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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


Entries in advice (14)


Emery Loses His Stick Discipline

UE Motto: Be a Warrior!!

I came across this goal while watching a full recap of the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers series.  I found a large portion of the goals against Emery came from plays that passed in front of him to his right to his left.  Many of these were very good goals that would have been scored against many an NHL tender.  I did notice that Emery, when torquing hard to his trapper side, he had a lot of difficulty keeping control of his stick.  This is not uncommon and the harder and more sudden a goalie has to shift, the greater trouble he's going to have in maintaining his stick discipline.  Stick discipline in this case is where the goalie keeps the stick on the ice, usually protecting his five-hole.

Now not to over-criticize, as most of these plays were bing-bang plays that moved the puck 40-50 feet east to west.  However, the forth goal in the third game was a lot less excusable.  Firstly, the pass was not to the farside so much as to a streaking player moving right up the middle.  Emery had very little lateral movement required here.  Secondly, the timing of the goal was especially harsh as it was the nail in the coffin for game 3.

I wanted to draw attention to this, not so much as to belittle Emery, but to highlight this issue with my young goalies.  Spring hockey has allowed me to work with a bunch of new netminders from my usual crop, so they are getting a lot of "flack" from me on their lack of stick discipline during lateral slides, especially to their trapper side.  But at least with Emery's example, they are in good company and it goes to show everyone, that even the pros need to work on the basics.  Banger Maxim #17:  Some things are simple to understand but they are not easy to execute.


I think it can be easily said that Ray Emery has had a tumultous career.  He has had some inspirational events in his career, as well, that I think could be motivational fodder for any aspiring goaltender.  Take a read of his Wikipedia bio.


Back To Basics II: Keeping Things Simple

UE Motto: Be a Warrior!!I got myself caught in a bit of writer's loop.  I had what I thought was a very easy topic to write about.  So easy in fact, that it was originally planned just as a tweet on my twitter feed.  But a timely conversation with a veteran athlete and long term educator combined with the goaltending travails of Reimer in Toronto has turned my tweet into a three page opinion piece that continues to find threads to cover.  It seems to be at least another week before it'll be completed.

As a result, while working on my end-of-season goalie reports of all my goalies this year, I started to find some common themes running through my analyses.  These were all pretty obvious to me, but may not always be to others.  I have certain biases as a goalie instructor and tend to emphasize things that I find really important to my tenders.  I thought I would take time off of writing my reports and my long stewing blog article to highlight these mantras.

The reason that I want to mention these goaltending elements is I find that goalie instructors (myself definitely included) can overcomplicate the position.  Taking a hard look at these points, I hope we can get back to the basics for both young and old as we approach season's end and start to plan for our summer and autumn programs.  Here they are in their most pared down glory:

1.  Positioning is 90% of a goalie's game

I have always said if a goalie could always be in perfect position all the time on shot release, she would have a minimum of 90% save percentage without even having to react to the release of the shot.  Positioning elements would be (a)ngle, (s)quareness, and (d)epth.Use positioning to fill space!!

2.  Hand and stick discipline/positioning counts way more than hand and reaction speed

I have become a big believer in that human hands and reaction speed have not kept up with the speed of the game and the shot releases most players.  As a result, many goalies have considerable difficulty with handling elevated shots and get beat swinging their hands at pucks when if their hands were in the correct position, they'd have made the save with little or no hand movement.  Hand discipline is maintaining the proper position of the hands during movement, save selection, and recovery to maximize coverage of the upper part of the net.  This is not to say that we can't work on improving our hand speed (although there is a lot of debate whether this can be improved on a muscular level, as it seems to be mostly determined genetically).  What is not questionable is that we can work on shortening our neural pathways in reading, reacting and intelligent anticipation.  So please don't totally neglect active-hands for a pure blocking-hands style, but lets make sure our hands are always in the right spot first!!   

3.  Want to be fast?  Want to be controlled?  Get your pins underneath your core right away

Goalies are famous for having very strong cores.  The balance and stability required to play the position are very demanding.  However, one of the neglected elements of the core and it connects to our first point about positioning is that in order to move, recovery, and reposition quickly, goalies have to try to always regain their edges underneath their core when standing or their knees when down on the ice.  

