The Long Goal: It Happens to All of Us
It’s inevitable to be scored on if you are a goaltender. This is something we all accept as being part of the job. Some goals are quite acceptable, while others can make you both laugh and cry at the same time.
The long goal is one of those situations that shows up from time to time and makes a goaltender look really weak.
When discussing the long goal what are we really talking about? I define the long goal as anything beyond the goaltender’s own blue-line that gets past him or her.
This type of goal has humbled many goaltenders of different generations, ages and levels of play. It happened this past spring in Game One of the Western Conference Finals when Derek Morris beat the Kings’ Jonathan Quick with a shot from center ice.
One of the long goals with which we are all familiar was scored on Vesa Toskala in a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Islanders on March 18th, 2008. Letting a shot beat you from 197 feet away is most certainly something the recently retired former Leafs’ goaltender will remember for quite some time.
Toskala was also the victim of another soft goal, albeit just inside the blue-line, on December 18th, 2009 when a shot to the trapper by the Sabres Toni Lydman was treated too casually by the netminder and got past him. This also happened to Ottawa 67s goaltender Danny Battochio in the Memorial Cup many years ago.
As mentioned, this occurs at all levels of hockey and is not limited to the elite players. A goal scored by an eight-year-old shows how cruel the game can be at times even to a beginner. I hope this little fellow wasn’t too sad and still plays the noblest position in all of sport?
I also have a strange long goal to my credit. I was playing a game in Saskatoon’s old Exhibition Stadium. A player came over centre ice and let a shot go which my teammate decided he would try to deflect by getting his stick in the lane. The puck deflected up to the rafters but never hit anything. Because the arena was quite old the lighting was rather sparse. I never really saw the puck and came somewhat out of the net to challenge while trying to find it. The puck came down behind my back and fell straight into the net. I will never forget it!
So what is it about shots from a long distance that seems to handcuff goaltenders? The puck is a small projectile and when shot at high velocity can be difficult to track. Furthermore, if you do not track the puck coming off the blade it can be difficult to pick it up in mid-flight. The puck’s trajectory can also vary by rising or falling and may be tipped off a stick blade. Also, as was the case with Vesa Toskala the puck may bounce several times before it reaches the goalie.
I believe the wisest course of action, especially if you see the puck, is to come out of the crease and apply the basic principle of cutting down net surface area and hopefully the likelihood of a goal. Even if you only get a piece of a bouncing or wavering puck but slow it down, the extra distance from the net may give you time to scramble and get the puck before it crosses the goal line. Whether the goalie leaves his feet or remains standing depends on the nature of the shot. It doesn’t have to be pretty as long as you make the save!
It is possible for you to practice this situation with your students. With more advanced students I employ my BONI goalie trainer. I will take shots at varying heights from centre ice and beyond and have the goalie practice the basic concepts discussed above. With younger students I prefer to stand at the blue line and throw pucks towards the net purposefully bouncing them off the ice. This is also good for some laughs between student and teacher.
The long goal has handcuffed many goaltenders including Bruce Gamble, Patrick Roy, Pekka Rinne, Grant Fuhr, Martin Brodeur, Dan Cloutier and Jonathan Quick. If, and when, it happens don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re in good company!