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Playing At The Next Level

Playing At The Next Level Put in the work - Every day

Some time ago I did a short survey with a goaltending coach who had worked at U18, Junior A, & University level & also, a goaltender (not from the same team) who had played through each of these levels.  My intent was to attempt to get a perspective, outside of my own, on some of the major skills & attributes necessary to play "up" at each level.  Most of these will also apply if you are playing U15, U16, U18 or at a higher level. My question was as follows: 

"List 6 things you feel a goaltender must have or develop as they move up those three levels”.  Obviously, there are others, but these were the first that came to mind for the coach & goaltender 
(Coach Perspective) 
- need to develop their anticipation of play in the defensive zone 
- ability to recognize and be able to react to opposition systems such as (PP) zone entries etc. 
- excellent rebound control 
- ability to find loose pucks in traffic (the amount of front net traffic increases as you move up each level) 
- the physical strength to handle traffic to fight for loose pucks when play is in tight to the net (not only is there more front net traffic, but the players get bigger as you move up each level) 
(A goaltender's perspective) 
- able to balance (time management) all facets of their life 
- keep the different aspects of their life separate (hockey time is hockey time, study time is study time, off ice training time is off ice training time etc.) 
- confidence in their skills (confident that all the work & practice will make for a successful transition to the game) 
- a short memory (live the game in the present) 
- deep motivation to succeed  
- knows game time is battle time 
I think you can see, from the responses, there are some key things you need to understand about moving from level to level.  One thing, I would like to add is "SPEED".  Everything gets faster moving from level to playing level...shots travel faster, passes are quicker, players skate faster, plays happen faster.  The whole game moves faster. 
And to quote the goaltender who helped me out, "many times, especially at the start of your first season at a higher level, it is as much about being able to "keep it all together" as it is about how well you stop a puck" 

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Best Practice "Practices



Well, here we are again.  Back to practice only & games cancelled because of the virus.  Understanding this is incredibly disappointing for everyone in hockey, we

goaltenders need to turn this negative into a positive & look at this “hiccup” as an opportunity to really build the technical part of our game. This will all start with a  

commitment to “get better at getting better” & an understanding that even a 5% improvement in skills over this down time will translate into a substantial uptake in

your game play when the season resumes.

​​Before I move on to the best practice "practices", I want to emphasize that the saying "you play like you practice" is exactly true.... if you give your best effort in

practice, you'll do the same in the game; if you pay attention to details in practice, you will in a game.  For the goaltender, this so much more important because your

play, good or bad, can determine the outcome of a game.  Every goaltender needs to take responsibility for their development & engage in a certain amount of self-

coaching. Practice is the only opportunity a goaltender gets to really work on skill development.

So, here are best practice practices for goaltenders:

prepare for the ice time: make sure your body is warmed up and stretched before you get on the ice.  Time on ice is meant for developing skills, not for warming

up and stretching

drill explanations: potentially you DO NOT need to be at the board for every drill explanation (unless head coach insists) unless it involves breakouts, power play or

penalty kill.  So, ask head coach to signal you when these are up next, so you can jump in.  During these times, think about the role you could play in drill (don’t

hesitate to ask your coach how you could be a part of the drill, particularly in the case of a transition or zone exit). Use the times when drill explanations don’t

involve any of the above to work on some technical details... movements into & out of RVH, tracking pucks behind the net, using rink markings to find angle & depth,


have a plan for each practice: you need to go on the ice with a goal or an objective.  Otherwise, you will tend to just “float” through practice & come off ice without

really producing any positive result except for a bit of perspiration (maybe). Discuss this with your position/goaltending coach, if you have one, before going on the

ice.  Perhaps he/she has something in mind.  Or, if not, suggest something you want to improve on from your last game such as keeping your hands ahead of your

body in stance, keeping your stick on the ice and in your 5-hole.  Basically, anything you want to become better at

get your skating in first: as soon as you step on the ice, take two HARD, QUICK LAPS AROUND THE ICE & head for a crease to work on footwork drills.  You need to

work on skating/footwork every practice.  Ask head coach first so he can keep one net clear from player shooting at the beginning of each practice

puck tracking: from the time it leaves the shooter’s stick, as it comes into your body, and you smother it or catch it or direct the rebound away with your blocker,

pad or stick keep your eyes focused on & your nose pointed to the puck.  Remember puck tracking includes plays which cross behind the net below the goal line

physically reposition on rebounds: if you cannot, (sometimes the spacing between shots does not permit time to physically reposition on rebounds) at least

continue to visually track pucks after you make the save 

work on your in-game communication skills: vocalize information to your team-mates when the team is working power play or penalty kill or breakouts.  It will be

easier to transfer this skill to games if you have already practiced it.

battle hard to stop every shot: even those you know you don't have a chance to stop.  Your team-mates will appreciate your effort when you challenge them (plus

it helps them improve their puck skills) & it will show your commitment to improving.  Secondly, your “battle mentality” will transfer to your game play & help you

make that "game saving" stop from time to time

handle pucks every practice: make it a point to get out & stop, set, or play any rims or pucks that come near the net to get a feel of how you want to react in

different situations.  Better to make a mistake in practice, than in a game. (ask your coach to put a plan together with your teammates on how you should handle

rimmed pucks or dump-in situations to help your team make zone exits easier)