Keeping your knees under your body will give you lot more options!In executing movements, I often harp that while pushes with a leg needs to be strong, recovering that push leg under the goalie's body is just as, if not more, important.  Recovering that push leg quickly sets the goalie up to make another quick push.  Lateral pushes where the back leg drags behind the body in a long, extended push is like finger nails on chalkboard for a goalie coach.

When goalies hit their butterfly, either in a knee drive or a butterfly slide, they have to make sure that any recovery or down re-positioning requires that both knee be under their hips.  If the knees are way out past the width of their hips due to a desperate save or poor pad discipline, any recovery or backside edge push needs the goalie to snap their knees back under their body.   Dragging a push leg here will slow the goalie's lateral speed and open dangerous holes along the ice.

Having the back legs come back under the goalie's body not only set the goalie up for his next push, it will also build momentum and power in the direction the goalie is trying to push to.  In addition, holes get closed up more efficiently and with the legs providing stability of the upper body, the goalie can use his hands with more control and discipline instead of flailing around for balance.

4.  Create a simplified mindset to the position

Lastly, I have been recently reading several books about coaching youth.  I've distilled what I think is a great mindset that I would like all my goalies hold dear throughout their playing career.

In practice, work, sweat, and cry!!

In games, play, laugh, and have fun!!


Goalie Coaching Philosophy: The Goalie as Part of a Whole

Upper Echelon Motto: Be a Warrior!In the third part of my blog series of a Goalie Coaching Philosophy, I feel it is necessary to  draw the lens even further back and to start to look at goaltender's game within the larger game itself.

There is a definite and strongly held opinion (truism) that goalies are a special breed and are different from the rest of the team or the other positions.  It is almost cliche in the way in that the media, coaches, parents, and even some goalies like to perpetuate this idea.  I, myself, have been guilty for years in accepting this as writ.

But as I gained experience as a goalie developer and worked with more and more goalies, their coaches, and their teams, I have started to build strong feelings that this cliche, like many cliches, is actually wrong, and indeed, very harmful to all the parties involved.  I still am at fault in when I let the old canard, "oh, he's a goalie, that is why he is 'X'" slide as just a joke.  Usually when it happens, there is no time or it isn't a place to make a stand on a philosophical point.  I have, however, resolved myself to try and bring the goaltenders into the broader fraternity of the team covertly, if the coaching staff cling to the idea that "goaltenders are a different breed".

Tactically and strategically, there is many, many details about how we should argue that the goalie is really part of the whole.  I hinted at this in my earlier article Goaltending as a Team Defense Concept from the Upper Echelon Goaltending blog last season.  One of the biggest issues that I see is the goalie or the goalie's perspective not being utilized when drawing up defensive plays.  Very rarely have I heard coaches or players discuss a defending zone strategy, like how to handle an even man rush over the blue line, and how the goalie fits in it.  Tactically, I do hear it a little bit more, like who has what responsibility on a walk-out from behind the goal line or a cut to the net, but it is still infrequent and many don't understand that the goalie has a job in those situations beyond just "stopping the puck".We still want to see goalies making the stop!

Goalie coaches are also notorious for not recognizing the major tactical and strategic advantages as operating as a unified team-defense.  Many are of the "puck-stopper" only mentality.  Others have also taken a stand to isolate the goalie from the rest of the team.  Even at the highest levels, ego and territoriality cloud the judgement of goalie coaches.  Several of the incidents that lead to Francois Allaire's firing from the Maple Leafs over a year ago detail exactly how a goalie coach tried to keep his charges from becoming integrated into the team.

  In late fall, with the team trying to improve its penalty killing, assistant coach Greg Cronin wanted to have Allaire and the goalies sit in on penalty-killing meetings. Allaire didn’t want that. Cronin said he’d already talked to James Reimer.

  Randy Carlyle, who had worked with Allaire in Anaheim, gave the goalie coach a list of three conditions he would have to meet if he wanted to return for the 2012-13 season. The list included: working a maximum 17 days a month, including six with the Marlies, rather than being around the team every day; apologizing to the coaches on staff he had offended; and a commitment to teaching a more aggressive goaltending style.

Allaire warned Cronin not to speak to his goalies. Cronin responded in a most unfriendly way, and unrest within the staff was born.

Wilson, out of sheer frustration, finally went directly to the goalies, bypassing the celebrated goalie guru. Soon, Allaire and the other coaches weren’t even on speaking terms.

