We’re celebrating the wonderful sport of goaltending this week and next at the NSWC, and I’ve got to be honest, the amount of careful preparation and planning that goes into the position long before the player ever steps on the ice is impressive.
…Impressive, that is, for those goaltenders passionate enough about the sport to obsess over it constantly.
I’ve been coaching for 15 years. I’ve been crowned a genius because of goaltenders stealing games for me and I’ve been fitted for goat horns because of goaltenders with a bad puck allergy. It’s the most important position in the game. Goalies make or break a team.
Here are the 5 crucial components of goaltending, the pillars by which successful goalies develop their craft.
The technical component of goaltending incorporates all the various skills and habits a goalie needs to hone in order to stop the puck. Developed primarily during on-ice training and practices, technical movements include skating, stick position, hand position, save selection and specific techniques related to unique game styles.
Curtis Joseph’s skills with the ol' catcher in overtime of game 7 in the 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs vs. the Dallas Stars falls into this category.
If you’ve watched that clip above all morning instead of working like I have, then you’ll recognize Joseph’s save occurred in a key moment of the game. Did he foresee Todd Marchant scoring on THE NEXT SHIFT to send the unlikely Oilers to the second round of the playoffs?
Maybe not, but he was damn sure aware of Joe Nieuwendyk lurking in front of the net when the rebound popped out to him.
This is the tactical side of the game, the part that’s only learned through countless hours of repetition and study of the game - understanding where everyone on the ice is, playing your position and anticipating the play.
Goalies need thick skin. When the team wins they are the hero. When the team loses the blame falls squarely on the goaltender. There’s always an extra save to be made. Look at Grant Fuhr, he’s a hero in Edmonton because he routinely won games while letting in 8 goals.
Mental strength is a crucial component for goalies to develop in order to focus squarely on the next shot, the next save. It starts long before the game is played - at younger ages, in practice and while learning life skills like self-reliance and self-inspiration.
Goalies are often in the best shape of anyone on the team. Until men’s league comes around, that is.
A goaltender can read the play, possess fantastic skills and be mentally tough, but if they can’t get from one side of the crease to the other to stop a shot then the rest means nothing. Core strength is the key to a goalie’s physical conditioning - every movement begins in the core and then stretches out to the arms and legs.
*I have no Oiler reference for this pillar. Sorry.
The final pillar of successful goaltenders is their pregame and pre-practice routine. Why? Because goalies who act differently on different days are going to lose an edge when it really counts.
For example, Dwayne Roloson (ha!) was an unlikely hero in the Oilers’ run to the cup final in 2006. Roloson was a robot - he worked just as hard every practice as he did in games. His routine never changed and he never took a minute off. Every shot was an opportunity to prove himself to his naysayers.
The best goalies on Earth try just as hard in practice as they do in games.
Some goalies excel in certain pillars, there’s nothing unnatural about that. The important thing is to maximize strength in each element while working on the weaknesses.
…And then one day your team will draft Connor McDavid and everything will work out fine.