Jeff Salajko coaches goalies with drastically different skill levels – peewees and the pros. But oddly enough – just like with offensive and defensive skill work – he does a lot of the same drills, games and exercises with both groups.
The Detroit Red Wings goaltending coach and goalie parent Jeff Salajko spoke with USA Hockey about all things goalies and goaltender development.
USA Hockey: How important is it for coaches to pay more attention to their goalies instead of just sticking them in net?
Jeff Salajko: To me, obviously, in the goalie world, you find more people that tell you that it’s the most important position on the ice, part of the team, and it’s no different than these skill coaches working with players in shooting situations or power play, penalty kill. You work on all these systems and all these special skill sets and goaltenders – I’ve coached youth hockey for a lot of years, I have a son that’s a goalie – they need, on a regular basis, the specific instruction. They definitely need to work on their technique, whether it’s 10 minutes out of a 60-minute practice or whatever it is. Some people have resources to do private lessons on the side – every kid’s situation is different – but they need a little one-on-one time. They need somebody in their corner, for one, that has been through it and knows the position and knows what they’re going through. That’s the biggest thing – not just the physical part of it, but the mental and emotional part.
USA Hockey: How do you like to see a goalie incorporated into a practice?
Salajko: Well, you know what, it’s something we’re going through this year even in Detroit. I do my thing with the goalies, and whether it’s pro or youth hockey, we have our specific amount of time – we obviously have more resources here, unlimited ice when we’re home, really – we do more goalie-specific stuff, depending on the day and where we are and how much we’re playing, where it’s 15, 20 minutes, but I get with the other assistant coaches and we find a happy medium. They want scoring drills for the shooters, but for the first couple drills, we want them geared toward the goalies, whether it’s long shots, shots from the outside – these guys are facing shots from the middle of the ice hardly ever, everything’s on an angle – so you want tailored drills. Goalie touches are big, getting them to handle the puck on dump-ins and then we get them to work with their defense, together not only with puck movement but two-on-ones, communication and stuff, so I think you have to keep the goalie in mind. There are times, too, where the guys need to score, and they need to work on the power play. We had a goalie in there today, Petr Mrazek, who was in there for 10 minutes and it sucks, but they want to shoot on a goalie. It’s kind of ‘scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ kind of a deal.
USA Hockey: When the goalies aren’t involved in drills, what are your favorite activities for goalies in those situations?
Salajko: It’s great for the goalies to skate as part of the team. I’m a big believer in that, but I don’t think they need to be doing that every day. They need to be doing their movements, they need to do their shuffles, their T-pushes, butterfly slides, on-ice recoveries, all of that stuff. When they get familiar with that, whether it’s a pattern of drills, like the four-puck box drill, you just need four pucks or in a triangle, different sequences, the kids learn it and it becomes muscle memory, but it’s something they need to practice all the time. The best goalies in the world are the ones that move best on their feet, and I guarantee you that they did a ton of skating at a young age, even through college or pro. They just have to have that motivation, for one, instead of just standing around. There are times where they can shoot pucks or stickhandle pucks, maybe the older kids can work on puckhandling and incorporate that while the team is doing their stuff, but I always like seeing goalies doing things on their own, and depending on the age and level, that varies in that department, too.
USA Hockey: For the younger goaltenders like 8U and 10U, what kinds of things do you want to see coaches working on with them?
Salajko: Definitely moving on their feet. I just did a webinar with USA Hockey last week where we referred to it as holding your edges – staying on your feet as long as you can. The only way you can have that confidence and trust in your feet is to work at it. I’m a big believer in forward-backward skating, shuffles, T-pushes, and then, from there on, that will lead you into a lot of drills. Even with young kids, incorporate skating into the shooting drill, whether it’s a one-push or two-push, pre-shot movement, kind of getting disguised as part of the drill but you’re working on your feet and your movement and then you’re getting maybe a stick steer, steer the puck to the corner, working on shots in the body, they have to absorb it and get pucks to hit them in their body cavity to absorb the puck, smother them on their body – we call it body smothers. A lot of simple drills like that where they get to feel pucks. It’s predictable where the shot’s going, but it gives them the opportunity to work on making the save correctly and controlling the rebound.
USA Hockey: What things do you do with Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek that you do with your own kid’s team?
Salajko: I’ll tell kids, if they come to one of our practices, they’re going to see a lot of the same things that I do with Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek. We have a routine that we have on game day, it’s simple short-side stick steers on the ice, far-side stick steers on the ice. We’ll do shots in the body, we’ll work the hands, guys will walk off the circle so they have to shuffle and be patient on their feet, and then we do one little post play with a dead angle shot and a wraparound. It’s a routine we do. It’s so simple but the guys love it. They feel like they’re ready for the practice, and it covers all the major food groups. Gets everything warmed up. We do that every day.