  Ron Wilson, dismayed with how Jonas Gustavsson and Reimer were playing so passively deep in the crease, asked Allaire in early February to get them to play more aggressively. Allaire said he had no intention of altering the way his goalies were playing.

 These listed stories really highlight a goalie coach trying to keep the goalies separate from their teams, not only in a personal sense, but also in a real game sense.  The Leafs' management was actively trying to integrate the goalies into their penalty-killing scenario and strategies (extremely vital at ANY level).  The Leafs were also trying to get the goalies to play more "aggressively" and while there is not much information to go on from the article, I know from experience goalies that play deep will force their team to defend much differently than a goalie who plays with more aggressive depth.  There is no judgement of right or wrong here.  For example, the Rangers have structured their defense to collapse and crowd the slot, because Lunquist plays deep. (Or even maybe, Lunquist plays deep because his team likes to collapse in the slot).  The Bruins played high-pressure defense with Tim Thomas which allowed him to be aggressive and charge out to fill lanes maximizing his small size.  But if the team want to play a certain defensive style, it is important that the goalie fit the role that is required and not just think his style or apporach to goaltending doesn't affect how his team can play.  It does!

Positioning of the goalie in the defensive zone when the attacking the team has the puck is a major influence on how goaltenders need to integrate and be part of the whole defensive.  Good solid positioning of a goaltender will quite often dictate options for the attackers in the same way that the defenses' positioning will affect the attack.  Goaltenders can use aggressive positioning (depth, squareness, and on angle) to eliminate strong shot options.  This will force attacking puck carriers to pursue other options like passing, cycling, or even continuing to carry the puck.  If the defenders know that the goalie has eliminated a shot as a choice, they won't be required to put themselves out of position by shot blocking or it may allow them to pursue a player that may have become isolated from carrying the puck too long.

Pressured breakaways is a topic that I have quite often written about and it is a very good example of "team defense" on what many assume is a play where the goalie is really alone.  He's not.  A well executed defense on a pressured breakaway should be very easy for a goaltender to stop, but in order to have the high rate of success possible, everyone has to know how they integrate together to make everyone's job easier.Pressured breakaways

"Active sticks" is a term used often to describe how players on a penalty kill can try to dictate options in a powerplay.  This term should also apply to a goaltender and not just during the PK, but at all times.  The goalie should have a strong ability to cut passes through their own blue paint.  This will allow their team to not worry too much about down low coverage if they know their goalie has got it cut-off.  This limits the amount of ground the defenders have to cover and makes the game easier for all.

"Quarterbacking" is a great term for goalies that are very vocal and active in the nets in calling the defensive coverage.  As I often say, goalies have the best seat in the house to see the game.  They should pass their vantage point onto their teammates by calling out what they see and what they think are threats.  This is part of being a leader on the team and it is part of integrating oneself with the "team defense" in a proactive way during the play.  If it is done well and in a positive/constructive way, the goalie's team will become very dependant on it, further cementing the goalie as part of the team, physically and psychologically.

"Puck-handling", or "puck possession" skills as I like to call it, are another way to utilize the goalie as more than just a "puck-stopper" and bring them into the fold of the greater team.  Most high-level goaltending play requires some ability at a goalie playing the puck.  The better the goalies are at this skill the more of an asset they are to their team and the more flexibility it gives the team in terms of breakouts and transitions.  In addition, a good puckhandling goalie will save a tremendous amount of "wear'n'tear" on his defense when he can play or handle loose pucks intelligently.  In junior or higher with sixty game schedules, if the goalie helps prevent his D-men from getting smucked into the corner or behind the net for a loose puck four or five times a game, that can mean huge dividends over the course of a season.  The dividends come from less risk of injury for the team and their key personnel.

Strong puck-possession skills will also allow the goalie opportunities to engage herself into the team's offense by assisting the transistion out of the team's zone.  It may even result in the goalie's name being called over the loudspeaker when announcing a point.  That is a well-deserved reward for developing a difficult, but important, skill.  Teams at the developmental level have to recognize on how to get a goalie to exercise these skills.  These developmental objectives need to start early, even as young as the novice level.  Teams at the elite level need to find ways to utilize their goaltender's puck-possession abilities to aid the transistion from defense to offense.  Set plays, options, and responsibilities should be clearly defined to everyone on the ice.

