After countless hours on the ice and in the gym, my body and brain have developed habits that go on display when I hit the ice and pucks start flying at me. Most movements and saves have become second nature and are happening without any thinking at all. To the frustration of everyone, just because something has been embedded into our brains, it doesn’t mean we perform perfectly every time. When I feel like I am getting away from my game, I try to simplify it with a three-part method. For each shot, I will locate the puck, track the puck off the shooter’s stick, and then control each puck. Notice that this method does not say “stop” the puck, but “control” the puck. It doesn’t do much good if you make a save and let the rebound end up behind you not long after. This very basic guideline can be a teaching point for young goaltenders to follow and also helps to simplify the position when the speed of the game pushes goaltenders beyond their comfort zone.
First, locate the puck. It seems very simple but becomes increasingly difficult when you add five players on each team skating around simultaneously. Locating the puck through traffic is one of the toughest skills that a goaltender needs to develop. It isn’t easy to control the puck if you don’t know the origin of the shot. The puck moves faster than any skating player, so any time the puck is moved from any point on the ice, your eyes can find the puck faster than your body can physically get there. Locating the puck with your eyes before moving also helps you select the correct type of movement. Your peripheral vision will help decide if you have enough time to move on your feet or if you are more desperate and need to slide.
Next, track the puck. Tracking the puck correctly means watching the puck release from the shooter’s stick and simultaneously choosing the correct save selection. Since the technical aspect of goaltending has become more prevalent in the modern hockey era, I feel that this has led to a decreased ability for many goalies to track the puck. Many goaltenders have perfected the crease movements and will be ready for a shot and just expect the puck to hit them if they drop down into a butterfly every time. Being patient on your feet and actually reading the stick of the shooter are both necessary to fully track the puck. The motion of the player’s stick tells the story for where the shot will end up, and this skill is developed by truly watching the puck release from the stick. The goaltender’s eyes should be glued on the puck from the moment it releases off the opponents stick.
Finally, you need to control the puck. It should go without saying that if you control the puck, that means that you have stopped it. In order to control each puck, some of the skills that you need to develop are stick control, glove and blocker control, gut traps and pad control. No goalie in the world can put every single puck where they want to because the speed and unpredictability of the game just doesn’t allow it. The goaltenders who make it to elite levels are the ones who consistently control pucks when moving (forwards, backwards, or laterally) and also the ones who can control shots through traffic. I try to remind myself to have laser-like precision on the puck in order to control it.
So, instead of filling your head with many technical movements and over-thinking the game, just keep it simple and locate, track, and control every puck.
Jeff Lerg is the head director at Future Pro USA Goaltending.