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The State of Canadian Hockey Goaltending Development

The State of Canadian Hockey Goaltending Development

Larry Sadler is the Director of Smartgoalie.com.

Antti Niemi San Jose Goalie

Finland is producing top young goaltenders like Antti Niemi in disproportionate numbers thanks to a national goaltending curriculum and specialized coaches for all young goaltenders. (Ken DeNardo photo)

When we examine the condition of Canadian goaltending today we are confronted with the reality of numbers.

In the 2000-2001 hockey season, Canadian goaltenders comprised 41 out of the 64 who had played 10 or more NHL season games. They made up 64% of the total number of goaltenders while US goaltenders made up 19% with 12. When looking at those goaltenders who played 30 or more games we find that there were 25 Canadian goaltenders, 60%, and 7 US goaltenders, 17%.

By the 2009-2010 season that number had changed. In the intervening 10 years Canadian goaltenders who played 10 or more games made up only 47% of the total playing with 29 (the US numbers had remained constant at 9 or 15%.). When we look at those goaltenders who played 30 or more games we see Canada slipped to just 45% of the total with 18 of 44. The US stayed constant with 15% of the total, having 6. Where the major change has occurred is with the increasing large number of Scandinavian goaltenders. Sweden and Finland now make up 22% of the total number of goaltenders who have played 30 games or more. With just 4.56% of registered players internationally the Finns alone make up 17% of those goaltenders who have played 30 or more games.

As for the Canadian goaltenders the major producer of goaltenders is Quebec but even their numbers have dropped in the interceding 10-year period. In 2000-2001 with just 17% of the CHA registered players they had 11 goaltenders who had played 30 games or more, 44% of Canadian goaltender numbers. They have now dropped to 8! Ontario, which has 48% of CHA totals, had 9 but that number has now dropped to 6.

The OMHA, which alone has 22% of all CHA registered players, has improved their goaltender NHL numbers. When we look at those NHL goaltenders who played 20 or more games we see the OMHA had 4 who played in 2000-2001 but this grew to include 8 goaltenders in the 2009-2010 season. The GTHL numbers have almost disappeared with only 1 playing in the NHL in 2009-2010 as compared to 6 goaltenders 10 years ago. This despite the fact that there are over 10 “elite” goaltending schools running programs in the Greater Toronto Area. These programs have been operating for over 10 years. It might appear to some that something may not be working.

We also see considerable changes in the area of performance markers.

10 seasons ago Canada had 5 of the top 10 goaltenders and 13 in the top 20 in the Games Won category. Canada also had 8 of the top 10 and 13 of the top 20 in GAA. In SV% Canadian goaltenders made up 7 of the top 10 and 14 of the top 20.

Ten years later, although Canadians remained strong in the GAA category with 8 of the top 10 and 15 of the top 20, we had just 3 of the top 10 and 6 in the top 20 in Games Won, and 0 of the top 10 and 6 of the top 20 in SV %.

In addition, Goalie’s World magazine ranked the 2009-2010 goaltenders using an equation which combined games won, save percentage and total shots stopped. Canadian goaltenders made up just 2 of the top 10 and 6 of the top 20!

The biggest increases in each of the 2009-2010 categories in the top 10 and top 20 were the US and Scandinavian goaltenders.

As I mentioned before with just 4.5% of the world’s registered players the Finns are making a tremendous impact upon goaltending development.

The secret to this success dates back to 1985. At that time the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation (FIHF) introduced a standardized certification program for goaltending coaches. This program virtually provided each goaltender on every competitive team with a goaltender coach who taught the same basic fundamentals in goaltending. This started with goaltenders at 8 years of age! This program has continued on to the present day.

In June 2010 I spent time working at the top elite goaltending school in Finland. It was run by Finnish goaltending coach, Jukka Ropponen. There I saw the high level of expertise the young Finnish goaltenders displayed. With a sound basis in fundamentals these goaltenders were able to move up more quickly into the next level of elite instruction. I spoke with some of the top goaltending experts in Finland and they confirmed what the Finns were doing well and where they needed to improve more.

