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Goaltending Technique: Effective Stance

This is s guest post by KenDiOrio of Stoppers Goaltending –

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When most of us started playing goal, we tried to emulate those goalies we admired. Sometimes, however, most goalies we watched do things due to their own evolution of their personal goaltending style. This translates into possible bad habits for amateur goaltenders. This article will talk a little about our basic stance, and what I feel will help a lot of goaltenders avoid basic mistakes and help with the most use of their body.

The basic elements of an effective stance all include the same foundations as with most “ready stances” in athletics. Most important of all, the knee bend. The knee bend creates the power for everything we need to do: balance, movement, save execution, etc. These are all started with a proper knee bend. In addition to the knee bend your upper body plays a big role in an effective stance. I see a lot of goaltenders who bend quite a bit at the waist taking away a lot of coverage from the top corner. Sometimes, bending at the waist may seem more logical to get low to the puck; however, this is counter productive. With the bend at the waist we lose power from the knee for pushes to get to different angles we need covered.

Some people will ask how far apart you should keep your feet. One school of thought is that in today’s game of butterfly saves and butterfly slides, it is harder to execute these saves with your feet closer together in a stance similar to Nabokov. I am not here to tell you whether to keep you feet closer together or further apart like Khabibulin. I know what works for me and I suggest trying different foot stances to find what is most comfortable for you. I use a foot stance quite similar to Nikolai Khabibulin. I find it keeps my feet just outside of shoulder width apart and it still allows me to keep my chest up and I am still able to keep movement strong and crisp.

Gloves are another thing I see a huge variation in from goaltender to goaltender. We see goaltenders like Roberto Luongo using a Quebec influenced glove position, and Kipper with the Finnish style of glove positioning.

Kipper Glove up

photo by David Hutchison

Luongo Stance

photo by Scott Slingsby

Whatever glove positioning you have, you should ask yourself some questions before deciding on your final stance. We’ll start with the catcher. Do you find it easier to bring your glove up for those shots to the top corners? If you prefer only knowing that you would ultimately bring your glove up to make those saves, then a Luongo-esque catch glove positioning would work for you.  You can also start out with your catcher in the “fingers up” positioning like Kipper. With this style you already have the top corner covered. This also helps you to use your reaction to bring the glove down to make saves. Personally, I’d rather bring my glove down instead of up due to the simple factor of gravity. It’s a lot easier to bring the glove down than up, based on physics.

Now let’s look at the blocker hand. There are some variances to the positioning of the blocker hand, but not nearly as much as the catcher. There is one major reason for that. The goalie stick. We need to keep that stick on the ice so we ultimately will be handcuffed to the paddle height for stick positioning. I will use Roberto Luongo as another example, who keeps both hands in tight to his body in an effort to keep all holes closed, yet he is still able to keep that stick on the ice. One thing I try to coach my goalies is to keep their hands in front of their bodies. Obviously this has been taught to goaltenders for ages. One thing I don’t think goaltenders understand is that it also affects the aerial angle of the net available that the puck sees vs. what the shooter sees. See illustration for further explanation.

Effective Goaltending Stance

Green: Saves made behind the body
Gray: Actual body positioning
Blue: Saves made in front of the body.

As you can see here, from my terrible Microsoft Paint illustration… while keeping your hands in front of the body, you are able to make a save more efficiently, and if a rebound pops out your able to track it a lot easier off the body.

Some things that we always have to consider when working with our stance are:

  1. Comfort. How comfortable are you in your stance? Now we can’t be standing there in the nets like we’re leaning against a wall. We need to have a comfortable knee bend. Our backs shouldn’t be hunched over, this may seem like it is comfortable to some but over time it will most definitely cause back pain/problems.
  2. Net coverage. Some people like to keep their hands in different areas to fill the net as presented above. This, however, is only filling up net in the shooter’s eye and we really cannot worry about him. We have to worry about the puck’s eye. What open net does the puck see? Keeping your hands out to the side fills up net the shooter sees but also leaves your vulnerable to “squeekers” going between the arms and body. Another element of proper net coverage includes the chest and upper body. As mentioned before, keeping that chest tall with a good knee bend allows for powerful pushes from the legs, while also covering those high angles.
  3. Last but certainly not least… knee bend. No matter how deep your crouch, or how wide or how narrow you keep your legs in a stance, the angle at which you keep your knees in your stance, plays a crucial role in the aerial angles that you cover. This can also play an important part in the time it takes to get your knees to hit the ice in a butterfly. Bigger knee bend = quicker time getting your knees down.

In closing, one of the most important tools for finding a good stance is to use one of the oldest tools for goaltenders… we’ve all seen the goalie coach have a string attached to the post and the blade of the stick. Have the string measure out to about the high slot, attach the 2 ends of the string to the high corners of the post. This will give you a good idea of what is covered in the most dangerous shooting spots on the ice, and thus help make your already difficult and highly stressfull job, even easier.

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  1. Nick H.

    ” … This also helps you to use your reaction to bring the glove down to make saves. Personally, I’d rather bring my glove down instead of up due to the simple factor of gravity. It’s a lot easier to bring the glove down than up, based on physics.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever read anything along these lines unless I’m misunderstanding your comments. I could see bringing both arms down while going into a butterfly-blocking style save. For strictly glove saves, I’d favor the argument that moving your glove UP would be preferred since 1) the motion/movement from your bicep is generally stronger/quicker than your tricep and 2) if the puck isn’t caught a deflection (and/or hitting the puck) up and over the net would be a safer alternative than down into the net or to the ice for a rebound opportunity. I understand your point with gravity and physics, but I believe factors I’ve mentioned would override the decision to use a downward glove movement. Please clarify what you’re explaining.

