Puckhandling Part 3: Working it In

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If you’ve been following along this week, I’ve been posting on puckhandling. The first post talked about why it’s such a big deal in the first place. I followed that up with some of the keys to success when it comes to being a good puckhandling goaltender.

Today, I want to deal with the easiest ways to incorporate puckhandling as a skill into practices, without having to use a ton of resources. I know space and time is at a premium, and there are lots of things that need to be addressed in the limited time we have with our goalies. I’m not suggesting we need to replace what we’re working on. I’m just saying we can add to it and not take away from either concept. 

One simple thing I like my goalies to do is to utilize the warmup at practice the same way the players do. Handle the puck. Take some shots. I like to suggest to my goalies that they take at least 3 to 4 stickhandling laps and take a few shots before they stretch. 

Adding puckhandling to drills you already do can be simple as well. Below I’ll show a couple examples of how I incorporate puckhandling into a few different drills that accomplish some different goals.

Warm Up Drills

I think everyone has used some variation of a drill that has a goaltender start at their post, then push to the top of the crease for a shot. 

Standard "Post to slot" drill, with the addition of a pass from the goalie to start the drill.
Goaltender starts with a puck below the goal line to the side of their net. Drill begins with a pass to the coach. Goalie pushes to the top of the crease and faces a shot.

In this variation of that drill, rather than having the goalie start static on the post, we’ve chosen to begin the drill with a pass to the coach from a position below the goal line. It doesn’t have to be every time, and it doesn’t even have to be every rep within this drill, but mixing it in a bit will definitely help the goalie make that 10 foot tape-to-tape pass that they often have to do.

Skill Specific Drills

The next, most obvious way to work on puckhandling is with drills that target the skill specifically. This basic drill is one of my favourites.

1. Coach rims the puck
2. Goalie stops the rim
3. Coach goes to half boards, receives pass from goalie
4. Coach takes a few strides towards the middle and shoots
This simple rim, pass, shot drill works on the skills most often used by a goalie in game. 

In this drill, the coach starts by rimming the puck, and the goalie gets out to stop it. I like to mix up speeds, heights, and angles on the dump in to give the goalie a variety of situations to adapt to. The coach (or shooter) floats down to the hashmarks and receives a pass from the goalie. They immediately walk to the middle and shoot. 

Just like that, you’ve addressed almost every skill a goalie uses on a regular basis in game. Over time you can add a forecheck or have the goalie respond to a verbal cue to make different plays with the puck, but this is the foundation. 


There’s always going to be practices where the coach decides he wants to skate the team, and while I’m a big believer that goalies need to have straight line speed and a base of conditioning, it’s always nice when you can incorporate a goalie specific skating drill. Very often this will be a simple crease pattern, which is fine, but to switch it up, working on some puckhandling style skating drills can be a nice change. 

This can be as simple as starting on the angle, sprinting to the corner and back 2-3 times per side, or from the post to the boards behind the net and back. The nice thing about that is that both goalies can go at once (one on either side). 

Over the course of a long season, having a goalie who’s proficient at handling the puck can save your defensemen from a few more hits, help a few more breakouts exit the zone successfully, and ultimately save a few goals from being scored against. Finding ways to give your goalies confidence in this skill in practice will translate to confident execution in a game. 

Thanks for following along through this short series on puckhandling. If you’d like some more specific examples of incorporating this into your practices, reach out via the contact form on the “About Me” page.


Puckhandling Part 2: Keys to Success

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Continuing on with puckhandling, it’s important to know what makes a good puckhandling goaltender.

First of all, what it is not, is the guy who’s trying to bomb home run passes to guys at the far blue line. Those opportunities are few and far between, and the likelyhood of them turning into a scoring chance is low.

There are, however, a few things that goalies who are known to be solid puckhandlers have in common:

They gain possession of the puck

I can’t stress this enough. When the other team dumps the puck in or rims it around the boards, it’s because they want the puck in a certain spot, and that’s usually a big part of their offensive setup against you. Just by disrupting the dump in and stopping the puck, you’re already forcing the other team to enter the zone in a way they didn’t want to do, and that can have a big impact over the course of a game. So, when you leave your net, gaining possession of the puck is the number 1 priority. Whatever you have to do, stop that puck.

They have a plan

As you make the decision to leave the net, it’s important to take a mental snapshot of everyone on the ice. Where they’re located and what direction they’re headed in. That way you can anticipate where you may have to move the puck once you gain possession.