In the intervening years Finnish goaltenders have become a predominate force. Finland has some 67,336 registered players, 29,447 of whom are minor hockey aged players. The OMHA has 110,000 registered minor hockey players. Simple math dictates that we should therefore have 3.7 times the number of goaltenders the Finns have in the NHL. Instead we have gone from having 5 times their number in 2000-2001 to having just 1.14 times their number today.

We have to examine how we can better develop goaltenders.

Unless we do something significant and longlasting to change these numbers we will only continue our downward slide in the next 5-10 years.

And now we have the Swedes to contend with! The Swedes have decided to focus their attention on developing goaltenders using the same approach as the Finns. The significant difference will be, where the Finns have been basing their goaltender development using a volunteer system, the Swedes will bring their financial clout to bear and will hire goaltending coaches. The Finnish head of goaltending development, Petri Tuononen, resigned while I was in Helsinki. The reason given was his volunteer position had yet to be elevated, as promised, into a full time paid position. Now the Swedes have a full time goaltending head coach in place, Tomas Magnusson, and he is working to improve goaltending development there. In addition, the Swedes are looking to provide goaltending equipment free to new goaltenders in an attempt to reduce costs.

The OMHA has the potential to improve. Quebec is planning to set up a program for development of goaltenders. With the compact OMHA region along with our established development regions we have the potential to create, implement and monitor a goaltending development program similar to the one in Finland and with the potential to grow into an elite development program which will far surpass that of the Scandinavians.

Please add your thoughts in the comments below.


Smart Goalie LogoLarry Sadler is the Director of Smartgoalie.com.

For further information on goaltending instruction please contact Larry at [email protected].

About The Author

32 Comments

  1. Ian

    Goaltending in Canada is a pay-to-play situation. My son sees three different goalie trainers during a year. This can be ongoing training, hockey camps and spring hockey. He is leading the pack right now for our area. Kids that don’t train are obvious. Regular coaches tend to be dads and they don’t have any certification so I think it will be a long time before we see a program like that for goalie coaches in Canada. I would like to see Hockey Canada do something serious for the youth in hockey. It seems to me that unless you are in a U-## team, you don’t see them.

    Reply
    • larry sadler

      Ian
      interesting comments
      I would have to say that even in some of the U16 or U17 camps I have seen that golatenders are not taught properly
      stay in touch either here or on my site

      Reply
  2. Matt in Montreal

    This topic can’t be talked about enough.

    I hope I can afford to dedicate some of my time this year to teaching the young kids in the hood.

    Or at least be present on the ice to encourage them.

    When I was a kid I can only remember coaches busting my balls. None of them of course knew anything about goaltending.

    To all the beer leaguers out there, I say pay-it-forward if you can. A mentor can sometimes be the most important person in a young kid’s life.

    Reply
  3. Matt in Montreal

    PS.

    I’d like to find out more about Quebec’s plans on instituting their goalie development.

    Reply
  4. Todd

    Have a look at Hocky USA’s website. They at least provide goalie coaches with lesson plans. I hope that my two son’s teams this year let me be a goalie coach for them. Hockey Canada needs to let some of us who are goalies, and coaches, get some better training at becoming goalie coaches and mandate our use, so the Minor Hockey Associations accept us into their coaching cliques.

    Reply
    • larry sadler

      Todd
      I agree
      However about the US Hockey site one thing I have noticed is that in Hockey Canada & US hockey material they are allowing goaltenders to get shot at too sonn before they are ready.
      balance, agility and foot speed in full equipment has to be taught and mastered well before we start using them as targets. Its like tossing your car keys to a new 16 year old driver and saying take the car out onto the 4 lane highway before they have even learned to start the car

      stay in touch either here or on my site

      Reply
  5. geoff

    hay guys love reading in goal mag great articals. i will read any thing about hockey goaltending so maby you guys can help
    has the goalies world mag gone down the tubes or are they just revamping the web site cant seem to find any info on the magazien at all can you help
    all the best in sport geoff king a devoted reader

