(The following article originally appeared in the InGoal Magazine newsletter last week. To sign up for the FREE weekly edition, get your chance to ask NHL goalies a question, and see articles like this one before anyone else, simply enter your email address in the form on the right side of this page.)
InGoal spent two days at Mike Valley’s Elite Goalies camp in Vancouver recently, and Mike was kind enough to take time to sit down and go through a number of InGoal reader questions while we were there.
Elite goalies have been a supporter of InGoal from our early days, with Valley’s partner coach, Pasco Valana, writing one of our first technical articles.
The camp was impressive on all levels. Hosted in the inspiring setting of an Olympic venue, Valley combines strong technical teaching with challenging on and off-ice sessions, and is backed by a great team of coaches who mirror Valley’s calm and clear communication style. It was clear that every goalie in attendance was improving their game, from the smallest nine-year olds, to a number of top junior goaltenders. From Jonathan Quick’s net play to Marty Turco’s puck handling techniques, Valley’s camp inspires a strong technical foundation and with the latest techniques in our game.
The questions from our readers covered a range of topics, and not surprisingly since we were there supporting the development of young goalies, many readers asked about working with their own minor hockey players:
InGoal Facebook fan Mike Frantz asked, “Hypothetically, if an NHL goalie goes from a poor defensive team to a great one, how much does his save percentage improve just due to the guys in front of him?”
Mike Valley: ”Well, you can’t quantify it, but I do think it’s two-fold. When you’re on a team with a strong defense you’re not only going to face fewer high scoring chances, you’re also going to have defensemen and a defensive system that’s going to be structured enough that you’re going to have some help too, and rebounds are going to be cleared out more.”
“I also think that a huge thing is that when you play for a good team your confidence becomes greater too – so you can trust your defensemen in certain situations where maybe on a weaker defensive team you don’t. For example, on a 2-on-1 you have more trust that your defenseman is going to cover that 2-on-1. You know that guys will have sticks tied up so you’re not second-guessing yourself. Often what you find with goalies is they lose track of what their job is and they become worried about other things and when you are on a strong defensive team you can just focus on what your job is – to stop the puck. And you have guys helping out clearing out rebounds, clearing out traffic and I think that’s a huge, huge difference. But then again it’s the whole confidence that when you play with a strong team you know you have a chance to win every night.”
“So I do think it makes a difference. Can you quantify it? No, I don’t think so but we all know you can play on a team. Let’s take two teams for example that get 30 shots a night. Well, the shot total isn’t the indicator because you can be on a team with 30 shots but 22 of them are great scoring chances or you can be on a team where you get 30 shots and six are good scoring chances. So it all depends on the structure that you have in front of you.”
InGoal follow up: ”Could it work against some goalies? Are there some goalies whose game is better suited to certain teams?”
Mike Valley: ”I think there are goalies that are better busy goalies. In the NHL, take Kari Lehtonen for example, he is rock solid when he faces a lot of shots. Sometimes it’s tougher for goalies not to see as many shots because you may only see seven, eight, nine a period but a lot of htem that you see are good quality scoring chances whereas it’s easier to be a busier goaltender, you see a lot of shots, you get into the game, you get that rhythm and it almost just becomes a little bit easier.”
Jason Duncan from Winnipeg asked, “If you’re a coach, who is not a goalie, what do you suggest we do at tryout time in terms of evaluating goalies?”
Mike Valley: ”That’s a tough one. Any time you can get someone that maybe understands the position and can take an objective approach to it I think it’s a good thing. Goaltending is such a hard thing. Often we’re evaluated on statistics but you know statistics don’t always tell the whole story. The first thing I would say is see if you can find someone to help you out to evaluate these goaltenders because it’s tough. If you don’t know what you’re looking for – and I’ve seen it at the junior level or I’ve talked to college coaches who are the first ones to admit, ‘hey, we don’t really know what we’re looking for. This guys a big guy and it looks like he moves well, but I don’t know the whole story behind it.’ – if you can get someone to help you that’s fantastic.”
“If not, you look for the guy that seems to compete really hard, that moves well in the net, that’s fairly patient and fills up space. The guy that can come up with the big saves – but it’s tough. If you don’t know what you’re looking at – what looks like a great save to a majority of the population might have been a simple save for that elite goaltender.”
InGoal Facebook fan Doug Simpson asked, “When working with young backup goalies who only get 20 or so games a year, do you have to approach coaching them differently? If so, what types of things do you take into consideration and what extra work do you have them do?”
