Goaltending is truly a unique position in sports. Soccer and hockey are the only major sports where one player, the goaltender, plays all the time. It is a much more challenging position in hockey due to the small size of the puck and the speed at which it moves. Unlike the soccer goaltender, in hockey the goaltender is wearing close to forty pounds of equipment while trying to move and stop the puck. The net is 72 inches wide and the goaltender’s pads are only 22 inches wide.
Goaltenders are the heart and soul of a hockey team. They manifest its personality and approach to the game. Goaltenders are like middle linebackers in football and catchers in baseball. To play the position of goaltender, you must have excellent hand and eye coordination, agility and quickness, good peripheral vision, excellent overall physical conditioning and the mental stamina to play a position in which most of what you do will determine whether your team wins or loses. An average goaltender will give up a goal on every ten shots.
Several years ago we had a mix-up with our goaltender. Brian had gone deer hunting and our back-up goaltender Jerry wasn’t notified. Fortunately, Jerry (who is a videographer) was setting up to film our game when he learned of the situation. Jerry had to leave and get his equipment. Someone had to play goal until Jerry arrived back at the rink. This was my debut as a goaltender. I remember facing six shots in the first period; three scored. I attempted a butterfly save and just as I hit the ice, the puck hit the back of the net. The puck seemed awfully small and the net very large. I was relieved that my goaltending experience was over when Jerry arrived at the beginning of the second period.–Mark
Goaltending has evolved from the stand in front of the net approach-if it hits you, its a save and if it doesn’t, it’s a goal, to one of angles, active skating and a thinking approach to the game. It takes a special personality to play goal. You are the last line of defense and the defensive coordinator. It is the most important position on the team. Take any two teams with equal talent and the team with the stronger goaltender always wins. It may not be fair, but it is generally the case.
Much of goaltending involves confidence. Players should be kind to their goaltender. During “warm-ups” help build up your goaltender’s confidence by taking shots that assist in “warming-up” and boosting confidence. High shots and shots intended to score are definitely not helpful. Two players shooting at the same time is not wise or fair.
After your goaltender makes a save spank the leg pads with your stick and convey words of encouragement. When a goal is scored against your team, tell your goaltender to “shake it off” or “to keep focused.” Goaltenders appreciate this. They are out there alone and don’t have the camaraderie of the other players on the bench or the ability to score a goal to compensate for a crucial mistake. Finally, when your team scores during a game, someone should go back and congratulate the goaltender too; even though they play almost exclusively defense, they are still part of the team.
Proper equipment for a goaltender includes: skates designed for goaltending, goaltending pads, a protective cup, goaltender hockey pants, chest protector, catching glove and blocker, helmet and mask and stick. Good equipment will enhance your confidence and reduce your fear of playing the puck. Purchase the best equipment that you can afford. If you are going to scrimp or buy used equipment, get the best skates, hockey pants and chest protector you can–getting a better blocker, and catching glove can come later.
In ice hockey, the goalie skates are different than regular skates because the entire length of the skate blade touches the ice. Goalie skates have a longer blade than regular skates. They are heavily padded and the boot is strengthened to withstand the impact of shots. The sharpening of the blades of goalie skates is one of personal preference. Some goalies prefer duller blades so that they can easily slide back and forth laterally in the crease. Typically, only the inside edges are sharpened, the outside edges are left dull. Goaltenders must be one of the better skaters on a team. They should participate in all the skating drills with the other players.
Leg pads for goaltenders are thick and used to be heavy. Goalie pads may be up to 11 inches in width. The height of the pad should extend several inches above the knees. Look for pads that protect your knees when you kneel down. Goalie pads are available in the traditional leather and now in plastic, nylon and foam rubber which is substantially lighter in weight. In addition to the leg pads, knee pads are available to cover the area between the leg pads and the thigh pads.
Goalie Pants and Groin Protection
Many goaltenders play with regular hockey pants and do fine with them. Hockey pants made especially for goaltenders have extra pads sewn into them that provide not only extra protection from pucks but help prevent pucks from getting through the “five hole.” Goaltenders should seriously consider the extra groin protection to be gained from a boxer style plastic cup which is rubber-covered to prevent slippage. Female goaltenders should consider purchasing an adequate pelvic protector.
Upper Body Protection
The goaltender’s chest protector should extend down to, but not beyond the waist. It should provide protection but not restrict movement. A long-sleeved padded vest is available which provides protection for the arms and elbows.
