16 Tips For Better Goaltending
#1 For all positions: Don’t go on the ice before doing at least a few slow muscle stretches, i.e., from head to toes. The muscle flexion happens easily enough, but it is the opposite movement that builds that ability to exert the strong & rapid movements that each skating position needs. But that the goalie position especially needs such “warm-ups” to be more effective and lessen any risk of physical injury.
For those new to this sport: “stopping the puck is not the same as shooting the puck !” The speed and directional horizontal/vertical variables of the trajectory of this small & hard object can range anywhere from one mph to 150 mph!
#2 For goaltenders on the ice: the “wipe-your-behind move”…that’s when you have an idea that the trajectory of the puck is going toward your center, and you are going down to the butterfly position, bring your arm back in from the windmill position, and put your glove on or at least near the ice around to your backside and between your legs. That minimizes that factor of the “five-hole” a bit.
#3 The “stoop & poop” aka “sit and s**t”… this advice is taken from one still-active & talented clinic coach–a contemporary also playing for over half a century that included a couple of local Brooklyn NYC fellows who made it all the way up to the NHL and also adapted here as advice for goaltenders, as below.
#4 Goalies need to stay below the bar and away from the bar.
So, what does that mean? There is a double meaning to that expression, pun intended.
First, anything above four feet off the ice is wasted blockage by one’s body–unless one has to position more standing up in order to see the puck in play with a clear view.
Taller goalies over six feet should stay down relatively further (“the goalie’s crouch”) as a more efficient physical barrier to the net.
Goalies under six feet can still adhere to the crossbar-level eye-line position so as to better estimate when a shot is going high / over the goal and when there is a job to do.
Second, take a lesson here from the very distinguished Russian National team goaltender Vladislav Tretiak who reportedly (back in the day) did not drink alcohol at very least before a hockey game, i.e., for better balance and perceptive abilities.
So, when one is at the bar-as-in-tavern, not overdoing, it is much better for one’s brain/reflexes and liver / overall health. Abstaining from alcohol and never tipping one’s physiology limit has its merits.
#5 Estimate your position from the goalposts by “navigating” on the blue paint. In your more limited skating (compared to the rest of the team), your estimations need to be exact, relative to where the puck is headed in the action of the plays and how fast it is traveling–with all the speed variations in any elapsed timeframe.
#6 Much easier said than done. Try not to be fooled by head fakes or other “dekes” (decoy) moves by players who have a better skating balance between doing that. There is no room for error in ice hockey goaltending because if you are off, that puck may be going in! Read what the shooters are reading in the articles meant for them. The smarter skaters are reading this so as to better read the goalies they’ll face–and perhaps beat to a goal.
#7 “Be a square” as the opposite of an old expression would suggest. That means be as square as you can be at all times to where the puck is. This becomes a real challenge when the play is close to the net, and you can expect a shot on goal at some point in the opposition’s play that is unfolding. That is, if your defense can’t break up that play through good reflexive stick checks or deftly executed backchecking by your energetic forwards.
#8 Goalie stick needs to be pressed firmly onto the ice and the blade tilted slightly forward, even when going into the “butterfly” position. That is a common error by some goalies, and something remembered from when Vezina Trophy winner Rogatien Vachon of the NHL Montreal Canadiens was tutoring his goalies in the unforgettable hockey camp run by the great Henri Richard.
#9 Catching glove hand simultaneously needs to be facing outward and upward. Practicing with wrist weights, if possible, e.g., during clinic or practice skates, generally helps for a more efficient glove hand.
#10 Remember that anything not going into the catching glove may become a rebound, so to the extent possible, try to control where the puck is going to be after it is blocked from going into the net. The better shooters sometimes even purposely shoot literally onto the goalie for that rebound or for one of their teammates to “out-move” the defense for a rapid second chance or shot on goal.
#11 Shooting the puck is not the same as stopping or deflecting this small round missile! Sharp space-time coordinates are needed. These can be practiced off the ice. “Keep an eye out” has a different meaning. Close one eye to see whenever you can, not only to appreciate your ‘binocular’ vision but to improve & appreciate it. Watch the puck at the other end of the ice with one eye, and then open to both when it crosses their own distant blue line. This gives at least one eye a rest from the glare of the ice—alternate eyes with this exercise.
#12 Wear those wrist weights off the ice & even when driving a car, and even dress up one of your old goalies sticks with one for warm up time. Tape it on so it doesn’t fall off. If the top of the stick shaft is hollow, fill it with metal rods for more added weight.
#13 Off-ice / away from the rink, your “acrobatics” should resemble more the forms of yoga stretching routines. For an excellent list & illustrations of injury-preventive exercises, check out esurgeon.com/vkatz. Victor is a world-class orthopedic surgeon, and with an affinity for this sport, a clean-skating & excellent hockey player. He is the only person that this author knows who could actually break your hand with a slapshot and then surgically repair it for you in that same afternoon!
#14 Off-ice /at the rink: Don’t sit down, as the skaters do. Stand up and do in-place stretches and even squats as much as space allows. Don’t sit idly unless you are purposely meditating, but in that noisy environment, that is tough to do!
#15 Useful cross-training physical activities are [in no particular order] –
- Jumping rope, forward and backward, using wrist weights and/or ankle weights to build agility
- Bicycling, preferably with a fixed gear sprocket–so there is no coasting! Buy tubeless tires so that you won’t have to worry or stop for a flat tire, i.e., don’t lose time with changing flat tires. Besides, the slightly added weight of the puncture-proof material helps the training effect for your leg muscles. Very cost-feasible, and these items are now available in bright colors for dusk & night-time bicycling!
- Racquetball and handball, and preferably while wearing wrist and/or ankle weights
- Baseball batting practice, for hand-eye coordination, and once again using wrist weights.
- The elliptical machine, if a member of a gym, or have one at home & when not resting up.
#16 As for off-ice reading, the “On Goaltending” book by Hockey Hall of Famer Jacques Plante (re-released in print) can be very inspirational. Other articles are available from various sportswriters, but that book still has a few “game changer” ideas.
Goaltenders are good at reading pucks, so reading this would hopefully help your game as a ‘go-to’ person on the ice!
With very special thanks to my former goalie coach, Rogatien Vachon,
Vezina Trophy winner with the Montreal Canadiens, the unparalleled instructional mentor, from (way) back in the day!