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The "Most Important" Season

For most of you, the hockey season has wound down. Whatever else you do, make sure you take a little time to stop competing and relax.If you are a younger goaltender, you may choose to play “spring hockey” before shutting down while others will gravitate to another sport immediately after season.  However, whatever you chose to do, make sure you play an alternative sport during the off season. Try to pick a sport that will help you replicate some of the athletic skills of goaltending. (Tennis, volleyball, soccer is among the better) 
But, if you play at a competitive or developmental level, you will also want to take time as soon as possible to plan your strategy for improvement throughout the summer.  Pencil in the start date of your tryouts or training camp and work backwards from there. Right now, next season’s tryouts/training camp might be the furthest from your mind, but trust me, it will be here before you know it.  

I say this, because in my view is, the so called “off-season” should really be renamed "The Most Important Season".  Why?  Because it can't literally be time "off", especially if you play at a developmental/competitive level in Youth/Minor Hockey, Junior or above.  

Here you have an opportunity to retool, refine and develop your physical tools, mental skills and, at the same time, make corrections to your on-ice game at a goaltender specific training camp.   
Most definitely, you need to keep your skates on the ice a minimum number of times during "The Most Important Season".  But, don't associate playing "pick up hockey" or going to non-goalie specific camps/clinics with the idea of developing your technical skills.  Understand as well, that, for the most part, these will expose you to many situations you will hardly ever experience during games. Simply put, THESE ARE NOT GOALTENDER FRIENDLY.  So, there is potential here to develop unwelcome habits over the summer which will be EXTREMELY DIFFICULT, if not impossible, to retrain when the season starts.  Take these for that they are, FUN and an opportunity to get your equipment on and keep the “rust” off.  
Of course, as always, we strongly recommend an off-ice, goalie specific, training program working with a certified trainer.  Generally, you can find one who will provide you with an effective program (even if you don’t have access to a gym) & at a reasonable cost. Now add a week-long goalie camp and you have your "Most Important Season” training covered off.  You might also take the time to investigate opportunities to engage a Mental Performance Coach and/or sign up for a Vision Enhancement/Training Program.  

So, consider this as your Most Important Season development plan: 


  1.  Get you skates on the ice at least every second week (weekly preferred) 

  1.  Sign up for a Credible & Professional goalie camp 

  1.  Search out a Certified Trainer who has experience working with goaltenders 

  1.  Investigate the other opportunities I mentioned above 


Enjoy your summer.  Prepare early & prepare well.  Next season is just around the corner! 

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Time IS NOT on your side

(Let me begin this article by saying that it was prompted after many discussions with a gentleman who has been through this exact situation and who, I feel, offered an unbiased insight into the recruiting & scouting process.  And, I thank him for sharing those insights.) 

“I HAVE LOTS OF TIME” - you have probably heard this many times. 

Almost every goaltender gets this wrong. TIME IS NOT ON YOUR SIDE.  Time goes by quickly and, before you realize, you are playing someplace you never dreamed you’d be playing, you are now 20 years old and the season is ending in a couple of weeks.  No offers from universities or pro, semi-pro teams & perhaps little education beyond High School.  

Unfortunately, this is about that point in time when reality starts to kick in.  And, if you see others around you getting opportunities, this only compounds this reality. 

So, NOW is the time to get actively involved in your future.  


If you look at the best athletes in any sport, what you will find is that they all have: 

  1. A seasoned, experienced coach who is able to see the broader picture and who has THE PLAYER’S best interests at heart 

  1. Trainers (off ice, mental etc.) 

  1. Often, but not always, there is someone not directly connected to their training (advisor with experience in the path they want to follow) who can give them career advice 

Understand, as much as we think we might be able to handle all parts of our own development, YOU CANNOT DO IT ALONE. 

And the secret sauce about this is that all you will have to do is play, prepare & practice.  And really, if you are presently at an elite level & factor in the demands of school and a wee bit of discretionary free time and there isn’t much time left over.   


At one point I might have believed that if you are good enough, they will find you...not so today.  Too many players, too few recruiters/scouts AND NOT ENOUGH TIME.  Plus, a goaltender’s rate of development is not always steady & consistent. 


For example, if you goal is to play at University in the USA, the volume of research required to learn the academic requirements, rules regarding recruiting, finding reputable contacts, and not to mention finding a place to play prior to attending University if recruited & selected is enormous.   

On the other hand, if your goal is to play Major Junior and you are draft eligible and talking to a team, you’ll need to understand the depth of that team’s present goaltending (how many goaltenders on their protected list), where you will fit on that list, the education package the team offers & billeting situation (after all you are going to be living with another family for some time if you make the team).  Plus, a million other details you’ll need to consider especially if you are living away from home for the first time. 


Remember folks (and I quote a friend of mine here) “there are only 10% of University eligible, Junior eligible players who have a straight path to the highest level, the remaining 90% will only get there if they have help & direction” 


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A guide to better playoff performance


And that is the time when every play, every mistake, every save & every goal comes under the spotlight and becomes especially important. 

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