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Don’t Always Trust Your Defense: Clear the Zone First … then Relax!

Don’t Always Trust Your Defense: Clear the Zone First … then Relax!
Mark Dekanich handoff behind net

Just because you left the puck in a perfect spot for the defense to clear the zone doesn’t mean you can relax.

One thing I always encourage goaltenders to do when the puck is in their own zone is never to relax and trust the defensemen.

I realize this may be an unpopular statement with some people, but both defensemen and forwards occasionally let their goaltender down, albeit accidentally, with sloppy errors in decision-making and execution. What sometimes seems like a controlled situation can quickly lead to a turnover and a goal.

It is for this reason that I say “clear the zone first, then relax.”

One situation that leads to problems is when a goaltender stops a dump and places the puck behind the net for a teammate to recover. If the goaltender sees a hard fore-check on his or her teammate, they must appreciate puck possession may be lost behind the net. This may be due to poor ice, a slip or fall or an effective stick or body check by the opponent. On an extremely rare occasion the stick blade may also catch in the cracks of the back-plate.

The point is puck possession is lost. A goaltender that remains too casual in a situation like this may all of a sudden have let in a goal that was quite possibly preventable with a bit more focus and less trust.

Two famous goals in Stanley Cup history will no doubt never been forgotten by goaltending enthusiasts or by the participants themselves.

The first goal occurred in Game 7 of the 1986 play-off series between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames. A Calgary player lightly dumped the puck into the Oilers zone. Grant Fuhr came out and placed the puck for defenseman Steve Smith. Fuhr most certainly felt the situation was under control as Smith had time to move the puck. Smith ended up scoring an own goal that will be remembered for quite some time.

The second goal was scored in Game 5 of the 2007 Stanley Cup Final between the Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks.

In a sloppy and somewhat pressured exchange between Chris Phillips and Senator goaltender Ray Emery, Phillips own goal won the series for the Ducks and secured his place in sport’s blunder history along with many excellent athletes like Bill Buckner, Scott Norwood and Roberto Baggio.

Whatever technique you use to keep track of the play behind the net, it's important to keep doing so until the zone is cleared.

Whatever technique you use to keep track of the play behind the net, it’s important to keep doing so with strong focus until the zone is cleared.

Whether a goaltender should use the “windows” approach by looking over their shoulder, the “stay down” technique or wrap technique with paddle down is not for this author to determine. Each goalie will determine that with which they feel most comfortable and have the most success. However, all must recognize this is a potentially dangerous situation requiring a heightened degree of focus.

Problems may also occur with poor “first-pass” decision-making by defensemen. Players are generally taught to move the puck up the sides and avoid cross-ice passes in their own zone. Despite these teachings, mental errors happen on a routine basis and most certainly at the minor hockey level. I have attended many games where intercepted cross-ice passes lead to a great scoring opportunity. The unsuspecting goaltender is not set and lets in what may be a preventable goal.

A defenseman who decides to carry the puck out of his own zone is also prone to turnovers. He may try to dangle too much or may not have any puck support, both of which can lead to giveaways.

A final example of sloppy play occurred in the opening game of the 2012 Memorial Cup Championships. Due to lack of mental focus or soft ice conditions, Keegan Lowe of the Edmonton Oil Kings coughed up the puck in his own slot. Edmonton’s goaltender was caught slightly off guard and Michael Chaput scored a goal.

In conclusion, remember you can’t take anything for granted as a goaltender.

Decision-making and execution errors frequently occur with seemingly routine situations in every zone of the ice surface.

Remember things can change very quickly.

Don’t assume everything is under control just because your teammate has the puck.

Don’t get caught off guard.

About The Author

Tomas Hertz, MD BA

Tomas Hertz has been a contributing author to InGoal Magazine since 2010. He operated  "No Holes, No Goals Goaltending" in Kingston, Ontario for a decade and worked with developing goalies in the G.K.M.H.A. and K.A.M.H.A. He remains active as a timekeeper in the O.M.H.A. - O.W.H.A., the O.J.H.L. (Kingston Voyageurs), and the O.U.A.A. (R.M.C. Palladins). 

1 Comment

  1. Rick Evoy

    In the 12 years I have been coaching Goalies at an elite level (Thunder Bay Kings and Thunder Bay Queens) I have harped to my goalies that there is no such thing as “full control” until the puck is on our players stick ON THE OTHER SIDE OF OUR BLUE LINE….YOU TRUST NO-ONE.
    Excellent article…Thank You.