Mike Valley: ”Well, I think that’s the key what he says there at the end. Extra work. Any time you have a young guy that’s playing fewer games, really what they have to do is focus that their practices become their games, that they are intense, that they have that extra level of compete in every practice that they’re in. You see it, even at the NHL level, if you have a guy that’s not playing as much. You have to find a way to stay sharp. So we have to tell our backup guy: ‘this is your game. You need to be good in practice.’”
“You need to have that extra bit of energy in your game during that practice time because it’s so hard to replicate a game environment. You just don’t have the same situations that you see in practices so you have to force it out of them.”
InGoal follow-up: ”For a younger guy who perhaps can’t drive himself the same way, would you make it game-like by recording stats during a particular practice session?”
Mike Valley: ”Yeah, I’ve heard of guys that will do that. They’ll take various drills and have their save percentage for that drill. You can also incorporate more battle drills. But what’s important is that those guys have that high level of compete. They don’t practice at a certain level and then all of a sudden go into a game and expect to play at a different level. It’s the old saying, ‘you practice how you play.’ But I have heard of guys that will do different stats and so forth.
InGoal Facebook fan Joel Gauthier writes, “What kind of season plan do you but in place for each goaltender at the beginning of the season? How much of the plan is built around short-term goals and how much of the plan is built around long-term goals?”
Mike Valley: “Great question. I think that, first off, goal setting is so important. And I think that you have to get specific in your goal setting. So many people will say ‘my goal this year is to have a .940 save percentage.’ Well, how? What are you going to do that is going to allow you to get there? So, I’m a big advocate of making sure that your targets, your stepping stones, are very specific in terms of what you need to do in order to achieve that long term goal. So setting those short term goals is so important.”
“What we do with our goaltenders is we constantly look at the things that they have to improve on and some things that are quantifiable, that they can see a difference in. So again, that’s going to help them unearth that long term goal, to be able to move towards it. But having short term goals is obviously so so important.”
InGoal follow-up: ”Is that process the same from prospect to pro?”
Mike Valley: ”Yeah, quite frankly, it is. When you’re with your NHL guys day in and day out you’re constantly reevaluating things and you have a little bit more flexibility because you’re changing – it’s always changing. Sometimes you’re working on penalty shots or we want to improve the percentage of a certain play. Well, we break it down and say, ‘how are we going to do so?’ But other than being able to adjust as frequently, it’s the same at all levels for us.”
InGoal Facebook fan Mike Frantz asked, “What should youth hockey associations (and parents) start or stop doing to consistently develop young goalies?”
Mike Valley: ”Well, I think we’re starting to go on the right path which is understanding that goaltenders need their extra practice time. If we look over in Europe they have dedicated full-time goalie coaches that are working with teams. We don’t always have that luxury over here with our youth associations but some do and I think the biggest thing is not only having certain goalie-only sessions but also being able to incorporate more goalie skills into practices. Working with coaches to have them understand what drills are relevant to the goaltenders, what sort of drills can they incorporate, whether it’s 10-minutes into their practice that are really going to help the skill development of these young goaltenders.”
“So I think we’re going down that path and obviously that’s so important because otherwise, you see it and you hear a lot of parents say, ‘hey, my son’s a goalie and he gets zero attention. How is he supposed to get better if there’s nobody out there helping him or showing him what to do?’ There’s some coaches that take a little bit of an old school approach, you know, just stop the puck, do whatever you need to do just stop the puck. But I think that we are becoming a little bit more knowledgeable about how to approach it and how coaches need to be able to integrate the goalie skills into their practices and drills.
InGoal follow-up: “Are there any things coaches do in youth practice that you’d like to see corrected?”
Mike Valley: ”Well, I think you try to always make things game situational. One of my pet peeves is when you have certain drills and they always end up with players taking shots from the high slot and it’s just shot after shot after shot, and there’s no gap between the shots. So really what you have is a goaltender just standing there waving his arms and limbs just hoping that something hits him rather than being able ot make a save, actually follow it up and complete the save cycle. So I think that’s something that’s so, so important to be able to do. To have a goalie that’s just standing there hoping not to get killed in a practice just doesn’t do anything for him so allowing this guy to have a little bit of space to follow up on this whole save cycle I think is important.”
InGoal Facebook fan Stephen Lucey asked, ”I run a clinic for youth hockey goalies. Do you have some fun drills that I can use this season, something that they can do and learn and have fun.”
Mike Valley: ”I think goalies are the same as players. Any type of battle drill that you have, is fun. Any type of competition that you can integrate in to practice, is fun.”
