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Goaltender Drift

The concept of ‘goaltender drift’ is by no means a new one. It is something that occurs at all levels of hockey from Novice right up to , and including, the National Hockey League. In fact, as recently as two weeks ago I was watching tryouts for the local Jr. ‘A’ hockey club and I saw it once again in an inter-squad game. It will continue to happen but the goaltender  and coach who understands this problem and eliminate the downward drift will prevent some unnecessary goals to the far side of the net. Let me explain.

If the goaltender is standing at the top of the blue paint in the middle of the net he will have to shuffle along the arc of the crease to either side of the arc to remain both square and on angle to an attacker coming down either the left or right lane (or corridor) of the ice. How far the goaltender shuffles to one side or the other depends both on whether the shooter is skating in the middle or outer portion of the outside lane and whether he is on his “natural wing” or “off-wing” with respect to which way he shoots. Let us take the example of a left-handed attacker come down the right outside lane (i.e., his “off-wing”). With a shooter coming down his “off-wing” the mature and well trained goaltender knows that the attacker will be able to hit the weak-side portion of the net because his stick blade will be towards the centre portion of the ice. What happens frequently is that the well-intentioned goaltender shuffles, or drifts, down too far towards the strong-side post which opens up the far side of the net to a competent goal scorer. I often see goaltenders drifting below an angle consistent with the face-off dot which is essentially never necessary. As mentioned, the goalie means well and is trying to stay square but has become mentally un-disciplined and has moved too far. With a lot of goalies this also happens because they are actually square to the shooter’s body but NOT to the puck. This is of course incorrect. Since the goaltender has drifted too far, the weak side of the net is open for that off-wing shooter.

If we take a right-handed shot attacking on his” natural wing” goaltender drift still occurs. However, since the shooting angle to the far side of the net is worse the goaltender would have to drift a significant amount to let the puck past him, especially if the attacker has dropped below the face-off dot. This would be an extremely poor and unacceptable goal but stranger things have happened in hockey.

One way to educate goaltenders about ‘drift’ is with the use of angle ropes. Let’s say that you tie a bungee rope to the bar in the middle back portion of the net. Without the goalie in the net stretch the cord out beyond the face-off dot. Use red spray paint and spray a dot on the crease which corresponds to the angle with the fact off dot. Then shift the rope over and stretch it out to the top of the circle and spray another dot on the crease arc that corresponds with that angle. You can continue to do this while changing the angle slightly every time. Once you have the markings on the crease arc you can show your goaltender that although the puck has travelled a long distance from one angle to another, the distance between red markings on the crease is essentially minimal and may require only a shuffle of an inch or less to re-establish the correct angle to the puck. Another way to demonstrate and improve goaltender drift is through video analysis. In the heat of battle the goaltender probably does not realize that the drift has happened but the video does not lie and will make the goalie appreciate what is happening.

As mentioned, goaltender drift will continue to happen since all goaltenders are human and make mistakes even when they have learned that which is correct. Hopefully you can educate your goalies about ‘drift’ and minimize its frequency and the resultant goals.

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. IRockTheRed

    “As mentioned, goaltender drift will continue to happen since all goaltenders are human and make mistakes even when they have learned that which is correct.”

    I dunno about that. Tim Thomas is looking pretty inhuman out there.

    In a good way for Boston, but still! 😉

  2. Mike Morton

    As a youth Goalie Coach at the Travel level (U13 currently) I have noticed many youth goalies that “wander around” or drift as you’re calling it. It drives me crazy to see a goalie out at the hash marks when the play is at center ice coming towards them. AHHHHH!!!

    What I have always taught my goalies is to start with your head (for the real little goalies) or back against the cross bar and center yourself by touching the goal posts. It only takes a second for this reset once the puck has left the zone and a shot or dump in isn’t coming. Of course, never take your eye off the puck during play. My goalies will stay in this position as the attack comes through center ice. Once the attacking team reaches the center ice red line, that’s when my goalies will begin to play their initial shooting angle. As the play progresses, they’ll shuffle or t-push as needed, maintaining their angles.

    I have found this a very easy way to teach goalies who tend to get lost on angle play, proper angles. After that it’s teaching proper safe selection and technique.