Cross Crease Passes and an Active Stick!
With the exception of the goaltender’s mask and cup, the most important piece of equipment is inarguably the goal stick since it can be used in so many ways. It can cover the puck. It can be used to stop dump-ins, to make passes and to shoot the puck off the glass. It is an effective tool in rebound control and in team communication. It is even a crease deterrent if need be (just ask Billy Smith or Ron Hextall)! It has evolved over the course of goaltending history and is unique in its configuration.
Cross-crease passes are commonplace in today’s game since there is as much tactical play in the East – West direction as there is up and down the ice surface. Today’s players are also great at saucer passing through seemingly non-existing passing lanes. Turn on your television any evening and you will likely see highlights with passes going across the front of the crease or through the blue paint. Sometimes great goals are scored or great saves made; however, unnecessary goals are also scored due to what I define as an “inactive stick.” Basically, an inactive stick is a goal stick that is not being utilized effectively when the opportunity to use it presents itself.
So how do you determine whether the puck is within the goaltender’s reach? What degree of reach is safe or dangerous? Where in relation to the blue paint is the pass occurring? Where is the goaltender positioned? There are no set rules and as mentioned in previous articles you have to do only that with which you feel confident.
I would define a comfortable reach as one to the full extension of the arm in front of the body. I believe this to be safe and does not require the torso to bend too far forward, or the blocker drop to low if the goaltender is on his/her knees. I think it is dangerous to perform full length poke checks to get pucks within reach. This approach may occasionally be called for but today’s topic is reserved for pucks crossing just above, or through, the blue paint. Whether the goalie is located at the top of the crease or deep in the blue paint does make a difference. If the keeper is at the top of the arc and misses the puck, the mistake is likely fatal. The goalie really has no business trying to deflect passes on lateral feeds above the blue paint! With the feed through the blue paint, and goaltender positioned deeper in the crease, the active stick deflection can quickly deflate a dangerous situation. Furthermore, with deeper positioning, a missed deflection may still allow the goalie to stick out a pad or glove and make a save. Do not get me wrong, I get it. The passes are precise and sent with speed. They may be saucer passes slightly off the ice. The visual reads are not easy and net front traffic makes things worse. A successful deflection may still end up in the net. It may be sent out on an undesired angle to an opponent who puts it in the open net. It may be deflected against another body in the crease and bounce past an exasperated goaltender. As Mike Liut once said, “Goaltending is the quintessential bad-luck position.” Nevertheless, sometimes lady luck is with you and by deflecting the pass away, it may go to a teammate who creates quick transition and your team scores a goal shortly thereafter.
Today’s goaltender is great at the down game. They can slide side to side from either a standing position or from their knees. When cross-crease passes occur they often seem content to let the passes occur through the blue paint, trying to make either a blocking or reactionary type save. These saves are very impressive to watch and frequently reveal both great technique and athleticism . I also find when practicing tactical drills with lateral feeds across the crease many goalie coaches emphasize more the sequence of movements that will propel the goalie across the crease and maintaining a compact form to prevent soft goals. This is all very important to the goalie’s “Tool Box.” However, there is a role for having an active stick and intercepting some of these cross-crease passes and hence eliminating some of these goals and difficult saves. In practice, try to keep your stick active since it is a great goaltending asset.