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Inside the OHL ‘Protect the Net’ Goalie Symposium

Inside the OHL ‘Protect the Net’ Goalie Symposium

When the Ontario Hockey League gathered for its “Protect the Net” goaltending symposium earlier this week, the biggest headlines to emerge involved confirmation of the Canadian Hockey League’s plan to ban European goaltenders. But the two days of puck-stopping discussions went well beyond that decision, taking a broader look at what – if anything – might be plaguing goaltending in Canada, and what could be done to improve it.

Seamus Kotyk, who is currently an Assistant Coach/Goaltending Coach with the Sault Ste. Marie (Soo) Greyhounds in the OHL, was invited to make a presentation at the symposium. Kotyk, who played in two Memorial Cups and won once during a four-year career with the Ottawa 67’s before turning pro and spending five years in the American Hockey League and four more in Europe, agreed to take InGoal readers behind the scenes of the Protect the Net Goalie Symposium, and share his thoughts on it:

The position looked a lot different when Seamus Kotyk was playing it in the OHL than it does now that he is coaching it.

The position looked a lot different when Seamus Kotyk was playing it in the OHL than it does now that he is coaching it.

Crisis? Shortage? Lack-there-of? Call it what you may, discuss and debate how you will. The Ontario Hockey League held a two-day Symposium June 10th and 11th in the luxurious confines of Angus Glen Golf Course north of Toronto. Forty-one delegates checked their egos at the door and arrived with open minds to hash out issues regarding the state of goaltending in the Province of Ontario.

Conversations and opinions throughout our hockey world on what is deemed wrong with the state of goaltending in Canada have been increasingly growing. Frustrations that the rest of the goaltending world caught up – or debatably surpassed – our home-grown talent has either left you questioning where we went wrong, whether it should be fixed, or maybe just a plain and simple how?

Hockey has become a sport that no longer has borders or restrictions for receiving knowledge, especially in today’s culture of technology and instant communication. With that being said, how can such a hockey power and pioneering country slip away from the front of the pack? Every single delegate that attended the symposium arrived with the same passion about these issue that you may have. They want to fix and find an agreeable solution, which will allow us to regain top spot in the world or at the very least relieve us of our stress that this issue is left festering in the dark.

Delegates consisted of General Managers from the OHL Competition Committee, Heads of Hockey Federations, Goaltending Coaches from the OHL and NHL, OHL office personal, OHL Central Scouting, a former OHL goalie, current OHL goalie and a few parents to represent the voice of the blind and forgotten about home support.

Five presentations and three panel sessions covered five different topics that were moved along by Sportsnet’s Daren Millard, a goaltender himself who did a brilliant job to create dialogue and questions during the panel discussions.

Sebastian Farese from the Belleville Bulls presented an outline of his plan for working and developing the Bull’s goaltenders from Day one of training camp all the way through to the end of playoffs. Farese, who is a part of Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence camp underway this week in Calgary, also touched on his work with the minor hockey system in Belleville, where he overseas the other goalie coaches to make sure the constant message and curriculum is being taught unbiased. Sebastian is a bright coach who has worked with famed goalie guru Francois Allaire, and I really like how he works with the minor hockey in Belleville as an independent voice.

I presented on the player and coach perspective, sharing my playing career along with my current views as a coach.

During my era in the OHL, goaltender coaches were not common. I played four seasons with the Ottawa 67’s and was fortunate to play in two Memorial Cups – all with out a goaltender coach. A lot of my evolution came from watching NHL goalies on TV then trying to emulate them in my own game during practices to figure out what worked, and what didn’t work.

Seamus Kotyk did not work with a goalie coach until he was in the San Jose Sharks organization.

Seamus Kotyk did not work with a goalie coach until he was in the San Jose Sharks organization.

I didn’t get my first full-time goalie coach until I signed with the San Jose Sharks, where I had the honor to work with the late Warren Strelow for three seasons. Mitch Korn of the Nashville Predators and Bob Mason of the Minnesota Wild were the other goalie coaches that I learned from when playing in their respective organizations.

The principle teaching points for all three were: to enhance your individual style and skill set; movement, movement and more movement; and the most important part of the game, mental training. Not once did I ever feel I was being molded into a style that wasn’t fit for me.

Unfortunately, today I notice a common trend among goalies entering the OHL that leaves me bothered.

