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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 goalie (10)


Willful Ignorance: The Missing Key to Goaltender Development In Canada

UE Motto: Be a Warrior!

There are few stories that resonate as deeply as this excellent article written by Kevin Woodley on NHL.COM.
The article discussed the lack of purpose and training benefit for goaltenders in standard team practices at the NHL level.  He even made argument that the practice drills with the team could be detrimental to goaltenders as they would "cheat" or "game" drills in order to stop the puck.  The essential thrust of the article highlighted the issue that most drills allow the players to shoot with too much time, too much space, and from a too ideal location on the ice.  This would allow the players the ability to shoot more accurately with better velocity at the net in its widest range.  Corners and money-holes (below the gloves and above the pads) are too easy to hit.  Goalies, in order to compensate, will end up cheating, by either over-committing their positioning or opening up leading holes for the shooters to hit and the goalies will then attempt to "time" and take away the hole on shot release.
  The bulk of team drills are run in this format, not only at the NHL level, but at all levels.  No consideration is given to the goaltenders in terms of how stoppable the shot is or if the shot location and timing is anything close to resembling a game-like scenario.  There is an obvious lack of training benefit to goaltenders, and, as an aside, I also think it doesn't serve the players very well either.  Goaltender cheat to "game" the flow drills and thereby learn bad habits.  Players get to shoot in ideal circumstances and location, in addition, to score excessively in practice, developing a false sense of development or confidence.  One of my mentors has always said that all good drills "start and end with the goaltender in mind".  If it is good for the goalie, it will be good for the player, but rarely, if ever, is that put into practice.  


The strangeness of the situation is often exemplified by drill structure and the coaches explaining the drill to the team and staff.  I always have to chuckle to myself watching a coach work up an elaborate break-out/re-group/triangulated attack pattern on the coaching board in a near Jackson Pollock style, and then finish with the hollow instructional phrase, "...and then shoot on net".  I think to myself, "wow", the most important part of the drill, in fact the whole point of the game we play, to score a goal, is summarized in three words "shoot on net".  In fact, most coaches haven't even really thought about the how and why and where their charges should shoot on net or what could result from it (goals, rebounds, loose pucks, wide shoots, etc.) or their appropraite offensive responses should be.   I have even had coaches claim that "goal scoring can't be taught".  It is a skill, in their minds, that just "is".There will always be challenges integrating a goaltender with his team in practice.
  Well, in my opinion, goal scoring can be taught.  Goal scoring, arguably the most important high level skill in the game, can be taught, it can be trained and it can be developed in a large selection of hockey players.  But it has to start with one very important field of knowledge:  modern goaltending and the role of the position.  You can't become a goal scorer if you don't know the position, consciously or unconsciously.  And, as a coach, you definitely cannot teach goal scoring, the most important skill in the game, if you don't understand the position of goaltender.
  This is where coaching has failed and lost a major development opportunity.  I have voiced countless times that this lack of understanding is where Canada has failed in developing goaltenders (and thereby its goal scorers).  Canada's slide in goaltending quality was always masked by the huge number of goaltenders in our programs.  Great tenders from Canada were always going to appear on the stage in reasonable numbers, since we have a million kids and adults playing the sport. These supremely talented athletes were going to appear regardless of team coaching or even position goalie-specific coaching.  Canada doesn't have a shortage of professional goaltending coaches or goaltending knowledge.  There could be more, of course, and it always could be better, but of the ones we have, many are very good, and parents and kids have several choices on who to work with in most communities.  On top of that, even without a goaltending coach, there is still an amazing amount of information online and in print format.  Couple that with countless opportunities to watch peers and heroes on TV or live, there really is no excuse for a goaltender to not find ways to develop goaltender-specific skills, if the motivation is really there.
No, our downfall in goaltending and goaltending quality rests squarely with the coaching culture that we have accepted at both the national and professional level, and which has filtered down to our junior and minor hockey programs.  Coaches have become unwilling to learn about the position and the role it plays in the game.  As a result, very little of what goes on on the ice during practice helps develop the goaltenders (and in the end, hurts the players, as well).  Thousands and thousands of hours are wasted by these goaltenders acting only as a team "shooter tutor".  These are development hours that the goaltenders will never get back and the longer they train in that environment, the further they fall behind the competition either locally or internationally.
Position specific training is essential, but shouldn't the burden of development be shared?  This is not from a lack of knowledge or resources available, but a symptom of the hockey culture we have cultivated and now accepted.  It is a cultural mindset that we have to tear apart and rebuild.  The hidden benefit of a revised coaching culture for our goaltending dilemma would be a major increase in deliberate practice and strong development opportunities.  It would mean that the training a goaltender does with his/her team (about 80% if the team has a goaltending coach; 100% if not), will have real meaning and real developmental impact on the athlete.  But it has to start with the coaches making a strong and willful effort to understand the position.
  It is mind-boggling to me that as a nation and a sport, we have accepted that head and assistant coaches can be ignorant to 1/3 of the positions on the ice. There are forwards, defense, and goaltenders.   Goaltending is not 1/6th, but 1/3rd or 33% of all the positions in the game.  Even if the coaches in question understand every other position perfectly, they are essentially a grade "C" coach at best.  It would be like a MLB skip not understanding anything about his pitcher.  Or a football coach deciding he shouldn't or needn't understand anything about his quarterback, because, well, he has an offensive coordinator for that and besides, the quarterback's job is easy.  He just has to complete passes.  Or the pitcher's job is simple, as he just has to throw strikes.  Or a goaltender just has to stop shots.  A football or baseball head coach at the highest level who "proudly" expressed his ignorance of positions like quarterback or pitcher in public like NHL coaches do on a near nightly basis, would have a pink-slip in his mailbox before he stood up from the press conference.
  And as I said, not only is a goaltender an important player, on par with pitcher or a quarterback, it is still only 1/3rd of all the roles on the ice.  In addition, I love hockey and it is the best sport in the world, it is in no way near as complex as baseball or football and how all the position work and interact.  So in order for a coach to not understand the position of goalie and how it works, he would have to be what Steve McKichan call "willfully ignorant".  And that is the worst kind of coach who makes an effort to ignore a section of his team and their development.  Practices reflect that.  Games reflect that.  Personnel management reflects that.  The beauty of this problem is that this ignorance is intentional and that it can be corrected by "will not skill" or some secret Scandinavian philosophy.  
I have a theory why this "willful ignorance" exists, but I'll save that for another time when I can afford getting fired from more coaching gigs.  (j/k)
With real understanding, a goalie can develop even with the darkest of villains.

