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What Goalies and Their Coaches Should Know About Practice Responsibilities

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I’ve been coaching goalies for many years now and I’m still amazed at the lack of focus many goalies have at practice. Whether it’s the little munchkins (who rightfully don’t quite have the long attention spans) or older high school and college goalies (who should know better), I don’t see an objective approach to the drills they face at practice. Coaches also rarely explain what a goalie should be doing in a drill other than an occasional “stop the puck” edict.

Coaches spend a lot of time explaining what forwards or defensemen are trying to do in a warm-up drill or in one-on-ones, two-on-ones, three-on-twos, power plays and breakouts. Goalies have responsibilities in each and every situation. A coach doesn’t have to be a former goalie to add a short explanation for a goalie’s role in a drill. Goalies shouldn’t be zoning out during drill explanations either. When a goalie sees the drill, he or she should be creating some type of game plan for it even if the drill isn’t “goalie friendly”. There is always something positive you can gain out of a drill if you look hard enough. Let’s look at some examples:

1) Shooting Warm-ups:
This is the chance to practice stepping out to the angle, holding your ground against a player who is clearly shooting, cushioning or steering rebounds and patience to make the shooter commit first. This is a great opportunity for the goalie to practice “crease presence”. How do you tell if you’ve got great crease presence in a warm-up shooting drill? Are the shooters missing the net a lot? If so, your angles and patience is spot on. If you’re getting lit up like a Christmas tree, you may be backing in too fast, flat-footed deep in the crease or not turning into your saves. Try and play inside-out on every shot. This means that you take some space away on the shooter when the shooter is looking and you hold your ground until the player is just beyond stick length away. Turn into every save! Don’t just look at the puck out of the corner of your eye and make a half-hearted stab at the puck. If the players are coming in too fast, go hard every other player so you do things correctly. Ask the coach to slow the players down. You should look calmly aggressive not wandering out of control all over the ice. Think of a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike as the image you are trying to portray!

2) One-on-Ones:
The forwards are obviously trying to beat the D either in a high seam or low seam. If the shooter attacks below the D, the goalie must not retreat too early into the net because that will give the shooter more deking and shooting space. Protect that gap and either pokecheck the player if he or she gets too close or be able to move with a close gap to the puck to minimize the space the shooter has to play with. If the player has wheels, you may have to use one or two half-steps when moving laterally to get your body all the way across the crease with the shooter. If you take one long push-off stride into a butterfly, the 5 Hole is exposed or the player may just blow right by you. If you are going to move laterally with the player, you will have to time it right and stay close! If the offensive player cuts in front of the D, make sure you are not gliding backwards on your heels because you will have a tough time on a sneaky screen shot. If the player cuts in front of the D, make sure you take a slight forward step towards the shooter because there will be more shooting space on the cutback move. Also keep your hands up, ready and ahead of your body to hide the upper corners. If a shooter can’t focus in on a lot of high corner space because your glove and blocker are a distraction, the shooter will likely miss the net if he or she tries to go top-shelf.

3) Two-on-Ones:
Pay attention as to whether the approaching players are left-handed or right-handed so you can judge the potential passing and shooting lanes as they get closer. When the play is nearing your blue line, take note of the way the players shoot. As the play enters your zone, where is your D? Ideally, the D will keep the puck carrier to the outside and protect the passing lane to the middle. The goalie’s responsibility is to stay square to the shooter but be aware of the angle the player without the puck is taking. If the wide angle puck carrier decides to drive the net, you should tell the D to “slide” or come to the puck side a bit more to discourage a flat-out breakaway. The D still stays in the passing lane. What you do is determined by what you see. For example, if you see a right-handed shooter coming down the left side and a left-handed shooter is driving the net on the right, you know it’s going to have to be a long pass to move to should it get through to the back door. However, if you see the lefty is driving too quickly and the righty is slower, you can hold your angle more squarely on the righty because the lefty has gone too fast to the net and is not going to be able to receive a pass or play a rebound. By processing the way the offensive players shoot, seeing where your D is and judging the speed and decision making of the offensive players, you can choose to pressure the righty to eliminate his or her scoring options.

If a shot is taken from a wide angle, don’t get caught leaning to the player you think a pass may go to. Play the shot and control the rebound! If a pass gets across, what’s the best way to get there? If the player has driven close to the net, you can attack with a pad save. If the pass occurs early, you have to get your body all the way over to the puck. Line up on the puck not the player’s body. When you move to a player who has received a pass, you have to move to the puck, not the player’s body. The difference between a left handed shooter’s angle and a right handed shooter’s angle is about 6 feet. You have to know where you are going!

