There is a crisis in American youth hockey, says Phil Osaer.
“It’s almost an epidemic,” he said.
In this case, it’s nothing sinister. It’s not health-related. But it absolutely does threaten the viability and quality of hockey in this country.
“We have so many great coaches doing really good things developing our players, but there’s a prevalent mindset that it’s OK for these coaches to not coach their goalies and be unwilling to learn to coach their goalies,” said Osaer. “They put their palms up and say, ‘I’m not a goalie coach. I don’t know what you guys talk about,’ as if we’re different. Goalies are players, too.”
Osaer, the goaltending manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, wants to change that for a number of reasons. The most fundamental one: to improve the quality of goaltending and the experience for youth goaltenders.
“The thing we are trying to emphasize is that goalies are players too,” Osaer said. “It’s the simplest position in the sport and maybe all of sports. We try to break down those walls.”
Goaltending doesn’t have to be esoteric
Roughly 90 percent of the players on a team are either forwards or defensemen. Naturally, then, if former players become coaches, there aren’t a ton of them who were former goalies. But that doesn’t mean they can ignore the position.
“It’s not an excuse that you didn’t play the position,” Osaer said.
To help show coaches how they can work with goalies, USA Hockey has created a network of goalie coordinators around the country to bring goalies and coaches together in an effort to show what kind of coaching netminders need.
Sessions have been held all around the country – in the Rocky Mountain District, Minnesota, New York, Michigan, California, New England and Florida, just to name some of the locations – and have benefitted coaches who are willing to get slightly out of their comfort zone and learn the basics of coaching goalies in practice.
“We’re empowering them to believe what their intuition is telling them,” Osaer said of coaches learning to give better instruction to goalies.
Osaer played collegiately at Ferris State and had a long minor-league goaltending career after being drafted by the St. Louis Blues. Afterward, he coached in the USHL and served as the director of hockey operations at Michigan State University before coming to USA Hockey in 2015 and immersing himself in the nation’s youth goalie coaching culture.
“We have great specialized goalie coaches all over our country and they develop goalies’ strategies, help with the mental approach to the games and stay on top of evolving trends in the game and position,” said Osaer. “These coaches are in large part responsible for scoring being down at the highest levels. They’re really important and we need them engaged in what we are trying to do as country. But each player who plays goalie does not need a specialized goalie coach from the start. Everyone can make that decision as it fits their player, family and situation. What we really need is to give all of our players who are in net a good environment to develop at every practice and game. That can be accomplished through effective communication between all parties involved in the goalie’s development (parents, coaches, specialized coaches and the goalie).
“We encourage coaches to get on the ice during goalie sessions within their association, and specialized goalie coaches to be engaged with what is going on during team practices and games. When players achieve their goals and dreams in hockey, everyone will take credit for being part of their development, so programs need to be genuine and make sure everyone really is engaged in their complete hockey development environment.”
Everyone pulling in the same direction
To that end, everyone needs to be unified and committed. The clearest way that comes through is in practice. Osaer, along with goalie coaches from all levels, helped design age-appropriate drills that coaches can run with their goalies during team practices at all levels of the American Development Model.
“For example, if you’re going to start a small-area game in the corner, why not have the goalie start on the post, push out to the top of crease have the coach shoot low for the goalie to make a save and control the rebound to the corner,” Osaer said. “Then the goalie is getting a quality rep, and the players are reacting off a rebound, which is game-like as well.”
There are multiple benefits, he adds.
“Once hockey coaches see how they can implement goaltending into each drill, it starts to come naturally,” Osaer said. “Then they want to design drills and show off their creativity.”
Getting goalies more involved in practices also gives coaches a better understanding of their mindset and why they react certain ways to certain shots. It’s one thing to criticize or praise a goalie for allowing a goal or stopping a puck. Accountability means knowing why they did or didn’t do their job and working to develop them accordingly, Osaer says.
“We’re bridging the gaps through education and accountability. And we want our goalies to be accountable for what they do and their own practice habits. Without that, coaches can’t develop players,” Osaer said. “When everybody meets at the intersection, you’ll have success. If anyone is going in opposite direction, you won’t.”
The long-term goal of American youth goalie development is both lofty and specific: Osaer says by 2030, USA Hockey wants to see U.S. goalies playing at least 51 percent of all the available minutes in the NHL and National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).
Short-term goals are harder to quantify but still easy to see.
“We hope more kids will want to play goalie and are advancing in the position,” Osaer said. “Are players becoming better goal-scorers because goalies are practicing with better habits?”
The first step is stopping the goalie-coaching epidemic before it spreads.
“We want to make being a goalie and coaching a goalie an enjoyable thing that is encouraged by coaches and not feared,” he said.
Go to www.usahockeygoaltending.com for more resources and information.
Even with almost 50 years of involvement in hockey, you can’t plan for the current state of the world and the impact coronavirus has had on our game. I think it is safe to say that nothing prepares you for the changes that have taken place in our daily lives and the uncertainty of when things might return to normal. Or in this case, what will become the new “normal.”
