Communication is key to any successful team. Whether it’s how players communicate on the ice or how coaches share ideas, the ability to properly and clearly get your point across helps everyone understand what’s expected. For the most part, thecommunication between coaches and goalies has traditionally been, shall we say, confusing.
Goalie coaches play a significant role in translating to a goalie what a coach means when certain things are said on the ice during games or practices, intermission, and during one-on-one meetings.
You can call them coach-speak or coach-isms, but not matter how you slice it, it’s important to hear what a head coach says and then actually understand what is means.
Here are five of the most common things you might hear a coach say to a goalie, what they’re really saying, and what you can do to help.
1. “Stay Up!”
At each training session, there is always one goalie who literally stands up on every shot, high or low. When asked why they aren’t taking away the lower part of the ice on low shots, goalies and parents often say, “My coach is always telling me to stay up,” or “My coach says I’m always down on the ice.”
Try this instead: Say “Track the puck.” This is something you will hear at a goalie training session over and over again. By simply using these words, you are encouraging a goalie to track the puck and react to where it’s going. In some cases, yes, that means they might stay on their skates and catch the puck or redirect it to the corner using their blocker. Or, goalies will use a butterfly save on low shots or kick out their pad. You’ll be amazed at the results.
2. “Keep your glove up!”
The problem, as the puck-eye view on the right proves, is that the only thing this goalie is protecting is a spectator in the fourth row from losing their popcorn. There’s a big difference between what the shooter sees with their eyes and what the puck sees. And if you think your goalie won’t give up goals in the top corner anymore by standing like this, you’re wrong. They will and they will also give up goals at lower heights. The problem isn’t how high their glove is. It’s not how low their glove is. The problem is that they’re not properly tracking and reacting to the shot.
Try this instead: Help goalies understand when they will require a more reactive mindset when it comes to using their glove. The main thing to consider is the distance of the shot.
Generally speaking, goalies should be able to comfortably catch pucks from 20 to 25 feet away.
This seems like a far distance, but rest assured when a puck is coming at you at increasing speeds, it’s not such an unreasonable expectation to have at a minimum. Of course, there are goalies we see every night catch pucks at shorter distances, but from 20 to 25 feet away, the goalie should be thinking react.
Coaches should spend time on the ice showing goalies how far this distance actually is. That way, goalies will be able to start to anticipate reacting with their glove – or blocker! – on shots from further out.
This will promote a reactive mindset where goalies will be able to make saves at any height (high, mid, and low) as long as they are properly tracking the puck.
3. “Be aggressive!”
Coaches must remember the power of their words. Some goalies, regardless of their age, take advice very literally.
When coaches keep telling a goalie to be aggressive and challenge the shooter without providing proper context as to why, they run the risk of goalies misreading the play.
Try this instead: Remind goalies to adjust their depth accordingly.
If there’s no threat off a rush, then yes, you will want them to be more aggressive. But, if it’s a 2-on-1 or there’s a far side threat, the goalie has to be mindful of that, too. Goalies are taught to move, with complete control, at a distance covering about 6 to 7 feet of ice. Anything further than that requires more momentum, speed, power, and maybe even some form of desperation.
We want goalies reacting to these situations only when they have to and completely avoid them at all costs. (Technical tip: It’s also important to remember that if the middle of the skate blade or heel is at the top of the crease, they actually end up in white ice once they make the save.)
4. “We need a big save!”
This is all about managing expectations. For the most part, goalies are very self-aware. One of the most challenging things for a goaltender is to come up with a save – no matter how difficult it is – when your team needs it. For coaches, the trick is helping goalies identify when that is and what they can do to mentally and physically be ready for it.
Try this instead: Simply reinforce the oldest piece of advice in the book: Focus on one shot at a time.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard was from a sports psychologist who spoke about changing the tone and approach to stopping the puck. Rather than thinking “don’t let the next shot in,” goalies should be thinking “I will make the next save.” This simple change in tone turns something from a negative context into positive, and within that, all of the good habits that come with it. Next, simulate these types of pressure game situations during practice. For example, set up scenarios where the attacking team or players in a drill are up by a goal or two or make it sudden death overtime or an elimination shootout. This will force the goalie to crank up their level of focus a few notches (Note: As much as we want goalies to approach every situation in practice with Dominik Hasek-like intensity, it’s not the reality for most. This trick will help, though).
5. “Just stop the puck!”
Ultimately, yes, this is the goalie’s job. But if this is one of the main points being reinforced during practices and games, it’s very misleading. As a coach, there are times when you do want the goalie to just stop the puck. However, it’s not the mindset you want your goalies to have all the time.
Try this instead: Coaches should consider when it is they really want the goalie to just stop the puck.
For example, on clean shots, meaning situations where there’s no traffic in front of or near the goalie, there is an expectation that goalies will make the save and control the rebound. By reinforcing the message of “just stop the puck,” goalies run the risk of not properly tracking the shot and treating each one like a hot potato. The result is a mess of rebounds that would have otherwise been avoidable. As goalies get older and hopefully reach higher levels of hockey, rebound control is paramount to success.
Coaches are encouraged to make sure goalies understand when it’s expected of them to keep the game and their technique under control and when it’s okay to play out of the box. For example, goalies can throw technique out the window and just stop the puck on desperation attempts (situations that happen outside the normal rhythm of the game) and breakaways (although there is a technical element to this, it’s fitting). In these situations, you want the goalie to battle and just stop the puck.
As Hockey Canada begins to roll out its goalie coach certification program, there is no doubt the communication between head coaches and goalies will improve. We might not ever get to the point where every head coach thinks like a goalie coach. But there’s nothing but great things to expect out of gaining a little more insight into the world of goaltending.
Your turn: What are your favourite coach-isms?
~ Eli Rassi is the goaltending coach with the Carleton Place Jr. “A” Canadians in the Central Canada Hockey League. He is also an instructor and consultant with Complete Goaltending Development (CGD). CGD offers on-ice group, semi-private and private training programs, and consulting services for minor hockey associations, for goaltenders at all levels in Ottawa at its training facility in the city’s West end, the Complete Hockey Development Centre. For more information, please visit www.chdcentre.com or www.cgdgoalies.com