See my earlier blog post on the goalie as the quarterback of the defense.

Goalies have a multitude of roles to play on the ice well past the super-simple puck-stopper name.  Problems arise when teams and their coaches either have the inability to articulate those roles or actively supress or ignore them.  Either way, they effectively start to isolate the goalie and limit the many ways she can contribute to the team on the ice during the course of a game.  Again, this critique on coaches, players, and management harks back to this willful ignorance of the position and what it entails.

Bench communication between periods is essential.This on-ice isolation of the goalie in both the tactical and strategic aspects of the team game can lead to the greater, and more unfortunate, psychological separation of the goalie from the team.  This feeling that some goalies may have of not really being "part of their team" is real and can push many young kids out of the position.  I see this especially so in the younger levels in minor hockey where children quite often join hockey to help satisfy a social need of belonging which is a major benefit of team sports.  These new goalies who are so taken with the position of goalie that they brave the massive physical and emotional challenges.  Soon, they find themselves alone in the net either ignored by their coaches or teammates.  Many of these new goalies switch back to playing player in order to reconnect with their on-ice friends.  The pull of camradery and being an active part of the team is so strong that we lose many great potential netminders.

 The final article on this series about my Goalie Coaching Philosophy will work to tie all three parts together into a coherent system of goaltending.


NHL Playoffs: Vokoun, High-Pressure Situation on a Pressured Breakaway


I have to greatly admire Dan Bylsma for his gutsey move keeping Fleury away from the net in game three after having pulled Vokoun in the previous game.  Going back to Vokoun, even though most only consider him a back-up, was the right move on many levels, but it may have not been the easiest.  As a result, feeling that he has the confidence of his coach and team, Vokoun played a terrific game in a losing effort.

Although the end result wasn't what Vokoun or the Pens had hoped for and their backs and season are totally against the wall, Vokoun came up with a clutch O.T. save on a breakaway with heavy backside pressure.  Vokoun played this perfectly, and in conjunction with his backchecker, he was able to be out an aggressive on the arc to eliminate the shot.  As a result, he only had to protect the open-side post, as the farside post was cut off by both his aggressive positioning and his backchecker's body position.  This is a perfect example of "team-defense" on a breakaway and in a very high-pressured situation!


NHL Playoffs: Fleury of Rumours


The playoffs continue to entertain and last night's games were no exception.  Part of the fun of the playoffs is the extended play against a conference rival creates both major drama on and off the ice.

The hottest story right now is the state of goaltending affairs in Pittsburgh and their main backender, MA Fleury.  Compounded by Fluery's meltdown against the Flyers in last year's playoff, he has provided major speculation about near (and long term) future plans of goaltending in the Steel City. 

On the near term, many are asking whether the Pittsburgh's coaching staff should be opting to use Vokoun for Game 5 or do the dance with the partner that brought ya?  On the longer term, fans and pundits wonder whether Fleury is the right goalie for the team and whether he can deliver the goods from this point on and into future seasons.  It seems harsh, especially since these discussions only really flare up this quickly when it comes to goaltenders and not other positions or players.  The chain is short, goalies.

Some excellent points of advice have been brought up and many have remarked that Fleury is looking like the Fleury of (really) old.  This Fleury is the one prior to winning the Stanley Cup.  This is the one that was over-sliding, over-committing, and over-playing most of his junior, AHL, and rookie years in the NHL.  It has all started to come back and Fleury's only solution seems to be more of the same in a higher degree of desperation.  Most of the general advice comes along from the idea getting back to basics that Brent Johnson gave Fleury last year.

The theory that I have about Fluery is that he is not able to key in veteran patience and coolness.  His low panic threshold may be compounded when he is playing on the side that is expected to win.  Fleury is an underdog goalie who can excel when he can just forget about the score, forget about the consequences of losing, forget about team defensive systems and just let it all hang out and use his amazing natural abilities.  Just because your engine is a 454, it doesn't mean you have to redline it when parking in Walmart.  His playoff and personal success came when his upstart and young team were battling the near-dynastic Red Wings.  Now that he sits in the dynastic throne, he has a real difficult time adjusting and letting the game come to him.

The pressure is building and now the real test for Fleury begins.