I’ve spent most of my adult life studying hockey. After I finished my junior and college career I began working in hockey as an administrator and a skills coach. I’ve dug deep into the finer points of the game’s tactics and strategies from every conceivable corner of the rink. I’ve played defense, wing, and centre, and I’ve developed a deep understanding of the unique habits necessary to experience success for each position.
And I still don’t understand goaltenders.
Well, every day is a new opportunity to learn about an important facet of the game, so I thought it would be a good idea to uncover some of the secrets about the toughest position in sports.
No, I’m not talking about being a goalie parent - that’s not a sport (right?) - but strapping the pads on and standing in the crease while a pound of rock-hard vulcanized rubber explodes off hockey sticks that undergo more testing and development than the space shuttle?
That requires further study.
One of the best ways to get into the brain of a goalie (if you dare) is to identify traits common to goalies of different ages.
Small admission: I asked my friend Sean Murray for some help with this article. Again, it’s beyond my comprehension as to why an intelligent athlete would choose to be a goaltender.
But according to Sean, it’s that mindset that not only makes playing the position tolerable, but downright irresistible. “It takes a special human being to stand in front of lightning fast missiles being fired at them instead of being the one pulling the trigger,” says Sean.
As a coach, I choose to believe in the theory that goalies simply place the welfare of their team above their own. But according to Sean, goalies actually like being the last line of defense, regardless of age.
Now that we’ve solved some of the mystery as to why goalies of all ages choose to mind the twine, the next common thread is how they do so.
According to Sean, it all starts with stance. “Effective stance is the focus from day one,” Sean tells me. “The stance is your base both physically and mentally, and even if it’s not finely tuned when you’re eight, it’s essentially the same as the older counterparts.”
In the past two weeks I’ve gone from coaching goalies a foot shorter than me to goalies that are a foot taller, so it’s easy to see what Sean is talking about.
Every coach in Canada and the United States has expressed the same thought when it comes to their goalies - just stop the puck - but from the desire to play goal to the athletic base from which goalies build their technique, how and when the goalie moves is the key to accomplishing that holiest of holy athletic actions.
“Every goalie needs to know how and when to move,” Sean says. “Save selection is key, and like any sport, the more you practice specific situations, the quicker you can react.”
From the T Push to the butterfly to shuffles, skill level and dedication will impact how effective a goalie’s movements are, but the truth is that they’re common throughout the goalie fraternity.
In other words, Sean is saying that goalies of all ages stick together. On the surface there’s not a lot separating young goalies from the veterans, but beneath that surface?