Creating a New Comfort Zone for Goalies

Article courtesy of Minnesota Hockey

At the elite levels of hockey, high quality goaltending is not only important, it’s practically a necessity.

Everyone knows it too. The players know it. The coaches and team executives know it. And of course the fans and media are quick to point it out as well. The teams with consistently strong goaltending are seemingly always contenders, and anyone with a perceived weakness at the position is often discounted even if they have outstanding strengths in other areas.

Yet, when it comes to youth hockey, goalies and their development aren’t given nearly the same emphasis compared to other positions.

“Adults often coach in their comfort zone, spending countless hours on Russian circles, breakouts, systems and power plays while basically ignoring the development of their goalies,” said Steve Carroll, goalie coach in-chief for USA Hockey’s Minnesota District. “They hope that somehow the goalies magically improve and become that much-needed difference-maker in big games. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work that way.”

“Coaches need to change the way they currently do business and work to make goalies first. They need to break out of their comfort zone, so goalie development becomes a priority and not an afterthought.”

The first step for coaches is to assign a goalie coach for each team. Then, the designated goalie coach should educate themselves on how to teach skills and techniques and implement drills that are good for goalies into every practice.

Start with Skating

The biggest similarity between goalies and skaters is the importance of skating skills. In fact, one of the reasons USA Hockey and Minnesota Hockey encourage associations to rotate goalies throughout Mites/8U is that it gives everyone the opportunity to develop a solid foundation of skating skills.

“The most important skill goalies have to have is the ability to skate,” said Carroll. “We’re not talking about being the fastest skater but being able to go forward and backwards and side to side in a quick and efficient matter. They have to be able to get square to the shooter, and they do that by moving their feet.”

In order to be successful, it’s critical goalies work during every practice on refining their three basic skating movements: C-cuts, shuffle and T-push.

“Where a goalie needs to play in the crease area, dictates which movement they use,” said Carroll. “C-cuts are used to control depth, either forward or back. The shuffle is used for short distances laterally. To go long distances, maybe from top corner of the crease back to the post, goalies often use the T-push movement.”

The Key to Staying Up

With the popularity of the butterfly goaltending style in today’s game, you can walk into any youth hockey game and it won’t take long to hear someone shout “Stay Up!”

The butterfly technique provides major benefits for goalies, but it can also be a disadvantage at times, especially at younger levels when goalies are smaller. Many goalies go down to their knees too early, leaving the top half of the net open. Then, they compound the issue by staying down in the butterfly too long.

To Carroll, the key to utilizing the butterfly properly goes back to kids’ skating skills.

“If they don’t have confidence in their skating skills, they don’t trust their ability to get up quickly when they need to,” said Carroll. “We teach goalies to go down with a purpose and get up in a timely manner with a sense of urgency.”

Angle. Square. Depth.

A key part of goaltending is positioning. The world’s best goalies nearly eliminate the need for acrobatic saves by using elite skating skills to maintain proper position for every shot.

“As players get older, where they play in the net becomes crucial,” said Carroll. “We talk about being on their angle, being square to the shooter and controlling their depth.”

“When teaching it, we show goalies what it looks like when they play a shot in the slot from the middle of their crease. Then we show what it looks like when the same goalie takes a c-cut forward to the top of the crease. The simple movement reduces the scoring area dramatically. In most cases, we want goalies to play at the top of the crease.”

Stop the Puck, Don’t Block It.

Being in the right position doesn’t necessarily mean goalies will make the save though. Goalies must learn how to watch the puck carefully in order to anticipate shots, make saves and control rebounds.

“If you watch a goalie, you can tell pretty quickly whether they’re tracking the puck just by watching their head,” said Carroll. “There’s a lot going on in the game, and some goalies think that just by getting their body in front of the puck is doing their job. In some cases, that works, but a lot of times they need to go to the next level and use their eyes.”

By tracking the puck with their eyes, players are able to go from simply blocking the puck to actively making saves. This allows them to add details to their game such as deflecting pucks into the corners, catching pucks to eliminate rebounds and getting in position quicker if they need to make a second save.

“Once kids figure out how important the eyes are, the game becomes so much easier,” said Carroll.

For additional tips, drills and videos on goaltending,