Catcher or Glove
The catcher is a glove which is similar in construction to a first baseman’s mitt in baseball. It, of course, has more protection for the hand and wrist areas. The best catchers have wide webbing and a deep pocket. Some goaltenders pay a lot of attention to the catcher by treating it with leather conditioner and breaking it in by placement of softball in the pocket of the glove and wrapping it with velcro straps. One trick that really works to break in a glove is to run hot water for several minutes both inside the glove and on the creased area of the glove. Then place several pucks in the glove and close it where you want the pocket to be and tie it up. Place it front of a fan and it should dry in about six hours. It is amazing how well this works.
Helmet and Mask
A properly fitted hockey helmet and full cage is sufficient for most goaltenders. Masks can be special ordered which are a helmet and cage combination manufactured from fiberglass with a sometimes an elaborate paint job. Sufficient chin protection is important due to the blows of pucks and sticks against the cage. Some goaltenders choose to include a throat protector on their equipment list. Deflector pads can be purchased that hang from the bottom of the mask. They provide protection from deflections and high rising shots. A “dangler” is highly recommended if you are playing a butterfly style—you will be down and closer to the ice and so rising shots could hit your neck area without this type of protection. At a minimum purchase a neck protector that fits around your neck and tucks in behind your chest protector.
Goaltenders carry a “big stick.” The rules permit the blade to be up to three and one-half inches wide and the shaft the same width up to twenty-six inches up from the heel of the stick. A curved handle is now available which makes it easier for a goaltender to keep the stick on the rink and enhances stick handling. Composite sticks are lighter but have a tendency to be bouncy, hence more rebounds. Wooden sticks give up less of a rebound.
The Mechanics of Tending Goal
The position of goaltender, to use a legal expression is “sui generis” or “one of a kind.” It is unlike anything else in sports. Playing the angles, knowing where you are in the crease, making a split save, stacking your pads, and dropping into a butterfly save are maneuvers that require technical knowledge, athleticism, some helpful coaching and a lot of practice.
This is the starting position from which all movement takes place. It is a basic athletic stance. It is very similar to the stance a quarterback in football takes when approaching the center or the position a tennis player takes while waiting to receive a serve.
The goaltender bends at the waist with the catching glove and blocker positioned at approximately the top of the pads. The weight is on the center to the rear of the skate blades and on the inside edges. The goaltender’s legs are shoulder width apart. The goaltender is slightly crouched forward with the stick flat on the rink positioned 2-3 inches in front of the leg pads and angled slightly toward the body. The legs and skates are turned out slightly. The knees and ankles are flexed and the head is up. The goaltender is squared up to the play. This is a good starting position.
Goaltenders must work to be the best skaters on the team. The essentials are skating laterally, forward and backwards.
Moving About in the Crease
Ice hockey goaltenders can slide laterally on their skates which is effective for short movements. This is sometimes referred to as the “shuffle.” For longer distances, the T-push is more effective.
Moving Forward and Backwards
For goaltenders, forward and backward movements involve the same type of push off as forward and backwards skating. The only difference is that during the push-off usually one foot is enough drive for the goaltender to glide to the spot they are interested in. This is sometimes referred to as “telescoping” when the goaltender moves out toward a puck carrier and then backs up at the attacker approaches. The purpose of this movement is to limit the shooter’s angle.
The basic saves that goaltenders use are the glove save, skate save, pads saves, stick saves and protecting the 5 hole by moving one pad to another to close that opening to the net.
Using the Catcher
“Look the puck into your glove.” That is the key to using the catcher. This is straight forward. The challenge comes when a puck is shot on the opposite side of your body from the catcher. A slower shot or a long shot that comes in high on this side gives you an opportunity to catch the puck on the backhand side. When a goaltender uses the backhand, the blocker and stick are used to “back-up” the glove hand. A good rule is to not cross the midline of the body with the glove hand. Leave it to the blocker. The catcher works from the thigh area to above the shoulder level on one side of the body and the blocker covers the equivalent area on the other side and the skates cover the area below. The goaltender should always catch the puck if the opportunity presents itself.
Something that can be useful for the beginning goaltender is to “watch” the puck. This might seem obvious but really watch and notice the puck while it is any where on the rink especially when it is on a player’s stick in the offensive zone. Again, I don’t mean watch it generally, watch it specifically. Where is it? Is it on edge? Does the player have it on their side in a “shooting position” or are they pushing it in front and probably can’t get off a shot? The more I watch and notice the puck, the better my reaction and ability to block and deflect pucks.
