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Random Thoughts

As the season begins to wind down I thought I’d throw out some “food for thought” for all of you goalies out there. So for your reading pleasure here are some observations and thoughts about various goaltending topics:

1. Cookie Cutter Goaltenders

Although some goalie coaches may disagree, I believe that there are many ways to play goal. Every few years there may be a style change that becomes all the rage. For example, a few years ago “blockage” was really in. The perfect goalie was like the tabletop hockey game model where he or she moves in one solid block so the puck couldn’t find holes. At that point in time, the NHL was a boring, trapping style with little open ice or creativity so the goalies could simply “get in the way”. Since the NHL strike ended and the game was opened up with new rules, simply playing a “blockage” style is not realistic. With the speed of the game comes the need for mobile saves, some of which were considered passé (stacks of the pads for example). Most travel, high school, college or adult leagues are more on the wide open style as well so the way goalies have adapted in the NHL is certainly applicable to other levels of hockey.

Don’t try to force yourself to play one certain style and be careful about totally emulating your favorite NHL goalie. When it comes to playing goal it’s more important to just be yourself. How can you become the best “you” that you can be? Personally, I believe you should first of all improve what you are weak at skill-wise and then assess how well you read plays during games and practices. If you are able to utilize a handful of different save techniques when facing a scoring play, I think that will make you a difficult goalie to beat. Most goalies are creatures of habit that become somewhat predictable if you see them more than once or twice. My belief is that if you can break up a one-on-one, two-on-one, three-on-two or breakaway by pulling out a move from your bag of tricks that is good for that exact situation you’re facing, you will be hard to figure out. If you use the same exact move against every one-on-one, opposing teams will find you very easy to figure out.

A couple of creative NHL goalies are old dogs Marty Brodeur and Dominic Hasek. Both goalies can play traditionally on some plays and creatively unorthodox on others. There always is a method to their madness because they are blessed with the ability to quickly read a play and instinctively go to their bag of tricks without thinking much about it. For goalies that simply want to drop into the paddle down on every shot, be aware of the gap you have. Paddle down is more effective when you can explode into the puck at closer range. Paddle down is a “blockage” type save that can be set up with a mobile push off your back skate. Blockage is effective on close plays and mobile athleticism is key on other types of plays. How well you can display your hockey sense and pressure other teams with appropriate decisions against an approaching play will determine how successful you are. Mindlessly following a fad without understanding why you are using certain moves will result in failure.

2. Are You A Puck Receptacle or a Goalie?

Often times when I am hired to teach goalies I have to change how they look at the position of goaltender. Watch many practices at your local rink and you will see goalies who are hanging out waiting for shots. What’s wrong with that you ask? Well, if all you’re doing is sitting flat-footed in the crease waiting for pucks to be shot at you, you are losing some great opportunities to make your saves easier once the shot is taken. I have always said that I wish there was a goaltending statistic that we could call “forced offensive errors”. Shots on goal are an important hockey statistic. A great goalie may force the opposition into missed scoring opportunities because of angles, pokechecks, pass blocks or smooth breakouts. However, these “forced errors” don’t show up in the shots on goal or save percentage statistics.

I try to teach goalies the importance of taking away space as well as reading the shooting and passing options of the opposing team. Examples of great space awareness could be after a goalie makes a save, but the rebound deflects into scoring position. Most goalies stay flat-footed and wait until the opponent gets to the puck, turns and fires. A smarter goalie will move closer to the rebound while the shooter is not looking via skating or a butterfly or paddle-down push. By moving a foot or so closer to the puck, the goalie narrows the scoring gap so the save will be easier to make. Another example is when a smart goalie moves with a cross-ice pass before it gets to the recipient’s stick. By moving with the pass, the smart goalie is already in the shooting lane when the shot is taken. The lazy goalie waits for the pass to be received and then tries to make the save. The lazy goalie has more room to cover because he is not already set in the scoring lane. Another example of great special awareness is on a power play. When the goalie’s team is man-down, the smart goalie keeps making short step-outs into seams around the crease to take away back door passes or to stay ahead of opponents who are behind him.

Smart positioning and moving to space before the shot is taken means the goalie has great hockey Sense and does not simply wait for the obvious visual cue of a shot. Goalies that just wait for shots are puck receptacle.

Why is knowing which way the opposing players shoot important? If you are able to see which way the rushing opponents shoot you can determine passing lanes and the options they will have when they get closer to the net. For example, if you have a two on one approaching and the puckcarrier is on the right side, you can read the play like so: If the puckcarrier on the right side is a lefty and his linemate coming down the slot without the puck is a righty, the passing lane will be very close to the goalie. If the goalie positions him or herself just outside the crease and is squared off to the puckcarrier, the chances of a pass being made is slim because the goalie is in the way. This frees up the goalie to concentrate solely on the shot because the pass will have to go through him to reach the right-handed teammate.

Reading which way the oncoming rush shoots and seeing where your defensemen are in relation to the opponents will give you a pretty accurate read as to the type of save you will be required to make in a few moments. Now if you just sit back and wait for a shot without processing that information, you won’t know who is likely to shoot or where the safest place to direct a rebound is. Try reading rushes at practice. Once you get the hang of reading the plays, it becomes natural and you will be a much smarter and more effective goalie.

3. Short Attention Span Theater & Immediate Gratification

Our society is one of very short attention spans. If I can’t have it now, then I don’t want it. Well, that may be a great philosophy when it comes to an action movie, a video game or an MTV video where you can have the world at your fingertips, but it is not an effective philosophy when it comes to improving yourself. Patience and persistence are the keys to goaltending success. If you could simply flip a switch to make your catching glove better, I’m sure there would be a run on those switches at the local pro shop. However, since those switches don’t exist, you must be comfortable with failing at a new technique until the muscle memory is changed. Very rarely do I encounter a goalie who can make adjustments to their techniques after only a practice or two. Many adjustments require faith in the move. Until you can instinctively do the new move or adjustment without thinking about it, you will not do that new move all that well. The learning process may take weeks or months to run its course.

If you decide that adding new moves to your game isn’t as important as not looking bad while you learn them, then the game will pass you by. Hockey and goaltending is always evolving and you must not be afraid to learn new things. Everyone will look shaky during the learning process, but once you have the perseverance to master the new move, it will become an automatic part of your game where you won’t have to think about it anymore. Creating new muscle memories take time, but the satisfaction you will have over mastering new moves will pay huge dividends. Always think big picture and realize that goaltending is a marathon journey and not a sprint.

You can think long-term by looking at things you take for granted in practice. During warm-ups, do you control rebounds or do you just let them go everywhere? During the drills your team regularly does at practice, do you react the same way every time? What new moves could you bring to the drill to spice it up and to make your teammates work harder to score? When the team does non-shot drills like breakouts, do you give full attention to how you set the puck or hand off the dump-ins? If you don’t take pride in those skills, you are probably creating giveaways in games that result in prime scoring opportunities for the opposition.

Pay attention to details. Have patience to learn new skills. Realize that immediate gratification will not happen. Know that the satisfaction of staying the course for long-term gain is very sweet.

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

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