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Coaching the Coaches: Save Process and Positioning

Coaching the Coaches: Save Process and Positioning

This is part three 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 want to be sure this is all practical application of goalie development for coaches. Therefore, I will not dive into too much technical theory and jargon. I do however want to provide some thoughts on goaltender positioning and be sure you have a clear understanding of the goaltenders’ save process.


goalie coachingI’ll touch on positioning because it is most often the reason for a goal against at younger levels. Goalies want to fill as much of the net as possible at all times. By filling the “Space”, or the relationship between the puck and the net behind them, the goalie gives himself the best chance to be hit by a puck, and to make a controlled first save. But don’t forget our pre-requisite skating requirements to achieve optimal positioning. We can all see when a goalie is off angle and should point it out to them, but are you seeing the ice from the bench view and not from the actual “puck’s eyes”? Angle is simply a straight line out to any puck from the center of the goal line. The goalie must stand evenly on angle with his belly (or logo) passing straight through it, feet and hands evenly distributed from the center of angle, etc. Now squareness is applied, this is the goalies actual stance, weather up (or down in the butterfly) and is unique to each goalie based on anatomy, gear, and technical selections. Both shoulders and both feet, hands, etc. are facing the puck and are showing as much of themselves to it as possible. Lastly depth is applied. Depth is the distance from the goal line. Depth is really a luxury and is the first thing that is altered after a read of the play is gained. Generally if back door threats exist, conservative depth is required, if none, then the goalie is free to “take away the angle” by adding depth and focus on the puck carrier. While some goalies are more aggressive than others, the modern philosophy is to play deeper to the net. Coaches and goalies have to be careful to not fall into the trap of witnessing your favorite NHL goalie standing on the goal line and attempting to do the same. He is likely over 6-feet tall and possesses reflexes that our 4-foot tall 10-year olds do not. If we are working with a mature midget goalie for example, they might be able to have success with this approach, but must experiment with it before excusing is as simply something that works for others. Much discussion though needs to take place and endless situational assessment along with personal ability and preference assessments must be made before making this choice. Standing high or low is fine as long as it is working for the given play. Depth and stance are unique to each and every goalie and should not be altered unless early development or real change are required within their games. For our young ones, the basics should be applied, and learning to play on top of the crease and beyond, in addition to developing the skating ability to do so, is vital to long term progression.

The Save Process

The goalie’s job is essentially three things: It is a sequence of events that repeats itself time and time again. In a timeline fashion, there is point when a play develops and an eventual shot is taken. Long before this event, the goalie has done the bulk of his work. He has prepared for the play by reading the situation, moving to his desired position, communicated with his teammates, set his feet and locked in his stance, among other things, all in an effort to best prepare for the initial shot on goal. After the event, he must find his rebound, again prepare for the next shot, often with much less time to do the same tasks required of him but a moment ago. In between these activities was the event we concentrate on and analyze the most, he attempted to make a save. The shot either went in the net or it was saved. This single action is certainly the most important piece of the sequence, but a consistent success rate is going to be dictated by what is happening long beforehand and shortly after. A goalie must, 1. Prepare for the shot, 2. React to the shot, and 3. Recover to the shot. This is goaltending. All facets of the on ice physical game lie within the save process as it is the natural sequence of events required of any goalie and at any level of the game. The only exception to this is of course the goalie transitioning the puck, handling it outside of the net to initiate the breakout.

goalie save process


Are you utilizing your goalies in your practices? All too often are goalies left out to dry. While no team practice should be designed specifically for the goaltenders (there are 18+ other important cogs), each drill should consider the goaltender and his interactions within it. How will the goalie improve in this drill? What are his challenges? It is not just about stopping the puck. It is about developing his skill set and competing with his teammates.

Are you and the goalies fulfilling the Save Process? If not, you will only teach them to execute these steps incorrectly.
The “Pace” of the drill must be considered. Does the goalie have enough time in between reps to position for the shot, enough time to stop and control it, and enough time to recover or play any rebound given, before setting up again for the next rep? If not, the pace may be too fast. Be careful here that the goalie is working to fulfill the save process as well. Most coaches I know want their practices to be of a high tempo with multiple players involved at once. This should be the case, it creates real game like situations, while keeping players motivated and having fun throughout the course of the long season. Once underway, no one wants to have two players moving on the ice at a time, while the rest of the team loses its focus at the end of a long line. But when these practices are at the expense of the goalie, who falls victim to shot after shot with no time to focus on his own tasks, the reward does not outweigh the sacrifice. ECAC Quinnipiac University Men’s Head Coach Rand Pecknold recently commented to me on the use of his 2013 Hobey Baker Finalist star goaltender Eric Hartzell. “The one thing we always did with Eric was to have a plan every practice to make him better. Whether we got on early with him for private goalie sessions or incorporated drills for puck handling/decision making within practice, he was engaged and his compete level was excellent.”

Now we have laid the foundation for you to best develop your goaltenders. Through our 1st three articles of this series we have paved the way for you to investigate some concepts within your goaltenders’ games. We will next advise you on what goalies need to concern themselves with the most and how you can easily implement this into your practice plans.

If you enjoyed this article, check out part two of the series.

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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  1. Melissa Gill

    Great article that all coaches should read. Too many times do I watch practice and see the goalie not involved due to skating drills. Also not too many coaches know how to help train a goalie unless they played that position. USA hockey should have this as required reading for all coaches.

  2. Cal Zone

    As a goalie, my biggest pet peeve is not being able to get set for the next play in a drill line. After I make my save, the guys get to eager to do their thing that Im never set for the next guy in line, and that was the one thing mentioned above. Great article, maybe post this to the other players on the ice