Between Two Worlds: An International Goalie Summer
Even as a devout metal head, I’ll never hide my deep appreciation for the legendary Johnny Cash.
One of his classic tracks that I’ve been listening to lately is “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
I know the feeling, Johnny. I’ve been on the road for nearly four straight months, traveling the world in order to conduct research for my Between Two Worlds book project.
Speaking of research, as I was looking up the origins of this ditty, I discovered that Cash’s version is actually a cover of a cover of a cover. The original song was written way back in 1959 by an Australian country singer named Geoff Mack. In 1962, it was sung and performed live by fellow Australian Lucky Starr. That same year, the song became a huge country hit in the United States thanks to the venerable Hank Snow.
Just for fun, let’s use this as a metaphor for goaltending.
For the most part, a cover is a slightly different version of the exact same lyrics and rhythm patterns of the original. Yet no two versions sound exactly the same, because they’re slightly altered to fit the timbre of each singer’s style and mood. And just like we see with goalies, even though the techniques and tactics are similar, no two styles and movement patterns are exactly the same. Yet every goalie tries to accomplish the same fundamental concept of harmonious and efficient puck-stopping.
This comparison is a perfect segue to begin previewing my second book on goaltending, which is titled “Between Two Worlds: A Comparative Analysis of Goaltending Styles in Europe and North America.”
When the project was all said and done, I traveled 24,281 miles and scouted 250 goalies from seven different countries (Canada, USA, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Estonia, and the Czech Republic).
I learned so many great things from so many great people and I’m quite thankful for the chance to share everything through articles here at InGoal Magazine over the next few months.
You will get a chance to read interview excerpts, see drill breakdowns, get some scouting reports, and a lot more as we get geared up for the new season. Included in some of these future articles here at InGoal you will find:
+ Understanding the importance of having a solid Positional Strategy
+ The “three-dimensional” breakdown of blocking and reacting saves
+ The origins and future of the Reverse-VH, known in Sweden as SMS
+ Finland’s use of the Shuffle versus North America’s use of the T-Push
+ The amazing detail in Finland’s goaltending development handbook
+ Personal observations on the current state of goaltending in the USA
+ Interview excerpts with Nykvist, Ropponen, Magnusson, Valley, etc
+ Movement-based drills used to prepare NHL goalies for the season
Overall, I gained a much deeper understanding of the development models in Finland and Sweden, as well as a lot of the obstacles and pitfalls facing Canada and the United States. I also learned the importance of clarifying simple things like diction and syntax; the words we use to explain and teach the position inevitably have slightly different meanings in different regions.
The rabbit hole goes much, much deeper than that. I learned just how much cultural and social environments shape a goalie’s development. In Finland, for example, young goalies naturally invest more time into their off-ice training, and game-preparation routines are emphasized more compared to young goalies in North America. This makes an immense difference by the time a goalie is ready to begin their collegiate or major-junior career.
Beyond all of the things I learned about the technical side of the position, however, I learned that the most important “skill” a goalie (coaches and scouts included) can have is the ability to build strong relationships.
Especially in today’s world, goalies must realize that it’s not always what you know, but who you know, how you treat them, and how you act when nobody is watching. You can learn so much if you’re simply open-minded and receptive to what is out there. But if you’re close-minded, rude, abrasive, or unwilling to try new things, you’ll do significant damage to your development process.
To give you a deeper glimpse inside the project, below are some of the amazing goalie minds I built relationships with over the summer.
Hannu Nykvist: The director of goalie development in Finland. His outlook on the mental and emotional side of the position really hammered home the importance of humility and appreciation for learning the position. His willingness to share the Finnish goalie development handbook with other coaches from other countries proved how much he cares about the development of the goalie as a whole, not just goalies in his homeland.
Thomas Magnusson: The director of goalie development in Sweden. His quiet intelligence and wisdom was very empowering to everyone around him. He is considered the Godfather of the Swedish SMS, but has the humility to preach that it’s not coaches that advance the position, but the goalies themselves. His three-dimensional approach to understanding what is truly a blocking save proved his advanced and progressive methodologies.
