Select Page

Coaching the Coaches: Transition System

Coaching the Coaches: Transition System

This is part seven in a series of articles from guest author Ryan Honick, President GDI Southeast, GDI Midwest and Director GDI EAST, WEST. 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.

Transition System

AMongst his many accolades, recently retired future hall of famer Martin Brodeur was arguably the finest puckhandling goaltender the game has seen.

Amongst his many accolades, recently retired future hall of famer Martin Brodeur was arguably the finest puckhandling goaltender the game has seen. Scott Slingsby photograph.


It should now be an expectation of all goaltenders to be a catalyst for the breakout. Once at the 9-10 year old Squirt level, begin to encourage your goalies to handle the puck. By the 15-18 year old Midget level of play, goalies should be efficient at this skill set and in many cases this art can be an asset to the team. Since a few famous NHL goalies (Brodeur, Turco, and today’s best, Smith) became known as a 3rd defenseman on their squads, this has spawned an additional demand on the goalies to not only possess the skills to be able to stop a rim and make a pass, but to be smart and creative decision makers when in possession of the puck.

As I watch different levels of play, it becomes very obvious to me that this ability is grotesquely under-practiced. Either the team doesn’t have a plan, or the goalies are simply not good at it. We as goalie coaches touch on this, but with limited space and players in our drills, nothing compares to the real game time pressure of a hungry fore-check and a 10-player read of the situation. Much like the skating analogy in part one of our series, your goalie will never be your top defenseman. Your D will even make many mistakes with the puck on their sticks (and they get to practice this skill on a play-by-play daily basis) so expect your goalies to make these same mistakes and miscues. How will anyone learn from their errors if they are not permitted to make them? Be patient with these goalie gaffs. The first time they make one, take time to correct it, do NOT simply tell the goalie to just stay in their net and let the players do the work. This archaic mentality is completely missing the value that the goalie can bring to neutralizing the fore-check and to initializing the breakout.

I worked with the ECHL Greenville Road Warriors for two seasons recently and picked up the most I had ever learned from Head Coach Dean Stork, a true tactician and methodical preparer. “With the speed of hockey increasing each year, it is vital for each team to have a goalie that can make plays with pucks on breakouts. Players are so fast on the fore-check, so having a goalie who can help the two defensemen is the key to success and winning. Having a third defenseman back there helps!!” Dean demands an understanding of his system and expects goaltender compliance. You as a coach must embrace and demand this modern skill set. Create your team’s system.

The winner of the fore-check vs. breakout battle is the team that times it all best. Transitioning the puck from D to O is all about timing, so the goalie must be poised, quick, and simple with his decisions. On the flipside, if you have a goalie that wants to over handle the puck, then corrections must be made. It is best to develop a simple system that the goalie and defenseman can execute. Coach Stork continues, I have 5 commands. They are simple, short, and easy to communicate. I teach the entire team in a group setting before practice and then use simple half-ice puck dump drills where the players are loud and talking to the goalie. It needs to be quick and clean every time, executing tape to tape passes, nothing less.” This is especially worked into the game-day skate.

Below is an advanced drill simulating a one forward fore-check with two defensemen back-checking in order to provide the goalie with different options of what to do with the puck once in possession. It is important to develop the fundamental side of this tactic before testing with this type of drill. Goalies have to spend time skating out of the net to retrieve pucks, having awareness, being mobile once there, stick-handing, pivoting to face up ice, passing it, using the glass, setting the puck, and returning to their goal mouth, etc. Design drills that provide non-pressure opportunities for these fundamental skills also. Make sure the goalie understands that the puck is on their stick; therefore, they are responsible for making the right play.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 12.47.12 PM

Drill: “5 Calls” Fore-Check Reads

  1. D1 either rims a puck around, dumps it in on net, or chips it in deep, then posts up at the hashmarks. D2 backchecks hard to the weakside corner or can continue behind the net
  2. F1 chooses to take away one or the other D w/ pressure or fore-check the puck, but must deliberately be on the strong or weakside of the ice
  3. G must handle the puck and read the fore-check pressure, listening for the D or Coach’s calls: “Up” meaning to the same side D that it was given, “Over” meaning to the other side of the ice, “Cover It” and “Rim It” if no pass options exist, and “Leave It” if no pressure exists and the weakside D can pick it up
  4. Once D has possession, the drill ends or the option to cycle out for a quick 2 on 1 play can happen

Key Teaching Points

  1. G’s can play an integral role initiating the breakout. If we can neutralize the fore-check and make an efficient, quick play, we have done our best work. Over handling and taking risks is not what a coach asks.
  2. Changing sides (“over”) alleviates pressure from incoming F’s.
  3. Verbal communication and visual awareness are vital.
  4. G must remember that verbal is not the only input that makes the decision, but that their eyes are equally important and used to make the final decision.
  5. Details like tape-to-tape direct/indirect passes, facing up ice, and leaving the puck settled on the forehand side of the D picking up behind the net should also be added.

Very few coaches I have come in contact with have a system in place. This neglect can create disaster. Different teams use different fore-checks, and part of your strategy should involve the goalie. I’m sure you’d agree that communication on the ice is paramount, so we also need to work our goalies into the verbal side of the game. They can be the quarterback dictating what they need from the defense as well. Telling the goalie to always do one thing and one thing only, like either leave it for his D or to always make the pass, is a flawed approach. Teaching the team to work in unison, to read the fore-check pressure, and to know the breakout pattern is the right approach. This takes time and ability and should be a daily endeavor. Give your goalies the opportunity to develop this skill set and take advantage of it.

Soon in our series, we will skate off of the ice and begin your journey of managing the goaltender’s mind. What we will find is that you hold the ace in your hand, playing the game of a goaltender’s development.

 See the other articles in this series:

Link to Part 1: Intro

Link to Part 2: Role of the Goalie

Link to Part 3: Save Process and Positioning

Link to Part 4: Five Ways Goals Go In

Link to Part 5: Drills

Link to Part 6: Battle Mindset

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]

About The Author