You know you may have a goalie...

Hey Goalie Parents:

I was going over some old goaltending photos of my young guy and I was taken by the idea of how long he has been playing the position and what little clues he gave me over the years that demonstrated he was meant to play goal.  I created this list for your amusement.  By all means add more of your own experiences in the comment section.

  1. You know you may have a goalie...when your kid thinks bruises are badges not boo-boo's.
  2. You know you may have a goalie...when you see them sitting, watching TV with their goalie mask on and you ask, "Why are you wearing a mask?"  and they reply, "What mask?"
  3. You know you may have a goalie...when they have an irrational hatred for the NHL's leading scorer no matter who it is this season.
  4. You know you may have a goalie...when you think she is dressed up as Jason from Friday the 13th, but she is actually dressed as Gary Cheevers of the Bruins.
  5. You know you may have a goalie...when your kid can name all the starters in the NHL and more than half of the back-ups.
  6. You know you may have a goalie...when little Johnny, super athlete, is always the first one out in Dodgeball.
  7. You know you may have a goalie...when you catch them practicing their "getting scored on" expressions in the mirror.
  8. You know you may have a goalie...when she has to tap the posts of her bed before going to sleep.
  9. You know you may have a goalie...when they are compelled to spray their juice box all over their face before they take a sip.
  10. You know you may have a goalie...when your little goalie knows what brands of gear every other goalie in their association wears.



Goaltending Parents: A Primer

 Upper Echelon Motto: Be a Warrior!Rule #1: Don’t Panic!

I have been lucky in many ways as a goalie parent, as I both play goal and coach goalies.  I have known firsthand the ups and downs and ebbs and flows of our prickly position from both the net and the bench.  There is a reality that is important for goalie parents to realize (and hopefully the other players’ parents) that success at the position is very fickle and precarious, but the enjoyment and satisfaction of playing the position for a young goalie is very, very real.  The standards of success that most people put on young athletes so often gloss over the enjoyment factor of the position.  And this is a mistake and leads to unattainable goals and ultimately, real, deep-seated disappointment.  Parents must not panic when their standards of success are not being reached by their young goalie.  Step back and see if the child is really enjoying the position regardless of the statistical or so-called measureable results.

Rule #2a:  Goalies get scored on.

Rule #2b:  Goalies get pulled from games.

Rule #2c:  Goalies will lose or cost their team wins.

Rule #2d:  Goalies will get cut from teams they should have made.

