Hockey Canada Plans New Goalie Coach Certification
While countries like Sweden and Finland have been using national development programs with position-specific curriculum for more than a decade, Canada still does not have a top-to-bottom plan to help its goaltenders.
That won’t be true for much longer.
Hockey Canada recognized the impending goaltending problem more than a year ago and began working on a development program of its own, one it hopes to unveil sometime in the next four to six months. And just as the real strength of the Finnish and Swedish plans are the way they develop good goaltending coaches trickling down to the youth level, which in turn creates more good goalies, the new Canadian program will be based on a goalie coaching certification system.
“Are we in a panic stage? No. Do we recognize we need to improve? Yeah we do. So we’re taking steps to do that,” said Corey McNabb, who as Hockey Canada’s Senior Manager of Coach and Player Development is in charge of the program. “We see a need for a standardized goaltending development program and we recognized it a while ago. So the reality is we’ve been working on this program for over a year now. … We have major components done and are in the fine-tuning stage now.”
McNabb said Hockey Canada has been talking about – and working with – the provincial organizations on the program behind the scenes “for quite a while.” It will in essence be similar to the skills and skating programs that have been in place through the Coaching Association of Canada since 1999, when a summit was called to address the lack of skill among forwards and defenseman.
Six years later, it paid off with the 2005 World Junior Dream Team and players like Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and Jeff Carter.
Hockey Canada hopes for a similar return from the new goaltending plan, which will have similarities to the models used in Finland and Sweden, including future plans for an annual national gathering of goalie coaches designed to share knowledge, keep the curriculum current, and trickle those evolving skills and techniques down to lower levels.
“Is it going to happen as fast as some people might want?” McNabb said. “Maybe not, but we have to make sure we do it right, we have the right people involved, get all the infrastructure and programming in place, and then start putting the people in place to deliver it. So as far as actually being able to implement it, and when it comes time to hit the ground running, it is going to work.”
The skating and skill programs have six levels, with elements of goaltending in three or four, but clearly that is not enough for a position that has become so specialized and far too often misunderstood or poorly coached at the minor hockey level. Goalies and goaltending coaches need their own program.
McNabb says the goalie coach certification program will include three levels.
Level One will be designed for beginning goalies, ages seven to nine. It will involve time in the classroom, and a curriculum complete with common terminology, lesson plans, drills, and videos that tie it all together.
“What are the 14 or 16 fundamental skills every player as a goaltender needs?” said McNabb. “And the second component is what are the key elements that coaches of those players need to be able to teach? For kids who are seven and eight, a lot of times they’re on a team with volunteer parents coaching that may or may not have a goaltending background and it’s one of those positions that’s hard to teach, especially if you haven’t played. So the biggest thing for us is to create that fundamental Level One of techniques, skills, and concepts we believe every young goaltender in Canada starting the game should be taught – and how do you teach them?”
Level Two will be for goalies aged 10 to 12 or 13, and designed to build on the raw skills developed in the first stage with more focus on specific save movements and the ability to read and react to the game.
Level Three will be geared towards goalies that are 14 to 17 years old and “really starting to hone their game,” said McNabb, and will address how to recognize and incorporate some of the individual differences among the goaltenders.
“How do you incorporate differences in how they play?” he said. “There’s different tactics and techniques for someone who is 6-foot-4 versus someone who is 5-foot-10. So those are our first three levels, and then we’re going to get into the more advanced level, and that high performance level of goaltending.”
The key, said McNabb, is agreeing on and developing the skills goalies need at an early age – without necessarily predetermining a style of play too soon.
“So how do we build that out? The key is getting goalie instructors and programs on the same page, where we can all sort of agree on what are the different things at these levels that we should be looking at. What are the commonalities as far as terminology? What are some fundamental things that we believe? I’ve always told our guys ‘we don’t need to everyone to agree on 100 per cent, we need everyone to agree on 75 or 80 per cent. That way we can guarantee that any of these programs kids are going to that we recognize or endorse, we know that 80 per cent of what they are getting is from the program that we’ve put together and we believe it to be the proper way and the best way to teach these kids.”
Part of the catch-22 of goaltending instruction is finding the balance between coaching skill and over-coaching to the point kids lose key instincts.
“I don’t want to get into a situation where we take away some of the creativity or advancements that individual goaltending coaches or programs have developed, and we don’t want to get into a situation where we have a whole set of goalies that have come from this cookie cutter approach where they’re all the exact same and that’s just the way it is,” McNabb said. “We think there’s a certain amount of fundamentals that everyone needs, and certain core skills, but there are going to be good ideas that come along and good techniques that people can use that are going to work on some goalies and maybe not all of them. We want to capture the essence of the expertise that is out there, but also ensure that expertise is teaching what we believe to be that fundamental base.”
The question many wonder is how – and by who – that base is determined?
McNabb will lead the program “from a big picture standpoint,” just as he does for skating and skill, because he is “not so tied to the goaltender component that I have beliefs this is how it has to be, or you can’t do this or can’t do that.”
“Does that mean that all of his techniques or instruction are absolutely the ones we are going to use? No,” McNabb said. “He’s done a very good job of working with other people, bringing guys in and getting ideas, and ‘think tank’ stuff, where we ask everyone to give the top-15 fundamental skills goalies need, and we get 25 different ones. Then we take this group and agree on what are the top-15 or 20. And not to say the other guys can’t teach the five or 10 we don’t pick, but we need to make sure you are teaching this other stuff first and foremost. We have that national advisory group, for lack of a better term, and we are encouraging each of our provinces to develop that same kind of advisory group and say ‘here’s what we are passing down from the top, we need to teach this.’”
McNabb stressed others have been involved throughout.
“We utilized a lot of experts,” he said, including “current NHL goalies that are Team Canada guys who shared their thoughts, and goalie coaches who are working in the minor levels. We have taken a lot of information in.”
They dissected it all at that national advisory level, worked with curriculum development experts outside of hockey, and put together a plan, one designed to ensure goalies can get decent instruction with or without a goaltending coach.
“We’ve shot a bunch of video in terms of teaching application and then the next step is to actually start training the goaltending instructors on each of these components so that they can begin to go out and teach coaches – and not all the coaches that they teach actually have to be goaltending coaches,” McNabb said. “I don’t have a goaltending background but the things I can learn out of it are: What are the key movement skills that we should be reinforcing in practice. What is the proper spacing in drills and timing in drills so that goaltenders are getting the maximum benefit out of it – so they aren’t just targets in practice.”
From there McNabb foresees the annual coaching symposiums that are such a big part of the success of programs in Finland and Sweden.
“Goalie coaches from across the country and we’re all in the same place for three or four days, and it’s in the classroom, and it’s on the ice, and it’s working with young goaltenders, and it’s sharing and teaching this type of stuff,” McNabb said. “I think it’s going to grow very quickly and I think it’s going to be a very positive.”