LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Day 3 at USA Hockey’s National Coaches Symposium began with an NHL theme as Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen spoke about situational play and Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper covered championship choices and leadership.
Cooper’s presentation was especially wide-ranging and emphasized how coaches must create the environment for success in practice. He added that championship teams are built in practice, not games, and that it’s imperative for coaches to find and offer solutions for players rather than merely pointing the problems.
Goalies Unite and Delight
Saturday offered a wealth of goaltending guidance, beginning with a breakout session led by USA Hockey’s Phil Osaer and former ECHL goaltender Andy Iles.
Osaer began the session with an array of stations all over the 1932 Rink to illustrate how a practice can be engineered for goaltender development. Most of the stations were built with low-to-high games as a focus. Some also emphasized puck-handling skills for goalies, with as many as four goalies in action simultaneously, each with a different role (e.g., one between the pipes, two on the end boards corralling a coach’s dump-in and making a pass, one in the slot playing defense against a pair of attackers).
“As youth coaches, we’ve got to create environments where goalies are handling the puck,” said Osaer. “And in a good practice, the nets should be all over the ice. But goal creases are important for helping goalies see the parameters of where they are and what’s in front of them.”
To address that, Osaer showed how goal creases can be drawn anywhere on the ice with marking tools and then incorporated into games and fun drills specifically designed for goalies (see video below).
After the first round of breakout sessions, America’s greatest goaltending duo, Mike Richter and John Vanbiesbrouck, took the stage for a discussion. Given today’s trend toward very tall goalies, the conversation opened with a question of whether shorter goalies could have a future at the game’s highest level. Both Richter, a Stanley Cup and World Cup champion, and Vanbiesbrouck, the all-time winningest U.S. goaltender in the NHL, believe that smaller goalies can still shine.
“Goaltending is still an artform,” said Vanbiesbrouck, who added that all goalies – small and tall – have a brighter future because of the improvements in coaching.
As for their advice to youth coaches, here were some highlights:
Mental Skills Training
Dr. Tiffany Jones delivered an outstanding keynote presentation on integrating mental skills training into practices. It was packed with actionable ideas coaches could implement for helping players improve their mental toughness. Among Jones' key points was the fact that practice shouldn’t be pretty – in fact, “if you’re doing practice right, it should suck,” meaning it should be challenging enough that it stretches players beyond what they can easily do.
Jones also emphasized that player confidence is built from practice and repetition, so it’s vital to make those things a priority. Another key point was that coaches should be deliberate in their choice of words with players. For example, telling them to “stop missing the net” only makes the net seem smaller in their eyes. Instead, Jones recommended giving them something specific to think about, such as pointing the toe of their blade directly at their target when they follow through on a shot. By adjusting to a specific, constructive guidance model, coaches become more effective and players thrive.