If you ask Mike McKenna, who is preparing to start his 10th professional season as a member of the Arizona Coyotes organization, puck handling can be a great separator, but only if you approach it the right way.
McKenna wrote about the benefits and keys to handling the puck in the July 2012 edition of InGoal Magazine:
“The old adage about being a goaltender is still true: stop the puck. But to be successful in today’s climate of highly trained technical netminders, one also has to be proficient outside the crease.
“The reality is there is often a glut of adequate goaltenders available for coaches to choose from at the amateur level of hockey. So how do you distinguish yourself? How do you prove that you have put in the time and effort to become a goaltender worthy of playing at higher levels?
“The obvious answer is off-ice training and preparation. There’s no doubt coaches look for athletes in peak condition with a sharp mind. But beneath the surface of physical appearance and mental maturity lies a skill often over-looked by young goalies, but very much in demand: puck handling.
“In today’s game, the ability to make smart plays with the puck is crucial.”
As McKenna notes in the article, it wasn’t always that way. But don’t confuse being able to shoot the puck hard with being able to handle it well. There are differences, and understanding them is the key, McKenna wrote:
“You might not be able to shoot the puck off the glass and out of the zone on the fly, but you have to be able to make a hard, accurate 15-foot pass to your defenseman. And you have to be consistent: if teammates are unsure of your intentions with the puck, all goes awry.
“The most important piece of the puck handling puzzle isn’t whether you can shoot the puck past the far blueline in the air. The most important part of puck handling is the decisions you make with the puck. And with that comes an understanding: you must have a clear plan of action with your teammates.
“Take time at the beginning of the season to explain what system you would like implemented in your defensive zone. Talk with your coaches and see what their philosophy is. Hopefully they will be receptive to your preferences and will help devise a system with you in mind. If you have a goalie partner, make sure to compromise on a solution before moving forward to the coaching staff (together) with suggestions.
“Most importantly: do not be confrontational. If your ideas fall on deaf ears, little can be done. There will be times in your career that coaches simply will not listen, and in those instances, it’s best to suck it up, keep
your mouth shut, and make the most of the situation. Being a repressed puck handler isn’t ideal, but being deemed a problematic goalie is difficult to overcome.”
In the article, McKenna reviews system options and how to pick the one that best fits your ability. He also goes over the decision-making process when playing the puck, the importance of good reads, code words with the defence, and always having a safety valve option. You can read the entire article, including a separate section on grip options, in the InGoal Magazine archives by clicking here, or on the image below.