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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 NHL (11)


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.

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.


"You can't teach size" Steve McKichan on Ben Bishop of the Bolts

Like many goalie fans born of the 70's and 80's era, I love small goalies and I often lament the evolution of the game to larger and larger goalies.  But it has become a fact of the "professional" game, that all things being equal, teams will select the larger and longer-limbed goaltender.  Now this trend is not to take away anything that the smaller goalies have accomplished and how they can perform at the higher levels.  What it does say is that the larger goalies have developed their athleticism and skills to such a degree that they are no longer considered clumsy and immobile.

Ben Bishop's acrobatics combined with his 6'8" wingspan here reinforces Steve McKichan of Future Pro's maxim: "You can't teach size!"


Enroth cheats on a 2 on 1 and holtby gets a "helper"

I really like Buffalo's pocket goalie, Jhonas Enroth, but he gets burnt here cheating on the 2-1 and let's Holtby get on the scoresheet.  It is not easy to keep one's patience on a 2-1 at higher levels, but as long as one's D-man is in the best possible position to cut that pass off, you have to play and respect the shot.  This situation is used a lot in team flow drills, and many times goalies get caught leaning or positioning themselves off the puck carrier's shot-line.  Unfortunately, in the team drills, players rarely take that opportunity to shoot and burn'n'learn the goalie about his bad habits.

Take a gander...


The Bulin Wall Stems an Avalanche!!

What more can be said about this four save effort by the great veteran, Nikolai Khabibulin other than to just watch with mouth agape!