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For the past several years the game of hockey has required goaltenders to handle the pucks as effectively as the forwards and defensemen.   Unfortunately, most goalies are spending time on trendy things like showing off how far or hard they can shoot the puck. Many young netminders seek to emulate Ron Hextall and try to score goals.  When it comes to puckhandling accuracy, not velocity, is what counts.

Coaches in the professional, junior or college ranks expect a high level of puckhandling ability from their goaltenders.  Coaches could care less whether the goalie can shoot the puck all the way down the ice because they are more concerned about simple break-out passes. Let's examine several situations and what the goalie needs to know.

SETTING THE PUCK

This is a very important skill that is rarely practiced. Anytime a goalie makes a save or chases down a loose puck, the exchange with the defenseman must be flawless or the opposing team regains control of the puck.   Most goalies take the setting of the puck for granted.  After the save, the goalie tends to smack the puck to the corner or puts it in a location that is not convenient for the defenseman to get control of it for a quick break-out.

If the goalie has a loose puck at his or her feet, communication both verbal and non-verbal must be initiated.  The goalie must yell to the defenseman, "Here it is, take it",  while pointing with the catching glove to the side the teammate will skate to.  Too many goalies wait until the defenseman skates right on top of him before doing anything.  If the goalie has the puck at the top of the crease, he must talk to the defenseman before the D skates below the hashmarks.  This allows the D time to read the goalie as the puck is set to   the side of the net.  Obviously if the goalie doesn't communicate, the defensemen will skate right into him and the opposing team may steal the puck.

When setting the puck, cup it under the blade of the goalie stick, steer the puck to one side fo the crease and firmly apply pressure with the stick-arm wrist to stop the puck. If the defenseman is not pressured by the forecheckers, the goalie may leave the puck above the goal line for a quick break-out.  If there is pressure, set it behind the goal line about a stick length from the post.  This is done to allow the D to quickly swing the net and use the goal as a screen for a closely following forechecker and also to allow the goalie to pull back the puck to freeze it.

PASSING & CLEARING

Passing the puck with the goalie stick requires the same form as that of a regular stick. The wrist snap is important because the puck must get to its intended target quickly so the teammate doesn't  get croaked by a crashing defenseman or forechecker. The whole body must move into the pass and the stick has to follow through to the target.  Most goalies swat at the puck using only the arms to make the pass. These passes are weak and erratic.  The goalie must lead the player with the puck so no time is lost waiting for the pass to arrive.

Decision making is another crucial aspect of passing. If the rear wing is wide open, don't try to force a pass straight up the middle of the ice. Make the simplest pass possible and read the situation early so the other team doesn't have time to pick off the pass.  Communicate to the player you are passing to so he knows you are passing him the puck.  You can throw head and shoulder fakes at opposing forecheckers to get them to commit to you.  Once the forechecker skates towards you, other teammates are open.  Observe whether the forechecker is a right or left shot so you don't pass or clear into his forehand.

When clearing the puck, the goalie must snap the wrists while rolling the puck from the heel of the stick towards the toe of the blade.   The follow through must be high in order to lift the puck with any velocity. Again the KISS method (Keep It Simple Stupid) of clearing is in effect.  Clear the puck the simplest and safest way possible. Always stop the puck with the body squarely backing up the stick before attempting a clear.  If you are away from the crease and can't tie up the puck, shoot it safely into the corner and hustle back to the net.

Whether passing or clearing the puck, do it for the right reason. The goalie is the first line of offense.  The break-out is very important when making the transition from defense to offense. Don't do more than the situation requires.  If your defenseman is waiting next to you for the puck, don't try to force a cross-ice pass through traffic to try to send the far wing on a break-way.   Be smart, simple, and decisive anytime you handle the puck. Keep your eyes open to read the forecheck and put the puck in the safest place possible whether your are setting, passing, or clearing it. A smart puckhandling goalie is an asset to any team.

This article was contributed by Fred Quistgard of Quistgard Goalie Trainin

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