This article is written differently than the others in that it is intended for the player as well as the coach. The reason it is done this way is because most of us don’t spend the amount of time with our goaltenders that we do with the skaters. With younger players, you may need to pass this information on to them and show them what is meant … the more mature players can read it themselves, and work with you and the goaltender coaches on the points made here.
Stance: Your stance is the most important part of your skill package. A good stance is important because it is the position that you want to be in to execute most of your saves. You must work on having a stance for standing, but also while you are down. A good stance means that no pucks can get through you – there are as few holes as you can leave open. You must feel comfortable and loose (big), and still be tight (controlled) and solid to be able to move in any direction quickly, and you must have a good support base (your feet have to be the right distance apart) too far will leave holes and restrict your movement, and too close will raise your center of gravity and slow down your ability to move your arms and legs quickly. This is because you will lack stability in your core and you will need your arms and legs for balance. Leaning too far forward or too far back will also put you off balance. You can never spend too much time, both on and off the ice, perfecting your stances and making saves from these positions. Playing in your stance will also cut down your chances of getting injured.
Recovery : After you make a save, or move from one place to another, you need to get back into a stance to be ready for whatever comes at you. Working on moving in and out of your stance positions is a very important thing for a goalie. Quickness of recovery is key to your play. The first step in recovery has to be to get square to the puck! This point is often over-looked but should be natural for you. Don’t try to move laterally before you are facing the puck!!! Basically, the way it goes is that you square up with the passes or off a rebound, and get set in the right stance and in place in the net before the shooter releases the puck – but always face the puck and get into a good stance first – whether you’re up or down (unless it’s in desperation). If you do not do this, you will find yourself trying to stop shots when you are off balance or while you are moving diagonally, instead of laterally. Your squaring up must be a quick turn in one spot while maintaining or recovering your stance, and then a quick lateral movement to the right spot in the net. Playing square to the puck will also mean you will not have to reach behind your body to get to a shot, and you can keep the widest part of your equipment at the shooter with your arms in front of you – cutting down the chances of getting handcuffed.
Angles: With a good stance and great recovery skills, playing angles correctly and confidently will mean that most shots will simply hit you and most of your saves will require very little movement and effort. This also means to make saves you won’t have to get too far out of your stance and your recovery time is cut down. Knowing where you are when you are in the net, and when you come out of the net, and practicing moving from any spot to any other is the key to being a good angling goaltender. During practices you can track the puck on every drill to stay in shape, work on your lateral movement, and get used to covering your angles when you’re out of the crease. Here’s a tip for practicing: don’t just stand in one spot and wait for the shots to come – even on drills that start at the other end and come down on you. Move out in your stance and follow the passes as if they were right in front of you – or get into a position (such as a butterfly or lie down as if you just made a save) and get up as the rush comes in. Leave yourself enough time to recover, but make it a challenge to get back. Use practices to practice.
Save Selection: Once you can move in and out of your stance positions, recover quickly under control, and be in the right place at the right time by playing your angles … the only thing you can do wrong is to choose the wrong save to use. It’s the same as when a shooter decides to take a slap shot when maybe a wrist shot would have been better. If you decide to make the wrong save for the shot, you can miss the puck, get too far out of position, have a hard time controlling or directing rebounds, or get hurt. The easiest save is usually the right one. Having a list of saves such as paddle down, high blocker, etc., will help you develop 8-10 saves from each stance that will be your strongest. As part of a goaltenders ability to battle, you can influence shooters to shoot in certain areas that will allow you to use your strongest saves. As you make shooters play to your strength, you will take away the shooters ability to pick his spot before he gets the puck and tee it up. At that point … many shots will be weaker (as the shooter thinks about you instead of his shooting technique) or will actually miss the net. This is what is called “getting into the shooter’s head”! Watching other goaltenders and imagining what save you would use is a good way to train your mind to make the right choice quickly.
Having the right stance, your ability to recover, playing your angles properly, and choosing the right save are the keys to being a solid goaltender. Learning to read the rush and knowing where the shots will come from will mean you will never be surprised, and you can react with the pass as well as the shot. Maintaining sight lines and keeping a focus on the puck are also very important. Seeing, or sensing, where the opposition is, being able to play the puck and control the shoot-ins, being active around your net by controlling rebounds and tipping passes, and communicating with the team in front of you are some other skills that you need to keep developing. Being a warrior and never giving up on a play, being positive, not getting down on yourself or your team, and working hard with a winning attitude, will make you a solid goaltender – but you’ll also be a great one.
The way you practice is very important. You give your team a better chance to win if they can score goals – that is obvious. What is not always obvious is the impact you have on that process. The stronger you are in practice, the more difficult it is to score … and the more difficult it is to score, the harder and more accurate your team must shoot to get it by you. This forces them, over time, to get better as shooters – which means that you have get better to stop them, and so the cycle continues. The unfortunate thing for the teams you play against is that your team, you included, will be conditioned for harder and cleaner shots – this will help you in the long run. Goaltenders at the highest levels try to play smarter and harder in practice than the other teams goaltender plays in games.
Goaltending is a unique position and requires special training and mental focus. Warming up and stretching before games and practices, as well as during stoppages in play and down times in practices is sometimes necessary – especially if you are not getting a lot of shots in a game. The groin and hamstring areas are the hardest to keep limber. Your upper leg muscles are where you need to be particularly strong because of the weight of the equipment and because these are the muscles you use the most for moving and returning to your stances. Riding a bike, single rep lunges, balance board squats, and light running are all good ways to strengthen these muscles. Exercises that develop agility and balance (Plyometrics) are also very good for conditioning. Incorporating visualizations of yourself in action, as well as repeating words that help you focus such as: ‘here it (the puck) comes,’ or ‘ be big’, for example, will help you keep your edge during a game. Goaltenders have a unique job because you are on the ice for the whole game but you’re not always active – and you can go from being very inactive and calm to absolute chaos in a few seconds. Developing ways to focus and relax are a key for you. If you have a few stretches that keep you loose and work on your mental alertness at the same time, it can make you ready for anything. Some goaltenders do not like to lose sight of the puck – even during stoppages. Some goalies need to relax and recharge. You have to know yourself to be your best.
If you study the best goaltenders in hockey, you will notice how they try to simplify things. They move as little as possible. They do not use many types of saves, as a rule, but concentrate on being in the right place and reading the play. They become very mechanical (machine-like). As teams develop a personality, goaltenders will start to see patterns in their teams’ play, and also the types of shots they see and from where the shots usually originate. As they learn their teams defensive system and become familiar with the teams’ tendencies, and the tendencies of the other team, they can predict, with reasonable accuracy, where and when they will see the shots. By communicating, and even working it out with their teammates, the goaltender can influence and determine what shots to give up and what shots to take away. This gives his team better support because the goaltender is an integral part of the defensive strategy – instead of just being someone to ‘clean up after everyone’s gone’. It also gives the goaltender the advantage of quick reads on dangerous offenders and he can communicate this to his teammates.