    Reply
  6. Magnus Olsson

    I cannot believe there is no real coaching certification in Canada. After I finished my certification-course here in Sweden I called Hockey Canada to see if I could get certified in Canada as well. They told me they don´t have anything like that. I was very surprised.
    We have a 6-step goaliecoaching certification program that you can go through. The cost is about 1700 CAD. It includes on ice, off-ice, nutrition and mental training.
    The program can be improved though. It can be a lot harder and go more into details. Many goaliecoaches say that there should be a level 7,8 and 9 to make it more interesting.
    We are a small country with 9 million people and we have a certification-course. Canada has not… Doesn´t make sense, right?
    Feel free to email any questions. I´m a full-time goaliecoach here in Sweden.
    [email protected]
    Work hard guys
    Magnus Olsson, Sweden

    Reply
  7. Colby

    Here in Edmonton, Alberta, the Edmonton Eagles organization has Goalie Clinics every sunday for free for the kids, one of the Coaches i think has now moved onto the Ottawa Senators organization as the goalie coach, but the goalie clinics still go on and the kids who come you can see they improve every year and best of all its free

    Reply
    • larry sadler

      Colby
      great news be sure to keep that up

      Reply
  8. Matt

    I think the problem here in Canada is an overemphasis and late teaching of technique. If technique is taught at a young age it becomes natural and not something essential. A goalie coach that I know told me that so many goaltenders he sees are using the butterfly as a style rather than a save selection which is a problem at higher levels. Look at the differences in play between the Finns and Canadians, the Finns watch the play, keep their hands up and wait for the shooter to make the first move. Canadians, especially Quebec butterfly goalies, are down before there’s even a move or shot taken. What I believe creates this problem is teaching goalies the butterfly technique repeatedly at an older age because instead of improving reflexes and hockey sense it turns them into robots who only know how to do one thing– the butterfly. If we teach the butterfly to young goalies then as development time progresses they begin to learn how to read, react and stop the puck almost naturally without going down first. Our problem is overuse of butterfly and our solution is to teach goalies on a progressive level instead of telling them to butterfly all the time.

    Reply
    • larry sadler

      Matt
      good comments
      However, I think you may need to refer to it as technical skills rather than technique. Its this obsession with technique that has goaltenders adopting styles before they are ready. You yourslef refer to the Butterfy technique when in fact it is a save. The key to success with a goaltender is to select the proper response to a situation and not to always “apply paint with the same brush” Teahc technical skills first and then tactical repsonse then the goaltender will be better
      always enjoy your comments
      stay in touch either here or on my site

      Reply
  9. Mike

    Great to see the Finn’s invest in the youth development with certified and experienced coaches. We live in Northern Virginia and are lucky enough to attend dedicated goaltender training but it’s still pay for play. Only the upper Tier I has dedicated and trained goalie coaching, this is a disadvantage to few US goal tenders with natural ability. Equally, scouting for goaltending talent is primarliy focused on northern US states and Canada in north america making it harder for getting noticed. Again, we work for exposure to the right people hoping to get noticed like many other players. Not surprising the Finn’s are and have been doing something about developing the key position in ice hockey.

    Reply
    • larry sadler

      Mike
      I wasn’t aware that you were being ignored. Keep looking for competent goaltending coaching and use the internet to reach out to colleges & junior programs in the US & Canada to promote your goaltenders
      stay in touch either here or on my site

      Reply
  10. Paul Szabo

    I am friends with a former pro goalie from Hungary and even in his rather obscure country (hockey wise, that is), it is mostly the norm that professional goalie coaches are on the ice for minor hockey of all levels.

    Why is is that if you are learning tennis, figure skating, horseback riding, karate or a host of other sports, you pay and get a certified instructor? Hockey, our national sport, still relies on the culture of volunteers. I am not criticizing volunteers- they are essential. However, as long as the coaching element relies on volunteers, hockey will be a like a box of crackerjacks- you never know what you will be getting when your kid signs up…

    Reply
    • larry sadler

      Paul (hello again)
      something ot remember as I mentioned Finland relies on volunteer coaches as well. Sweden will have paid coaches – so wathc what happens now!!!
      We can only demand a higher standard and work to get it if we want to improve

      Reply
  11. Dave In Toronto

    It’s ridiculous that Hockey Canada hasn’t developed a certification system for goalie coaches, it’s a bad joke and a shows great ignorance. I’ve personally been after them for more than five years to get something in place, yet it never happens, despite repeated promises that something is ‘in the works’. C’mon Hockey Canada, get it together already.

