Talbot can be the guy, and Brownlee is right, it’s all about the mental toughness to come back.

  • Explicit

    Hopefully he can get a better start this year. It’s nice to bounce back but a 3-8-1 start with a .889sp just puts the team in a hole they can’t dig out of

      • McRaj

        To further what the both of you said, I really hope that he has 2 competent Right Shooting D in front of him that can carry the puck out of the zone. I bet Talbot and Hall and McDavid would like that too.

        • Curry is Messy Eh?

          I want to speed through the next month of excruciating guessing and see how much we over pay. I admit it I am in the 12 step program of Oildom.
          It seems like Lucy is going to pull the football away again. Something will go wrong…
          Connor and the shoulder
          Oscar and the infection
          Ference and the hip
          Nuge and the hand
          Eberle and shoulder
          Yak and ???
          Nikita and T mac
          Tmac and Lowe

          Just give me .500 u til Christmas.
          Just kick the ball PC.
          Kick the hell out of the ball.

  • McPucker

    That Calgary goal was a real downer. No telling how things would have worked out had Nilsson not played well while Talbot worked on his game.

    That he rebounded from this so well and didn’t take the Dubnyk route really impressed me. He [edit: ‘he did not’ have a contract ‘extension’.] He was going to get paid whether or not he turned it around. He put in the time and, I think he came through proving he was worth the risk.

  • ubermiguel

    Goalie Resilience; See also: Dubnyk, Devan. Although his rough stretch was a little longer than one game, he seems to have gotten over it.

    It takes an odd sort of person to think “100 mile per hour slap shot? I think I’ll go stand in front of that.”

  • Great pick up. The market last year was flooded with some really cheap, yet amazing goalies: Jones, Talbot, Raanta. It was nice the Oilers got in on one of these guys.

    That Jones trade sure was bizarre though. Makes me realize GM’s around the league will let feelings get in the way of making the best possible deals for assets. So confusing.

  • positivebrontefan

    I wonder what our record would have been had he played .930 hockey the whole season.

    That’s what he had to have played to dig out of a .889 hole.

    Just please everyone have a healthy year dammit!

  • Captain McTowel

    “Talbot refused to let one bad game tarnish a tournament in which he played all 10 games, recorded four shutouts and finished with a .940 save percentage. Resilience.”

    He didn’t play all 10 games, He had 4 SO’s in 8 games. Calvin Pickard played 2 games and also got 1 SO.

    For a team that supposedly didn’t have their best defensive team, 5 SO is a rare occurrence in this tournament. Excited for the next 3 years with him as our backbone.

  • Hopefully the team next year can just have a less rocky start. They do have some things going for them:

    – Talbot doesn’t need to win the crease.

    – The team does not have to get used to a new coach and systems… AGAIN.

    – Hopefully the key players can stay healthy so McLellan won’t have to juggle lines just as they are gaining chemistry.

    – Drai, Nuge, and McDavid can all start the year which should give opposition fits.

    – Maroon, Kassian, and Pouliot will all start the year giving the top nine some serious size they did not have last year.

    – Sekera will not have to work out the kinks like he did in the first few months last year.

    – Klefbom.

  • madjam

    Can Talbot be a game changer for us in the mold of a Fuhr, Moog, Ranford or Roloson in a playoff run , or much needed victory during the season . Can he rise to the occasion basically ? Showing signs in the World’s perhaps ?

    • Even last year there were long stretches where the team wasn’t playing well, but Talbot was so solid he was giving them wins they shouldn’t have had. He is legit…

      … maybe too legit.

  • OilCan2

    8 games, 7 wins, 4 shut outs one gold medal and a nice big mug for beers after the game. Nice work Cam!

    I’m all in for 8 games, 7 wins and 4 shut outs to break in the new rink,…

  • Derzie

    With Canada’s d depth, a chimp would get .900+. What this stint shows is that Talbot can play behind a strong d (see his Rangers stint). Oil needs at least 3 new d-men before you know if Talbot is resilient or not.

    • The team had a lot of up and comers like Ceci, Dumba, Reily, and Murray. No real legit NHL superstars on the D. This wasn’t the Olympic team. Talbot earned his shut outs with some crazy saves, especially in the final game against the Finns. Stoned Laine twice.

    • Talbot has already shown he’s resilient by bouncing back from a difficult first 13 games in Edmonton behind a blue line group that was injured and lacked depth. That was the big story of his first season here. This isn’t difficult to understand.

      Oilers need at least three new d-men before we know if Talbot is resilient? You might want to explain how that works.

  • Garett14

    The world Cup has me leary… How Oiler would it be if a few of our players got some bad injuries in that tournament and missed time to start the year? I know… I’m going to get a pile of hate for this…

    • madjam

      Injuries are inevitable for all teams with such a long schedule , exhibition , tournaments and playoffs . Players (hockey) are more protected than football players other than the helmets , but they only play about 20 or so games a season . Amazing more are not injured considering how physical hockey can be , the ice surface and boards in play , not to mention the Jai -Alai type puck movement and stick work . With such long schedules and so many teams , it’s amazing they do not have more concussion problems than they have .