In a way I believe that there is a vice-versa effect in place. What I mean by this is my era of the late ’90s has what this era doesn’t and this era has what mine didn’t.

Today’s goalies have all the technology available, including endless coaches and video, but I feel they lack the common fundamentals such as catching pucks clean, controlled use of the blocker, consistent ability to incorporate their stick while making saves, and rebound control. Video didn’t exist in my era; we coached ourselves and had an open communication with other goalies about making each other better. Our styles, however, did allow us to catch pucks (mind you most with the old school windmill style), make kick saves with the stick (you may laugh but we usually moved pucks out of harm’s way), and we all knew how to eat a puck for a faceoff.

Greg Millen presented a captivating outline representing the voiceless hockey parent that I still find myself reflecting on. Millen shared his insight from a family’s perspective supporting a son who was going through the junior system dealing with either being released or traded from his respective team. He touched on development concerns at all levels in junior hockey, and provided some interesting statistics on long-term development pertaining to averages of games played, career length and the very highly scrutinized CHL ban of import goaltenders. Millen is a very bright hockey mind and left us all with a powerful message. His information will no doubt be spoken about behind closed doors moving forward in helping to create a solution.

Seamus Kotyk, shown here playing in Europe, has noticed a shift in the skills young goaltenders arrive to the OHL with today.

Seamus Kotyk, shown here playing in Europe, has noticed a shift in the skills young goaltenders arrive to the OHL with today.

Rick Wamsley of the Ottawa Senators addressed the delegates on what he looks for in goalies entering the NHL. He explained about the technical, physical, and mental areas, all the while providing comparatives to allow the visual attendee to better understand goalie terms. Wamsley has lengthy experience and is very insightful in the goalie coaching positions, and stressed how important he believes movement and basic fundamentals are at his level, and that without these young goalies will have a hard time surviving.

Hockey Canada’s Corey McNabb covered the highly speculated and anticipated goaltending coach certification program.

This topic has been commonly discussed within hockey circles over the past year. Naturally we will face resistance by some about certification. I personally have had discussions with some goalie coaches who are for it, and a few who question the process.

After listening to McNabb explain Hockey Canada’s plan moving forward, I have absolute belief in what they will accomplish and am excited for when it comes into play. Arguably Sweden and Finland are regarded as the top developing countries for goaltenders and they each have certification and a teaching curriculum in place. I’m certain that with two already proven and successful goalie coach certifications in place elsewhere, it provides enough evidence that the same can happen and more importantly work here in Canada.

At the conclusion of each presentation and panel, the topic that was presented then became discussed within breakaway groups.

There was no rocket science formula presented. There were a few out of the box ideas but that was the purpose, and you expect those things when you have that many creative minds in a room.

I found that most of the conversations kept circling back to minor hockey and improving the level of coaching and instruction for the youth goaltender and it appears that Hockey Canada is one step ahead of us by implementing the cerfitcation program. I am not naive enough to think that all the worries and issues will be corrected come puck drop in the fall, but I am confident and proud of the OHL for stepping forward in recognizing that this needed to happen and doing everything they can to make any changes deemed necessary.

It was during this symposium that my eyes became fully opened at the vast level of not only hockey intelligence but the genuine level of willingness from everyone to share their thoughts, ideas and concerns. There was a common goal and it was a goal that represented nothing personal in hopes of recognition that maybe “I” can come up with the new solution.

The goal was to provide everything we could in the hopes of finding a formula that we will be able to set into place for future goalies in Canada. It’s imperative to provide the best possible guidance, education and skill set that allows a goalie to stand alone, tall, brave and confident that he or she will reclaim the top spot and lead our hockey-mad nation back to the glory we all expect.

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3 Comments

  1. Dave

    This sounds like it was a great forum, does anyone know if it was videotaped and available for the rest of us to watch?

    I have to question Mr. McNabb’s commitment to this project, I hope I am wrong but history is not on his side. I just searched my e-mail box for his name and he was the gentleman who told me, June 26 2009, that:

    “We have kicked around the idea of doing a goaltending certification course but won’t move forward with that until we have all of our latest goaltending video edited and ready for market which will be some time this year. Once we have the materials and resources together we are going to look at adding that to the current coach clinic list.”

    That was four years ago and nothing has happened since.

