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Coaching the Coaches Part Two: Role of the Goalie

Coaching the Coaches Part Two: Role of the Goalie

This is part 2 in a series of articles from guest author Ryan Honick, President GDI Southeast and Director GDI EAST. Coaching the Coaches looks not at developing goaltending coaches, instead it looks to provide some support for the many coaches who have little or no experience dealing with the men and women they rely on the most – their goalies. Ryan regularly visits with coaches at all levels to share his insights, a taste of which you will get from this series. 

I hope that our introductory article grabbed your attention and that you forwarded it on to your Head and Assistant Coaches for them to be inspired to help you stop more pucks and gain knowledge into our position of goaltending. Now we want to start diving into our world. Addressing the role of the goaltender and determining where to begin on the ice as the skills and tactics of the position are built not in isolation but upon a proper foundation that will ensure long-term continued success.

I am fortunate to work for what I believe is the top amateur program on the East Coast in the Jersey Hitmen. Their top team, now competing in the USPHL Premier Division, won the Dineen Cup last season and has been to the league finals five times in the last 10 years, winning it a 3rd time. While the goaltenders on this team have not always needed to steal the show, they have needed to be consistent, and they compete like no other club for playing time. Head Coach Toby Harris claims, “We look for a goaltender that competes and has a track record of winning big games. A goalie that is consistent in his effort, preparation, and has the ability to steal you a game when the team does not bring it’s ‘A’ game.” The development teams beneath Toby’s follow the same expectation and thrive because of it. This should begin to give you a real world idea for what the goaltender’s expectations and role should be.

Let’s break up the goalies’ role into three segments to examine how they can focus on it as a member of a team, in practices, and in games.

On Team:

  • The most important player on the team (biggest impact on outcome). This alone should inspire a goalie. This should lead to the goalie holding themselves in a high regard and desire to meet this expectation.
  • The unofficial Captain (leadership and responsibility). While a goalie cannot wear a Captain’s “C” at the highest level, they can develop the leadership qualities that so few athletes possess. Remember, leaders are not born, they are built, and it starts with the inner desire to lead, not follow. We as coaches should cultivate this in all of our players. Roberto Luongo was named the Captain of his Vancouver Canucks team a few years ago and though it proved to be a bit too much pressure for him in an already pressure-filled position, he certainly embodied what his coach was looking for most from his players that season.
  • The hardest worker (goalies do more). Plain and simple, goalies do more than their teammates. They get to the rink earlier, they get off the ice last, they get more ice time, they take more reps, they work on more defined skills and tactics, they do more individualized training in the off season, they do additional work in the gym like hand-eye reflex development and flexibility sessions, they traditionally have a more in depth pre-game/practice routine, they have more gear to manage and maintain, etc.

In Practice:

  • Develop their own game (technique and work ethic). The high volume of shots and scoring chances provides the biggest opportunity for a goalie to work on skill.
  • Challenge his teammates (compete and battle). The second a goalie chooses to let a shot go by him is the second his team loses faith in him. Goalies have to hate to get scored on, the best do. They owe it to their teammates to make it difficult to score. Challenging players makes their ability to put more pucks in the net in a game. That only makes a goalie’s life easier when someone is keeping score.
  • Learn the entire game of hockey (be well-rounded and use to anticipate). Goaltending is truly a game within a game. Goalies all too often get wrapped up in their own world and forget that they are part of the big picture. This can prove costly when the goalie does not recognize defensive zone breakdowns and cannot make split second decisions based on the situation at hand. They need to master your systems just like the players do and they need to manage the game just like your players do. Former USHL Chicago Steel Goalie Coach Kelly Gee once observed a goalie while scouting together noting, “he isn’t playing hockey out there, he is just playing goaltending.” Needless to say, that aspiring hopeful didn’t make the cut.

In Game:

  • Be a Goalie! No matter what it looks like, how it gets done, and what the situation is, just keep the puck out of the net. This is often described as the “TRUE” role of the goaltender, but it is not the only expectation.
  • Be a Stabilizing Anchor! When the team needs its goalie, they need to come through. This difficult task is met with timely saves and with them often coming on real scoring chances. Five players can easily break down, summoning the goaltender.
  • Be a Teammate and Leader! Players need to be picked up too. The goalie is in a great seat to be able to vocalize a positive message. The goalie that can put their personal problems and situation aside and be the biggest cheerleader for their teammates weather on the bench as the back-up or on the ice as the rock, when the chance presents itself, the goalie can be leaned upon.
  • Be an Inspiration! Goaltending is not going to come with many accolades. Goalies are often the player that will be scrutinized the most and take most of the blame for a loss or a poor outcome. For goalies, remembering that one goal does not define a game and that one game does not define a season is critical. However, one timely save can turn a game’s momentum, one huge save can turn around their practice performance, and one big play at a big time can inspire the surrounding players to do everything in their power to match or repay the gesture.

Now let’s come up with a long term action plan to build long term success. The following “Development Hierarchy” illustrates that a goaltender’s game is built from the ground-up. Surrounding this Technical Pyramid are other development pieces including the mental, physical, and equipment inputs that goalies must address. We will touch on those at a later time.



Development Hierarchy

  • Skating: The vital pieces that lay the foundation for what is to follow. Edge work, balance, coordination, agility, etc.
  • Position-Specific Movement: Goaltender-specific movements that one must master, enhance, and maintain each time they hit the ice.
  • Positioning: Filling as much of the net behind them as possible at all times. Only achieved by solid skating capabilities.
  • Save Response: The selected save movement, save itself, and rebound effort to not only stop the shot, but to control it. This set of skills and techniques are impossible without the prerequisites above it.
  • Post Save Response: Recovering to lost position after the save. Also known as re-positioning for the next shot. This is again done with skating and preparation skills; however, often with less time to do so. In turn, sliding and diving and battling are included here.
  • Tactics: Now that the base and save process have been built, the mind can begin rationalizing the skill sets above and place bundles of skills together to form tactical approaches. Personal preferences and experiences, strengths and limitations, and situational play are now factors here.
  • Reads: Truly the pinnacle of the technical game is “Reading the Play.” This journey should start at the beginner level and evolve throughout the course of a career. While natural for some and chaotic for others, many of the best in the business rely on feeling and reading the game over relying solely on their technical skills.

Identifying a goalies’ role and building a plan for on ice development are the first steps to their improvement and to your coaching of these athletes. In our next issue, I will finalize the foundation of the position including a discussion on positioning and defining the responsibility of a goalie’s actions in the net. I hope that you are looking forward to receiving drills that you can implement right away, but to take that next step, we will need to continue coaching YOU on the value of the fundamental aspects of the goaltending position.

Ryan Honick is a Professional Goaltending Consultant and is currently the Goaltending Coach for the USHL Green Bay Gamblers and USPHL Jersey Hitmen. Both of these team’s goalies won their respective Goaltender of the Year awards last season. He has previously coached in the ECHL for 6 seasons, along the way working with 4 goaltenders that have now played in the NHL. He consults regularly with College, USHL, NAHL, USPHL and Tier 1 teams within the United States. Ryan has also worked with the 2015, 2014, 2012, and 2010 ECHL Goaltender of the Year award winners, the 2014 USPHL-Elite Goaltender of the Year, and the 2011 EJHL Goaltender of the Year. Based in Washington DC, and Chicago, IL, GDI USA operates year-round and provides clients with a full gamut of programming. Contact Ryan directly for more information.

Ryan Honick
President GDI USA

C: (757) 641-9515
E: [email protected]

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