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Speed, the “UNPRACTICED” skill

Among the most important improvements a goaltender can make to his/her game especially if moving up a level is SPEED. 

It is something we generally don’t think of, however it is a key ingredient to be a successful goaltender.  And it supersedes a whole bunch of other technical skills that we tend to focus on as we train.   

If you are an aspiring goaltender, make sure you take time to attend (and really watch as close to the ice surface as possible) games at levels above where you play.  If possible, take in an NHL game in person (games on TV does not do justice), focus on the goaltenders (not the puck) and immediately you will understand just how quickly these individuals move. 

So, what exactly is speed?  As defined by the dictionary it is “the rate at which someone or something is able to move or operate” 

If we take that definition & apply it to goaltending, here are some areas where you could look to increase your speed. 

  1. Positioning – arriving in position on time, square, on angle & with proper depth on the shot puck 

  1. Repositioning – quickness to recover to rebound puck locations or loose pucks on broken plays 

  1. Post integration – finding your post; moving into/out of a VH or RVH 

  1. Tracking – recognizing the trajectory of the puck as it is released 

  1. Getting to rimmed or pucks dumped in – important first push to intercept the puck 

  1. Save movements – any movement required to make a save 

Each of these 6 elements have a physical focus.  They require initiating a physical movement and is dependent upon how quickly we can recruit the muscles required to execute the movement. 

They all required enormous numbers of CORRECT MOVEMENT repetitions and DELIBERATE PRACTICE in order to perfect.  

But underlying the physical movement is our ability to translate what we see into what we need to do.  In other words, recognize, understand and PROCESS INFORMATION AND AT “GAME SPEED”. 

That is the product of EXPERIENCE and DEDICATED EFFORT on the part of the individual to study the game & learn patterns of play & puck movement that recur very often during a game. 

Some goaltenders can achieve this level, many cannot, effectively.  And that separates the average from the ELITE.

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The Hockey World is Continuously Evolving

The world of hockey is continuously evolving, and when that evolution is significant, it has an enormous effect on a goaltender’s game. 

The most significant aspects of late are how offensive strategies have changed.  

increasing slot line passes per game 
emphasis on puck possession 
emphasis on more shots from inside “home plate” 
increasing screening activity & now with multiple “layers”  
increased play low along the wall & below the goal line 

 And so, because of this evolution, what worked well in the past for some goaltenders does not necessarily work well today.   

Now the priority has become PLAY READING (what is commonly called “goalie IQ, but is just really plain old hockey sense) and becoming more adept at POSITIONING & REPOSITIONING as these plays develop and are executed.  

That also brings up a whole new set of soft skills including PATIENCE, which translated into goalie language, means HOLDING EDGES UNTIL THE LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT before the puck is released or the pass is made. 

It means better TRACKING with emphasis on visually following the puck from the time it leaves the shooter’s stick until it comes completely into one’s body &/or as it rebounds away if the goaltender is not able to retain the shot through a smother or catch the shot.   

TRACKING also relates to pucks that are passed within the defensive zone.  Being able to not only see and follow passes which are clear sighted, but also, passes in those instances where vision is impeded temporarily by a screen and the goaltender must attempt to “connect the dots” between the initial pass release and the point where it is received. 

So, I encourage goaltenders and coaches who work with goaltenders to implement the necessary training adjustments that will keep you (your goaltender) on pace with changes as they happen. 

"If you are not moving ahead, you are moving backward.  Status quo is not an option in goaltending"

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Don't let size limit your goals

 

“SIZE" “SIZE” “SIZE"

 

Normally this is not a factor at a young age, but, unfortunately, as you move up the hockey chain, some coaches believe it is a factor. I have seen it creep into decisions at the U13 & U15 level and most certainly it becomes a major factor at U18.
But don’t despair. Not everyone grows at the same rate & oftentimes, those who are above average height at 12 – 14 years will not grow at the same rate as they get older or may even stop growing.  And those who are average height or less at those years will catch up or exceed the norm.
In any event, there is room for the smaller goaltender beyond Minor/Youth Hockey or High School.   And, there is still a place in Major Junior/Tier I for the smaller goaltender &, most certainly, the smaller goaltender can flourish at the Junior A or Junior B/Tier II level.