    Reply
    • larry sadler

      Dave ( I know you!!!!)
      good oomments
      I can only hope that you and I calling out in the wild will help someday to rectify the situation
      as always stay in touch

      Reply
  12. Natalie

    I agree with the pay to play concept – the local youth hockey people in Niagara at CYO for Minor Development have a goalie clinic for 10 weeks every Wednesday for all their goalies (Novice to Midget) – Ben Vanderklok and his team do them. It’s a smart way to get good value.

    While I understand the maturation and development range is wide and that may dilute the one on one, the kids get to know their league goalies and help each other out – it’s been one of the most rewarding things we have done in travel hockey.

    The points about butterfly being just one of the tools in your toolbox are well made, we had a stand up goalie that went to “oh, the puck is at the blueline, down I go” – and all I can say is Thank you Tim Thomas – he sort of made it cool again to use other options.

    I understand the certification process will raise the overall level of instruction – just leave some room for trial and error and creativity – in my experience that is the most fun for the little ones, and maybe the big ones too – and we are here to have fun!

    I do think the kids are lucky to have so many people advocating for them, so for that, this goalie mom thanks you!

    Reply
    • larry sadler

      Natalie
      great comments
      as for your comment about creativity – remember that all artists work within the parameters of their art, their creativity comes from working within the structure that has been set up and they create new by standing on the shoulders of what has gone before. A certification program will provide the basis by which creativity will flow. Without informed and scientifically based structure that knows what works best using sound principles of biomechanics more effective and creative golateding will not be possible.
      stay in otuch either here or on my site

      Reply
  13. D

    So where can we get more information on one of these Scandinavia systems. What specifically do they teach?

    Reply
    • larry sadler

      D
      well the information has been at Hockey Canada since 1984 so perhaps we should ask them.
      I have an overview of the Finnish approach whcih I have been translating into English. I am also obtaining a copy of the Swedish program this summer but that too wil have to be translated. Stay tuned

      Reply
  14. Pasco

    Very interesting comments from everyone.

    There has been a large emphasis on technique and movement which is always a good thing. The challenge with an over emphasis on technique is that the goaltenders and goalie coaches leave out one very important ingredient for success … a goaltender’s instinct. Understanding the importance of visual conection to the puck and breaking down netspace are truly essential in separating the good goaltenders from the career NHLers. Let’s also not forget, that every goaltender is as indiviual as a fingerprint and may need to use a different option of save selection to accomplish the same outcome.

    Having a prescribed National Goaltending Program that filters down into the major and minor hockey markets will help organize the essential learning objectives, better educate coaches who are looking for the knowledge and streamline the language of goaltending to eliminate unnecessary dupication meanings.

    Good Discussion.

    Reply
  15. Pierre

    They’re defenetly a source of inspiration. We should work like those guys. But canada seems to be catching up since our two olympic goalies Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo are both finnish!!!!

    Reply
  16. Nino

    I know that there are goalie schools in Canada, Europe, Russia, Japan, USA, etc.

    Is the recent success of Scandinavian goalies due to differences in teaching methods, ability of instructors, standardized instruction/certification, age at which instruction begins, frequency of instruction, etc.?

    We probably have to carefully look at these and other factors to evaluate the goalie schools/instructors in Canada and make improvements accordingly.

    One of the reasons that young goalies do not get proper teaching and practice of fundamental and advanced skills, I believe, is the cost of goalie instruction, which where I live, is roughly $120/hour for a private session (i.e. instructor comes to a team practice) or $60/hour if done in a group setting at a goalie school. And most of the time, schools are too far to travel to so you are stuck with no options.

