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Right gear, drills can help young goalies succeed

Wednesday, 02.09.2011 / 9:00 AM / Hockey Skills presented by Canadian Tire

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Everyone who ever has strapped on a pair of ice skates has dreamed about scoring the winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

For those who end up playing goalie, however, that dream never will become a reality. So for goaltenders, it's about finding their own fun, love and passion in being the person stopping the winning goal from going in.

But making that discovery isn't always easy, and it can be even harder when that goalie is just starting out in the game.

"When I played, I just wanted to win -- win the game, that's the goal," Al Jensen told NHL.com.

Jensen played eight NHL seasons for the Red Wings, Capitals and Kings, and shared the 1984 William Jennings Trophy. He's currently the top goaltender scout for NHL Central Scouting, as well as a youth hockey coach for his kids.

"You're not going to get the winning goal of the game, but you can keep your team in the game," Jensen said. "Your team may be playing against a really good team and you can keep the game close and all of a sudden your team gets a goal and wins and it didn't maybe deserve it, but you win and that's a huge positive feeling for a goaltender."

"Your team may be playing against a really good team and you can keep the game close and all of a sudden your team gets a goal and wins and it didn't maybe deserve it, but you win and that's a huge positive feeling for a goaltender." -- Al Jensen

Keeping a young goalie confident and enjoying the game is the biggest part of coaching that position.

Jeff Reese, the goalie coach for the Philadelphia Flyers, told NHL.com he believes part of that confidence comes from having proper equipment.

"Equipment is very important, especially for the young kids, (ages) 6-10," Reese said. "A lot of times their parents might go out and buy them brand new equipment that's too big and want them to grow into it and (the kids) get frustrated and they can't move in the gear."

Rather than spend on new equipment -- leg pads, blocker, catching glove, shoulder and chest pads and mask can be expensive -- Reese suggests finding used gear that fits the young goalie better. Also, new pads can be stiff; used equipment generally has been broken in and will be easier for a young goalie to move around in.

"The best way to go is lightly-used gear that fits," Reese said. "It's a lot cheaper for the parents, and the kids can move better. Not just pads -- upper gear, even sticks. … I think equipment is very important. For the kids, I would look at slightly-used gear."

Jensen said one of the most important pieces of equipment for him is good-fitting skates. Skates are the foundation for every hockey player, and the theory of a coach putting his worst skater in net has become an anachronism.

"One of the biggest misconceptions is, and this might be dating back, is they don't have to be good skaters," Reese said. "I disagree. A goaltender needs to be a good skater and move well in the net and recover well and have some athleticism. You throw a guy in that can't skate that well because he doesn't have to move all that much, but if you look at the best goalies in the League, they all move well."

Practice time for a goalie also is important, because it's radically different than what the regular skaters are doing. And if the team is going through a special-teams drill, all the action could be at one end of the ice, leaving one goalie standing and watching. At the youth level, that's wasted development time.

"When I watch young goalies in practice, there's a lot of standing around for drills," Reese said. "It's not the coach's fault, they have to look after the 14, 15, 16 other kids on the ice, but there's a lot of standing around. During that time they should be doing movement in the net."

Jensen believes footwork drills are the most important thing for a goalie to work on.

"With their feet, with their recovery," he said. "Recovery is huge. It's balance, it's the proper C-cutting, proper leg pushes, getting up on proper legs. Not playing soft -- playing hard and strong. Those are the drills. I really work on technical stuff with the kids. I really work on their footwork and recovery and body positioning in the net. Those are the most crucial things for a young goalie."

Reese believes stickhandling for a goaltender also is a crucial trait for a young goalie to develop.

"After age 10 the puckhandling is something they need to work on," Reese said. "Coaches can do that with breakouts -- get the goalie involved in breakouts. When they're standing there doing nothing, coach can do shots to the glove, drop it and put it back. Grab a puck and start fooling around with it."

When Reese was the goalie coach in Tampa Bay, he said Mike Smith often could be found working on his puckhandling skills. He's regarded as one of the better in the League at that skill.

"Mike Smith grabs a puck when we're skating around and starts playing with it, stickhandling and shooting," Reese said. "That's an area scouts will look at. It's a dimension that got (Rick) DiPietro drafted first overall. He wasn't that big, but the dimension that threw him over the edge was the puckhandling. That's another area they need to learn how to do. It's very important."

Also important is off-ice work. Reese recommended yoga.

"If I was starting again, I would get into yoga," he said. "I watch yoga, do a little bit now. Yoga is strength, flexibility and concentration, and that's goaltending. That's where I would go if I was really serious about it. Probably at 12, 13, 14, that's one area that I would really get serious about. If I knew about yoga then, that's something I would have looked into."

Jensen said anything to do with hand/eye coordination is vital to a young goaltender.
"If I was starting again, I would get into yoga. I watch yoga, do a little bit now. Yoga is strength, flexibility and concentration, and that's goaltending. That's where I would go if I was really serious about it." -- Jeff Reese
"I played racquetball a lot," he said. "It helped my leg drive and leg strength. Ping-pong, any racket sport, tennis. … Those are very important, hand/eye coordination and strength in your legs."

While the physical aspect of the position is important, developing the mental side also is essential.

"One thing that can be said to (young goalies) is your teammates are all watching you," Reese said. "You need to be the one that's under control and they're going to read off you and how you're acting in the net. If you let a goal in and sulk, your team is going to be nervous. It's important to be a leader on the ice and very positive. When you let a goal in, skate over to your bench and say we're going to be all right. Just have a positive outlook. These are all things that you really notice."

The one thing playing goal has in common with the other positions on the ice, however, is making sure young goalies learn to have fun with the game.

"It's fun because you're part of the team," Jensen said. "I see the teammates tapping my daughter on the pads, on the head, after the game. They're all happy, regardless of whether they win or lose."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com