Select Page

Coaching the Coaches: Goaltender Accountability

Coaching the Coaches: Goaltender Accountability

This is part ten in a series of articles from guest author Ryan Honick, President GDI USA. 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.


“In my opinion, accountability is the cornerstone of a successful team, regardless of position.” claims Jim Hunt. He is a staple within USA Hockey in many roles and at multiple levels. He has been the Hockey & Coaching Director for the USPHL Jersey Hitmen organization for the past 12 years. This program knows how to win!

Accountable is defined as: Required to explain actions or decisions to someone, required to be responsible for something, an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions. We all know what it means, but to see it put so bluntly, I’m not sure if I even know many “accountable goaltenders”. This is probably one of the toughest attributes to teach your team, and probably one of the most important life lessons you possibly could.

I lead off every post game discussion with a goalie, young or old, by asking them how they think they played. The answers range from honest to bald faced lies, but we work together to get to the bottom of challenges, identify strengths, and come to an agreement about the overall rating and assessment of a game. This is always a private conversation and the goalies know that it will remain that way. It will be candid and open, it will be brutal and critical, and it will be complimentary and positive. But above all else, they are learning to be accountable for their performance. “The Coach’s reaction to mistakes on the ice should be consistent, appropriate, and constructive, in order to eliminate similar mistakes in future.” explains Hunt.

In some cases, these discussions occur in front of a lap top or iPad. We are viewing video together. Ever heard “Video doesn’t lie”? Talk about accountability. I will discuss the value of Video Review for Goalies in another article. For now, it is a good example of a way to teach this topic to our goaltenders.  

Oh the blame that goalies put on everyone else. It was backdoor…it was a breakaway…it was a power play…I was screened. The lack of accountability! I say “So what, we need a good goalie to make good saves. Are you a good goalie? Because we will get someone who can make those saves if not.” Now don’t use that line more than once, and don’t expect it to breed any confidence. But this is the reality of the position. The goalie is the last line. If the D did a perfect job, the shots would be 0 to 0. Regardless of the circumstances, we need a save. However, be realistic when judging your goals against. What was the chance of it going in? What chance did the goalie have to make the save? I feel every goal against is stoppable somehow or someway. I like to think that some goalie somewhere would have found a way to make that save. But we are only human. Of course those plays above are tougher to save, we all understand that, and those are also the goals that we are often accepting of, those are all good goals, right? It’s the shots that are clearly stoppable that we want them to own up to. The “easy saves” that can never go in. Those are the ones we need the goalie to own up to and understand that if too many of them do go in, then we are going to need someone else to give it a try. That is the brutal truth of the matter. The goalie is always so afraid of failure, afraid of disappointment, afraid of accountability.


Using the game environment, we try to teach our players and goalies this message, it’s key to make it clear from the get go. Coach Hunt adds, “Taking ownership of every decision, every shift, every shot, every save, puts the control of the outcome squarely where it belongs, on the players. Once they own the game, they own the outcome. A coach’s primary responsibility is to prepare athletes for competition. Once the event starts, the well prepared players dictate the outcome.” Easy examples of this include having the D and goalie on the same page with how they want even and odd man rushes played, being aware of power play set ups, and when the goalie is handling the puck, sticking with the desired system to initiate the breakout (the topic of part 7 in this series). This will help make all parties accountable.


In practice, a goalie can really learn this trait. Force them to work hard, get them to work extra, encourage them be the “First on-Last off” type of worker. Challenge them with their weekday practice effort weighing into their weekend game time. Make it a competition between the goaltenders. Small area games are a great indicator of who competes harder, (not who stays on their knees the entire time for drills in tight). Do not take the label “Practice Goalie” as an excuse for poor performance. If you know the goalie simply is that, so be it, but he will eventually have to out-work a teammate or opponent for playing time down the road. Get them to realize this and strive for better practice habits. I have seen many cases in college how a goalie has sat for 3 years watching a teammate play and not until they are thrust into the spotlight does the coach realize what he has had the entire time. Coaches cannot help but to put blame on poor practices and label the inferior goalie. I believe it is truly is a “Position of Opportunity”, in that you don’t know what you have until you have to play them. All goalies need to be aware of this and use it to develop accountability.


To me the pinnacle of the goalie’s Mental Game, is Leadership. This is not obtained in any way without accountability. We cannot have our captain, or unofficial captain (the guy in pads), finger pointing. Accepting blame for goals against will dramatically lead to respect and trust amongst teammates and coaches. Our Mental Conditioning Coach, Ted Monnich tells the story. “The goalie’s job is to stop the shot. When a defenseman messes up, it’s his job to cover for them and make the big save. The D will feel bad enough to have done a poor job and have made the goalie’s job harder. If the frustrated goalie takes it out on the teammate, the defenseman will feel even worse. If this becomes a regular occurrence, the players will become resentful of the goalie. However, if the goalie focuses on his job, makes the save, and tells the players not to worry about their mistakes, or even accepts the blame for a goal, then he will gain their loyalty and become a leader.”

Our next article will branch off from this one. We should expect some form of leadership from our goaltenders. If they possess accountability, then they can lead.

 See the other articles in this series:

Part 1: Intro
Part 2: Role of the Goalie
Part 3: Save Process and Positioning
Part 4: Five Ways Goals Go In
Part 5: Drills
Part 6: Battle Mindset
Part 7: The Transition System
Part 8: Communication/Buy-In/Style
Part 9: Naming and Relieving Your Starter


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

1 Comment

  1. Terry Jarkow

    Excellent article! Jim Hunt was my 1st Jr hockey coach and a big reason for my success as a Jr goalie.