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Goalie Quote of the Week

A warrior is worthless unless he rises above others and stands strong in the midst of a storm." 

-Yamamoto Tsunetomo



The Fundamental Mind vs The Flexible Mind (or the steak vs the sizzle)

UE Motto: Be a Warrior!!

I have a bit of a story.  I was talking with an old-timer (actually the same age as myself, but I guess that qualifies), and we got in the discussion about modern goaltenders and how many goalies in professional game are playing a style almost indistinguishable from their peers.  He said it is even worse at the minor hockey level where goalies seem to him to be cut from the same piece of cloth.  Their styles and approach to play has become so standardized that goalies will make the same save time and time again and that this phenomena have made the position boring.

He lamented the lack of dynamic and exciting goalies from the past like Bill Ranford, Dominic Hasek, and Mike Palmeteer among the modern stable of NHL goaltenders.  All those great goalies of the past were personal heroes of mine as well and certainly had very unique styles to the position. 

There is no doubt that the goaltending game over the last 30 years has had a massive revolution.  Several major factors have lead to this revolution: video analysis, goalie instruction, increased competition for a small number of well-paying positions, and equipment advancements.  All these elements have created a general "school" of goaltending that is shared in large part by most experienced goaltenders today.  Goaltenders that adhere to this "school" of goaltending are operating in what I like to call the Fundamental Mind.  This is the steak of goaltending. Ryan Cruickshank of the Dartmouth Whalers shows that you can have a little sizzle with your steak!! 

Fundamental Mind is the mindset of a goalie who executes his saves/actions based on a systematic method of play.  There are scenarios that a goalie will encounter and from these scenarios, there are correct and efficient actions to counter them.  In many ways, the goalie feels there are right and wrong ways to do everything and that there should be an answer for the things the game throws at them.  In order to be a better goalie, the idea would be then to practice and perfect these reactions to make their execution as quickly and seamlessly as possible.  If the goalie does, then they will have played the game correctly and will, assuming rightly or wrongly, have success. 

When a goalie is operating with the Fundamental Mind they have very specific save selections for specific shots.  Also, they will play certain scenarios with the same type of approach (like stance, depth, and body-positioning).  Here is where many feel that the game gets boring.  Goalies, not just individuals but whole groups, will handle scenarios in exactly the same way giving the feel that they are just carbon-copies of some goalie-ideal.  With all the great goaltending minds out there analyzing and over-analyzing every game, play, shot, goal, and save, the game of goaltending is quickly coming to a sort of equilibrium.  As a result, goalies are adopting this equilibirum-style and goalie coaches are pushing it on their charges.  The growing popularity of the Fundamental Mind has created the seeming lack of goaltenders "flying by the seat of their pants" in the game to many lay observers.

While this gradual merging of styles to a standard "school" may be true to a large degree, with a more nuanced eye of the game, one can discern many subtle differences among the goaltenders.  I often wonder about the 80 plus goalies that I am training this year.  If I were only to see a silhouette of them while playing, would I be able to determine who they are?  (I think I could, but a laymen or casual observer would probably have a very difficult time).  To me, they are as different and varied as a high-quality jar of mixed-nuts (pun intended), but they are all still nuts. 

This video highlights a great example of the Fundamental Mind.  Jimmy Spratt was a Calgary Flames prospect whose pro career has sputtered.  This training video of his from 2009 is a remarkable example of goalie who appears to do everything right in a technical sense.  I have watched this video probably over 50 times and out of the 100's movements and save selections that Jimmy executes, I find it hard to find flaw with any of it.  His fluidity and speed are all amazing.  His execution is a near perfect model of modern goaltending that I can imagine.  That being said, something must have been missing for Jimmy as he hasn't been able to rise in the pro ranks. 

What may have been missing for Jimmy??

Flexible Mind is an approach to goaltending that encourages goalies to use whatever method is most expedient to stop the puck.  There is little concern with style or execution, and the focus is to just stop the puck.  This mindset was very popular in the late 80's and early 90's with goaltenders like Curtis Joseph, Bill Ranford, and Dominic Hasek.  We see glimpses of this still as a style with goaltenders like Tim Thomas and Martin Brodeur.  Their age is probably no coincidence.  I liken this type of play as the "sizzle" and there is no doubt this style of play is exciting for fans (but probably stressful for coaches and goalie-coaches).  The shortcoming of the Flexible Mind has always been consistency.  The play and performance outcomes seemed too varied.  This also leads to many problems for goalie coaches.  We can help people become more technical and express their Fundamental Mind quite well, but we have a very hard time to help goalies execute their Flexible Mind more effectively.  As I often say, if things go south for a goalie, it is easy to reset and go back to basics (the Fundamental Mind), but how do a I help a goalie who totally relies on the Flexible Mind?  Do I ask her to be more athletic, scrambling, and dynamic?

Goalies like Ranford and Joseph are in contrast to the Allaire revolution that took over high-level goaltending in the mid-90's with the adoption of Quebec Butterfly Style.  Francois Allaire was an innovator and a genius in many respects.  His push was to simplify the game by creating a style that totally eliminated the need for the Flexible Mind.  The drop-and-block, single save selection basis of his Quebec Butterfly Style garnered a huge following with J.S. Giguere leading the pack.  The feeling is that goalies from the Allaire era weren't athletic and didn't need to be.  And I think that criticism is valid for the most part.  It lead to larger and larger goalies with less and less mobility who had a general over-simplified view of the game. 

However, the game has since evolved with increased offensive talent, equipment shrinkage, and interference rule changes. As a result, this pure reliance on the Fundamental Mind has faded and we are starting to see an amazing transformation of both mindsets.  We are finally getting both the steak and the sizzle.  Fewer and fewer bad goals due to poor save execution, punctuated with saves that seem otherworldly.  Many are calling this a hybrid.  I'm not fond of the term for various reasons, but it does evoke an interesting image.

For the most part, at the professional level, goalies can't play entirely in the Flexible Mind or Fundamental Mind and expect to have a long career.  Rather they ground their game in the Fundamental Mind and dip into Flexible Mind at the appropriate and required time. The goalies that do this well, switching back and forth from the fundamental and flexible, will probably have the most success in the long term.  If they lock themselves into their Fundamental Mind, they'll find that they'll lose opportunities to make momentum shifting saves.  If they hinge their professional success on the Flexible Mind, they'll probably find themselves in long and drawn out high- and low-tides of performance.  Their lack of consistency will often find them on the bench to be used only in an emergency. 

As a rejoinder to my good friend that thinks modern goalies have devolved into an unexciting cadre of robo-goalies, I ask you to watch these top 10 save highlights from 2013 and judge for yourself whether today's goalies are finding the perfect melding of the fundamental and flexible mind.

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