4) Three-on-Twos:

Which D is being isolated two against one by the opposing forwards? Are you stepping out into lanes to fill the shooting angles? Do you have an active stick to poke check sloppy passes? Do you freeze pucks to kill the play when you have the chance or do you blindly smack the puck back into play? Do you attack point shots if defensemen are trailing the play and have the option of shooting?

Very often I see goalies hanging out in 3 on 2 drills just waiting to be shot at. Goalies can dictate what happens by being proactive and take away options from the attacking forwards. Goalies should be thinking “How can I be a royal pain in the neck to these players when they do these 3 on 2s?” If you do a great job of attacking space, communicating with your D, paying attention to the scoring triangle the players are trying to set up and intercept sloppy passes by deflecting or freezing them, you make your teammates work really hard to score. If you are lazy and just hang out waiting for an obvious shot to be taken at you, you are reacting to what is going on around you instead of forcing shooters to do what YOU want them to do!

5) Breakouts:
Yeah, I know breakouts aren’t the most exciting thing to practice, but they can be a great opportunity to practice your verbal and non-verbal communication with your D. First of all, you and your D should know what your terms mean when communicating a breakout. Goalies have roles in setting the puck, quick outs, passes and clears. No one is a mind-reader so your teammates and coaches should instinctively know what you are doing with the puck when initiating a breakout.

     Dump-Ins: When a puck gets dumped in on you, your communication should immediately be both verbal and non-verbal. Point to the side of the net you are setting the puck by pointing repeatedly with your glove and then yell something like “Here, Here, Here” so the D can see what you want him or her to do. Start gesturing and talking BEFORE the D is below the top of the circles so they have time to go to the right spot. Don’t wait until the D is two feet from you and then you smack the puck blindly to the corner. Place the puck within a stick length of the net and behind the goal line should you need to pull it back and freeze it.

     Quick-Outs: When a puck gets dumped in and the other team is changing lines, you don’t want your D to come all the way behind the net when they can start a fast break. When you see the other team changing, stop the puck, point up ice with your glove and yell “Go! Go! They’re changing!” and sweep the puck with one hand on your forehand or backhand into a space your D can skate into with speed.

     Stopping the Puck Behind the Net: Ideally, stop the puck behind the net so the puck can hit the back of the net if you misplay it and not have the puck rebound in front of an empty net. Pull the puck away from the boards so either your D can easily skate into it OR you can have room to pass or clear the puck around an approaching forechecker. If you keep the puck flush to the boards, your D may over-skate it or you may lose it to a forechecker.

     Passing: If you need to pass the puck to a winger setting up on the boards, make it crisp, tape to tape and with spin to keep the puck from bouncing! Your wingers will hate you if they have to settle a bouncing puck or wait for a slow pass when they have an opposing D crashing down the boards at them!

     Clearing: Clearing the puck must have purpose and not just be a chance to show how far you can send the puck! Clearing the puck to avoid a forecheck and get the puck to a location your teammates can play it is what’s important. Just because you might be able to ice the puck with your goalie stick doesn’t mean it’s helpful to your team if the face-off comes back into your defensive zone!

6) Power Plays:
As a goalie, you should know what an overload or umbrella power play is trying to set up. Read the formation, mentally anticipate seams that a pass or player may be moving towards and know what your options are to eliminate scoring plays. Again, if you just hang out and sit back deep in the crease, you will not be a threat to a power play. Your physical presence can take away passing and shooting lanes which will make the power play unit work harder to get quality scoring chances!
Do’s and Dont's at Practice
Do Dont
*Make an Effort!
Teammates hate a goalie who doesn’t try!
*Be lazy!
Work hard. Practice isn’t that long you know!
*Take Away Options!
Goaltending is an art! Make practice a masterpiece!
*Be predictable!
It’s not good if you never adapt.
*Attack Space!
Gap control is essential to great goaltending!
*Be a goal line hermit!
Challenge shooters!
*Turn squarely into saves!
Turning the body makes balanced saves!
*Go “splat” when dropping!
Body control is key!
*Have an aggressive, confident crease presence! *Look passive and wishy-washy!

This article was contributed by Fred Quistgard of Quistgard Goalie Training.



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