There was a new face at the NET360 Goalie Camp this summer and he also happens to be one of the NHL’s premier puck handlers, so imagine how excited we were when Mike Smith agreed to walk the youngest camp participants through his keys to playing the puck. 17-year old Matthew Kieper of the WHL Regina Pats was at Canada’s U-18 summer camp recently and 14-year old Matthew Hutchison, entering his first year with the North Island Silvertips in the BC U18-AAA league were both happy to soak in the knowledge and work on their skills with one of the best in the business.
InGoal Magazine had a front-row seat and cameras rolling for this can’t miss session with the goalie everyone calls “Smitty,” and we’ve broken it down into a multiple-part series for our Premium Members. It started with this informative and important overview from the current Edmonton Oilers No. 1, which included an emphasis on purposeful practice, accepting mistakes the importance of skating beyond traditional crease movement patterns, and getting your defensemen and coaches on the same page about where to go on the ice:
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As Smith talked about at the end, there are drills you can do to improve your skating when it comes to getting out of – and back into – your net to play the puck, and that will be the focus of the next part in this series on puck handling. But it was also interesting to hear Smith talk about that because it echoed something that perked our ears during the coaches panel we shared recently from Hockey Canada’s 2021 Virtual Goaltending Coach Certification Seminar.
Asked whether puck handling was being taught enough to goalies at an early age, St. Louis Blues goaltending development coach Dan Stewart answered with a pretty emphatic no.
“Coaches often aren’t confident teaching that part of it, so they stay away from it,” said Stewart, who spent three years coaching the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL before taking the job with the Blues last season. “I think young goalies should be able to get out there and play it and make mistakes. You’re going to lose when the kid is 10 years old out there playing the puck, big deal. You lost a game but your goalie just learned something valuable from it, and is going to get better at playing the puck over time and not be afraid of it depending on the reaction you have to what just happened. It’s one of the things that when it messes up, it ends up being a big mess up and goalies get gun shy. When goalies got drafted to the Soo, the first thing I had to do was remove their fear of messing up when they play the puck and teach them that sometimes we’re going to hit the middle. ‘Oh, I’m not in the net. I’m not going to pass it to the middle.’ I’m like listen, our guy is low and slow there, the forecheck is set up like this, that’s the soft spot, don’t be afraid to use it and if it messes up I’ll put my hand up and say it was me that told you to do it. But I don’t think [puck handling] is worked on near enough right from the get go.”
A lot of that echoes what Smith said, and the lesson he learned early on in his NHL career from Marty Turco with the Dallas Stars. But Stewart also said goalies have to take some responsibility for their own development, and just like Smith talked about from his youth hockey days having to skate with the team, a big part of that is being willing to work outside their crease.
“It goes back to my previous point about not doing the drills that aren’t specific to the goalie,” Stewart said. “When you go out to stop pucks behind the net, there’s an element of the skating there that you learn by skating not like a goalie. When you open up your hips, when you when you drag a puck from one part above the line and drag it behind the net to use the net as protection, again, a lot of that skating is not goalie skating, and goalies often don’t want to work that stuff because they feel it’s pointless. When it comes to even just stick handling and shooting and passing the puck, a lot of the stuff that leads up to a goalie becoming good at that, goalies feel it’s not goalie specific enough, so they don’t work it.”
Thanks to Smith, we’re about to share lessons on how to work on those elements yourself, so stay tuned. And if you haven’t already, go watch that Hockey Canada coaches panel from the Virtual Goaltending Coach Certification Seminar for more of that great discussion on how to integrate puck handling for goalies, including thoughts from Smith’s goalie coach with the Edmonton Oilers, Dustin Schwartz, and new Arizona Coyotes head coach Andre Tourigny.
Enjoy the other segments in the series:
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