    Each minor hockey association should be able to provide each team at all levels with a list of certified goalie instructors who can come regularly during the season to team practices at no extra cost to the team or parents. There should be a standardized certification process (perhaps a goalie instructor school or course) so that goalie instructors teach the same fundamentals and do so in a given manner according to the age of the goalie. Perhaps a standard curriculum should be developed and followed. This is not that hard to do. Maybe Canadians should not wait for Hockey Canada to do this. Maybe local or private organizations should get started with a standard curriculum and instructor/coach training that can be utilized by all (online and otherwise). Sounds like an opportunity for some eager people with the well-being of young goalies in mind rather than financial gain.

    As a former goalie and goalie instructor in Japan, and now parent of a young (7 year old) goalie in Ontario, it is the lack of options, cost and access to proper, quality goalie instruction that I find most frustrating when it comes to helping my child learn the fundamentals and develop in the Canadian minor hockey system. (BTW, I can only give so much advice to my child because, like many kids, he doesn’t listen to his own father. And also we don’t have our own ice rink.)

    Reply
  17. Washington irving

    No question that Hockey Canada is killing goalie development in this country. $Money and Who you know dominate goalie selection in minor hockey. Even coaches who want to do the right thing simply do not understand the difference between selecting an athletically gifted kid over a kid who has a dad willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars on endless goalie school training.

    At the Bantam/Midget AA/AAA level there is confluence of nepotism and “pick the kid with the $1000+++ training under his belt.” The real talent, the kids with God given athletic abilities are out before they can even come in. If nepotism doesn’t get them, the insane amount of money spent to get athletically weak, professionally trained kids to the front of the pack will.

    It really starts in Canada with competitive “novice” and atom leagues. Parent coaches become “parent pals” over the early years, and before you can say “what happened to our world junior team this year?” a cabal of parents/mediocre kids begin dominating the annual August tryout selection process. To be fair, these are the same families that get caught up in spending thousands and thousands of their hard earn dollars on goalie school training for their “future superstar”.

    The two goalies families that “make it” in novice/atom hold on for dear life each year. In our community there was no question in anyone’s mind what was happening to goalie selection. The association permitted the same parent coach for the tier one team for six years in a row, and surprise, surprise, the same goalies/family vacation buddies were selected year after year.

    Things only changed with the introduction of a separate AAA league here in Ottawa, which at that time started in minor bantam. All of a sudden the local AA coach could not control the tier one selection process anymore, and what a surprise, his kid, and the two “all star” goalies were cut in favor of a goalie they managed to hold down to a lower level for years. Of course, they were welcomed back to the local AA association and accommodations were made for one of of them to “play up” on the year older AA team “so he could be seen by scouts”, what a joke!

    In the end it seems our system of selection is only really effective (and even this is questionable) when determining the true talent abilities of the offensive players. Defence kids are almost picked because they had a growth spurt and goalies because of either who their parents are, or the amount of money spent on their training.

    All in all I don’t see our system changing, it might be time to start learning how to pronounce more of them “European names”!

    Reply
  18. Kate

    My son had the benefit of his goalie father coaching him at an early age. As he got older and dad realized he wasn’t able to continue coaching him we started training him at a goalie school. When he made AAA last year, we were shocked at the coach’s comment that he didn’t know anything about goaltending but just wanted our son to stop the puck. He received no coaching in practices, was expected to attend a specific goaltending practice on top of the other 2 practices a week, which we felt didn’t really challenge him enough, so we continued with his training at the goalie school. Our son has a God given talent, not to mention that he just loves the game! He has worked very hard at his position, and has had the financial backing of his parents to support him. He is very lucky.

    The problem with our hockey here in Canada, is that the goalies are not respected until they are older, and suddenly their position is seen as being important. Coach’s often have no understanding of the position, they have never played it and have no desire to. So every practice is spent focusing on the players and their skill development. The only thing they want from the goalie is to stop the puck. They don’t realize that in order to do that there is a lot required.

    So, at a young age, the kids that end up in net are one of 2 kinds. The big ones, that can’t skate as fast, but at least fill the net. Or the little ones that are fast and aggressive. By the time they reach Peewee, the big ones, unless they have gained some athleticism, find themselves unable to move and their size is their only asset. The little ones are too little and the big players, who have been developed in every practice, now can lift the puck over their heads!