  2. David Hutchison

    Nick, I like your logic (especially concerning deflections) and I’m a move the glove up kind of guy…that said, most downward arm motion would be from your lats and the rear head of your delts; I don’t only extend my elbow joint (triceps) to move my arm down when playing goal.

    Which is physiologically faster I have no idea.

  3. Jase

    Great article!

  4. Nick H.

    Touché, Dave … I didn’t think of or consider those muscles. I just thought I remembered reading an analysis of upswing being typically faster/stronger than downswing but don’t recall where. I’m still curious to hear Ken’s explanation although he kinda makes it sound like his personal preference.

  5. ken

    Hey guys. personally I do prefer moving my arm down rather than bringing it up for a glove save. I find that by keeping the gloves out in front, as explained in the microsoft paint illustration, I usually keep my gloves at the highest point in regaurds to aerial angle of the puck. So the only place you have to move is down… and even then it is not a massive movement at all.

    For me it helps make me look bigger to the puck (keep in mind I’m only 5’9″ so I could only do the blocker/quebec style butterfly saves when the puck is very close to me and I’m still being somewhat aggresive.

    Let me know if that helps at all.

  6. Ken

    Another thing I’d like to mention is by keeping your glove up and moving down you are essentially eliminating one extra movement. By keeping your glove lower, you most likely move your hands down when going into a butterfly. Then to react to higher shots you have to raise your hand again… By keeping your hand’s starting position higher I have found that it’s easier, to keep the glove there for a high shot v.s. having to move it back up to get the high shots.

    • Jay

      I’m in agreement with that point Ken. Like you i find by keeping my glove up and out i don’t have to do two movements especially if its fairly close where you have to go into a butterfly by default. If its so close that i cannot rely on my reflexs to react fast enough more often than not if the shot is high my glove is still in postiin enough to make the save. It was be awkward for me to go down into a butterfly while bringing my glove up.

  7. Kevin

    Great article. I have 2 boys who both play goal. Over the years I’ve become their goal coach.

    One tool similar to the string tied to the posts that I’ve built is using 2 retractable clothes lines attached to each post/crossbar. Because the lines are retractable, you can move around the ice and help teach proper angle positioning too. It always amazes the kids how deep in their net they can be as the puck approaches the goal line.

    I think using a tool like that also allows the goalie to see how changes in their stance affect how much net they cover (especially when they are younger and still growing). If you’re smaller like Ken, you can adopt the Quebec style easier if you come farther out of your net: be more aggressive. I tell my goalies to “get big” when I think they should come out more.

  8. Brian

    The fingers up (glove Up) postioning allows the goalie to move their glove in across and in front of his body to catch pucks, prevent, and control rebonds in front of their body. This is a much more natural catching motion that is very similar to how you are taught to catch baseballs. An additional benefit is that this position also makes it eazier to cut down the aerial angle, which would be difficult if not impossible to do with the fingers down glove postioning. The glove down position can also cause torso rotation when making glove saves, and glove saves will tend to be behind their body. I think glove down positioning is best used by tall goalies who rely on their positioning and size to make blocking saves.

  9. Gaby

    Its actually easier to bring your glove up, which can be seen in all of those over embellished glove saves that we see in the NHL these days.

    Fleury is the master of these over the top saves, that in reality are not as spectacular as they look. With proper positioning and quick reflexes, you can make that save without going into a full split. In the last view that they give you, you can see that he didnt even need to go down as the puck was up high, but he did to embellish it. Although they are good saves, they only seem like highlight reel saves because of the embellishment.

    A goalie should simply keep their gloves in front of the body, which makes it easier to track pucks, and keep them away from the body as this makes he/she look bigger as well as allow for a larger range of motion. Keeping the palm faced down is an interesting technique, however can cause problems because it requires an extra movement to catch the puck. The goaltender first has to move their palm so it faces upwards, rather than simply having it there to begin with. This wastes time and can result in a goal.

    The compact butterfly style, with the gloves held to the body may be useful when the puck is close to the goaltender, however when dealing with shooters that can pick the corners, this positioning will prevent you from making those over-the-top Fleury-like highlight reel saves.

    Glove positioning is based on preference, and the only thing a goalie can do to work on glove saves is to do reflex drills.

  10. Rick katchanoski

    Goaltending evolves year to year and now to see the NHL goaltenders choice to be lower with the back bent more just shows that tutors must stay current or they will be teaching inadequate techniques. This does not take away any power from the legs. It improves dramatically taking away the lower net. Price has gone from back posture up to a dramatic bend to his back lowering everything. I was one of a very few that actually had this figured out back in the early 70’s. A scout from Michigan state said to me and my parents that he has never seen anybody play goal the way I did. Extremely and down on everything,

  11. Aram Heinze

    Great article. Lots to think about. It seems like a glove up position might be advantageous for shots coming from further out, and glove down position as the shooting threat becomes closer. The chance of a close shot or rebound is more of a threat down low, from an angles a point of view. Something I might focus on for next game.