Vanecek, Schmid have different personalities, same goal for Devils

NEWARK, N.J. — Vitek Vanecek loves to engage in conversation, while Akira Schmid takes a more understated approach.

The New Jersey Devils are optimistic that their contrasting personalities will create the perfect goaltending duo for a formidable Stanley Cup Playoff contender.

“Schmid is a great guy… he’s a bit quiet, but he’s opening up more,” Vanecek remarked. “I can’t complain.”

Schmid added, “In the morning, he’s the first one to start talking and he just keeps going. But it’s fantastic. Vitek always has a smile on his face. If you’re having a rough day, you come in here and he brightens it up for you.”

Vanecek and Schmid will be sharing the Devils’ crease at the beginning of this season, following their crucial contributions in propelling the team to the Eastern Conference Second Round last season.

“I believe we need two goaltenders to thrive as a team, and it’s not about who starts,” said coach Lindy Ruff. “Considering the workload you face throughout a season, and reflecting on last year, having two goalies is essential in winning hockey games.

“Additionally, we need to improve our defensive game, which will provide our goaltenders with better support and limit the high-quality scoring chances we’ve been giving away. We were able to address this issue last year, and we need to rectify it once again.”

The Devils currently allow an average of 31.8 shots per game (11th most in the NHL), as opposed to yielding the fifth fewest (28.2) in the 2022-23 season.

Schmid is expected to start against the Washington Capitals at Prudential Center on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; MAX, TNT, TVAS). On Tuesday, Vanecek made 27 saves in a 5-2 victory against the Montreal Canadiens.

Last season marked Vanecek’s debut as a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL, finishing with a 33-11-4 record, a 2.45 goals-against average, a .911 save percentage, and three shutouts in 52 games (48 starts). However, the 27-year-old encountered difficulties in March, posting a 5-4-1 record and a .898 save percentage in 10 games (nine starts), and was unable to regain his form in seven playoff games (1-3, 4.64 GAA, .825 save percentage).

“Being a goalie is challenging, and at this level, all goalies have talent. But the most crucial aspect is the mental game and having mental resilience,” Vanecek shared. “After my playoff appearances with the Washington Capitals (2020-22) and in New Jersey, I decided to make some changes and focus on my mental approach.”

This transformation has been aided by sports psychologist Marian Jelinek, who has worked with professional athletes for over 30 years.

“During encounters with shooters, it’s crucial not to overthink and to stay in the present moment and play that moment,” Vanecek explained. “I feel that when a goalie starts overthinking, there’s a flood of thoughts that clutter the mind, making it challenging to concentrate on the immediate play because you start fixating on something else. That’s why I’m making an effort to overhaul my mental approach.”

Jelinek shared with that each of his clients is unique, but “the common thread among them is the management of unwanted thoughts.”


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