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They handle the puck like a pro

Being able to handle pucks and deliver passes confidently on both your forehand and backhand is key. You should be able to make a solid first pass either way. Most of the time, all that will involve is getting the puck over to your D in the corner, or up to a winger on the boards. Being able to give a good tape-to-tape pass in those situations though, can make all the difference in the world.

One of the most important aspects of puckhandling is allowing yourself to see all options before making the play. Time permitting, once you gain possession, just like a defenseman, you want to get you toes pointed up-ice so every option is visible and available to you.

From there, your job is to quickly move the puck to the safest available option, and getting back to your net. There may be times when you have to take it upon yourself to get the puck around the glass and out, but those should be the exception.

A couple other things; make sure you’re using the right size stick. If you’re struggling to make a strong pass or handle the puck, you might consider cutting down the shaft of your stick to give you a better feeling of control. Also, I always suggest my goalies use white stick tape. It’s much easier, if you’re setting up a puck for your defenseman, to see a puck against a white background. White also tends to blend in with the net and the gear better, so the shooter doesn’t have something eye catching to tell him where you’re at.

Also, communication with your defensemen is very important. The last thing you want is to leave a puck thinking your D is coming to get it, and they’re peeling away waiting for your pass. Come up with established language between you and your defenseman so that, in a game, everyone can communicate clearly and concisely what is happening.

The next article in our series will focus on ways to work on some of these skills, even with limited time and space.

Thanks for following along guys.


Puckhanding Part 1: Just Do It

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Hey guys,

Looking back through my posts, I can’t believe I haven’t written about puckhandling at some point already. It’s one part of goaltending that never gets adequate attention by goalie coaches. (Props to Eli Wilson who had the foresight to dedicate an entire camp to goalie puckhandling. Really awesome stuff.)

If I tried to pack everything I want to say about this into one post, it would turn into a novel, so I’m going to break it up into 3 parts. The goal of Part 1 is just to convince you that it’s a skill worth working on. Parts 2 and 3 will deal with the keys to executing it well and how to incorporate it into practices with small tweaks to drills you’re probably already doing.

I had the opportunity to talk to a couple NHL goalie coaches this summer and they have stats guys estimate how many shots DO NOT occur because the goalie was able to get out and help their team beat a layer of forechecking and get the puck out of the zone. It’s a higher number than I thought.

The way the game is now, if you’re looking to advance in the game, puckhandling is no longer a “nice to have”, it’s a “must have.”

I get it. I do minor hockey practices all the time. I know we get 15 minutes if we’re lucky, and sometimes we have the crease and maybe 3 feet outside of it to work in, with the skaters using the rest of the ice, however, it’s critical that we take find times to work puckhandling into our practices.

That’s really all our job as goalies is when it comes to puckhandling; gain possession of the puck, get it to a player, and get back to the net. It seems simple enough, but any goalie who’s played for any length of time has no doubt had some adventures outside the crease and watched their coach have a coronary event on the bench.

Hockey is a game of mistakes. Stuff like this is bound to happen every once in a while, but if you let the fear of making a mistake keep you from ever getting out there and getting involved, you’re handcuffing yourself and making life harder for your team. Good coaches know this, and won’t over react to the occasional mishandle like this one.

Stay tuned for posts 2 and 3 later this week!


Finding the Puck

Hey guys,

Today we’re looking at a drill from a private session from last week. Full disclosure, I got the inspiration for this drill from a drill I saw from Slovakian National Team coach Jan Lasak. His drill involved the goalie in their butterfly, focused on a puck to their side. On the cue, a shot was released and the goalie had to find it mid flight and make a save. I thought that was a great concept to build on. My twist on this drill is the starting position.

Things happen quickly around the net, and the popularity of the RVH lately means goalies are having to make a lot of saves from a deep position, but they almost never get the opportunity to practice that in team practices. So, for the drill, I had the goalie start in the RVH position, focused on a puck down to his side, and on my cue he turns his head and finds the puck. As you can hear, there’s virtually no delay between my cue and the shot. It’s intended to be a “bang bang” type of play.

This was the first time the goalie had performed this drill. You can see, as he becomes more comfortable, he begins to actually push into the save, rather than reaching from where he is. This drill is so versatile. Our intent today was to work on tracking, but we also work on the skill of shifting our weight to accelerate out of the post position. If you’re working with a younger goalie, you can strip away all those extras and simply have them shift focus from a stationary puck to the shot puck without the push off like the example below.

She’s still getting the benefit of picking up pucks quickly and accurately, without having to also worry about pushing off (yet).

The key concept for both of these drills is the same. Quickly finding the puck. If we can find it, we have the opportunity to stop it.