Obviously there are going to be times where we challenge them. I have access to five or six shooters where we can do more, but a goalie coach on a youth team doesn’t. For example, I do about 90 percent of the warm-ups on our goalies, I do it myself. I know some goalie coaches in the NHL will not let guys shoot on their goalies to warm them up. I know Carey Price’s coach is that way, he will not let anybody shoot on them. I’m not like that, it just so happens that oftentimes, guys are in meetings, so we’re out there doing it.
USA Hockey: Encouraging more kids to try the position – what’s your sales pitch?
Salajko: I think the first thing is that USA Hockey has taken big strides in doing that. Each organization, getting gear accessible for kids to try it – you don’t want to have a kid going into the net without a blocker or without a glove, without the proper gear. That’s part of the mystique for them, putting on actual goalie gear. I know that as a kid and seeing my son go through it. When they do try it, it has to be fun for them the first time. We can’t go out there and skate for an hour straight without any shots. Let them try to catch pucks and do fun drills, some challenges to keep it fun and maybe a little game time. I know in Columbus with my son, there’s a shortage of goalies, and it used to be the other way around. Kids wanted to play goalie, and I think I’m starting to find that kids don’t want to play goalie. It’s not for everyone. It’s a tough position to play mentally and emotionally, but we just have to expose them to it and give them the opportunity and platform to do it. Here’s a goalie kit for anybody who is interested, it’s free, come out and try it and we’ll have some fun. I’ve done that at clinics before, and it works.
With another registration season upon us and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation, this 2020-21 season is likely to be like no other. The challenges we all face to make a safe environment requires everyone involved in hockey to be creative, flexible, respectful and patient. Although we would love to have all of the answers for you right now, the reality is the unknown still exists; so, we are doing our best to bring everyone up to speed on what to expect over the summer months for registration.
USA Hockey continues to post updates regarding COVID-19 on our main website. This information is to 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 the most recent news and for other hockey information.
First, a quick update on the Advanced Officiating Symposium scheduled for Providence, R.I., in late July. The current landscape has made it impossible to conduct a program of the scope and nature that we strive to achieve through the Advanced Symposium. As of now, the 2020 event has been postponed until August 6-8, 2021, and will still take place in Providence. We appreciate the interest and commitment of those who had already registered. We will simply roll over those registrations to the 2021 event. For those still interested in signing up, more information will be available soon. Registration for the 2021 Advanced Officiating Symposium will open in September.
Officials can register for the 2020-21 season on May 26. The open book exams and the online seminar curriculum is scheduled for May 27. Check out the links to the registration rules and tips that are included in this edition of STRIPES so you are up-to-date with the current process and requirements.
SafeSport Training (required for anyone born in the year 2003 or earlier) and background screening (for those who have reached 18 years of age by June 1) are also available to complete at this time. Since COVID-19 still has things slowed down in early June, this is an ideal time to fulfill these requirements.
The biggest unknown is the timing and formats in which we will be able to conduct seminars. This is where creativity, flexibility and patience will be most prevalent as our volunteer District Referees-in-Chief navigate the landscape in their respective areas. The uncertainty of availability of facilities and potential restrictions on gatherings means that in-person seminars may not be posted or scheduled as quickly as it has in the past. The use of virtual seminars is being explored and will undoubtedly become part of the solution in some areas of the country. All of the necessary information will be posted on the seminar registration page as it becomes available over the summer months. Please check there regularly.
Retention of officials continues to be a significant issue within USA Hockey. Three initiatives will be emphasized prior to the start of the next season.
The first initiative is an update to the Zero Tolerance Policy. It strongly recommends for local youth hockey associations to take a more active role in spectator behavior issues and hold those of unsportsmanlike behaviors accountable for their actions. They are also mandated to support officials by strictly enforcing Rule 601: Abuse of Officials and Other Misconduct.
The second initiative asks our experienced officials (those with five or more years of experience) to take an active role in mentoring new officials. The goal is to provide new officials with support and guidance through the registration process as well as working games. This is in an effort to create a positive experience so they will get hooked on officiating and return to our ranks year after year. Look for more information on the Mentor Project in the coming months.
USA Hockey also recognizes the critical role assignors play in the environment that is created for local grassroots officials. Therefore, additional resources for assignors and local youth hockey associations are being created. This initiative will encourage the parties to work together and hold each other accountable in following best practices in the operation of an officiating development program. It will also help create a positive atmosphere in which the game can be played.
Finally, the Officiating Program is launching a new weekly Officiating Webinar series in June. These webinars are open to all officiating members free of charge and will focus on topics that are pertinent to today’s game. USA Hockey’s top instructors from professional, international and grassroots hockey will lead the sessions and a Q & A opportunity will be included after each presentation. Stay tuned to USAHockey.com, social media and your inbox for a complete listing of June webinar topics and registration information.
Thank you for your continued support of USA Hockey. 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.
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.