Life for a goalie can be difficult. With different pads, objectives, drills and techniques that need to be taught in a team game, it can be an alienating experience for a youngster. Sometimes they can feel like they’re on an island, so it’s the coaches’ job to keep the goalie involved in every aspect of the team – especially during practice.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltending scout Phil Osaer said it’s important to look at all the players on a team equally.
“Any type of game that you play is a goalie drill and it’s how you craft that drill or game in a practice that needs to be inclusive of all the players,” said Osaer, formerly the USA Hockey ADM goaltending manager. “One of the things that has crept into our culture of goalie coaching is that we need 1-on-1 time all the time for it to be labeled a goalie drill. Or even worse, you need a whole bunch of shots to label it a goalie drill. Both of those are myths.
“The goalie, coaches and their families need to understand that every situation in a practice where there’s a chance for a player to shoot a puck is a goalie drill. Even if the shot goes wide or the play doesn’t quite materialize, it’s still a goalie drill, because that’s hockey. That’s a game for goalies and that’s all part of developing their ability to play the position.”
A way to keep goalies involved and engaged is by including them in the scoring system or rewarding them for making a save or covering the puck.
“It encourages the habits we want from our goalies in games and encourages those in practice all the time,” Osaer said.
Mix it up
Hockey is an unpredictable game. Players rarely do two things exactly the same in a game, so why would they practice that way? One way to mix things up is by throwing a variable in a shooting drill, so players aren’t just walking down the slot and taking the exact same shot for the entirety of a drill. Osaer gives the example of an easy way for coaches to mix it up for both skaters and goalies when ending a drill with a shot on goal.
“To paint a picture of a player coming down the slot – simply by having a coach stand in the slot, and put their stick on the left side or the right side, and the shooter has to look up and they take a step to the side away from the coach’s stick and shoot. Now the goalie is coming out to the top of the crease, reading which way the coach’s stick is and move along as the player moves from one side to the other,” Osaer said.
This adds a variable that is beneficial for the shooter and goalie. How often will a player get a chance to walk down the middle of the slot without having to make a move or being pressured?
“As a goalie, if you see 15 players in that environment, if each player gets three shots, without adding that element, you’re going to ask your goalie to see the same thing 45 times in a row. And that’s boring for anybody.”
Draw a crease
A crease defines a goaltender’s space and where he or she needs to move in relation to the net. Depth of a goaltender is crucial when shots come.
“Without the crease, often times you see kids just standing on the goal line or in their net so they feel where their net is,” Osaer said.
With small-area drills and games, coaches often have to move nets all over the ice. Take a few extra seconds to draw a crease for your goaltenders. This can be easily done with a carabiner, a skate lace and permanent marker.
Aside from the comfort of a crease, it can be an easy way for coaches to gauge if their goaltenders are in proper position.
“Younger goalies, 8- to 11-year-olds, you can tell them, and it’s a really easy coaching tip, if there isn’t some of this crease erased during this 3-on-3 cross-ice game, you’re not playing at the top of your crease and you know it,” Osaer said. “It’s instant feedback. Because, as you shuffle, your skates are going to start to erase that crease.”
Osaer also draws from his own experience of not having a crease when he was playing minor pro hockey.
“I’m embarrassed to say it, but I used the same excuses as a 25-year-old pro when coaches moved the net, ‘Oh, I don’t know where my net is,’” Osaer remembers with a laugh. “We want to remove those kinds of excuses.”
Warm from the start
Another myth Osaer would like to see gone is the idea that goalies need to face easy shots to warm up.
“Our generation made up ‘you need to get warmed up’ for the first 10 minutes where you need your teammates to shoot at your pads,” Osaer said. “That whole rhetoric is simply a way to tell your teammates not to score. You want them to try and score every time. For the goalie, if you’re not making the save that you should have and it just hits your pad, you’re not helping yourself.”
Osaer said coaches and players should make time for off-ice training before practice. Also, if there is time at the start of practice when the team is doing skating drills, goaltenders can also participate.
“You can create an environment built for a goalie’s success to start practice,” Osaer said.
Don’t treat anyone like a backup goalie
No kid who loves playing hockey wants to put on his or her gear and go sit on the bench and watch. Youth coaches should never make a player feel or play like a backup.
“Telling any child that he is secondary or she’s a backup, especially at the 10- to 12-year-old range, is just sad,” Osaer said. “If you have one goalie who’s just head and shoulders better than the other, that does make it difficult. But often times you’ll have one defenseman who’s head and shoulders better than another defenseman, yet everyone gets an opportunity to play. You absolutely have to let them play because each kid is going to develop at a different rate. As coaches, it’s our job to develop all the players we coach.”
Splitting periods is a great way for 12U goaltenders to stay engaged for an entire game. Splitting games up to high school is also a way to ensure equal development time.
“For all the youth coaches who are going to read this, our U.S. National Under-18 Team is splitting games in the United States Hockey League still because their coaches are focused on development. On a week where they only have one game in the USHL, they’ll split the game in half,” Osaer said. “It’s recognizing at the highest level of youth hockey that it’s not good for anybody to go an extended period of time without playing a game. As youth coaches, you have to let your goalies play. There is no such thing as a backup player in youth hockey.”
Handle the puck
The final example Osaer gives to keep goalies involved is to handle the puck. This is an underdeveloped skill that needs to be encouraged at an early age.
It’s fairly easy to add a goaltender stickhandling element. And while it doesn’t need to be in every drill, it should be an element of every practice.
“In a small-area game, with the make-it, take-it mentality, if your team scores, the new puck gets handed to the goalie so he or she has to make a play with it,” Osaer said. “Encourage goalies to get out and handle the puck and understand that they’re going to make mistakes, but it’s OK because they’re going to get better at it. And it’s such a crucial point as they get older.”