Beyond that, U Sport, NCAA, ECHL, AHL and European teams are options open to those who have the skill but do not achieve the "supposedly ideal" 6' 2" height for an NHL goaltender.  Understand, reaching the NHL is no easy task, even with the size factored in.
On any given night, there are only 64 goaltenders on NHL team game rosters and they come from every part of the world.  So, your competition is not only the kid on the next block or in the next town, but the kid playing minor hockey in Switzerland, Sweden, Finland or Germany or the US.

 

 

 

My advice to any goaltender, who is shorter in stature than your peers, is to not bury your dreams, but understand what your situation is and take steps to improve your chances at playing at a higher level (if that is truly what you want) by working on and improving those parts of your game to get you there.
So, here are some things you need to be to maximize your ability to compete at any level, no matter what your size.  If you are really motivated, you can likely achieve proficiency in a short period of time with the help of an experienced goaltending coach.

 

- athletic (possess incredible agility, balance & co-ordination with speed) These elements can be developed away from the ice surface, but a certain amount requires on-ice time (see the next element below) *not all goaltenders will have the physiological capabilities to achieve a high level of athleticism.  So then, positioning becomes a much more important factor

 

- a superior skater (a master at using inside edges to position, or reposition on skates in control and on balance)
Spend on ice time working on inside edge control, crease skating drills & team skating
- unmatched in lateral movement (controlled speed & power in lateral movements on skates or in a slide)
- a student of the game (watches games played at all levels; observing player tendencies and play patterns and how shots are generated and the locations in the defensive zone from which they originate)
- excellent at reading the shot release (using complete puck focus and shooter information such as hand/puck/shoulder position to determine height, velocity and shot location immediately as the puck is leaving the stick blade)

 

- near perfect at tracking shots (actually sees pucks make contact with their equipment (stick, pads etc.) & rebounds moving away from your equipment & can FIND the flight path of the puck through screens & front net traffic situations)
- a master at being patient & staying up and on skates (patient and confidently remaining on skates and only moves to make the save after the PUCK HAS LEFT THE STICK BLADE when the velocity & trajectory is known) The exception being close in, tight, shot situations where the higher percentage play is to use a down, butterfly or RVH, blocking position
- near perfect at positioning (an angle first mentality always. Plus proper depth whenever possible.  Must arrive "on time", every time, so feet are set and skates, hips & shoulders are square to the puck "BEFORE" the shot released – in the case of a lateral slide the same squareness must be prioritized)

 

- strong mentally (develop your mental toughness & “grit” to handle the ups & downs of goaltending)

 

 

 

A few other non-technical, non-tactical necessary elements.

has a “never give up” attitude

 

works harder than any of his team mates every off or on ice session

 

wants to be the best

 

wants to learn

 

ENJOYS PRACTICES AS MUCH AS THE GAME

 

 

 

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What does it mean to be "Coachable"

I know this is not something most goaltenders have ever given a thought but, I can tell you, most certainly, it is a topic that comes up often in discussion among coaches, recruiters & scouts.   
  
Is he/she coachable?

Perhaps there is no more important quality in a player than to be eager to learn.  And, probably no quicker way to become a better goaltender. 

So, who exactly is the "coachable" athlete? I suggest it is the goaltender who WANTS to be in the net every second of the game; who ACCEPTS the fact that they do make mistakes and who LEARNS from those mistakes; who TAKES RESPONSIBILITY for their performance (good or bad); who SEEK out help from their coach or mentor and are ALWAYS looking to improve.  Their mind is open to new things & new ways to do things.  They take advice WILLINGLY, and though they believe in themselves, they understand that they are where they are BECAUSE OF OTHERS.  And, that they need others to become the success they desire to be.

A coachable goaltender is one who shows up at the rink PREPARED, whether practice or game. They are always ready to get better and want to be the best they can be. They are energetic and enthusiastic. They are first on the ice and last to leave and always looking to do more.  


And they give you their FULL ATTENTION when you speak to them. 

