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!