The key to using the catching glove is keeping it open. It is important to be conscious of this. Just as you must keep your eyes open to see the puck, your catcher cannot catch the puck unless it is open. Follow the puck into the glove. Don’t use the glove too much. Some goaltenders get into the habit of trying to catch everything with the glove including low shots. Use all the tools, skates, stick, pads, blocker and the catching glove.
A few years ago, I played in a tournament in Shebogan, Wisconsin with two of my brothers. One of them – Brian is a goaltender. Early in the first game an opposing player fired a puck high that was going over the net. My brother stuck his glove up slightly above his head to grab it and it bounced off the wrist portion of his glove and dropped over his back into the net for a goal. Brian’s new rule: if the puck is not headed for the net, don’t touch it. – Mark
Using the Blocker
The blocker is a glove that allows the goaltender to grasp the stick and protect that hand. It was originally a cricket glove in which felt was added to its backing. It is a shield that allows the goaltender to deal with high shots that are too quick for the backhand of the glove. A close-in or very hard shot to the “blocker” side does not give a goaltender the time necessary to use the backhand. The key to handling this shot is to square up the blocker to the shot and steer the rebound safely toward the corner. Practice the proper angle. The glove hand can work in concert with the blocker trapping pucks that hit the blocker.
Using Legs and Skates – Leg Saves
A direct shot can be softened to limit how the puck rebounds by bending the knees as the puck directly hits the leg pads. If done properly, the puck may drop very close to you and which will give you an opportunity to cover it with your glove or steer it toward the corner.
This is an effective strategy when there is traffic in front of the net and the goaltender is screened or when a forward is attempting to deke the goaltender. This save is performed by dropping to your knees and pointing the toes back toward the net creating a ‘V’ shape. The inside of the pads are forced down on the rink which presents the face portion of the pads toward the shooter. The stick needs to be positioned between the legs and held straight up so that the stick blade is fully in contact with the rink. The stick should be held slightly in front of the pads. The key to the butterfly save is covering as much net while keeping the upper body in a position to cover the upper part of the net.
Stacking the Pads
This is an “old school” move that may surprise today’s players. Typically goaltenders will use the butterfly approach by pushing off with their skate and sliding their “butterfly” across the goal mouth. If you want to try “stacking the pads”, this save is a lot like sliding into second base in baseball. It is used to deal with a stuff attempt, on a break away, or anytime the goaltender needs to move quickly from one side of the crease to the other. This maneuver begins with a push-off from the driving foot and gliding with the lead skate. As momentum is created, the goaltender drops to his knees while kicking out the skates and slides across the crease on the hip and lower pad. The pads are stacked on top of each other. In in-line hockey more of a push-off may be required due to the friction of the skating surface.
The skate save is effective against low shots toward the corners. The skate is always turned outward with the shot on the inside of the skate. The key is to keep the skate blade flush on the rink and turned to the outside to steer the rebound away from the goal mouth.
The skate save may soon become obsolete. Younger goaltenders are being taught to rely upon the butterfly save to stop low shots at the corners. Some coaches feel the skate save is too slow. In conjunction with the butterfly save, the back of the stick from the heel to the stop of the shaft is placed flat on the rink. The paddle is then moved back and forth to quickly shoot out to get to a puck that is shot low at a corner.
A firm grip above the widest part of the stick and keeping the stick on the rink are the two most important aspects of making the stick save. The stick should not rest on the skates and should be placed slightly ahead of the skates. Low shots are steered to the corner by angling the stick. A low shot can be steered away with more power by placing the skate behind the stick and kicking out the stick while meeting the shot and steering it to the corner. This is an effective maneuver to keep short rebounds away from the net. When the puck is shot from a long distance, always stop the puck first with the stick before covering it up with the catcher. High shots can be batted down using the stick and directed away from the net toward the corner.
Playing the Angles
Playing the angles properly is the most difficult of the skills that a goaltender must master. Playing the angles means positioning of the goaltender in such a way that less of the net is available for the shooter to score a goal. The first step in playing the angles is knowing where you are in the crease.
We like the approach of going back to the middle of the net (to the point that your behind is touching the back of the net) and when the puck is carried over the red or center line, move out on an angle to where the puck is. Sight the puck to your chest like you are shining a flashlight on it. Always keep the puck “sighted” toward the middle of your chest no matter where it goes. As the puck is brought down to your end of the ice, move by “shuffling” and maintaining the angle so that the puck (not the player) is centered at all times with the center of your body.
