Being an active goaltender and an avid hockey watcher, I have come to realize that the goalies that have made it to the NHL or other levels of professional hockey all have one skill in common: winning. It is an actual skill to know how to win. The best goalies do not always have a great team every year. Great goalies know how to win with a good team and also find ways to win with a mediocre team. From being involved on some championship teams, I feel that winning is almost like an addiction. Once you get that feeling of being rewarded for all of the sacrifice and hard work, you canʼt wait until you can feel that again. That winning feeling is what keeps many hockey players striving to do their best.
Here are some of the characteristics of winning goalies that I have noticed:
Control the Routine Saves
Hockey is a game of controlled chaos. There are many scrambles and scrums in front of the net each game. Winning goalies control the shots that are meant to start all of this chaos in the first place. They limit the rebound opportunities and also have the ability to smother pucks that are loose in the crease area.
Make the Big Play
In most hockey games, there is a time when the game shifts to one team’s favor. As a goaltender, we have the luxury of playing all 60 minutes. This means that we have the best odds to be involved in “the big play” or big plays. I have been in games when a big save was needed in the first minute of the game, and also in the last minute of the game. The time to change the outcome of the game can happen at any moment, and the best goalies have the ability to do it on a consistent basis.
Winning is a habit and a daily approach to doing your best. No matter if the game is full of defensive breakdowns and a lot of offense, the best goalies find a way to win. All the great goalies have won low-scoring games (i.e. 1-0) and high scoring games (i.e. 7-6). Goalies that donʼt get too high or too low in these games are the ones that win. Play all 60 minutes to your full potential, regardless of the score, and you have given yourself a chance to win.
When someone is confident, it shows in their play. Every time the puck comes to them, they know without a doubt that they will stop it. This sort of confidence comes from working hard in practice, and knowing that every necessary step was taken to prepare for the game. They make tough saves look easy, and they believe that they will win the game. This winning attitude is spread throughout the rest of the team.
Play with an Edge
I believe that this skill is more about the mentality of the goaltender. Growing up a smaller goaltender and being overlooked due to my size, I felt that I always had something to prove. Every goalie has their own story and motivation, and the ones who bring their determination and passion onto the ice are noticeable. The stronger-willed goaltender usually comes out on top.
Sometimes working as hard as you possibly can and following these guidelines still wonʼt lead to a victory. Going through the ups and downs of a season has a way of keeping us humble and reminding us that we can always get better in everything that we do. What is truly important is that you give your absolute best effort and enjoy this beautiful game of hockey.
Jeff Lerg is the head director at Future Pro USA Goaltending.