Play Your Game

I don’t know about you guys, but it’s been great getting back on the ice. As our area continues its recovery from the pandemic, it feels as though we went from no ice time at all, to an abundance of it in a few short weeks.

The time off was a forced reset that I’m starting to look at with gratitude. Since I’ve been back on the ice, I’ve been able to appreciate it more than I had before. Also, I was able to look at goalies with a fresh set of eyes and a new pool of knowledge to draw from.

I’m writing today about something that jumped out at me over the first few weeks of being back on the ice.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work with goaltenders of all ages, sizes, and ability levels. The one consistent trait that I see across the board is this: no two goaltenders play the game the exact same way.

And that’s a good thing.

I think we’re at our best as goalies when we’re playing the game that we’re uniquely suited to play in line with our strengths, our size, and our skill set. If you’re unsure what that looks like for you, let’s take a deeper look at each one.

Play Your Strengths

There are plenty of ways to put yourself in a good position to stop a puck, and there is no one “right” way, but there is a way that’s probably the most “right” for you.

For example, some goalies may be excellent skaters and feel very confident challenging to a more aggressive depth because they know they can move and adjust with the play. That’s a strength of theirs, and it’s reflected in their game.

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Conversely, another goalie who isn’t as confident in their skating might make up for that with excellent play reading ability and hockey IQ. That goalie may play at a more conservative depth, but their patience and focus allow them to play a situation efficiently.

Both goalies come up with the save. It just looks different, but it’s right for them.

Play Your Size

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I think where this shows up most is how goalies play pucks below the goal line. If you’ve watched these most recent NHL playoffs, you’ll have seen a variety of post play strategies. Some goalies have long legs and ultra mobile hips, and they’re able to have a foot on each post and their pads on the ice. Other goalies don’t have the same hip mobility or length in their legs and they may choose to stay on their feet a bit longer choose a different post play strategy.

Another spot this shows up is save selection on high shots. Sub six-foot goalies still play some shots to the highest parts of the net standing, and that’s definitely the right call for them. Other goalies who have more height will have more success leaving their feet on most shots.

Again, neither of them are wrong, they’re just different.

Play Your Skill Set

Part of what we try to do as coaches is give goalies more tools for their toolbox of skills. With that in mind, most of our clinics follow a similar format: warm up the skating patterns we’ll use most that day, then warm up to shots with a shot along the lines of what we’re going to teach or work on that day, then we have our main “concept teaching” or “skill refining” drill, and then we finish the ice time with a “compete” type of drill to challenge that new skill.

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It’s in these last one or two drills that the cream rises to the top. The shooters are actively trying to score and the goalie is usually quite outnumbered. This is when a goalie’s skill set comes into play.

The goalie has to use what they believe gives them the best chance to make the save in that situation. Some goalies have a great active stick and can cut off passes to diffuse offensive situations. Other goalies are keenly aware of where their net is and can calmly place themselves between the puck and the net and make hectic situations look routine. Other goalies may rely on their athleticism and just battle their way to saves with arms and legs flying, but somehow keeping the puck out of the net.

This shouldn’t be looked at as a license to stop developing areas of your game that may not be strengths for you yet. There are still things that are common among all different styles and sizes. “I like to slide over to pucks instead of T-pushing”, or “I like to C cut off the post instead of pushing” are not style choices. They’re just ineffective ways of moving.

At the end of the day, there are as many styles of goaltending as there are goalies. The best goalies will be able to develop their optimal way of playing to get the most out of the way they’re best suited to play the position. The best goalie coaches will help those goalies develop their way and avoid “coaching their ability out of them” by trying to make every goalie play the same way.

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