The key to playing the angles and facing any shot is to square up to it. This means that if you draw an imaginary line through your waist and draw another line from the puck to your waist, the lines should intersect at a 90 degree angle. Focus on the puck and not on the attacking player’s body.
Each situation requires judgment as to how far out of the net a goaltender should come to cut down the angle and the amount of net that the shooter will therefore have available. A shot from the point is a good example of an opportunity to come out of the net to cut down the angle. A shot from the boards where one of your defensive players has forced the offensive player to take a shot is another opportunity to minimize the amount of net the shooter can see.
The risk of coming out of the net to cut down the angle is that the attacking player will have the opportunity or the time to stick handle or deke around the goaltender. Coming out of the net leaves a lot of net open behind you in which a stick handling player can score. But if goals are being scored on you just inside the post, this is a clue that the angle of the shooter needs to be cut down slightly and that means coming out of the net a bit more.
Controlling the Puck
Goaltenders handle the puck more than any player in the game. They must become accomplished at freezing the puck, poke-checking and redirecting it.
A poke check is a quick movement of the goaltenders stick to knock the puck off an offensive players stick or out of their grasp. The poke check involves the goaltender moving the stick to the puck and sliding the blocker hand to the very top of the stick and then firmly grasping the top portion while making contact with the puck. A goaltender needs to be mindful of quickly returning the blocker hand back down to the ready position just above the paddle on the stick. Poke checks can be accomplished while on one knee if a longer distance must be traversed before the stick reaches the puck. A diving poke check in which the goaltender’s body slides toward the target point with the stick leading is effective in beating a forward to the puck or surprising an offensive player.
A good rule to follow when skating is to always slide the stick on the rink when moving, don’t lift it.
A goaltender should be strong enough to move the puck with one hand if necessary. The puck is positioned midway and cupped on the goaltender’s stick as it is swept away, either forehand or backhand. The stick follows through to the intended target or location. The two handed pass utilizes the glove hand on top of the stick. The glove hand rotates the stick while the blocker hand being held down just above the shank of the stick provides the power. The toe of the blade follows through to the ended target. Be careful to avoid lifting the stick off the rink in making this passing maneuver.
Many offense strategies, especially the “dump and chase” involve shooting the puck wide around the net where another offensive player picks it up and begins the attack. Goaltenders can help their defense and break-up this offensive play by stopping this pass. Two things are important in making this play. First, give yourself extra time by going around the net on the far side of where the pass started and be sure to go back to the front of the net the same way. Second, use your stick to stop the puck by jamming it on a ninety degree angle against the boards and then cupping it by angling the stick. On high pucks, you may need to jam your lead leg pad against the boards to stop the puck. Try to leave it a few inches away from the boards so that it is easy for the defense to pick it up.
Play Behind the Net
A lot of play occurs behind the net which requires thoughtful strategies on the part of the goaltender. Players will try anything from this position to try to get a goal including stuffing it on the short side or “wrapping it around” to the goaltender’s far side. The goaltender is responsible for anticipating and preventing these strategies. There are a number of things goaltenders can do in this situation.
First, jam the outside skate against the post and press your leg and waist up against it. The goal posts are the goaltender’s best friend (second to defensive players). The nearest arm should hold the post so that you can maintain your position against it. If the post is on your blocker side, use your elbow and upper arm to hold the post. Keep your stick in front of your skates to prevent the puck from going between you and the post.
Second, turn only your head to view the play behind the net but maintain your stance squared up to possible play in front of the net. Third, be prepared and practice side to side movement. Lead with the stick when moving from one side of the net to the other. When the puck carrier has reached the mid-point behind the net, move to the other post using the T-push to get over there quickly.
As a defensive player I hate the “stuff” by the offensive player more than any other play. It feels like cheating or “taking advantage.” I feel especially protective of my goaltender in this situation. No offensive player gets a free pass when I’m playing defense when they try a wrap-out. Even though I play in a no check league, it is contrary to the laws of physics for two hockey players to occupy the same space at the same time. There is going to be a collision if you try to stuff on my goaltender.—Mark
Another play that teams will use that the goaltender can foil is the rebound pass. The offensive player will shoot the puck off the boards behind the net so that the puck will rebound to a waiting player. The goaltender is responsible for tipping this pass away or sometimes coming out of the goal and stopping it and then passing it out of trouble. This is also an effective strategy for teams that like to set up a player behind your net and wait to pass it out to an offensive player. Again timely tipping of that pass or trapping it by the goaltender is of invaluable assistance to the defense.
