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British Goalie Trying to Help Country’s Goaltending

British Goalie Trying to Help Country’s Goaltending
Hull Stingray and Team GB netminder Ben Bowns is working to improve British puck stopping. (Photos by  Graham Goodman, all rights reserved).

Hull Stingray and Team GB netminder Ben Bowns is working to improve British puck stopping. Photos by Graham Goodman (www.flyfifer.co.uk) all rights reserved.

James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail recently published a brilliant piece on the falling standards of Canadian goaltending. You can read the full article here (and I strongly recommend that you do), but in short Mirtle looks at how nations like Sweden and Finland changed their approach to the position, and why Canada is fallen behind as a result.

One particular part stuck out for me:

“The Finns invested in developing goalies after realizing they could be a great equalizer for a small country.”

A small nation, investing in goaltending? Great Britain is a small nation (in hockey terms), but the lack of investment in goaltending has been a bugbear for British puck stoppers for years now.

There are those who are trying to change attitudes, however. Hull Stingray’s and Team GB netminder Ben Bowns is one of them.

“It’s something I’ve been saying for a while that I’d like to do. However, I’ve never really known what steps to take or what I needed to do,” Bowns told me. But the former Sheffield junior is now hopeful that the road to change is, slowly, being built.

“I’m working on something with Tony Hall (Technical Director for the North & Course Administrator for the EIHA), we’ll hopefully get to run some seminars to teach coaches the basics of goaltending, and how to run effective sessions specific to goaltenders,” he said. “We’d also like to help them understand how they can involve goalies more in regular practices too.

“It’s well known that the British game is lacking top British goalies. The position is overlooked in the UK, especially at junior level. Obviously being a goalie myself, and knowing how difficult it is for a Brit goalie, is one of the main reasons why I wanted to do something about it.”

While the project is still in its early stages, I asked Bowns where he hoped this new endeavour might lead.

“It would be nice to end up with an actual goalie coaching level system, a bit like Sweden, but that is along way away,” he said. “It would have to be approved by the IIHF, and before that has to by approved by the Head of Coaching for the EIHA. So obviously there’s a lot of things that could stop it happening. It’s the reason why we’re taking small steps, to try and get there.”

As a junior, Bowns grew up under the Sheffield development system, which has produced a number of top players and goaltenders in recent years. It was a system that put him in good stead for the future.

“I can’t begin to explain how good the Sheffield junior system was back when I was there,” Bowns said. “We had great coaches, and the players were of a high calibre too. You got great coaching, and from my point of view I was also (facing) shots from the best in the country every practice. You were never held back, but also never rushed.

“We had help a lot more often than at other clubs. Matt Darlow helped coach goalies a lot throughout the years I was there and older goalies like Alex Mettam would coach younger goalies like myself, and run goalie sessions. Then you’d combine that with the inter-club competition and you’re on to a winning system.”

His time in Sheffield also helped Bowns develop mentally, as well as technically.

“We had unbelievable head coaches like Jon Rowbotham, Martin White and Craig Webster. They made sure everyone stayed level headed and disciplined. When your winning all the time it’s easy to get ahead of yourself as a kid, but they kept our feet planted.”

Sadly Bowns doesn’t feel the same standards of excellence have been maintained in the Steel City, with external factors playing their part.

“Unfortunately, in my eyes, the club has changed now,” he said. “It’s sad to see. It’s not just at Sheffield, but in every club; the parents are too involved with their children and their children’s teams. When we were young, most parents stayed out of it and let the kids get on with it. I never experienced having a coach who had a son or daughter in the team. Now, you see kids not getting in the A team so parents throw a paddy and transfer their child to the next club, where they think they’ll get in that A team.”

Ben Bowns in action. Photo by Graham Goodman (www.flyfifer.co.uk), all rights reserved)

Ben Bowns in action. Photo by Graham Goodman (www.flyfifer.co.uk), all rights reserved)

Bowns is not the first player to notice the changing trend in ‘parental involvement,’ a problem which seems to becoming increasingly prominent both here and abroad.

“In the long run, 95 per cent of the time this has a negative effect on the kids career,” the Stingrays stopper said.

It’s hard to disagree.

“I know, without a doubt, that I wouldn’t be where I am now without my parents, and I’ll never be able to repay them for that. But the difference between them and current parents is that they let me fight my own battles on the ice,” Bowns continued. “If I didn’t make a team they told me to do something about and prove people wrong. That’s how it should be, let the kids do their bit on the ice, work hard and they’ll improve faster than if they’re mollycoddled!”

The opportunities Bowns had at Sheffield are not reflected at all clubs, however. At present only a few clubs, such as Widnes and Peterborough, have dedicated goalie coaches, and so for many summer clinics are vital to their development.

I first met Bowns as a teenager during my own playing days. We both attended the Great British Goaltending Clinic in Guildford, then run by former Great Britain netminder Joe Watkins. Bowns was one of the brightest goaltending prospects in the UK at the time, and has since gone on to much greater things, but Watkin’s clinics, which are still going under the guidance of Joe’s brother and Telford Head Coach Tom, have also helped Bracknell netminder Alex Mettam and former Coventry stopper Thomas Murdy during their career.

I asked Bowns about the importance of these clinics in the current landscape, and how he’d like their role to develop in the future.

