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Thatcher Demko has been one of the hottest goalies in the NHL in March, so now seemed like a perfect time to take a closer look at how the Vancouver Canucks emerging star gets ready on game day with goaltending coach Ian Clark.
As you’ll see in the videos below, Demko starts his preparation with a series of crease movement patterns, not unlike the preparations Winnipeg Jets goalie Laurent Brossoit shared earlier this month. From there, it’s on to static shooting work to get the hands warmed up, which will be familiar to anyone who has watched an NHL morning skate or read our introduction to this series on NHL warm ups featuring Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens.
What sets the Canucks routine apart, however, is some of the movement into shots that follows that static work to warm up the hands. So we wanted to get some insights as to why – and shooter specifics on how – they do those drills.
First, though, we’ll start with the crease movement work:
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There are specifics about some of those patterns — and the pace at which Demko performs them– that we’ll dig into with him in the (hopefully near) future but for now let’s move onto the next part of his game-day routine. Starting from the skates, and then continuing with saves from his knees, you can hear Clark call out the locations and see him gesture towards the face for the final shots:
While the Canucks have made their goaltending coach off limits to the media this season, Clark discussed his philosophy on this same morning skate routine with InGoal last season in regards to working with Jacob Markstrom, so we can relay some of those focal points that continue now with Demko and Braden Holtby.
“I always tell goalies your three greatest assets are your eyes, feet and hands, so we need to get our eyes re-acclimated, we need to get our feet re-acclimated, we need to get our hands re-acclimated, especially coming off a day off,” he said.
The key isn’t just getting those eyes and hands working together with good visual habits – Clark has long said “track incoming pucks, stay attached to outgoing pucks” because that guides goalies to their next spot, with tracking eyes serving as a “rotational compass.”
It’s also about proper hand position.
“We want the hands operating on a plane in front of them, which is essential to the goalie’s visuals and leads into proper butterfly balance, among other things,” he said.
After they’ve worked through the static shots and have the hands warmed up, Clark positions two shooters atop the face-off circles on opposite sides. Demko starts from his narrow stance at the top of the crease and then, with eyes leading, shifts down into a butterfly slide to the opposite side. Again, the hands are being worked but now with motion included. After working both sides a few times, he begins the same sequence from his knees, making a backside push, instead of a butterfly slide, back to the opposite side.
Note the timing and targeting of the shots on these sequences:
It’s interesting to note when these shots come. At a time when we hear a lot about the importance of goalies being set and square on every play as a key to success, Clark warms up his goalies with shots that come while they are still moving.
“The game is too dynamic and too unpredictable to accommodate solely static activity,” he said last year. “Due to this dynamic, unpredictable activity, we’re often having to change direction. A goalie’s overall pace includes the ability to coordinate and organize all this activity while staying within the confines of their positional range. So, in this drill we really want the puck coming to the open half of the net and there’s a bit of a reach going on because goalies must have a reactionary mindset. We’re not just blocking. For our hands to react they must also have proper structure.”
As a bonus, here’s another video of Demko on a morning skate. We missed the crease movement patterns that morning, but zoomed in closer for a lot of the static shooting. Note how he holds his visual attachment on many shots:
if you’re interested in learning more about Demko’s off-ice warm up, he talks about the evolution of that routine, if not the exact specifics now, and how letting go of complicated routines was key to his success, in this article.
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