The modern game of hockey requires goaltenders to handle the puck as
well as any forward or defenseman. Although most goalies know they
need to handle the puck, their perception on how and when to do it
is all wrong.
Young goalies see NHL goalies like Ron Hextal scoring on empty nets
or cracking the puck off the glass and, to them, that is what
puckhandling is all about. The reality of puckhandling is that a
goalie must possess an innate ability to read a play and pass, clear
or set the puck in the proper location. Most goalies are clueless
when it comes to counteracting an opposition forecheck. Instead of
making an informed decision on where to put the puck, many goalies
will try to force the puck through traffic because they think they
are better puckhandlers than they really are. These goalies give
their coaches gray hairs because of all of their stupid giveaways.
Let's look at the essential elements of puckhandling.
1. VERBAL AND NON-VERBAL
Communication by the goaltender is the foundation of puckhandling.
If the goalie doesn't let his teammates know what he or she is doing
with the puck, the opponents may receive a gift.
Communication doesn't necessarily have to be verbal. It may come as
a result of a pointed hand or nod of the head. Communication must be
initiated by the goalie the second the puck is brought under
control. The goalie must let his teammates know both verbally, by
loudly giving directions, and non-verbally by steering the puck to
one side of the net before playing it. The most serious mistake a
goalie can make is to delay giving instructions until his teammate
or an opponent is right on top of him. Now the goalie has no quick
options because he is under too much pressure. Goaltenders must
speak loudly and early as to their intentions with the puck.
2. DECISION MAKING
Okay, you have just made a save, the puck is at your feet and all
the players on the ice are moving towards you. What the heck do you
do with the puck?
This situation is tough for all of the goalies who were daydreaming
while the coach was practicing forechecking and breakouts. You must
have a knowledge of the game in order to know where to play the
puck. First, is there a defenseman or teammate that is in your
vicinity? Is the opposition forechecking aggressively? What play
would be the safest and most effective? The goalie has three basic
options: set it, pass it or clear it.
3. THE SET
When the goalie sees that his defenseman is arriving uncontested
towards the loose puck, the goalie must initiate the exchange by
yelling, "Here, take it!", while pointing to one side of the net.
The goalie uses one hand on the stick while pointing the glove to
the side of the net the set will occur. The goalie must cup the puck
on the stick and draw it even with or a stick length behind the goal
line so the defenseman may swing the net, but also the goalie can
still pull it back to freeze it if the situation warrants it. The
goalie must stop the puck and not slap it uncontrollably behind the
goal line where the defenseman must waste time retrieving it. The
goalie must keep the head up to make sure there is no mix-up.
4. PASSING THE PUCK
Any pass must be made when the puck has been stopped. When goalies
try to pass pucks without getting them under control, they cough
them up like a rubber furball. Stop the puck, scan the defensive and
neutral zones for the safest, most direct pass available. The goalie
should not smack the puck because the pass will be off the mark and
sloppy. Do not waste time crossing over the glove and blocker or the
stick because it takes too long and a forechecker may steal the puck
from you. The blocker should hold the stick tightly below the knob
and the catching glove provides leverage at the top of the paddle
where it meets the thin shaft. Snap both wrists after you have
brought the puck from your back foot to the point of release by the
front foot. Sweep the puck from heel to toe and follow through at
the target. Snap the wrist and cup the puck with the stick blade so
there is enough spin to keep the puck moving quickly on the ice to
your teammate's stick. Choose the most open player to pass to and
get him the puck quickly so the transition out of your zone will
happen. A soft sloppy pass will be stolen, resulting in additional
and unnecessary scoring chances.
5. CLEARING THE PUCK
You don't necessarily need to lift the puck in the air to beat a
forechecker. However, you must know where open lanes are in order to
prevent your clears from being picked off. If you go behind the net
to stop a puck, immediately pull the puck 3-4 feet off the endboards
so the forechecker can't hug the boards and steal the puck from you.
By pulling the puck off the boards, you gain a carom angle away from
the forechecking player. If the puck is left flush to the boards,
the forechecker can plow through the stick and steal the puck. Pay
attention as to whether the player is a left shot or right shot and
clear the puck away from the forehand. Clearing the puck requires a
higher follow through in order to get height. If there is no wrist
snap, the puck will not become airborne. Do not clear the puck if a
pass to a teammate is available. You do not want to give the puck
away when time of possession is so important. Hustle back to the net
while facing the puck should the clear get intercepted. Always stop
the puck prior to clearing it and fire the puck to the safest lane
possible. Never pass the puck right up the middle unless there is no
possibility of giving it away. When the puck is cleared up the
middle, there's a 99% chance of having it come right back at you.
When it comes to puckhandling, be alert, be vocal, and be smart. If
you focus on these three keys, your coach and teammates will be
impressed by your puckhandling prowess. If you are ignorant, silent
and stupid, your coach and teammates will cringe everytime you touch
This article was contributed by
Fred Quistgard of Quistgard Goalie Training.