What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas, especially when it’s a room full of goaltenders.
Steve Thompson, USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM) manager of goaltending, led about 50 participants through the in-person session of the Silver-level goaltending clinic, which recently took place in Las Vegas.
“It was a really cool celebration of goaltending,” said Thompson, who is also the goaltending coach for the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team. “I think everybody is already looking forward to next season.”
There were three virtual classes in the lead-up to the in-person event at Las Vegas, which included on-ice work, classroom sessions and attendance at quite possibly the biggest Vegas Golden Knights game of the year. Franchise cornerstone Marc-Andre Fleury returned to Las Vegas for the first time since a July trade to Chicago.
“That’s what everybody was looking forward to,” Thompson said. “Everyone was talking about how neat the experience was. A lot of the people had never been to an NHL game before. They got the chance to see the Vegas Golden Knights at a goalie clinic on the weekend that Marc-Andre Fleury came back.”
The three, two-and-a-half hour virtual sessions before the in-person event focused on season planning, drill design and evaluations. The coaches had to design a drill, send it to Thompson and the coaches and videotape their goaltenders in action.
“It was a pretty intensive homework assignment, but everyone involved was excellent,” Thompson said. “That’s why they signed up for this course, because they were serious coaches and passionate about getting better.”
One of the sessions focused on how to evaluate talent.
“We wanted to share some tips that we use when we’re evaluating goalies for our national teams and how to organize our thoughts, so we can give a good evaluation for selection purposes,” Thompson said. “That was the emphasis on the classes before we got to Vegas.”
Once the group convened in Las Vegas, three different psychology experts talked to coaches about how to help goaltenders with their mental game. Two experts with master’s degrees in kinesiology discussed off-ice exercises for goaltenders and the group followed with additional in-person drill design and evaluation.
“That was where the rubber met the road,” Thompson said. “Half were on the ice running a goalie clinic and designing a drill based on what we talked about, while the other half were in the stands evaluating.”
The clinic also featured breakout sessions where participants could discuss ideas amongst one another.
“There were so many unbelievable goalie coaches that were even students in the class,” Thompson said. “We told them to make sure you’re chatting with your neighbor to your left and right because that’s where the real learning is going to take place.”
Hiroki Wakabayashi, an internationally renowned goaltending coach who has worked with men’s and women’s national team goalies in Japan and Hong Kong, was in attendance at the Las Vegas clinic. Wakabayashi was excited to learn from his fellow colleagues at the event.
“The gathering of so many goalie coaches … it’s rare to see that many goalie coaches together,” Wakabayashi said. “To make some friendships with them was great. That’s my nature, I always want to learn. The best part was the interaction with coaches from different areas.”
Juliet McComas coaches 8U to 14U with the Valley Forge Colonials in Delaware. She also coaches Great Valley and Phoenixville Middle Schools and Larry Paul Goalie Clinics.
“The silver goaltender coaching clinic was fantastic,” McComas said. “USA Hockey challenged myths that are well-meaning, yet counterproductive, such as early specialization. I was delighted that the clinic tackled the physical, mental and emotional demands of goaltending, especially when some focus mostly on the physical aspect.”
Andrew Stewart, a former goaltender, who oversees the Golden Knights’ practice rink, spoke with the group, in addition to Adam Miller, who is with the Jr. Golden Knights. U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Ron DeGregorio was also in attendance, in addition to Mike MacMillan, USA Hockey’s national coach-in-chief.
“To have everyone that willing to put that much time and effort into it really made our weekend excellent,” Thompson said. “We were just a bunch of goalie coaches out there trying to spread our love for the position.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.