Goalie Evaluations: Look Beyond Window-Dressing
In 2001 I opened a goalie school in Connecticut and started evaluating for teams in the area, state teams, and USA Hockey at the regional level. When I first started, a goalie who had a solid stance, crisp skating, proper recoveries, hands forward, and good use of their stick on low shots was one who stood out – meaning they had a leg up on the rest.
Today it is a different story.
Most goalies are very well trained, have a methodical approach/plan, and all “look the part” of an elite puck-stopper, regardless of their individual style differences. When I go today to evaluate or scout goalies for the Cobourg Cougars, the junior team I work with, I try to look beyond these things in order to find the goalies who do certain things that can’t easily be taught by goalie coaches.
That is, I look beyond the window-dressing that goalie coaches – myself included – have helped create.
I started doing this when I was helping select goalies for teams whose coaches I knew. I would get to the rink for the tryout and watch the warm-up. I would immediately divide the goalies into three categories. The first group included goalies I felt were a cut above. The second group was goalies I felt were in the mix, and the third group of goalies, I felt were in over their head.
Often, once the game started, goalies I put into my top group fell out, and goalies I had in the second group would find their way into the top. But how did this happen? The goalies originally in the top group all looked the part; they had great skating, stance, positioning, stick work, etc.
So why didn’t I like them once the game got going?
Simply put: they were lacking in one or more of the crucial assets required in a good goalie.
I have listed below some of the key asset I think a goalie needs – abilities that aren’t easily taught by a goalie coach. They can be enhanced, worked on, and promoted by a goalie coach, but I don’t believe they can be taught.
This is the big one. A goalie who is well-trained and athletic is a goalie with a leg up on the competition. They are able to make the saves that require strong technique, as well as the ones that are outside the box, or the ones the goalie coach hasn’t set up drills for to build repetition.
In my opinion, the best example of this type of goalie in the NHL is Jonathan Quick.
2. Ability/willingess to compete
This is a quality that a good goalie coach will help bring out, but it can’t be taught to everyone who comes through the door.
When Carey Price first entered the NHL, one of the criticisms I heard was that he had beautiful, efficient movements, but sometimes didn’t compete hard enough to battle through some of the difficult scenarios he found himself in. He has made great strides in this area, to the point where I feel it is now a strength for him. This is also Tim Thomas’s strongest asset, in my opinion.
3. Skating … not just goalie skating
A strong skating goaltender gets out to handle pucks quicker, and performs goalie-specific skating better than a goalie who isn’t as strong on skates (assuming the same level of work is put in). It is a huge asset, and is easy to see when a goalie first steps onto the ice. For me, Martin Brodeur and Dominic Hasek are great examples of this. Both have always looked completely at ease on their skates.
4. Ability to read the play
This becomes more and more critical as goalies move up in levels.
A goalie who is properly identifying threats and preparing to react to them will be more effective over the long haul than a goalie who is simply reacting to the puck. Again, goalie coaches can enhance this skill, but with most sessions being one-on-one or involving only a couple of shooters, they can’t completely develop it.
Patrick Roy, particularly later in his career, was spectacular at reading the play.
5. Ability to track the puck
I see too many robotic goalies with a great butterfly, crisp skating, and great save selection, but who don’t track the puck well at all.
Watching the puck right from the shooter’s stick to your piece of equipment, and then following it to wherever it goes, is more important than any drill your goalie coach does with you. A goalie can save a puck many different ways if they keep their eyes on it. Technique and save selection make the save easiest, but watching the puck is essential. Brodeur is a great example of this.
6. Ability to make timely saves
It is important to be able to make the save when your team needs it. A goal that goes in when the score is 5-1 for your team is different than an identical goal at 5-4.
Stay mentally tough and focused, and be the kind of goalie your teammates can rely on to make that save when it’s needed. When I scout goalies, I love to see how they react to letting in a goal – especially bad ones. Do they come back strong, or do they crumble? I want the goalie who can let in a bad goal, and nobody in the rink would know it by looking at them or their play afterwards. Again, Brodeur is a great example of this.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does include some of the most important things I have found lacking in some of my better-trained goalies.
Always remember that the skills you work on with your goalie coach are critical to your success – but they aren’t everything.
So when your team is skating around and you decide to stretch, or your mind wanders when the coach is at the board explaining systems, remind yourself that you are wasting an opportunity to enhance some of the skills mentioned above, which may be essential to becoming an elite puck-stopper.
~ Dan Stewart started coaching goalies part time in the summer of 1994 while playing in the Ontario Hockey League in 1994, founded the Connecticut Crease elite goalie school when he moved there seven years later, and has now relocated to Ontario, where he owns CT Crease Canada and works with The Crease Goaltending Academy. Dan is also the goalie coach for the Cobourg Cougars of the OJHL.