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Shooting the Puck: A Progressive Learning Sequence for Goalies

Shooting the Puck: A Progressive Learning Sequence for Goalies
For more on puck handling as a goaltender see InGoal’s feature article on How Marty Turco Changed the Game for Goaltenders which was originally written as an exclusive for our newsletter subscribers. Are you a subscriber? It’s free! Sign up now.
Halak Shooting

Jaro Halak, like many goalies today, uses the overhand or "Turco Grip" to shoot the puck. Photo by Scott Slingsby.

There are many skills to be mastered if one wants to become an elite goaltender. One of these skills is that of shooting the puck. This frequently overlooked yet important skill requires a tremendous amount of practice and patience before the rewards of one’s labor may become evident.

Why do I say this?

1st – Compared to defensemen and forwards, goaltenders deal with both unique gloves, and a different and heavier stick with which to execute the technique of shooting.
2nd – The delayed acquisition of physical strength and power in the upper body is also a factor.
3rd – The bulky nature of our equipment forces us to set up in a different manner to shoot.

It is a long road from not being able to elevate the puck off the ice to shooting like Mike Smith of the Tampa Bay Lightning or scoring a goal like Ron Hextall; however, with a proper progression sequence, continuous encouragement and lots of practice in the garage and on the ice, you too can become a greater shooter of the puck!

The value of shooting the puck well, along with passing, makes a goaltender more valuable to the team by adding an extra dimension to defensive zone play. This can include neutralizing dump-ins, counter-acting opponent fore-check systems and participation in transitional play.

When teaching a goaltender to shoot the puck, I begin on land since it allows for lots of mechanical explanations and expensive ice-time is not wasted. I go through the following sequence of steps and ask the student to think of each step until the appropriate muscle memory is developed and everything becomes automatic. It should be noted that there is a short period during which transferring skills from land to slick ice is a bit challenging but applying the same mechanical considerations soon results in success on the ice as well. Here are the teaching points.

1. Puck position on the stick blade (I will sometimes spray paint a red dot on the desired location)

goalies shooting position of puck

2. Stick position relative to the puck (Will the blade be straight vs. closed vs. open relative to the puck)
3. Body position relative to the blade (Will the body be ahead vs. behind vs. in a straight line with the puck relative to the stick)
4. Leaning forward vs. backward for proper weight transfer
5. Hand positioning on the stick. (Will the goalie shoot with conventional trapper positioning under the shaft or use the modern Turco “Over-the-Top” grip? Most goalies are presently using the OTT technique. Use whatever works for you but remain consistent! nb. There should also be consistency in glove position for both passing and shooting. If fast decision making forces the goalie to change his mind from a shot to a pass then time is not wasted by having to alter hand positioning.
6. Push forward with the bottom hand, flick your wrist and follow through! Weight transfer equals transfer of kinetic energy from the body to the projectile. (Photo #2 & #3)

goalie shooting

goalie shooting

Using spray paint to create lines on the cement or synthetic ice helps makes certain steps 1-6 are done properly. This approach is similar to placing golf clubs on the ground at the driving range to help establish the correct address position to the ball. With hundreds and thousands of shots, things eventually become automatic and the goaltender neither requires these aids nor reflects on these technical considerations. Remember that a stick of shorter paddle length is required off the ice since you will not likely have your skates on in the driveway. Furthermore, make certain the stick is relatively light (e.g., foam core) so the goalie does not have to labor more due to stick weight. Finally, assist your student in elevating the puck by having some type of curve on the blade. Do not make it excessive but a complete lack of curve will also make it more difficult at the beginning of the learning curve.

I have also established a progression sequence of pucks with which I feel anyone can become successful. The most difficult part of progression, aside from the very beginning, is moving from a standard puck to the 10oz. weighted puck. The student will really feel the additional weight of four ounces. However, it is a natural form of resistance training and ,when overcome, going back to the standard 6 ounce puck really makes the effort worth the while. This step should probably not be reached until reaching the junior hockey level but the decision on progression should obviously be made on an individual basis. Here is the progression sequence:

goalie shooting puck progression

1.mini puck
2.standard 6 oz. puck (an intermediate stage can also be established here where the trainee alternates each shot back and forth between 6 ounces and 10 ounces so the forearm strain is not excessive)
3.weighted 10 oz. puck

If you have the resources you can place a board, similar to a ‘Shooter Tutor’, in front of the net that forces the goalie to progressively shoot the puck to the higher portions of the net as they improve at each stage of the puck sequence.

How many shots per day should I take ? It is generally recognized that the best shooting forwards and defensemen took 200 – 500 shots per day growing up because they wanted to get better. Although quantity is important, the quality of your practice, in my opinion, is more important. If you can shoot 100 pucks per day as a goaltender that will be about 3000 per month. If you want to improve you can shoot instead of watching television for 60 minutes daily. Not a great sacrifice if you are serious about your development. You can shoot a few hundred every day during the off-season when academics to do not limit your time as much.

mike smith puck handling

Mike Smith is one of the best puck handlers in the game today. Photo by Dinur Blum.

I have had the opportunity to watch Mike Smith train privately over the summers in Kingston, Ontario where I reside. Mr. Smith grew up close by in Verona, Ontario. Growing up, when frequently ignored in practice, as so many goalies are, Mike used his time to play with the puck and was always shooting it. This past August, while preparing for camp, I saw him shoot the puck from just above the blue paint and almost put it over the glass at the far end of the ice sheet. That is a lot of power. It proves that with hard work, dedication and talent this vital goaltending skill can be acquired by all and will make you more desirable to have between the pipes than the goaltender who can neither shoot nor pass the puck. So what are you waiting for ? Get to work !!

For more on puck handling as a goaltender see InGoal’s feature article on How Marty Turco Changed the Game for Goaltenders which was originally written as an exclusive for our newsletter subscribers. Are you a subscriber? It’s free! Sign up now.

Mike Smith photo: Dinur Blum via Flickr

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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).