Our expertise is hockey, so what we’ll address in this piece: the impact of the global pandemic on our game and how likely it will affect our game in the immediate future.
USA Hockey continues to post information on COVID-19 on the main website. These updates keep our membership informed of specific programs and the changing safety recommendations that will be in place when hockey returns. Be sure to check back regularly for updates and other hockey information.
On the officiating front, much of what we are able to do from a program standpoint is connected to player events like national tournaments and player development camps. As you know, the national tournaments (along with the March, April and May IIHF World Championship events) were cancelled. The Officiating Program then canceled our two instructor training programs that were planned for late April and early May in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Colorado Springs, Colo.
At this time, details for any potential summer development camps are still being determined. On the player side, several camps we are connected to were cancelled, and the few camps that are still in planning have been dramatically downsized. The Officiating Program continues to monitor the decisions made for players and will take advantage of any opportunity we have to salvage our summer camp program and maximize participation.
The good news is, we are confident we will have a 2020-21 season. All indications show no reason to delay registration. It will open as scheduled on or around May 26, followed by the open book exams and online seminar curriculum on June 1.
SafeSport Training (required for anyone born in the year 2003 or earlier) and background screening (learn about the new national level screening program in the Q & A section) will also be available to complete at that time. If COVID-19 still has things slowed down in early June, it would be an ideal time to get these requirements completed.
The biggest unknown will be the timing in which we will be able to conduct seminars. The vast majority of rinks are currently closed, and many of them took this opportunity to remove ice to save operating costs and do maintenance. There is now doubt they will be prepared to quickly ramp up once they are allowed to do so, but as with most everything right now, the timing is uncertain. As a result, some of the earlier seminars may be pushed back a few weeks. The District Referees-in-Chief will secure ice times and facilities so we can provide seminar dates and locations as quickly as possible. We are also encouraging our instructors to think outside the box by providing some weeknight seminar options, and to look at other ways to best meet the needs of our members.
The Advanced Officiating Symposium, scheduled for Providence, R.I. in late July, is still going to plan. We will continue to monitor the situation, including local restrictions and travel advisories in the coming weeks, and we will announce any changes in advance to allow for alterations to travel arrangements. Click here for up-to-date information or to reserve your seat at the 2020 Advanced Officiating Symposium.
These are difficult times for everyone, and although our hockey family is important to us, it is a small fraction of the big picture that is impacting our daily lives. To quote Andy Dufresne in his letter for Red that he left under the big oak tree in The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
We hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We hope the coronavirus is conquered with minimal loss of lives and a return to a prosperous normal as soon as possible. We hope your passion for the game of hockey will only grow as a result of its absence. We hope we are back on the ice in the coming months and that the 2020-21 season will be our best yet.
Thank you for your continued support of USA Hockey and don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything we can do to make your hockey experience a better one. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and be prepared to be back on the ice soon.
In order to comply with new requirements from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), USA Hockey will be implementing a national level background screening program. This program will replace all USAH Affiliate coordinated background screen programs.
Why must officials be screened?
Per USA Hockey and USOPC policy, all coaches, officials, board members, employees, volunteers, billets and anyone else who will have regular contact with, or authority over, minor athletes are required to submit a background screen before any contact with minor athletes.
Who is required to be screened?
Officials who are 18 years-old (or older) prior to June 1 of the current year.
Any official, 18 years-old (or older) without a completed valid background screen (national or USAH Affiliate coordinated) after April 1, 2019.
All national background screens are valid for two seasons, and starting on June 1, 2020 a national background screen must be completed and in good standing before receiving an officiating card and crest.
What are the timelines for launching the national background screen program?
Beginning on April 1, 2020, background screening will be conducted by our national background screen vendor, National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI), and information on background screening will be included following your registration.
As of March 22, 2020, applicants will no longer be able to submit new USA Hockey background screens through USAH Affiliate vendors, and will not be able to submit new screens through NCSI until April 1, 2020.
If you were screened after April 1, 2019 for the 2019-20 season, your screen is valid for the 2020-21 season, and you will not need to be screened under the new system until prior to the 2021-22 season. If your most recent screen is from prior to April 1, 2019, you will need to be screened under the new system, after April 1, 2020, in order to participate in the upcoming season.
All new screens submitted through the new NCSI national screening program after April 1, 2020 will be valid for two seasons. For example, a screen submitted and approved on April 15, 2020 will be valid through the end of the 2021-22 season, which is August 31, 2022.
How can members complete their required background screen?
A link to submit for screening will be included in your membership registration confirmation email and posted in the drop-down menu under the OFFICIALS tab at USAHockey.com.
Background screens through NCSI under the national program will cost $30 for all domestic screens. For international screens (members who have lived outside of the U.S. for six consecutive months in any one county during the past 7 years) the flat rate fee is $150. If that country is solely Canada, the flat rate fee is $75.
Where can members go with questions about the national background screen program?
Please refer to the USA Hockey Background Screen webpage at USAHockey.com.