Unique Hand Position Helps Hellebuyck Cut Pucks Off
For most goaltenders, their stance is something that is constantly being tweaked and adjusted. Like a baseball slugger who is on a hot streak, the more success that a goaltender is having, the less likely they are to change anything.
Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck is no different. He made a technical adjustment in his late teenage years that has led him on an incredible run from the NAHL through college and the AHL, into a fantastic start to his NHL career.
Hellebuyck utilizes a much lower hand positioning than most goaltenders. He claims that he has always held his hands that way, but it was in high school when he really started to feel comfortable with it.
“The goalie coach I was working with in high school taught me about projectioning, that concept,” Hellebuyck said in a previous interview with InGoal‘s Cat Silverman.
“I figured out where the puck has to go in relation to my body in order to get into the net. I found that with my hands coming out, I cover a lot of the net, so I didn’t have to hold it as high, I can cover the net with low hands.”
Understanding that “projectioning” concept is key for a lot of goaltenders, and a light clearly went off in Hellebuyck’s mind when he was informed about it. Because of his size, he figured out that he could hold his hands at a lower level and still take away the top of the net with proper tracking.
Some coaches, to this day, yell at their goaltenders to keep their glove up after they get beaten on a high shot. That couldn’t be more inaccurate.
It’s a lot easier to get on top of a shot than most goalies think. Video from the “puck’s eye view” can be an essential teaching tool to show that holding the glove hand extra high can actually be detrimental to a goaltender’s ability to react.
“When I went to college, my goalie coach pulled my chest up a little bit,” Hellebuyck explained.
“He turned my hand down, so it just naturally fell down into that spot.”
Hellebuyck’s six-foot-four frame certainly helps him cover a lot of net, but the area to shoot at becomes even smaller when the goaltender fully understands how to close down on the shot. A lot of “smaller” goaltenders (by NHL standards) are benefiting from this knowledge, and a shift away from the prototypical monster-sized goaltenders is starting to take place.
A crucial component to his glove positioning, as Hellebuyck previously mentioned, is the fact that he holds his hands out front more. He doesn’t have to hold his hands as high because he cuts the puck off before it has the ability to rise above his shoulders. It also helps keep the shot in front of him in a better position to see the puck, and track it into his hands. He rarely makes a save with the puck ending up in his peripheral vision. Everything is right in front of him where he can physically see it.
Shooters may have the illusion that there is more net up top because of this, but will end up shooting it right into the glove or blocker.
For goaltenders that are smaller and have a more upright stance than Hellebuyck, holding their hands as low as him may not be as effective. The crucial lesson is keeping the hands out front and at an angle that can close down on the puck, which should allow the goaltender to drop their hands to a varying degree.
It’s up to the individual goalie to find a level that they are comfortable with, and remember to keep their hands activated at all times. When goaltenders start getting tired, the hands usually begin to drift and get lazy – and that usually ends in disaster.
Aside from his size and wingspan, another reason why Hellebuyck gets away with having his hands so low is because of his wide stance. Keeping his hands lower enables him to present himself even bigger to shooters, and is still at a level that he can get on top of the puck.
It’s hard to argue with his advice, considering the amount of success that he is having in the NHL this year. Coaches would be silly to mess around with something that is working so well for him, right?
“They definitely notice it, but they don’t ever try to adjust it. I would never let them. I feel comfortable doing it and they know that. They’ll point it out but they won’t touch it, because it works.”
Hellebuyck isn’t the only NHL goaltender that has had success by altering the positioning of their glove hand. Carey Price and Ben Scrivens have both been quoted in previous InGoal articles talking about finding a comfortable position for their glove hand.
Scrivens points out the logic that when a goaltender closes down on a puck, they have gravity on their side. It’s a lot easier to do that than raise the glove hand to catch up to a rising shot:
“Where does the puck come from? The puck comes up from the ice, so the angle it comes at is up so I want to face as much of the glove as possible perpendicular to that path. And then the other thing I was going with, is what’s harder to do – because mostly every goalie is dropping while they are making saves – so what’s harder to do, lift a limb back up against the momentum of your body, or start with the arm up top and keep it there? So you have gravity and momentum working with you more. Again so much of it is trial and error, and everybody has their own way of doing things. But I found that works for me.”
That philosophy has definitely taken off in recent years, and the newest, youngest crop of goaltenders arriving on the scene know all about it.