Those above rules apply to all goalies, at all levels, at all times in their career:  from the youngest, stiff legged shuffling Novice to the highly-touted Junior goalie right on to the wily NHL veteran.  Take heart parents.  Little Johnny or little Susie is in very good company with his/her situation.  These four rules can be delayed in many circumstances, but eventually the Karmic bill will come due and the goalie will have to pay in one way or the other.  Parents must realize that those rules are a part of playing the position and it is not that the goalie that has those things happen to him that defines who he is as an athlete or a young person, but how he reacts to it after it does happen that defines his character. 

Do they bounce back and refocus on a goal right away or do they linger and steam, putting on a little drama for the crowd? 

Do they accept the hook with grace and a glove tap with their goalie partner or do they throw a tantrum and scowl at the coach? 

Do they buckle down in practice and pull out all the stops in their next game after a loss or do they spiral out of control, compounding a poor outing with a series of stinkers? 

Do they carry a team snub personally and malinger the entire following season or do they take what happened as a challenge to rise up even further with their skill or determination?

Rule #3: The goalie parents’ job is to get their young puckstopper to the rink on time, well fed, well rested and well adjusted.  That is about it.

Not to minimize the role of parents, but one of the greatest things about sports is that it allows children to develop confidence by giving them an opportunity to accomplish things on their own.  It is one of the first things that a kid can do to finally stretch her wings independently of her parents.  I know many parents would love to be able to lay on goal line of the goal to be a second backstop for their child, but we can’t and shouldn’t do it.  I know parents like to dispense advice while the child is playing (and of course, it isn’t just goalie parents guilty of this), but we need to let them handle the game and the situations on their own.  That is the coaches’ job to assist the goalie's play during a game.  Goaltending gives kids a chance to earn their success and own their failures.  It is a very adult lesson, no doubt, but imparting that message IS our job as parents.

Rule #4:  After the game/try-out/event don’t criticize or offer goalie-advice, but listen and supply life-advice.

Post-game decompression is very important to a goalie.  I try not to differentiate the position with the players on the team, but definitely most would agree that there is a lot more of a psychological burden on goalies.  It is the nature of the position that there is so much responsibility attached to it.  It may very well have been the thing that drew our kids to the position in the first place.  There is a chance every game to be the real hero (or the obvious goat).  The dichotomy of potential outcomes will definitely push extra stress on the child and that drive home from the rink can be very important to a child to help put things into perspective. 

To that end, parents can really help by allowing a child to talk about a game and vent or blow off psychological steam.  Try to avoid too much negative venting which I think falls under supplying life-advice.  Encourage constructive self-criticism.  Goalies learn by their mistakes.  The goalie loses a real good opportunity to improve if he tries to ignore his mistakes or if he shifts blame to his teammates or coaches.  Parents can ask constructive questions like, “What would you have done differently on that second goal?” or “You seemed a little off in warm-ups.  Did something happen in your pre-game?”   It will astound most parents about how nuanced and reasoned the replies will be.  The result is a chance at real growth as an athlete and a young person.  Goalies do tend to lean to the cerebral and you may even learn and be entertained by your young goalie’s analysis of his game and the game in general.  It is no wonder so many color-commentators in broadcast hockey are ex-goalies.

These rules are in no way complete but provide myself with little guide-posts on the “white-knuckling” journey that our kids have put us on.  I hope it gives you something to grasp tightly and ease your rollercoaster ride of parenting a goalie.

Side Note 1:   MTN Goaltending out of Saskatchewan has a great short article on advice to goalie parents. Give it a read!

Side Note 2:  I do use the term parents and child here a lot, but I hope everyone realizes that I recognize all the other family arrangements with step-parents, grandparents, guardians and single parent households.  I tip my goalie mask to you as well, because you have decided to support your young person in an even more challenging environment.  Kudos!!


Struggling? Get Back to Basics

Brent Johnson, on Fleury's woes in the play-offs, had the best advice I could ever give to a goalie who is struggling with their performance,

"I think at times a goalie can feel a little bit of weakness, like you're trying to do your best and it's not working," Johnson said. "You're trying to work out the kinks and it still doesn't work. … [So] the best thing to do would be getting back to playing simple. If things aren't working, try blocking the puck instead of trying to make the big save. Just play basic and inside your goal line so you give yourself a chance on everything."

Brent Johnson continues with

"Head games can do so much to your game," Johnson said. "As a goalie, you've come this far, you're in the best league, obviously you're there for a reason. Just get back to the grass roots that got you there, the easy stuff, [don't worry about] trying to do too much out there."

One of the reasons I work hard to give all goalies, especially floppers, a system of play is so that they can get back basics or they can re-set their play by having a foundation to fall back upon.  If you don't have a grounding or systematic way of playing, you will find yourself struggling.  How can a pure flopper recover their game?  Usually by flopping even more and this is probably the source of their original trouble.

