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National Goaltending Symposium Preview: The Can’t-Miss Event of the Year

By USA Hockey, 04/04/24, 4:00PM MDT


Inaugural USA Hockey National Goaltending Symposium Headed to St. Paul, May 30-June 2

USA Hockey is hosting its first-ever National Goaltending Symposium, May 30-June 2, in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Registration is now open to 150 attendees. Steve Thompson, manager of goaltending development for USA Hockey, discussed the four-day event celebrating goaltending, which will also include the National Goaltending Expo on Saturday, June 1, from noon-6 p.m. at the St. Paul Event Center. 

Could you give us a high-level explainer on what the National Goaltending Symposium is? 

Steve Thompson: The National Goaltending Symposium is in a lot of ways the Level 5 Coaching Symposium for the goaltending track. We’ve had the Level 5 symposium for the last 20-plus years and it’s always been this excellent, every-other-year event that celebrates coaching. We get to bring in NHL coaches, world-class leaders and we get to grow as a country with our coaching education. 

For the last six years or so we’ve been discussing creating something like that but specific to goaltending. So, the focus is going to try and mimic the energy of the Level 5, but the big difference is there is no prerequisite for this. All you need to be is a USA Hockey member for the 2024-25 season and you have access to register. You won’t have to have a Level 4, for instance. This is just going to be, if you want to celebrate goaltending and learn more, come to our party. Let’s celebrate. 

Why is USA Hockey interested in hosting a goalie-centric version of this event? 

Thompson: We know how important this position is to our game. We know it’s been an area of the sport that has been neglected previously. And there are a lot of members who want to know more information specific to the position. This is a great way for us to show value for being a USA Hockey member. We call ourselves Goalie Nation, we want to be the first country in the world that truly supports their goaltenders. We have “51 in 30” right around the corner. We believe the symposium supports both of those missions and acts on our goals. 

Could you tell those who might not know a little bit about the initiative 51 in 30?  

Thompson: What 51 in 30 means that by the year 2030, we want to have 51 percent of the NHL minutes and Professional Women’s Hockey League minutes played by American goalies. Really what it boils down to is having the lion’s share of playing minutes in the world’s best leagues. What it means, more so, is being the world’s best. 

But we’re also looking at metrics at the grassroots level, how do we have more kids playing goalie by the year 2030? For the development stage, how do we have the most educated youth coaches that can support their goalies in practice? It’s a mark of being the best in the world at what we do and those are the measurements we’re trying to use to hold ourselves accountable and to challenge us. 

This is a good segue back into the symposium and trying to generate interest in youth goaltending. Who is the symposium for? 

Thompson: The symposium is going to be for anybody who is passionate about goaltending. We will have a coaching education track that is going to be more tailored towards the hockey that wants to be able to better support their goalie. We’re going to have content on how head and assistant coaches can better support their goalie. And then we’re going to have the skills coaching section where we’re going to bring in some high-level goalie coaches to talk about the technique and how to develop some of the decision making that comes with that role. The coaching education is going to be a big element. 

What can attendees expect to get out of the symposium? 

Thompson: First off, a real rich introduction to our community. We hope all 150 that leave there are going to feel really ingrained, have a group of new people to lean on when they have questions and to share successes with. Also see some really cool people in our community – whether it’s heroes from back in the day or currently – we’re excited we’ll be able to share some big names in USA Hockey goaltending and for attendees to get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and talk with these people. 

Why should coaches, associations and club leaders make this opportunity a priority to come? 

Thompson: If there’s a club out there that feels like they have a goaltending shortage and they want to learn how to grow the position and get more kids introduced to it and stay with the position and love it. If there are any associations out there who are hearing from parents and the goaltending community that they are not being supported the way they’d like, this is a great opportunity to learn the skills to serve their own members. If there are clubs who feel like their goaltenders could be better and they could support them to improve their own skills this will be a great opportunity. 

There will be plenty of opportunity for networking? 

Thompson: Absolutely. Another piece that could be helpful for clubs and associations, if they are looking for more coaching or need goalie directors or meet other great leaders, this could be a great opportunity to recruit some high-level coaches they might potentially hire to support their clubs next season. There will be a lot of value and great opportunity for anyone looking for those things. 

This is also in conjunction with the National Goaltending Expo. What can people look forward to with that event?  

Thompson: We’ve been jokingly calling it the Comic-Con for goalies. We’re going to bring in vendors that promote the newest and greatest goaltending equipment and share some products that are specific in goaltending. Kind of a way for the goalie community to see what products are out there that they would be passionate about as goalie people. 

It's also going to be fun, there will be some entertaining speakers, meet and greets, and fans can get some autographs. 

What’s the format of the event? 

Thompson: We have a limitation on the coaching education track [150 available seats]. That’s going to run Thursday through Sunday. Thursday there will be a welcome; all day Friday will be classroom work; Saturday will be the expo that is open to the public to really celebrate the position; and then Sunday is going to be a reflection – on what we learned throughout the previous three days. 

We’re also celebrating our first Gold Class; we’ve had 10 students who have been taking a year-long course with us and it’s going to be their graduation Sunday. Those students have also been working on a year-long project they’ll have to be defending throughout the weekend. So there’s going to be an opportunity for attendees to listen to somebody who’s spent an entire year working on a project to grow the position and they’re going to see how it went, ask questions and use this information to bring back home. 

With these 150 students, will there be some breakout sessions? What’s that learning going to look like? 

Thompson: Yeah, we’re going to have some breakouts, lots of group work. Something USA Hockey has really taken pride in the last few years is getting away from that old school education with everyone in rows and everybody just listening and not participating. It’s going to be a lot of tables and group work and questioning of the students to come up with their own ideas after prompts from the educators as opposed to a lot of telling. It’s going to be a lot of asking and challenging and hopefully a deeper learning. 

Will there be special guest speakers? 

Thompson:  I’ll start with what I can say… we’re going to be looking into getting some Gold medal-winning goaltenders to share their experience. The highest level on international stage. We’re going to be looking at bringing in some NHL ironmen that have really done well and played for a long time, some recognizable names. We’re also going to bring in our NTDP coaches and people who have worked with the NTDP group and talk about those experiences. And we have some different keynotes, maybe not even from the goalie world specifically, but experts in education, experts in human performance, experts in mental and emotional health who can help us apply their teachings into the goalie world. Stay tuned for official guest speaker announcements.

Is there anything you’d like to tease from USA Hockey or anything you’ll be rolling out?

 I’ll share our vision the last couple years has been how can we make sure that our goalies are hockey players first and they happen to be goalies, not goalies who happen to play hockey. In addition, how can we make sure our goalie coaches are hockey coaches first and that they have a goaltending background to apply to the team and the game. As opposed to being goalie specific coaches who might not provide a lot of additional benefit to the team. Our goal in this is to develop athletes who are better decision makers, better play readers, less robotic and in addition specialize later to avoid some of the overuse injuries we’re starting to see. That’s going to be a big element in the symposium, how can we be the best we can be for the greater game of hockey? As opposed to really living in our goalie-specific world all the time.

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