Hockey Canada has added four NHL goalie coaches to a new advisory group that will oversee the building of the country’s first national goaltending development and goalie coach certification program.
Phoenix Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke, who was named to Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence management group in late June, will be joined by Bill Ranford of the Los Angeles Kings, Rick Wamsley of the Ottawa Senators, and Dwayne Roloson, the new goaltending coach of the Anaheim Ducks.
Also involved in the ongoing development of Hockey Canada’s still-evolving goalie programs is former NHL goalie Fred Brathwaite, who is the new goalie coach for Canada’s World Junior team, Matt Cockell, who coaches Canada’s national women’s team, and one representative from each league in the Canadian Hockey League. The Western Hockey League tabbed Brady Robinson, the goalie coach for the Victoria Royals, while the Ontario Hockey League chose Joe Birch, their Senior Director of Hockey Development, and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will be represented by Cape Breton’s goalie coach Scott Gouthro.
The group was joined by former Calgary Flames goalie coach David Marcoux, who was already leading the development of Hockey Canada’s new goaltending curriculum, when it got together for the first time in late July during the under-18 camp in Toronto to talk puck-stopping development.
“The first step is to recognize that maybe there are some things we could do differently in developing our goalies and throw some ideas around,” Burke said. “There was a lot of experience in the room from all different levels – junior guys, NHL guys, international goalies, guys that played at all different levels – so it was a really good chance to listen to other views, and hopefully we can figure out what the things we need to do differently are, and what areas we can improve on.”
Much like the successful models in Sweden and Finland, Canada’s impending goalie development plan, which was outlined for the first time by InGoal back in mid-June, will focus on creating more good goaltenders across the country by developing more good coaches through a certification program that will include a three-level guide to learning the position. And just as those much-discussed Scandinavian goaltending models include annual symposiums with the country’s top goalie coaches gathering to share knowledge, keep the curriculum current, and trickle the evolving skills and techniques down to lower levels, Hockey Canada’s extensive new goaltending advisory group is designed to provide an ongoing voice in the process of building out the Canadian model, with Robinson, Gouthro and Birch all reporting back to – and seeking input from other coaches within – their respective leagues in the CHL.
“It was more of a general, 30,000-foot level look at what we are doing to get input from some respected names in the goaltending world and make sure they were on the same page as we are,” Corey McNabb, who is in charge of the programs as Hockey Canada’s Senior Manager of Coach and Player Development, said of their first meeting. “It was a discussion on where we see trends in goaltending today, some of the strengths and weaknesses from Canada and the international side. What are some of the things they see from their levels, whether it’s bantam draft eligible kid, or drafted goalies coming into NHL, or guys playing in AHL?
“We were trying to affirm what our expert group [led by Marcoux] says or if there are some things we need to focus on more, or even change.”
While they didn’t get down to specifics in terms of breaking down the levels of development in the first meeting, McNabb said there was consensus on two key points: 1. That there needed to be a focus on athleticism and agility before technique when developing young goalies, and 2. There needed to be a consistency and standardization in what young goaltenders in Canada are being taught.
That second point is what building a goalie coaching certification program is all about. How to ensure the first point becomes an effective part of that program is the next step, one that will include opinions and help from the new advisory group.
“Pretty much the entire group thought if you develop the technique first and athleticism later, your ceiling is lower as to your potential,” McNabb said. “It’s much harder as you get older to develop the athleticism. That was the consensus.”
So how do you coach athleticism in goaltending? The answers could involve specific drills and skill progressions, as well as recommendations for off-ice training.
It’s not lost on McNabb that so many of the European goalies being praised for the athletic components in their games spend several months off the ice each summer, whether its working on position-specific exercises as they get older, or simply playing other sports in the offseason when they are younger.
“As we go forward here it’s going to sort of evolve itself a little bit,” McNabb said. “We still need to get to that point of, ‘here is level 1 and the fundamental skating, movement and athletic elements that every coach should be working on with their young goalies, and once they’ve got this down, move to the next level. But at some level it may be about, ‘hey, you want to be a better goalie? Stay off the ice for a couple months in the summer and maybe play baseball.’”
There was also talk about the age kids should start playing goal exclusively, and whether leaving a backup on the bench all game made sense at younger ages.
“A lot of the guys said in Atom if I wasn’t playing goal that day I was a defenseman,” McNabb said.
The next step for McNabb is going back to the group in the next week and sorting out where each member sees themselves fitting into the bigger picture as the program develops. How much time can they commit? Will they simply review material, or would they like to help develop some of the drills and lesson plans? And what age group and level of development do they see as an ideal fit for them?
There are still a lot of other questions to be answered beyond that, including how Canada’s existing – and almost exclusively private – development model fits into the new goalie coaching certification program.
“We’re not saying there’s not good goaltending programs out there. I think there’s a lot, and there are a lot of goaltending programs that have already started incorporating some of these things we are talking about,” McNabb said. “We don’t want to be saying to Bill Ranford, ‘hey if you are working with a 16 year old today, these are the six drills you have to do and these are how you have to do them.’ We want everyone to be on the same page in terms of ‘you know that these are the types of drills we should be doing at this age or that age and here’s a resource, here’s a manual, here’s a video. If you have your own stuff, by all means use it.”
There are questions remaining. Now there is a bigger, more experienced group of goalies and coaches in place to help Hockey Canada answer them.
“We touched on a lot of things,” Burke said of that first meeting. “The idea was to really brainstorm and throw some ideas around from different guys with different experiences. I thought that was a good thing. We initialized some contact with each other and from here on it has an opportunity to build.”