A Critical and Undervalued Role:
Developing a Goaltender
Focusing on goalie specific skills during a team practice and catering to their development.
Ask any coach to look at their bench and point to the best player on the team - 9 times out of 10 they will probably point to a first line center or #9 who has 38 goals on the season or maybe a large defenseman who has unbeatable gap control and perfect crossovers. How often do coaches turn around and point to the player between the pipes? I'm talking about the individual that spends far more time on the ice than any other player on all four lines.
I cannot count the number of times that I have walked into a rink and started up a conversation with a coach from another team by asking how their season is going and the first thing they say is "it's going really well but our goaltending is terrible." To which, I say... "Great! So, how much time do you spend with your goaltender during practice getting them the work they need to improve?" Then, while watching their practice, the coach has a slew of drills with 1 on 0's, 1 on 1's, or 2 on 1's all with the objective of scoring goals and defeating the goalies' confidence.
We all see it far too often - the goalie will do some quick skating drills with the players to warm up. Maybe they will take a couple of laps and then stretch a little bit then jump right into taking shots during the 10 minute "horseshoe drill" (the drill where players stand in opposite corners and take off to catch a pass from the opposite line then skate back again to take a shot 1 on 0). Some clubs will have a designated day once a week or every other week when the goalie gets individual instruction with a goalie coach. But like any other hockey player, that is not nearly enough repetition to make them better throughout a season and they are never as good as the coaches would like for them to be.
The first thing that we do when we hit the ice for practice is section off an area along one of the goal lines for the goalies to work. Then, we have them spend the 10 or 15 minutes that the players are using to do edgework and skating/skills based drills to work on their own individualized drills. These include 6 sets of (down-and-back, width-wise across the goal line) t-stops, (down-up) slides, and knee-down pushes. The first set of 3 with their glove and blocker up and in the correct position and the second with the two goalies facing each other tossing a glove back and forth. We follow that with a balance drill - either two-foot slalom hops over the goal line or stick swings (like jump-rope but with a coach swinging a stick under the goalie while they two foot hop over it). Finally, we do a version of an iron cross with the goalie facing one cone, starting in the middle. They slide left, pivot 45 degrees to the right, slide to the next cone facing the inside of the cross, slide straight across, pivot 45 degrees to the left, slide to the next cone and then back to the middle. Depending on the skill (and size - mites might take a bit longer), this should take somewhere around 10 minutes to complete and now your goalies should be warm and ready to go. Our goalies do this every single practice and because of the hard work, our starter received the award for top goalie in the league this season.
Making the effort to do goalie specific drills so that they can be in shape to perform the way that we need them to benefits not only their development, but everyone on the ice. If a goalie is saving a higher percentage of shots during practice, the rest of your team is forced to adjust and find more innovative ways to get the puck in the back of the net. Ultimately, this will push the development of the game forward and it starts with working with the player who spends more time on the ice than anyone else.