Unfortunately, I've seen my share of goaltenders over the past 27 years coaching WHO DO/WILL NOT accept constructive advice or the fact that there might be another way to do something or that something they are presently doing might be improved.  They will nod their head and appear to agree, but they are not really engaged in what is being said. And then they just keep doing exactly the same thing as they did before the conversation. 

As a coach this is has to be one of the most frustrating & disappointing encounters one can have.  


Without a word being said, they are telling the coach "I am not really interested in what you have to say".  The minimum here would be to at least give it a try.  

​​I trust none of this sounds familiar to anyone reading this because it has been my experience that these goaltenders really struggle to put any kind of meaningful goaltending career together beyond Minor/Youth Hockey.   
​​
I suspect all coaches would welcome that the goaltender simply say, "I don't agree coach, I see it this way" or "I'd prefer to try this way, because...." or "Can you explain to me why this is important?”  At the very least this would produce some dialogue.  And, from that dialogue perhaps a common ground can be reached.

So, the message here folks is: unless you are already a "SUPER STAR" you better learn quickly to be/become "Coachable".

"The difference between a good player and a great player is that a good player thinks he or she is good, and a great player always believes they can be better, “A great player is an athlete who is never satisfied.”  Bob Deraney
 

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Confidence

Confidence!  It is a corner stone on which successful goaltending is built.

Confidence inspires you to play at a top of your game; playing at the top of your game inspires confidence.  The question is, which comes first?  Perhaps it is a bit of both.  But, make no mistake, self-confidence is crucial to performing at your highest level.

If you are confident, you'll be better able to handle difficult situations - those times during competition when things go wrong.  Your demeanour both on and off the ice will reflect that confidence and your attitude will be "play to win" and not a "try not to lose" mentality, which will influence your team mates & inspire confidence in them as well.

On the other hand, when you aren't confident, you'll struggle with mistakes, likely become frustrated and play too cautiously.  You become tense, your movements are no longer smooth, you "fight" the puck, you create rebounds and overplay situations.

So, if we understand how important confidence is to our performance, why do we struggle with confidence issues from time to time, and more importantly, how do you acquire/maintain/regain confidence.

From our experience, confidence seems more evident when the goaltender focuses on his/her strong points (what are the things I do really well?) and not their deficiencies or weaknesses.  There is no room for negativity if you are to perform at your best.  

Confident goaltenders concern themselves only with the things they can control (emotions, preparation, attitude, thoughts).  We also note that, generally, the more prepared the individual is, the more likely they are to play with confidence.

And, that leads us to one of the most important elements that will affect confidence - PREPARATION.  We've talked about pre-game preparation many times before & we are firm believers that the better prepared physically and mentally (and especially mentally) you are to play, the more likely you will play with confidence.  There is something about routine and familiarity that gives us a feeling of comfort and preparedness.  And, never underestimate the use of mental imagery to boost and maintain confidence

If you noticed, all the things we mentioned in the previous paragraph are controllable by the goaltender.  As a starting point,

1. make a list of what you can control
2. make a list of those things you can’t control
3. forget those things you can't control.

Remember, there definitely will be ups & downs in your game and it is natural that you will struggle with confidence at times.  The secret is to understand that it will happen, and to believe in yourself and that what you are doing will bring positive results over the long run.  

Understand the process, what got you to where you are today (hard work, motivation, dedication, on & off ice training, good personal choices).  Understand, as well, that your skills don't just "suddenly" leave you.  They don't say "that's it, I'm done" and go away.  More likely, you are hi-jacking your skills with negativity.  Our experience is that, goaltenders get into trouble with confidence when they start thinking the game, thinking about their mistakes or their team mates mistakes, the referee, missed opportunities, what their team mates think, what the coach thinks, what the fans think....the better able you can control that "little voice" inside your head the more likely you will play with confidence. 

No one can "give" you confidence and no one can take it from you.  Your confidence (or lack of) is in your hands (or, more exactly, in your head)  Understand the things (negative thoughts, unmet expectations, mistakes etc.) that affect your confidence level and focus on replacing those thoughts (the little voice inside your head) with the notion that you can get through this because you are doing all the "right things" and that this is just one small bump in the road in your journey to becoming the best goaltender you can be.

Confidence is preparation.  Everything else is beyond your control. - Richard Kline

 

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