David Alexander: The goalie coach for the Syracuse Crunch. His work ethic, determination, focus, and upbeat coaching style was really effective with the NHL goalies in Madison, and he also did an unbelievable job organizing and editing video for all eight goalies. He’s an extremely hard-working coach and will continue to have a lot of success at the AHL and NHL level.
Jukka Ropponen: The owner of GoaliePro in Finland and one of the country’s top coaches. He was kind enough to open his home and his personal library of Finnish goaltending history to everyone who attended his 2014 Coach Mentoring Program in order to help us better understand the Finnish style, the history of goalie development in Finland, and a boat-load of drills that he uses with a lot of his top pro and collegiate students.
Joe Exter: The assistant coach for the University of Ohio and the Godfather of USA Hockey’s Warren Strelow goalie program. Exter has an absolutely incredible and motivating life story, one that has pushed many US-born goalies to be a better person, both on and off the ice. Every time I’ve been around him, he’s made me feel like I’m one of his best friends. His coaching methods are undeniably successful, too. Just ask John Gibson.
Brennan Poderzay: A pro goalie currently playing for Eindhoven Kemphanen in the Netherlands. Originally from Minnesota, I met Brennan during USA Hockey’s Select-15 Festival in Buffalo. We instantly became close friends and developed a great relationship where we both learned from each other and had the chance to coach and mentor some of the top 1999-born goalies in the country. Great coach, even better person.
Ty Ulmer: A passionate goaltender and recent cancer survivor. We met for the first time in Chicago at the GGSU Legends Camp and developed an instant bond as brothers. I’m amazed by his perseverance and strength, and I’m in awe of his positive attitude and outlook on life. Hey, it could be worse…right buddy?
I also can’t forget all of the coaches I met in Finland, including Jack Hartigan, Larry Sadler, Ted Monnich, Clint Elberts, and everyone involved in the GoaliePro program.
Not only did I make many new friendships that will last a lifetime, but I reinforced friendships with some of my closest mentors and teachers.
Once again, both Mike Valley and Mitch Korn took me under their wings and allowed me to be on the ice with them during their respective camps. Getting to know my fellow USA Hockey brethren, including Kevin Reiter, Nick Petraglia, Matt Millar and Jeff Hill at the Select 15’s Festival was an awesome experience as well. In Toronto and Chicago, I got to catch up with Eli Wilson, Kevin Weekes, Dave Hutchinson, Garret Sparks, Scott Darling, Mike Condon…the list just goes on and on and on.
As if that wasn’t enough, the final trip of my summer adventure offered me the chance to make new friendships with eight NHL goaltenders during my time at the Elite Goalies Pro Camp in Madison, including Ben Bishop, Kari Lehtonen, Anders Lindback, Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Jussi Rynnas, Dan Ellis, and Michael Hutchinson.
Going back to what I said earlier about the influence of environmental factors (think situation) on a goalie’s development, what made the recent Elite Goalie Pro Camp in Madison so amazing was the atmosphere created by eight NHL goaltenders.
Watching them learn from each other – discussing different movements and tactics in different situations and then trying out different things –was simply amazing. How they interacted with each other and made the most of their ice time each day was a real-life think tank. They all shadowed and mimicked each other, and those interactions really enhanced the learning environment.
I’ve never witnessed anything like that before, and it really reinforced the importance of sharing information and having an open mind. This facilitates growth and creativity, something that is desperately needed in all corners of the globe.
You can also go back and read my three-part recap of the seventh-annual Warren Strelow camp, which was posted on InGoal earlier this summer.
With a daunting and exhausting project like this, there’s so many people to thank. Above all else, I’m thankful for the opportunity they gave me to be a part of their camps and programs.
I’m really excited to take what I’ve learned and pass it along to coaches, goalies, parents, and anyone else interested in the position. It’s a chance for everyone to grow, and this type of growth allows us to advance as a culture and a community.
Sharing is caring, and I hope that this project reinforces that ideal within your own minds as the progression of our position reaches all-new levels.