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Goaltending: When Stubborness gets in the way

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 The older a goalie gets and the more advanced the competition becomes, the more set in his ways the goalie becomes. The old cliché of "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" is taken quite seriously by many athletes. Rather than developing new strategies to counteract the more difficult save situations, goalies retreat back into an old comfort zone of what felt good at lower levels of competition. Often times, the goalie will not be receptive to new ideas until they have hit rock bottom in a major slump. At this time, the goalie is desperate for anything that will get them out of the funk that he or she is in.

To avoid putting yourself in this situation, try to have an open mind when a qualified coach or observer offers some constructive criticism. The key to accepting criticism is to accept it from only someone who has a strong background in goalie instruction and to then listen well enough to understand what points are being stressed. The criticism you can blow off is unintelligent comments that are too general like, "You must stay on your feet all the time". While you may be going down too much, you need an intelligent criticism that explains to you why you are committing too soon. Blanket criticism is not usually taken very well and the goalie will normally react defensively.

The first step to getting out of a slump or to raise your game to a higher level is to realize what techniques or concepts will give you a better presence on the ice. I can't stress enough how a game's outcome often is a direct result of a goalie's on-ice presence. If the goalie looks hesitant and allows the opposition to have access to plenty of shooting and deking space, the opponents will attack unmercilessly and really put the pressure on the goalie to make big saves early and often. Your performance in net is largely reflected by how much confidence you display. Any hesitance or shakiness will be exploited not only by the other team, but also the fans who will ride the goalie in a nasty way.

The goalies with the best on-ice presence usually have the best grasp on the importance of knowing all the options necessary to counteract an approaching play. If a goalie only feels comfortable playing a deke across the crease one way, it will be easy to learn how to beat the goalie. If the goalie can not only attack with good lateral mobility, but can also execute a quick, aggressive pokecheck, the opposing forwards must protect the puck or have it knocked away from him. As a shooter approaches, he doesn't know whether he has to avoid a pokecheck or have to accelerate to get around an aggressive lateral shuffle or to avoid a well-timed pad save. The more doubt a goalie can put in a shooter's mind because of the different moves the goalie can use, the better the chance of a save.

In order to feel comfortable learning new moves stop being defensive and realize that new moves, once learned, will make you a better goalie. Too many goalies have a mental block that prevents them from learning. Goalies are nervous about looking stupid while trying to learn a new move so they are reluctant to make changes with their game. The game of hockey is always changing so the goalies must adapt to the different styles of play. If you tell yourself that you can't make a half-butterfly to your stick side, you won't. If you don't mind screwing up the half-butterfly in practice while you are learning how to use it, you will develop a new aspect to your game. No matter what the move is: pokechecking, stacking the pads, laying the paddle down, aggressive angles, puckhandling, or kick saves, when you aren't afraid to fail in practice, you will improve. Mental blocks are created by you the goalie and no one else. You will be as successful with the new moves as when you use your "comfort zone" saves if you have an open mind. Once you get through the short term failure from learning the timing of the moves in practice, the moves will suddenly happen in a game situation without even thinking about it. You will be a more well-rounded goalie now that you have added something new to your game. When you aren't predictable, the shooters will always have doubt in their minds as they approach to try and score.

Finally, the last key aspect is to look for opportunities to deny scoring chances, not waiting to make a save. When you are always stepping out on the angle before a player is in shooting position, you put pressure on the opponents to make a good decision with the puck. An aggressive angle can prevent a scoring chance much like pokechecking a pass to an open player can. These save situations don't count in the shots on goal column, but they are a hidden statistic. There should be a category for offensive plays denied. A denied offensive play can be a tough angle that forced the shooter to go wide or a pokecheck of a player cutting in wide so the shot can't be taken or even a clear out of a dumped in puck so the opponents couldn't get an attack going. When you look for ways to screw up the opposition and don't hang out flat-footed waiting for a save, you truly have the presence to be successful at any level from mite to pro.

This article was contributed by Fred Quistgard of Quistgard Goalie Training

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