    I’m hoping that all this pressure will actually force Hockey Canada to get something done, it is way overdue.

  2. Steve Mckichan

    When I was goalie coach with Leafs I remember meeting in a downtown hotel to hash this stuff out with hockey Canada. This was almost ten years ago.

    There is an article coming tomorrow in the National Post by Traikos where I address some of this stuff.

    Quick question?

    Why do OHL teams pay their goalie coaches a hot dog and a bag of chips.?

    Do you think the best coaches are going to coach OHL goalies if they can make more before noon then they make in a month chasing around a goalie in SudRock?

  3. NetMinds Goaltending

    In over thirty years of coaching goaltenders (elite to recreation), I have witnessed four things:

    Access to goaltender coaches (coaches with varying philosophies)
    Specialization in the sport of ice hockey (less opportunity for athlete development … specializing too early in one sport?)
    Concentration on elite organized sport(affecting social/intellectual development, leadership development and general sport knowledge)
    A the lack of trust in those that have studied the game in favour of the so called ‘ex player’ experts.

    We have gone from an era of eight year olds knowing how to ‘play’ the game, to a point where I have had to release players at the AAA Bantam level because their in-game knowledge and decision making is not at the maturity level that their technical game is at.

    This is a game. This is a simple game. This is a game that has been learned on ponds and outdoor rinks for over a century. The knowledge that has been passed down is incredible. The lessons that have been learned….remarkable. The confidence and esteem from trying and trying again….priceless.

    Now….we have instructors, consultants, trainers, coaches, specialists…..all trying to make a living off kids and parents, by telling kids what to do.

    Who is going to teach the kids the game. Who is going to help create the experiences and help develop the in game knowledge so that the goaltenders can confidently move forward with more than just an elite technical game?

    This is a great start. The OHL is to be complimented. The challenge remains knowledge….the challenge remains understanding, the challenge remains instilling confidence in self….not just technique, the challenge remains that the overall development of athlete has to be number one…not the coach/trainer/consultant etc…..

    If you go back to Martin Brodeur when he was fifteen. The story goes that he attended a camp offered by Francois Allaire. Brodeur left the camp. Something along the lines of ‘I do not play the position that way’ were the parting remarks from Brodeur. And if you look at his game….it is nowhere close to how Allaire clients play the position.

    Brodeur and Allaire may both be in the HHOF someday. Same position, two different ways of succeeding?

    You have started by getting the ducks together. Do they really have to be in line, or do they just have to be together?

    Jim Corsi is one of the most uncelebrated goaltender coaches in the NHL. When you look at the goaltenders he has worked with and trained in Buffalo, it is pretty impressive. Corsi mentions in his book that style/technique are not as important as having a number of tools in your tool box of saves. It is important to have experience at executing many different saves and to develop the knowledge for when to implement them.

    The goaltender coach comment made by Corsi at the NetMinds North America Goaltending Symposium (Ottawa, 2006) still resonates:

    ‘We need goaltender consultants/trainers and we need goaltender coaches. It is important for you to know which one you are’.

    Good luck with your endeavour. There is a long way to go, but, if you can get everyone on board, bring in some outside knowledge and commit to a 3 – 5 year development plan (summer / winter, minor hockey Bantam/Midget to OHL), there is some hope.

    The challenge is that the words ‘mandate’ and ‘regulate’ will have to infiltrate the OHL and MHA if there is to be development success. The question is, are the parties that are involved (GM’s, Coaches, Goaltender Coaches, Goaltender training businesses, Goaltenders, Parents, etc…..) willing to check ego’s at the door in order to raise the bar. Ultimately, the elite athlete/coach/gm is not wired that way.

    Centralized leadership is the only way to set the wheels in motion to reach the ultimate goal. This cannot be a half hearted effort……this effort comes complete with OHL approved or affiliated goaltender trainers/camps.

    You have an amazing opportunity…..only if there is buy in.

    Side note: I am from Ottawa. There are at least six goaltending businesses in this city. Everyone is an expert. Everyone has ‘their’ goaltender coach. How many goaltenders has Ottawa placed in the NHL in the last ten years (goaltenders trained/coached in the Ottawa Minor Hockey system)?

    We may be confusing and holding elite athletes back as much as we are helping them….even though we have good intentions.

    All the best.

    NetMinds Goaltending