The wildest goal I have every seen scored from behind the net was the goal scored by the University of Michigan against Minnesota in a national semi-final game. The Michigan player picked the puck up with his stick so it laid flat on the blade of his stick. He was just behind the net in a position to wrap around when he came out a bit higher carrying the puck on his stick blade. To the Minnesota goaltender’s surprise the Michigan player threw the puck like a lacrosse racket into the upper corner over the goaltender’s glove hand. They showed this goal a thousand times on ESPN. Apparently it is legal.—Mark
Situations and Shots
There are numerous play situations like “break-aways”, two on ones, screen shots and deflections that require different game strategies. Goaltenders should try to force shooters by coming out to challenge them. It may force a hurried shot. It is to the goaltender’s advantage if the shooter is not allowed to set-up for a shot.
Getting down low is the best approach if you are screened. Trying to look over the play will take you out of your stance and get you off balance. The butterfly save can be effective because it allows you to drop down and cover as much net as possible. Try to see the puck through the player’s legs. Call to your defense and tell them you are being screened. Always be aware of the player waiting just off the net to tip in the puck.
Deflections are difficult to defend against and many times are impossible to stop. Anticipation is the key. The goaltender must focus on the initial shot because it may not be deflected. But if another player is in a position to deflect a shot then the goaltender must immediately turn and move to the deflection to try to get it to go into the pads. This is a good one to work on in practice.
Two on Ones
The goaltender and the defense should have planned how they will approach this situation. Typically, the defender will prevent the pass and the goaltender takes the shooter. The goaltender is responsible for the puck and making the initial save. Hopefully the defender will force the puck carrier to a wide angle and force the play. Once the shot is made, watch for the loose player who will be looking for rebounds. Try to control rebounds. If the puck carrier successfully passes the puck to the other player, the two leg stacked pad save may be necessary.
One on Ones
If the defensive player has done a good job and forced the puck carrier wide, the goaltender can confidently come out to cut down the angle.
Offensive players are taught to deke if the goaltender is out high and to shoot the wrist shot if the goalie is back in the net. A goaltender can confuse the break-away player by starting out high and retreating as the offensive player approaches. Gauge the attacking player’s speed and maintain a proper distance. Don’t retreat farther than the top of the crease and try to make the offensive player make the first move. Timing is crucial in reacting to the shooter. Stay on your feet as long as possible. A butterfly or two pad save can be effective. Notice if the skater is carrying the puck in front of their body; they are likely still carrying it forward, but when they move it to their side, they are in a position to shoot.
During a scramble in front of the net, the goaltender must cover the puck. Sometimes the goaltender must fight to get through to the puck and freeze it. Protect the covered puck on the rink with your stick. If the goaltender cannot get to it, then a poke check or deflection of the puck to the corner may be necessary.
Communication with the Defense
Goaltenders and defensive players can help each other out a lot by talking to each other. Defenders can tell the goaltender where a puck has gone, if it has cleared the zone, or which side of the net an offensive player is coming out to try a stuff attempt. Goaltenders can tell defenders when they are being screened (by them or an opposing player) or when the defensive player is consistently sagging (not challenging the attacking player at the blue line). Here are some key situations where communication is important:
– The defensive player is chasing down a puck shot into the defensive zone and is being pursued by a forechecker. The goaltender can tell him that he is being pursued and which direction to go.
– An offensive player is free in the low slot waiting at the “back door” for a pass or rebound.
-The goaltender is screened.
– On a two on one, the goaltender can direct the defensive player.
· When an offensive player is behind the net, the defensive player can let the goaltender know where the puck is and which side the offensive player is moving.
· When the goaltender cannot locate the puck in the crease or if a shot has deflected and is up high in the air.
Playing winning goal
The winning goalie will:
· Stay alert at all times.
· Concentrate by following the play wherever it is on the rink.
· Stay on their feet as much as possible.
· Cut down the shooter’s angle.
· Control and clear rebounds.
· Deflect shots or loose pucks to the corner and also pucks passed from behind the net.
· Freeze the puck whenever it is loose and around the net.
Goaltending is more science than art. Consistently practicing the fundamentals of the proper stance, squaring up to the puck, and playing the angles provide a strong foundation for the finer points of protecting the goal. This is may be the most challenging position in all of sports. It is to be played only by the most serious and those with the highest self esteem.
A great resource to view is Jim Park’s goaltender video, the Puck Stops Here and the Puck Stops Here 2. The first video is a great demonstration of the old school “stand up” style of goaltending with some demonstration of the butterfly technique. His second video focuses on butterfly techniques.
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