Having a basic system of goaltending is like being able to reboot your Windows computer in Safe Mode.  A great start to solving your ongoing problems.

Quote source: 

NHL.com: Penguins won't pin series problems on Fleury

Goaltending as a Team Defense Concept

Upper Echelon Motto: Be a Warrior!I just got off the phone with a long time hockey teammate, friend and coach.  We had a great discussion about goalies (what else) and he is involved in an elite Pee Wee team for the spring in Atlantic Canada.  Our conversation quickly gravitated to the idea of "the goaltender is part of the team" and not a "special individual".  As a goalie and a goalie coach, I know the temptation is to build up a little wall of protection for the goalies that I deal with to insulate them from their team.  And I know this is WRONG!  My main job and responsibility is also to the TEAM that hires me, and not only to the goalie.  In order to do this, I have to adhere to one of Upper Echelon's stated objective and that is "to integrate a goalie into the concept of team defense".

As goalies, we must get away from the idea that we are special or that our needs are above the team's.  It is shortsighted, and while it may help you out briefly, your long-term success is tied directly to the team's success.  So you must ask yourself, what can I do to help my team?

There are times when a goalie is misused or abused.  In practice, drills are sometimes improperly timed or flow inconsistently and this doesn't allow the goalie to practice their required skills properly.  As a goalie coach, it is my job to point this out to the coaches running the practice to change up the drill enough so that the goalie is getting the most out of it.  I also have rarely, if ever, seen a drill readjusted that also didn't help the players.  Usually, the problem comes from not giving the goalie enough time between attacks or shots to set up properly.  This also doesn't help players practice in a game-like environment.  

Sometimes goalies are a lightning rod to the team's failures.  This is quite common even at the highest levels of the game as we very often see in the media.  The current Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia series is bringing out Fleury's detractors by the busload, when for the most part it is a collapse of the team's defense (meaning ALL 6 players on the ice).  If the goalie has integrated themselves into the team concept of defense and not put themselves out as separate from the team, the risk of being the lightning rod for team failure should greatly lessen.  

In this conversation with this coach, I was trying to recall an excellent article just published a few days ago.  I didn't have it at my fingertips to quote from during the phone call, but after hanging up, I was able to google it.  The article itself is excellent about forcing a broader perspective of goaltending for goalies, their parents and coaches.

Heres is the most relevant by Greg Millen as quoted by the article:

The one thing that never changes in the goaltending fraternity is that there’s a rotation. Every night, one starts and the other sits. And, according to Millen, if you happen to be the one sitting at the end of the bench, with the ball-cap on, and the towel draped around your neck, you cannot make that a distraction.

“You’re in a group that’s trying to win games as a team,” explained Millen, “and you have to be a big part of the team, whether you’re playing or not. If you don’t have that team-first attitude, you don’t hang around – because your teammates know it, your coaches know and everybody knows it. So unless you’re a goalie who is an elite, elite guy that people shake their heads at and put up with, because they’re just so good – and there have been a couple of those, not many – then you have to make sure you’re a team player. If you do that, you normally find success goes with it.

“Because that’s the other part of this puzzle that’s extremely important for a goalie - you need your teammates fighting for you. As a goalie, you rely heavily on the guys in front of you. You need their trust and you need them to want to play for you. If you’re a selfish person and not a team player, they’re not going to play for you – and then you’re not going to succeed as a goalie because I don’t care if you’re Jacques Plante, if you don’t have a team playing in front of you, you’re in trouble.”

Millen believes that the pressure on goaltenders may be greater than every these days, in part because scoring, across-the-board, was down again in the NHL this year. Five goalies, including two involved in the Kings-Canucks series (L.A.’s Jonathan Quick and Vancouver’s Cory Schneider) had goals-against average’s under 2.00, numbers associated with the various dead-puck eras of the past. There’s an irony at work here too – as scoring drops off, pressure on goaltenders heightens even further. The line is so fine, and the margins of victory so narrow that you’d think goalies would be celebrated for their collective achievements. Instead, it’s just the opposite, Millen maintained.

“We have put so much emphasis on goaltending in this day and age, and I understand it, because the league is so close now,” said Millen, “but it’s almost as if the goalies aren’t allowed to make mistakes anymore. It’s a bit unfortunate because goalies make mistakes just like forwards and coaches and managers and everybody else in the game.

“But the nice crutch for everybody on the managerial side is, ‘oh, we didn’t get the goaltending.’ That’s often a situation that could be part of the puzzle, but nine times out of 10, it’s not all of it.

Please refer to the rest of the article 

Globe and Mail: Goaltending is supposed to be everything in the playoffs, right?