One Size Does Not Fit All

Hey Guys,

Today I want to share another drill from our goalie development camp earlier this summer. We dedicated some time to working on shots from odd angles. These are situations that come up in games, but they may not see much of them in practice.

As always, the goal is to work with the goalie to develop a strategy for each situation that everybody can be comfortable with. I mention this because the VH this goalie uses on these shots is not usually a strategy I would steer someone towards, but it works for him and he’s very comfortable with it. As long as it’s working, we’ll stick with it.

Believe me, I’m usually more of an overlap or RVH guy, so I was really trying to find holes with these shots, but he locked it down. (My lack of skill as a shooter didn’t hurt him here either).

As a coach, I love having the goalie’s input into how they like to play a shot. From there, we can have a constructive discussion on how they see the situation and what my observations are to hopefully arrive at a solution we can both be comfortable with. That allows us to really focus on repetition and mastery in our practice time.

Ultimately, there are as many styles as there are goalies. Trying to make every kid play the same is trying to jam a square peg (the goalie) into a round hole (our idealistic image of what we think every goalie should look like). The fundamentals will continue to be 90% of what makes up a goalie’s game, but there’s a lot of room in that 10% for a goalie to express their own style in a way that makes them feel the most comfortable.


RVH Dead Angle Post Integration

Hey Guys,

Just a quick one today. I wanted to share with you a simple drill I did at last week’s goalie camp.

Most of the shots a goalie sees in his regular practice are from the slot or the wing. The usual practice drill spots.

The purpose of this drill was to help the goalie develop a game plan for low percentage shots at a severe angle. The goal was to create a strategy to feel confident in not only making the save, but also controlling the potential rebound.

Often in this scenario the initial shot isn’t the most dangerous thing, but rather the rebound created by the odd angle.

I encourage goalies to try whatever post integration technique they feel comfortable with, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.

This goalie in particular is bantam age, and recently went through a significant growth spurt. He doesn’t quite have the hip mobility to go toe box on post or blade on post and still create a good seal on the post, so he chooses to go shin on post. We go over, at length, what openings that strategy leaves and how best to deal with them.

The drill is super simple, but the benefits of knowing what to do with these types of shots are crucial.


PS. If you’ve never taken the time to develop your own plan to deal with all the crazy scenarios you’ll see in a game, let me know using the contact form and we can figure out a plan that’s going to work best for your game.

The Grass is Always Greener…

Hey Guys,

Last Thursday, one of the AAA teams I work closely with had our first summer skate leading up to training camp. I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with either of my goalies over the summer, so this was our first time on the ice together since tryouts after last season ended.

I had a bit of time alone with them before the team got into flow drills, and we went through a very basic set of drills. Stuff they knew how to do without thinking, with the intention of getting their legs and lungs into hockey shape.

What I actually got was much, much uglier. My guys were making simple mistakes. Lazy post integration. Not hitting their targets with pushes. No visual attachment to their targets in the first place. Things we’d nailed down so early in the season last year that it was an afterthought by mid season.

But that was last year. I know these kids have all these skills, but they hadn’t trained them in almost 3 months. It reminded me of a quote I’ve heard before…

The grass is always greener…where you water it!

It’s not as if they forgot how to play goalie overnight. It was simply that the skills it takes to be the best at your position take consistent reinforcement to stay sharp. The skills didn’t stay “green” (sharp) because they weren’t getting any “water” (practice) all summer!as

Now, I’m a big believer in taking time away from the ice once your season is done. Your body and mind need that break. However, once the time rolls around to start ramping up to the season, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can pick up right where you left off last year. The foundation of your game is going to need some refreshing. There’s not much sense trying to build a new set of skills when those fundamental pieces aren’t fully operational.

The best thing you can do is make sure you’re taking time to work on the skills that will have the most impact during the season.

  • Skating – Not for the sake of making you the most tired possible, but to work on how you’re pushing and stopping, going down and getting up, to make sure you’re working as efficiently as possible. That way you’ll be as sharp in the third period as you were in the first.
  • Tracking – One of the more overused terms in goalie coaching, but we’re working to ensure that your whole body is involved in the save, moving towards the puck and placing the rebound appropriately.
  • Recovery – Deciding how to attack your new angle in the best way, based on the new situation.

As soon as you have the ability to get on the ice, start “watering” all those major areas of your goaltending “yard”, so that when it really counts in the winter, you’ll be in full bloom!


PS. If you’re reading this, and you feel like you don’t know where to start, but you know you want to be as prepared as possible use the contact form in the About Me page to get in touch, and I’ll do the best I can to get you going in the right direction.