If you ever watch highlight videos of a game from the past generations, you will quickly notice the different style of play of the goaltenders from then until now. Almost everyone will agree that the modern butterfly style gets the job done better than the stand-up style from the 1980s. The total goals per game in that era was around eight and now it is around five. Goaltenders now have far better technique, and continue to find new ways to fill the most amount of net possible. There is one skill, however, that seems to have been neglected in the transition from the stand-up style to the butterfly goaltender.
That skill is the goaltender’s ability to use his stick.
After training hundreds of goaltenders throughout the summer, I can tell you that most developing goaltenders understand the concept of the butterfly. We train them to drive both knees down to the ice as quickly as possible, while keeping their chest up and hands in a ready position. Many goalies, myself included, train their hand-eye coordination in order to be able to make a reaching blocker save or a flashy glove save. We also consistently train our bodies to fire our legs rapidly from side to side to be able to react to any low shots with our pads. The problem with always making saves with your pads is that there will usually be a rebound. Too many goalies settle for continuously making saves with their pads, which will consistently lead to more scrums and loose pucks in the scoring areas.
When goaltenders or parents send me game clips, they usually contain saves that require a lot of movement or athleticism; they usually don’t include a stick save that directed the puck into the corner from a low shot on the ice. It isn’t flashy enough and the average goalie parent wouldn’t think twice about mentioning that save to their son or daughter after game. The fact is that an accurate stick save – directing the puck into the corner or out of play (above the glass) – is sometimes a more difficult save than the flashy glove save. The save itself might not be difficult, but controlling the puck is what makes it so tough. Catching a puck should be the easiest save we make since that glove has deep netting to absorb the puck’s velocity. Moving your stick fast enough to catch up to the puck, while also having the correct arc on your stick is a difficult thing to do.
The simple reason for the lack of stick control is that there just isn’t enough time put into developing it. Goaltenders have mastered the butterfly and have gotten too comfortable making all the saves with their pads. We need to make stick control a new priority in goaltender development. Once you start to get confident in having a more active stick, you will start to see that you will become more confident with poke checks, pulling in loose pucks in front of the crease, and also playing the puck.
Here are a few tips to master this skill:
- React with your stick while you are exploding down into your butterfly. It is important to get your pad extended out to make the save, just in case you miss it with the stick.
- Keep your hands in front of your body, so that your stick stays about 3-6 inches in front of your pads when you go down into the butterfly.
- Tilting your stick on too much of an angle could result in defecting the puck into your own net. The puck should not hit another piece of equipment or body part after it hits the stick. If it does then you have it tilted too far back.
- Your stick should follow a semi-circle path (use the outline of the crease to practice)
- Make sure your stick is light enough for you. Don’t use an adult stick if you haven’t mastered control of a youth stick.
A goaltender that has developed the other physical and technical skills and also adds great stick involvement will surely move up in the hockey ranks.
Jeff Lerg is the head director at Future Pro USA Goaltending.