One of the key words that is linked to a goalie’s success is efficiency. A goalie who can play the position more efficiently will ultimately become a better goalie. Now, this is easier said than done, but if you implement the following efficiency tips into your game, you can help take your game to the next level.
- Making Saves in Front of the Body
- Leaning the Body
- Using Straight Lines
- Proper Rotations
- Leading with the Head
- Move the Whole Body Together
- Eliminate Unnecessary Movement
Making Saves in Front of the Body
One of the biggest wastes of time when goalies go to make saves is by pulling parts of their body backwards to make the save. First off, when setting up in the stance, the hands should always be out in front of the body. This allows for more net coverage from the puck’s perspective and also allows for easier puck tracking into the save. What is really important, however, is to make sure the hands stay out in front when making the save (both for glove saves and for stick saves).
If a goalie pulls back to make a save, the hands have to travel further in order to make a save as the hand is not only going to the side, but is also going backwards as well. That extra dimension of movement takes more time, and therefore makes the goalie a little slower. Not only that, but pulling back actually opens up more net, instead of closing it off. Think of making the save like a hand and a lightbulb. The closer your hand is toward the light bulb, the bigger the shadow that is cast on the wall behind. The farther away it is, the smaller the shadow. Goaltending is the same way. The closer a part of a goalie is to the puck, the more coverage of the net they have (ie, a bigger shadow), and vice versa when they pull their hands back.
All in all, keeping the hands out in front while making saves allows a goalie to get coverage to the extremities of the net in very little time (including top corner). By getting good at making saves in front of the body, a goalie can become significantly quicker without having to be physically quicker or have a quicker reaction time. A good way to work on this skill is to make saves in a controlled drill (no movements) where the location of the shot is known, and then just practicing executing saves in front of the body with the hands or the stick.
Leaning the Body
The body is one of the goalie’s most useful and underrated tools. When used correctly, the body allows the goalie to really dictate the pace of play and take control of the game. The largest area of coverage a goalie has is their body, and leaning it into their saves allows for two main benefits.
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First, the goalie becomes a little bit quicker since not only is their hand or stick moving towards the puck, their body is too. This is a great way to really “shrink” the net and allow the goalie to cover the net in less time. One thing that goalies, especially younger goalies, find very eye opening is getting them to lay on their stomach in the slot facing the net (now they are looking from the puck’s perspective) and having someone in the net just lean their body side to side while in the butterfly. This shows just how much coverage of the net the goalie can accomplish just by leaning their body. Now do the same and add the hand moving in front of the body (as stated above), and show the goalie just how little movement is required to make the saves. Just remember, keep the shoulders forward while leaning into a save!
The second benefit is rebound control. Most of the time, it is universally agreed upon that the chest save is the easiest save to make, and is one of the preferred saves to make due to the ease of controlling the rebound. When leaning the body into saves, the area of rebound control grows larger, and the percentage of shots the goalie can control goes up. This is key in being able to stall momentum, get fresh defensive legs on the ice, and not having to make a second, third, or fourth save. Rebound control also cuts down on goals against, as a large percentage of goals scored come off of rebounds.
What a lot of goalies do and don’t even realize when they are making their saves is that their body actually leans away from the puck a lot of times. it exposes more net and brings the body away from the puck, making it take longer to get to the puck as well. Learning to make saves by leaning the body into them does wonders for being quicker and more efficient at making saves.
Using Straight Lines
Nobody wants to relive their high school physics classes, but the bottom line is that the quickest way from point A to point B is in a straight line. For goalies, this applies to movement, but also applies to save execution as well.
A lot of times when performing a movement, goalies tend to want to move their lower body first. What happens when you try to turn and walk somewhere by turning your feet first, and then starting to walk? It isn’t a pretty sight. The body gets left behind, the movement path ends up creating this big arc instead of a straight line, and it also creates the potential to lose balance. The same goes for goaltending.
The key to a straight line push (the quickest and most efficient way to move), is the rotation. This rotation should happen first before any movement is created. What I tell my goalies is to do two things before they push: look, and rotate. The look allows you to identify where you need to push, and the rotate allows you to square up to where you are pushing before you actually push, allowing for that straight line. There will be more covered on the rotation in the next section, but just know that it is a key element in moving in a straight line.
Straight lines are also very important in making saves. One of the more common things I see in goalies is that their initial reaction to a shot is to pull their hands inwards, and then trying to push the hand outward to make a save. This obviously takes more time to get to the puck. Again, just like with movements, the straight line is the quickest way to get to the end goal, so anytime a save is made, the only movement that should be made is to get the body part in front of the puck. Straight line, out in front of the body, and just enough movement to meet the puck where it is going. This is how the higher level goalies can make saves look very easy sometimes.
As discussed above, straight lines help make goaltending a lot easier. Rotations are a big part of getting the proper straight line push when making a movement. The key to getting that straight line is to rotate the body so that it is square (chest, shoulders, hips, and hands facing directly at the puck) before making the push. Getting square prior to the push allows for that straight line across, and even though it takes a little bit of extra time to rotate, you can actually get into the lane of the shot quicker because of the straight line.
