When Fred Waggoner found out the nearest USA Hockey Goaltending Coach Development Program course was going to be held in Nashville, Tennessee, the Anchorage, Alaska native decided to make the 4,000-mile trek.
And once Waggoner went through the two-day Silver Level course Sept. 21-22, he was sure glad he attended.
“I really like the program,” said Waggoner, who was one of about 10 participants. “I didn’t know what to expect for the Silver course, and I was floored. I got the feeling that everybody felt pretty much like I did.”
A lot of work goes into increasing development opportunities for goaltending coaches throughout the country.
“USA Hockey’s put a lot of resources, time and effort into growing the knowledge of the position and we’re trying to educate as many coaches as we can,” said Steve Thompson, American Development Model (ADM) manager of goaltending. “Our goal is that every coach in a track suit within the United States feels responsible for making their goalies better in practice.”
USA Hockey officials recognized that goaltenders weren’t getting as much one-on-one time with coaches during practice time. Longtime hockey coaches may not feel comfortable teaching goalies because they don’t have the knowledge and background, but USA Hockey is trying to change that mindset.
“I think that’s been a pretty common theme in hockey for a long time,” Thompson said. “The Stanley Cup was handed out in 1893 and it wasn’t until 1983 that an NHL team ever hired a goalie coach. So, it’s a significant amount of time that goalies are the black sheep of that team. Everybody understands that position plays a lot of responsibility in the wins and losses, but very few play the position and so very few felt comfortable with part of the development process and that’s really what our goal is to change.”
In 2016, USA Hockey developed the Goaltending Coach Development Program under the direction of then-ADM manager for goaltending Phil Osaer. The three-tier program — Bronze, Silver and Gold — corresponds with the organization’s Coaching Education Program (CEP). Coaches who advance past Level 1 of CEP can take Bronze goaltending courses. Level 2 coaches can take Silver courses, and so on.
USA Hockey is putting on about 50 clinics this year in trying to develop coaches. Every affiliate is required to host at least one Bronze course, every district is required to host at least one Silver, and Gold is taught at the national level, in conjunction with Level 5 certification.
The one-day Bronze course is designed to build the foundation of how goalies work through fundamentals, practice management, game management, foundational skating, equipment education and how to create a happy environment that’s going to promote more kids to try the position for the first time.
“We want that experience to be so rich and positive that they don’t want to play ‘Fortnite,’ they want to put their iPad down, they want to sleep in their goalie gear and come to the rink the next day,” Thompson said.
Silver courses, which are two days, dig deep into the details of positioning, squareness and player reading.
Gold courses instruct how to become a goalie director for an entire club. It also goes into how to devise a season plan and how to manage multiple teams.
For the last 2 ½ months, Thompson has been traveling to a different U.S. city every weekend to host Bronze courses.
“They teach the coach, ‘This is what goaltending’s about, these are some ways you can create practice plans so that there’s better timing between shots, these are our recommendations for when you switch your goalies, how often your goalies play, how to size the equipment properly,’” Thompson said. “Basically, anything you can think of in regards to the position, we try and highlight.”
After taking the Bronze course last year, Waggoner was enthusiastic to sign up for Silver. Nashville Predators youth hockey representatives Andy Franklin and Patrick Murray hammered home the basics and went over some drills and how they can be helpful for young goalies.
“What Rick and Andy provided was a better way to present these drills to our goalies and to break it down a lot better,” Waggoner said. “Really, it’s not just a different way to teach our goalies; it’s just a different way to teach entirely.”
The attendees were taught the GRIP program (Goals Reflect Input and Plan). Waggoner said it’s a good way to address the goalies and works really well.
“I’ve been using it actually to teach some of my staff different things,” Waggoner said. “You get reflection from the students while you’re teaching them and you’re getting input back from there. You try to keep it pretty positive and you kind of ask them leading questions to get them engaged in it.”
Predators goaltending coach Ben Vanderklok also spoke with the coaches for over two hours about his experiences and how he worked his way up to the NHL.
“His insight was just really great, how you address different goaltenders, his experiences through coaching,” Waggoner said. “A guy who didn’t ever play in the NHL is one of the premier goaltender coaches in the NHL.”
Thompson is going to continue USA Hockey’s push for goaltender training, and he’s going to continue logging mile after mile.
“My goal is to reach every single state over the next three years, certainly to reach every single district this season,” Thompson said. “I don’t know how many years it will take, but to eventually get to all the states and then to all the biggest hockey markets in the country just to recruit staff members to be from each state — if we don’t already have them in place or meet the ones that we do already have in place in person just to build that relationship.”
Upcoming Goalie Coach Development Program courses can be found here and include:
Bronze – Raleigh, North Carolina (Nov. 16), Kalamazoo, Michigan (Nov. 23), Plymouth, Michigan (Nov. 24), Washington, D.C. (Dec. 1), Anchorage, Alaska (Dec. 7) Brooklyn Park, Minnesota (Dec. 8), Buffalo, New York (Dec. 8)
Silver – Buffalo (May 19-22)
Gold – Duluth, Minnesota (Aug. 20-23).
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.