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Carey Rie looking down ice close up

By: Justin Goldman – The Goalie Guild

During the final three days of the upcoming 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship tournament in Gothenburg, the Swedish Ice Hockey Association will be hosting the International Hockey Convention.

This coaching symposium, conducted entirely in English, is comprised of two tracks. One is for head coaches and the other is for goalie coaches. Participants gain access to both tracks, however, and get free passes to all four medal-round tournament games.

The convention’s focus is on guiding coaches, “through the complex world of player development,” with guest speakers shining a light on key areas of sports research like skill acquisition, psychology, physiology, and other hockey-specific domains.

Confirmed guests include Joe Baker, Maria Mountain, David Alexander (virtual), Ken Martel, Steve Thompson, Maciej Szwoch, Magnus Helin, Phil Osaer (virtual) and more.

Sweden’s last goalie coaching symposium was held in Malmö in 2014. That event was a huge success and major catalyst for collaboration between Sweden, North America, Europe, and other hockey nations. Although the pandemic stymied international in-person events like these for nearly three years, history is expected to repeat itself in Gothenburg. Goalie coaches from a total of 11 countries will be spending three days learning, sharing, networking, and watching the World Juniors tournament together.

I have spent the past decade attending and hosting goalie coaching symposiums, but I missed the 2014 Malmo event. That’s why I’m so excited to not only return to Sweden for the first time since 2015, but also catch my first World Juniors. And just like my “Between Two Worlds” journey to Finland in 2014, I’ll be documenting my experience and sharing what I learn with coaches everywhere.

As an early primer for the event, I spoke with three of the guest speakers about their latest research and key ideas heading into Gothenburg. We also discussed why coaching conventions like these are so important for goalie coaches everywhere.

All three speakers revealed some interesting common threads, which I believe is further reflected by the event’s focus on promoting a more integrative approach to goalie and player development.

I’ll start with Steve Thompson, who has been at the forefront of USA Hockey goalie development since May of 2019. Check back next week for Part II, which includes insights from David Alexander (St. Louis Blues) and Maciej Szwoch (Farjestad BK).

Steve Thompson – USA Hockey Goaltending

Steve Thompson, Goaltending Development Manager for USA Hockey, is co-presenting in Gothenburg to the wider coaching track with his counterpart Ken Martel, Senior Director of Player and Coach Development. On the following day, Steve will be giving a sole presentation directly to the goalie coaches.

“The goal with Ken is to showcase how we can be more collaborative in practices and make goalie training more of a ‘hockey’ thing and less of a ‘skills coach’ thing,” Thompson said.

To accomplish this, Steve will be documenting certain parts of NTDP team practices, along with the position-specific sessions run by goalie coach David Lassonde.

“I want to share some solutions on how we can make drills within a team environment more ‘goalie-centered’ while also allowing for more decision-making and even more fidelity in our various training sessions,” Steve explained. “This will hopefully lead to more thoughtful play-reading goalies.”

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Thompson plans to include strategies on how goalie coaches can be more involved in team practices, including how to better communicate with head and assistant coaches. As their research will show, both Thompson and Martel believe this more integrative approach will help all coaches create smarter athletes with a higher game IQ.

“Instead of sometimes feeling like we’re on an island, and like we can only do these ‘goalie things’ in our own time and space, Ken and I want coaches to see it more like a hockey-centric and collaborative solution,” Thompson said.

While Steve will speak from the goalie’s perspective during their co-presentation, Ken plans to dive deeper into the technical details of learning and skill acquisition. That includes examples of how coaches can ensure that learning happens everywhere — within the same drills, practices, and training formats for all positions on the ice.

“Right now, for a lot of coaches, it’s seen as this dichotomy of either it’s good for the forwards and defensemen or it’s good for the goalies, but it can’t be symbiotic. We’re trying to remove that ‘old fear’ we often have and provide ways that we can do it better.”

Steve’s goalie-specific presentation will include some of the same principles, while also piggybacking off a presentation he gave at the Global Goaltending Retreat in 2022. At the GGR, Steve walked coaches through a continuum of how to train a specific skill in various practice environments. This included block training, unopposed, opposed, small-sided, small-area games, and then finally, how it would look in a real game.

“I’m trying to encourage some creativity with our goalie coaches by expanding their wings and showing them how to incorporate more small-sided and opposed training. I want to get them away from the mindset of doing everything in a block or ‘one-on-one’ technique-centered environment,” Thompson explained. “My argument is that we’re not doing the best we can for our goalies when we always live in a technique-centered world.”

Overall, it appears that Thompson (and Martel) will be placing an emphasis on taking a step back from this trend of over-isolating goalies from the team practice environment. Instead, they want to encourage coaches to explore new and effective ways to design drills that integrate multiple positions together through a game-representative approach.

“We can challenge our kids a little more by being more creative in smaller spaces,” Thompson said. “We can invite more players to our goalie-specific lessons so it’s not just the goalie and the coach, which can limit so much decision-making and fidelity.”

While the in-person collaboration between Sweden and USA has ramped up the past few years, this is Thompson’s first time visiting the country since he joined USA Hockey. He’s certainly no stranger to international coaching events, but with this one happening at the height of the World Juniors, he believes it will have a bit more significance.

“I’ve always heard such amazing things about Sweden’s development model and how they run their youth clubs, so I’m excited to meet some of their youth hockey coaches and learn how different the culture is on goaltending development,” he said. “I’m excited to see what we can borrow and bring back here after getting to live it for a week.”

“Living it” hasn’t been easy for goalie coaches over the past three or four years, but with all eyes on Gothenburg and the World Juniors later this month, this convention is shaping up to be an immersive and impactful learning experience for everyone involved.

“I think I’m most excited for the conversations with everyone around the presentations,” Steve reflected. “I always love bumping elbows with coaches after these talks and getting ideas on how to expand the concepts being discussed. I like picking people’s brains on the presentations and seeing how they relate to some of the visions that we have at USA Hockey.”

The three days together will fly by, but the connections and friendships that will be made in Gothenburg is sure to have a positive impact on goaltending for many years to come.

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