When rotating, we should be rotating top down. This means that we rotate in this order: head, shoulders/chest, hands, hips, and then feet. One of my coaches refers to this as the 4H’s: head, hands, hips, heels. The body follows the head, so the head should always be used to lead. Usually if we work the other way, as in rotating the feet first, the body never really gets fully around and the rotation does not get completed, as the push starts before the body comes around. Rotating the head first also means that we can get our eyes on the end point of our push allowing us to know where we are going and start tracking the puck earlier. There will be more on the head in the next section.
Ultimately, the big key to getting quicker at getting across the net (without actually having to get physically quicker and stronger), is to getting a proper rotation BEFORE making a push. It may take longer at first once you are trying to get used to the technique and the process, but once it becomes a habit, everything is smooth and efficient.
Leading with the Head
This has been touched on in other sections, and the reason for that is because the head is such an important part of being a goalie. Naturally, our body follows wherever our head goes. This means that as a goalie, our head must lead us to where we actually want to go. We talked about being in front of our body to make our saves. The best way to effectively do this comes from how we track the puck. If we “track down” (our head is looking down at the puck as the shot is coming towards us), naturally, our shoulders are going to lean forward and down into our save, which will bring our hands and chest with as well. However, if our head pulls back when a shot happens, our shoulders come back which also brings our hands back, and our weight is shifted backwards and off balance. This also opens up more net, and makes it harder to track the puck to make a proper save.
When it comes to movements, our head is what helps us make the proper rotations, and to also know where we need to go. Turning the head allows the eyes to find where the threat is on a pass across, or where the puck has gone on a rebound. It also then starts the process of that all important rotation, bringing the shoulders, chest, hands, hips, and feet right along with it.
Move the Whole Body Together
As a goalie coach, I love using video as a teaching tool. It is crazy seeing certain issues come up continuously in goalies of all ages and skill levels. One of those issues is body control. When breaking down the video, it seems so obvious, but most goalies aren’t aware that they are leaving parts of their body behind. In some cases, a lot of goalies tend to actually move parts of their body AWAY from pucks. This is why it is important for you to be able to be aware of your body, and be able to control it to be as efficient as possible.
One of the easiest examples to spot is a goalie’s hands. In a lot of cases, especially younger goalies who maybe aren’t as strong in their pushes, goalies will swing their hands and arms back to gain momentum into their push. This usually results in their hands pulling back and being behind their body. This causes issues both with net coverage and with making saves in front of the body, as discussed above. This also tends to cause the stick to be left behind and the five hole is wide open for an ice burner.
There are, however, many other examples that aren’t quite as obvious to pick up. A lot of times when trying to make a save, a goalie’s body will actually pull away slightly from a shot. For example, a shot to the glove side will see the body shift more towards the blocker side of the net as the goalie stretches out to make a glove save. Another one that ties in to a previous section is that it is common for a goalie to lead with their feet in a push, and they leave their eyes looking toward where they are coming from, not where they are going. When we move as goalies, it is important that every part of the body moves together towards the end goal, which is either a final destination in a movement, or the execution of a save. The head and the eyes bring the shoulders, chest, and hands, which brings the hips, and finally the legs and feet. Once everything works together to get from point A to B, it makes you a lot quicker and the game becomes a lot easier.
Eliminate Unnecessary Movement
This is another item that is a lot easier to see when breaking down video. Unnecessary movement is any movement of the body that does not help achieve the end goal of the goalie (a movement or a save). The unnecessary movements cause make it so that time and energy are wasted. By far the most common example of this is goalies pulling up in their pushes. For example, while making a t-push, your shoulders should maintain the same height off the ice (aka follow the same line) during the whole push. So often though, I can draw a straight line parallel to the ice on a goalie’s video, and during the push their shoulders come above that line, before coming back down. This causes the goalie to lose that horizontal momentum, it shifts their balance more to their heels, and overall causes a slight delay in getting to their final destination.
Unnecessary movements are very common when it comes to save execution as well. How many times have you gone to make a blocker save, only to have the puck hit the inside of your blocker and the rebound goes flying over to your glove side of the ice? Or worse, the puck hits the inside of your blocker and goes in? That is because we over extended and reached past the puck to make a save, extra, unnecessary movement that caused an unwanted result. As discussed above, goalies also have a tendency sometimes to want to pull their gloves in towards their body first, and then extend out towards their save (almost an involuntary type of flinch). This again causes a delay due to extra movement that doesn’t help to get to the final destination in the quickest way possible.
The next time you are training, think about all of the movements you are making with all parts of your body. Is it helping you to get to where you want to go? Or is it causing delays in the time it takes you to get from A to B. Really breaking down (I recommend videoing and watching in slow-mo) the movements you are making can really help identify areas that need to be improved upon.
Goaltending is such a nuanced position. There are so many small details that go into the position that the smallest of errors can be the difference between a save and a goal. Evaluate your game and figure out where the inefficiencies are. Cleaning those up can go a long way to helping make you a quicker goalie, without physically having to be quicker or stronger. Remember, as goalies, everything we do should have a purpose!
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