“The role of goaltending clinics in the UK is huge. That’s why I decided to set up my own for next summer – the Ben Bowns International Goalie Clinic. I’ve employed coaches that I know are not only great goalies, but great coaches too,” he said. “The biggest bugbear for me with the UK goalie schools is that a goalie, or their parents, have to pay a lot of hard earned money to attend, they turn up and the standard of shooting, in my eyes, is often not adequate; except for a few shooters who may play EPL or NIHL and have kindly offered to help out. That’s why at the BBIG Clinic we’ll be using shooters that I would want shooting at me during my goalie specific practice and drills.”

“We’ve already had four Elite League players agree to come down and act as shooters at the camp, which I’m extremely happy about.”

Bowns has learned from his time as both a pupil and a coach at similar camps, and hopes that they form an integral part of the development system in the future:

“There’s always things at goalie camps that you agree with and things you don’t agree with; but on a whole the camps that run in this country are very, very good,” he said. “In the end, I think it would be ideal if all the goaltending clinics could link up with each other, rather than trying to compete with each other. But that is for another day and is a lot easier said than done.”

One area that is difficult to overcome is the cost. Hockey is expensive at the best of times, but goaltending equipment carries an extra financial cost. It’s a problem even in established nations like Canada and can provide a barrier to young boys and girls who want to try their hand at goaltending.

“Sheffield used to have a set of goalie equipment that people could use to see if they like playing the position first before their parents invested thousands,” Bowns said, adding, “That should be possible at every club. But the funding isn’t always there for that kind of thing. It would have to be given to the club by past goalies when they’ve grown out of it.”

It’s certainly a tough issue to overcome, as are a number of the hurdles British netminders have to deal with during their careers, but with players like Bowns trying to improve attitudes towards goaltending the future feels a little brighter.

About The Author

Rob McGregor

A member of the InGoal Magazine family since 2014, Rob is also Media Manager for the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) in the UK and a former goaltender in Great Britain's third tier National League (NIHL).

7 Comments

  1. joe Feeney

    I believe it is extremely important to bring up goaltending more in the debate about “player” development and goaltending in general. There has been a large push toward the “Butterfly” style and a push of a style, as opposed to playing the position as a goalie! As a goalie coach, I have seen numerous different players come into the position and have vast differences in athleticism, body size and personal positioning styles. THere have ben kids who have had the position of the classic Tony Espositio, and others who stood much like Bernie Parent. I would be as wrong to push a butterfly style on the kid setting up like Bernie Parent as a stand up style on the kid setting up like Tony Esposito! I show and teach techniques from all styles, telling the new goalie to play the position, and even adapt and adopt the techniques into my own game. It is important to work on coaches who have not played the position and help them see how the goalie can not just be a target, or expected to stop everything with no actual coaching!

  2. Peter Buscombe

    I’ve had the opportunity to be coached by Ben Bowns at the Best of British Ice Hockey Camp in summer 2013, and can honestly say he will probably be remembered as the guy who made GB known for its goaltending. Through various camps, and clubs I’ve been coached by a number of people, qualified coaches and local goalies who are just willing to help out, but non have had the passion and flare for goalie tuition that Bowns has. Rather than teaching a specific style, he taught skills and techniques, some of which I use more than others, and this has allowed me to continue my development and create a style and repertoire that works for me. It’s good that Bowns is young and has achieved so much for a British goaltender to have him as a coach, but its great that when you talk to him you know he has a real passion for making British grown goaltenders better.

  3. paul szabo

    Sorry to hear that in the UK hockey is experiencing the same disease as in Canada- parents getting involved in a detrimental way and putting politics in sports where it shouldn’t be. The only way to counter this is for there to be more and better qualified goalie specialists at all levels, so that decisions made can be backed up with substance. Even then, as we see over here, kids end up being the pawns in their parents’ machinations…

    • Robert

      EncFrom rob I know that parents are a problem I’ve seen it first hand.I’ve seen kids being pulled from pillar to post it’s sad to see when you know the kids just want to play hockey it’s a bit of an epidemic! My son is a goaltender he’s12 this year played conference level and had trials for England he will also be attending Tom Watkins goalie clinic in July.You must understand that a lot of time and effort is put in from parents,don’t get me wrong that doesn’t mean that it is a licence to abuse coaches.We are lucky that coaches volunteer their time.You mentioned politics earlier or in the article I see it everywhere with coaches and parents so let’s not get involved in blame culture and actually set some boundaries what they are I don’t know we’ll let the powers to be decide that!Lots of times I see my son at training and its just target practice no cutting down angles challenging pucks just shooting drills.Basic knowledge a good solid home is built with a good foundation.Look at Ben Bowns at worlds great saves kept GB in hunt,that alone should be a wake up call for all coaches please lets not isolate our goalies let’s give them a go it only takes 5 min during training just a bit of direction it will pay big dividends on ice.concerned goalie dad

  4. Tomas Hertz, MD, BA

    If someone would paid for my travel costs, food and lodging , I would be happy to come a help!
    How do you make in roads to a football loving nation though?

  5. Tomas Hertz, MD, BA

    would pay ….sorry!

  6. Michael McLaughlin

    I think the worst problem for young goalies like me is cost, i can’t afford pads let a lone other coaching from where i play. i play at braehead for braehead junior ice hockey club but they do not play competitively and any other team is too expensive i would love to play more but it is too epensive