“We want goaltenders to have all this skill and be technical but at the same time we want them to compete. Sometimes the best drills you just have, whether it’s a breakaway competition of whatever it may be it’s just a fun battle drill.”
InGoal follow-up: “It follows from the last question, doesn’t it? Where you said you need to let goalies complete the save process – and often that’s the battle part, isn’t it?
Mike Valley: ”Yes, absolutely.”
InGoal Facebook fan Andrew Pearson wrote: “Best way to increase foot speed and a dryland drill example. Thanks!”
Mike Valley: “The best thing with foot speed – it goes back to ‘slow is smooth and smooth is fast’ and we can integrate that into this. It’s repetitions. You can’t just expect to be able to move quickly if you’re not a great skater. So much of this edgework that we do, and body control, ultimately the end result is you will become quicker. But the whole thing is taking slow movements, becoming smooth at them and when you are smooth, that’s when you can become quick.”
InGoal follow-up: “Can you expand on edgework? That’s almost a buzzword these days. People read about it all the time and I’m not sure they really know what it is.”
Mike Valley: ”[laughs] That’s true, that’s true. So, edgework is basically the power skating of goalies. For players whether it’s tight turns or circles, for us it’s being able to be mobile and be able to move laterally back and forth. Basically switch directions on a dime while we’re on our knees, that’s what edgework is for us. So it’s basically being efficient moving around the crease and being able to be explosive and multi-directional.”
InGoal Facebook fan Brian Bovey asked, “I have an eight-year old playing goal, what in your opinion other than have fun, does he need to focus on to give him the best foundation, and what are your favorite drills to help with those skills.”
Mike Valley: ”Well, when you’re young it’s edgework. It’s skating. It’s something that I don’t know if any goaltender at any age thinks it’s fun to go out and work on but the key word in there was foundation. Compare it to building a home – if you don’t have a strong foundation you can’t build the rest of the house. If you don’t have a strong foundation in net you can’t build the rest of the goaltender. So yes, as an eight-year old you have to have fun, you have to begin learning the game, reading the game and understanding but you can work on all the skill in the world for an eight-year old but if he can’t move, he can’t play. Ultimately, when he builds that and he becomes a good skater that’s when you see you can begin layering on technique and then all of a sudden you have yourself a goaltender.”
InGoal follow-up: “Do you have an age when you prefer to not see kids specialize in net?”
Mike Valley: ”It’s a good question because more and more you’re seeing guys that just play goal, starting at six, seven, eight-years old. And they don’t know how to catch a ball. I’m such a big believer in athleticism. Whether it’s being out there playing badminton, or ping-pong or soccer or tennis, I think there are so many different qualities and attributes that you gain from those sports that directly correlate later on with hockey that I’m a huge huge believer in. When you’re young you should be playing multiple sports.”
InGoal follow-up: “What about player vs. goalie? We saw Malcolm Subban drafted recently and he didn’t start playing goal until he was 12.”
Mike Valley: ”Yea, and again it comes down to skating. Whether you’re taking power skating or not it’s understanding how your edges work- and I don’t think it’s bad to be a player. You have to understand the game from all different levels. So again if you’re just in net when you’re eight-years old, I’m not going to say it’s not going to work out but you can gain a lot by doing other things.
InGoal Facebook fan Zach Mayo asked, “How has he noticed goaltending styles change throughout the years and what has he done to teach and adapt to the changes.”
Mike Valley: ”For myself, I feel really lucky because not only did I play in Europe for three years, a lot of my coaches that I had are either Swedish or Finnish goalie coaches, but then I’ve also been trained on this side of the ocean and understand our philosophies over here.”
“The game has changed because it used to be that North America was a North-South game where there were a lot of lanes of attack. Since the rule changes the game has opened up and it’s more East-West which changes the way we have to play, so ultimately you’re seeing guys like Henrik Lundqvist or Mike Smith who are playing deeper in their net so they can move laterally and move quicker and you see that you can’t just come out and drop, block, and hope it hits you. You have to be able to be athletic and be able to read plays.”
“What I’ve done is obviously not teach my guys to be robotic. I do think there are multiple ways to play the game and not everybody is built the same so you’re going to have different strengths and weaknesses so recognizing that not everybody is going to look the exact same in net but still building on the strong foundations of being a great skater, being able to read the play, being disciplined to be able to read shots off blades, being able to move laterally when you have to move laterally. And we can get into glove work too – just being able to catch pucks and be an athlete is so important.