    Suddenly at the Bantam level, the goaltending becomes a little more important, but we don’t have enough developed kids to put in net. Often, coach’s think the goalie who is flying all over the net and throwing anything they got at the puck is the best goalie ever. They are impressed with their aggressiveness and think their efforts are commendable. These are the kids that get chosen for AAA teams, when the ones who have worked so hard on their technique and whose movements are fluid and small get over looked because the coaching staff have no idea what it takes to be a good goaltender.

    Canada, needs to get hold of the training package that Finland started. They have to start at a young age with a universal coaching technique. Goaltending is all about technique, the smallest movement can make the biggest difference.

    I recently was watching the Prospects Game and an NHL coach was being interviewed. They were discussing goaltending prospects and how they have to be careful when they choose them because goalies require more time and development then players!! The reason why they require this is because they have not received any where near as much development as the players have. Unless you have the financial ability and the knowledge, young goaltenders have to rely on uneducated goalie coaching for the better part of their hockey development.

    Until Canada recognizes and respects the goalie position in hockey at a young level, and stops looking at it as a position that just “needs to stop the puck” , they will continue to find themselves at the bottom of the goalie statistics.

    Reply
  19. Thomas Russell

    Hi
    I am writing in response to your goal tending info. I fully agree with your article, as being a Minor Hockey volunteer for the past 26 years and playing the position, and training goalies over the years, I still have my doubts that we have not given it our best to our young goalies. I looked at our goal tending in our association starting at Midget and down to Atom and was totally amazed how under trained our goalies were, having said that, we have turned out some excellent and talented goalies from our association, eg Torrie Jung our latest.
    I started a program 2 years ago Intro Goalie Training under the umbrella of Nanaimo Minor Hockey, this is a free program to out young athletes and is targeted at Initiataion and Novice players, I believe we need to start somewhere, Our problem is none of our instructers have any kind of goal Tending accreditation, I understand Hockey Canada is putting together a Goalie Coaching Program, do you have any information on this.We need to continue our training of goaltenders for the future
    Tom Russell
    Equipment Manager
    Nanaimo Minor Hockey

    Reply
    • David Hutchison

      Thanks for your work Tom! It was my pleasure to be one of your coaches this season and I couldn’t agree more about the need to train young goalies. As a teacher as well I don’t think that there is enough knowledge about how to work with our youngest goalies, even amongst experienced coaches. To instil some basic skills – and even more importantly a love of the position – so they and others will want to keep playing it is much different with 5&6 year olds or even 7&8 yr olds than working with the 9 yr olds and above that most goalie coaches have worked with.

      We’ll keep readers posted as we know more about the Hockey Canada program. We’re in touch with many of the coaches involved and look forward to sharing more as soon as we can.

      David

      Reply
  20. Candace

    What’s wrong in Canada? We just had a goalie only session. They moved up two goalies to the top group – these two were both under 5’5… meanwhile two kids 6 feet didn’t get promoted. Difference in ability was minor. When coaches and rep organizations are continually promoting the same kids year after year in rep (we all know this happens)regardless of size we get the large goalies getting less skill development as they play house and get 10x less practice time. How many goalies under 6’2 in the NHL?. Yet the associations (at least mine) keep pushing the tiny fast kids who have, frankly, no long term future. Size should matter, since it does.

    Reply
    • David Hutchison

      I can’t imagine the response if a less skilled kid in minor hockey got moved up only because of size…I think the real issue is unequal development available to kids regardless of size, skill or current playing level.

      Reply
  21. bISMARCK

    This article came out in August of 2011 and, roughly 5 1/2 years later, the situation is as dire as ever. It’s fairly evident that Hockey Canada either doesn’t know how to strengthen goal-tending instruction in Canada, or doesn’t have the desire to do so.

    What purpose do these people serve again?

    The shadow of Bob Nicholson is a long one, and it’s clear that his legacy will mostly revolve around gouging Canadian hockey fans while doing nothing for the grassroots or future of Canadian hockey.

    Reply

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