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Washington Capitals
Team Report posted October 8, 1998
PETE KERZEL Free-lance writer

The right mindset is a necessity for an NHL goalie. With it, he has the framework to combine physical abilities with psychological pressures. Without it, a goaltender is doomed to second-guessing himself and worrying whether he has the stuff to carry a team defensively.

Now in his second tour of duty with the Capitals, goalie Rick Tabaracci spent as much of camp sharpening his mental game as he has his kick saves and butterfly flops.

Comfortable with his role as backup to Olie Kolzig, Tabaracci used preseason to retool his game with the help of an old friend and mentor.

"I've played long enough now that I don't go into a season hoping to play a certain amount of games," says Tabaracci, a nine-year veteran. "What I'd like to do is have the opportunity to play for a good hockey club, which is here, and play with a good partner, which is Olie."

And for goaltending coach Dave Prior, who worked wonders for Tabaracci's confidence the first time the two were paired in Winnipeg during the early 1990s.

Prior is a technician, a firm believer in the fact that preparation, including psychological readiness, is a key for any goalie to succeed. When the two were with the Jets in 1990-91 and 1991-92, Tabaracci felt like he was in the right frame of mind to do battle.

"His game has become more complicated than it needs to be," Prior says of Tabaracci. "If you're not coached, you can easily end up questioning yourself. It's not difficult to get off the path."

When Tabaracci was traded to the Capitals for goalie Jim Hrivnak late in the 1992-93 season, he lost that confidence and it showed in his statistics. He stayed in Washington for a season and a half, went to Calgary, to Tampa Bay and back to Calgary.

Along the way, he's had only one winning season, a 19-16-3 comeback with Calgary in 1995-96.

"Part of the problem is that Tabby is so talented that he sometimes gets away from the technical part of his game," Prior said. "Sometimes you can get away with that. Sometimes it ends up saving you. But you can't do that for a whole season."

Tabaracci wonders how he would have played had he been motivated by Prior, whom he says understands both the player and the position.

"I look at this as a good year to learn a lot about a game you never stop learning about," Tabaracci said. "It's a year to clean up my game a little bit. I had Dave eight years ago (in Winnipeg) and I've gotten away from some of the things that I needed to get to the National Hockey League and stay for 10 years. As far as my own career, hopefully this is a year that can propel it a little farther."

Prior hopes Tabaracci can reap the same rewards that Kolzig did a year ago, when he had a career year despite coming into the season figuring he'd be part of a two-man rotation.

"Confidence is essential to play at this level," Prior said. "Olie worked so hard last year that he kept reaching goals he didn't know he could achieve."

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