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When Innocent Plays Turn Bad

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When Innocent Plays Turn Bad

When a goalie seeks to become a better, more effective puck stopper, he or she tends to focus on the obvious instead of the subtle aspects of the game. In reality, most slumps or weaknesses in a goalie's game are a reflection of a lack of attention to details. To truly improve your skills as a goalie, you need to look at your game like a biologist looks at a frog he or she is about to dissect. There is a reason why goals go in or are saved. To focus on the important "little things", you must be able to break a situation down into a frame by frame analysis to see how some seemingly unimportant choices or habits can result in an unnecessary scoring chance. The following situations are commonplace in games and most goalies take them for granted when they should be treated with the same concentration as an overtime breakaway.

Situation 1: Sloppy Handling of Routine Shots

Each of you goalies see hundreds of these shots each week at practice and anywhere from 20-30 of these in each game you play. In practice, most goalies handle these shots on cruise control--only "getting in the way" to stop the puck. ESPN is filled with "Plays of the Day" goals where the viewer sees a top shelf glove shot. However, I will bet dollars to doughnuts that prior to that amazing shot, the goalie may have coughed up a bad rebound off a routine shot to the stick or pads which resulted in that highlight goal. Soooo, the average fan or observer will say the goalie never had a chance to stop that amazing shot, but the trained eye will see the lost opportunity the goalie had to control an easy shot.

How many goalies do you observe that have sloppy stances when there doesn't appear to be a chance of a shot? While the glove and blocker are resting on the pads, a turnover may occur that results in a quick shot on goal. The goalie has to waste a second or two to get the gloves or stick to a ready position and that may be a second or two too late. Those fans of the former NY Rangers goalie Mike Richter may have observed how consistent he was with his stance. He had his hands trained to be up and ready at all times so he was always ready when the unexpected happened. Goalies with their hands down or the sticks lazily glued to their skates give out unforced errors which result in scoring opportunities. Why work harder than you need to? It makes no sense to me to give away dozens of goals each year simply because you were too lazy to control an easy shot. Pay attention to these details!

Your job as a goalie is simply this: stop ALL easy shots, stop ALMOST every mid-range (top of circles to slot) shot and MAKE TIMELY game-breaking saves on high percentage scoring chances. This formula should keep your goals against under 3 for each game you play and give your team a chance to win. If you consistently give up soft goals on easy shots, your team will not have the confidence to be 100% aggressive and that will result in even more scoring chances. If you can't handle the routine shots on a consistent basis, you will not be a starting goalie for long because your job is to give your team the chance to win. Sloppy routine saves will not allow you to do that.

Situation 2: Lazy Positioning

Yeah, I know the old cliché where the goalie was fat and lazy that's why they were in goal. That is one stereotype which should have absolutely no basis in fact anymore, yet many of you like to play down to that image by looking lazy. There is a difference between being "economical" and lazy with your movements. Those of you with an excuse gene will always argue that you don't want to do more than you have to in order to make your saves. Goalies that wait until they see an obvious shot before getting ready are giving away scoring chances. Goalies are not simply targets waiting for the rubber to come their way. By being proactive, not reactive, you can discourage the opposition from making scoring attempts by taking away space. Taking away space is a subtle but effective way of changing the puckhandler's options. "Playing the angles" does not mean coming out 10 or 15 feet. Stepping out from the top of the crease before a shot is taken may take away a back door passing option or it may make the puckhandler pass off because there is nothing to shoot at.

When working with goalies I always refer to gap control. Defensemen are taught to take away gaps of the approaching forward so they don't have space to get off a good shot or deke. Goalies have the same opportunity. I see goalies who are out in the hashmarks between the face-off circles and then furiously back into the crease, opening up a lot of shooting, deking or passing space. (I call this turtling back into the shell). I see goalies wearing themselves out skating all over the slot area following the puck like a rabbit chasing a carrot. The analogy I always prefer is one of a snake. The snake establishes its ground and waits until its prey is within range and then it strikes quickly and explosively. Many goalies sit back and wait too long before challenging or they are gliders always being caught on the backs of their heels. Lazy positioning makes so much work for the goalie and results in many unnecessary goals against. If you are only waiting to see a shot you are only using a quarter of your resources. By being proactive in your pre-save movement, pass-blocking, communication and puckhandling, you control your defensive zone and make soft goals unlikely.

Even in practice, work on proactive movement and don't allow yourself to hang out in the crease like a sack of potatoes. Laziness becomes a habit. When you do just enough movement to "get by", you put yourself in position to get beaten by deflections and rebound shots because your gap control is poor. I always wish there could be a stat for goalies called "scoring chances denied". There are many circumstances that are not technically a save, but because of great positioning or pass-blocking, a scoring chance did not occur. That proactive decision making by a goalie prevents goals while a goalie who hangs out spectating from the crease is generating scoring chances for the other team. Don't get caught fishing the puck out of the net and thinking, "Geez, I didn't think he/she was going to take that shot." Be aware and be ready!!!!! Anticipate all options.

Situation 3: Failing To Read Offensive Situations

Again, goalies who simply hang out waiting for a shot lose valuable opportunities to pre-read what save attempt will be needed to stop the puck. Over the years I have worked with thousands of goalies, yet I can probably remember only a dozen or so goalies who "Get It" when it comes to being a student of the game. Do you know how easy it is to read an offensive situation? For example, you have a left-hand puck carrier skating down the right sideboards on a 2 v1 with a right-handed teammate. If the right-handed forward was driving the net, his stick blade would be behind the goalie's body if the goalie can stay by the top of the crease. A goalie who is not a student of the game may wind up playing on the goal line which gives the shooter space to score, space to deke AND space to hit the back-door pass. The difference between a routine 2 v1 and a goal is how the goalie views the play. Another routine play is a pass from behind the goal line to the slot. The space a goalie needs to cover is affected by whether the recipient of the pass in the slot is a lefty or a righty. The difference in space from a right shot to a left shot may be 3 or 4 feet. If the goalie moved off the left post to the slot, thinking the slot player was a righty, but the player was actually a lefty, the goalie will be lined up with the shooter's body and not the stick so it may be an easy goal. A smart, quick read by the goalie will get the angle covered correctly and prevents a point blank goal. If the goalie has no clue about left and right shot angles, the goalie relies purely on luck and reflexes which is not the way to go.

I could go on and on about how reading 1 v 1s, 3 v 2s, neutral zone play, defensive zone play and power plays all make a goalie's job easier. Most goalies tune out at practice when the team works on these things thinking all they have to do is stop the puck. Awareness is a vital skill of goaltending. If you know what is going on around you, it is easier to make an informed choice as to what you need to do. Don't be mentally lazy! Challenge yourself when it would be easier to be lazy.

Summary:

There are countless "innocent" plays that occur each game and practice. Don't make yourself a victim of the unexpected by taking your time on the ice for granted. Be mentally active, verbally active and physically dominant. A proactive crease presence will prevent you from giving up too many soft goals. They occasionally happen to everyone, but they happen more often to goalies who don't pay attention to details. Don't let this happen to you! You have a conscious choice in how you carry yourself on the ice. If consistently let in funny goals, it probably has to do with your approach to the game. When you are mentally and physically prepared for innocent and challenging plays alike, you will be a goalie your team can count on.

This article was contributed by Fred Quistgard of Quistgard Goalie

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