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Goalie position has evolved greatly at youth level

Wednesday, 03.07.2012 / 11:03 AM / Hockey Skills presented by Canadian Tire

By Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

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Goalie position has evolved greatly at youth level
In the fast moving game of hockey, no position has evolved more at the youth level over the last decade than goaltending.
Vancouver Canucks' star Roberto Luongo fell in love with goaltending because of Grant Fuhr's glove saves, which is ironic -- perhaps almost blasphemous to some -- for a kid growing up in Montreal during the rise of both Patrick Roy and the birth of modern butterfly goaltending with his hometown Canadiens.

That didn't stop Luongo from dreaming of dramatic leather-flashing saves during street hockey games, or picturing himself as Fuhr playing in the basement.

It didn't take long, however, for the young Luongo to realize he needed to be more like Roy if he wanted to follow either goalie's path to the NHL.

"That's why I became a goalie in the first place, because of Fuhr's glove saves," Luongo says. "When I was a kid I really wanted to be like him, but I hit a point in my career when I was 14 or 15 that I decided I wanted to be a technical goalie, square to the shooter, more like Roy played. That's just the way the game is, not only the NHL, but the whole hockey world, everybody does the butterfly now."

Today they do it more efficiently, with more precision, than ever before.

"It wasn't too long ago that kids were self-taught. You'd watch Curtis Joseph or Ed Belfour on TV and try to pick up things that they did." -- Stars' goaltending coach Mike Valley

Just ask Mike Valley, who played six seasons of professional hockey after being signed out of college by his hometown Canucks, stopping pucks all over North America and for two years in Sweden before becoming a goalie coach.

Now in charge of goaltenders for the Dallas Stars, Valley has seen the position evolve dramatically over the years firsthand, but for other ex-NHL stoppers that have been away from it for even a little while, the change can be shocking.

"It's unbelievable," said Valley, who also founded Elite Goalies schools. "Steve Shields came out as an instructor last year and he hadn't worked at any camps or instructed before and he said 'I can't believe these kids, some of these young kids have better technique than guys that are playing semi-pro or pro.'"

There's no shame in admitting that.

In the fast moving game of hockey, no position has evolved more over the last decade. Even within the last five years, it wasn't uncommon to hear established NHL goalies saying the same thing after visiting kids camps over the summer months and seeing groups of 12-year-olds flying around the ice.

"It wasn't too long ago that kids were self-taught," Valley said. "You'd watch Curtis Joseph or Ed Belfour on TV and try to pick up things that they did."

Ironically, it wasn't until the final years of a long career that Joseph learned about a concept like proper leg recovery -- the idea that if you wanted to get out of the butterfly and move to your left, you should get up on the right skate first since it was the one you'd be pushing with. Joseph only added it after seeing kids at goalie schools and realizing they moved more efficiently than he did.

Nowadays, young goalies have proper leg recovery ingrained by age 10.

So, too, are a lot of other proper puck-stopping techniques. With new goalie coaches, clinics and summer camps popping up all over North America, access to teaching tools for young puck stoppers has never been easier. Like the modern golf swing, today's goalie movements are broken down to the tiniest components, every aspect analyzed and then optimized with an endless array of short-range skating patterns and drills.

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It's all designed to expedite a goalie's ability to get from Point A to Point B by making the movements as simple and efficient as possible. But if it sounds complicated for a newcomer, or someone thinking about taking up the position, don't worry, like everything else in hockey it all starts with skating.

In question and answer sessions with NHL goalies over the last 10 years, two common responses emerged for what piece of advice they'd give a young kid just starting out in the position: Have fun and always work on your skating.

Sometimes that second part even means not limiting yourself to just playing goal all the time, especially at younger ages. For all the specialized drills designed for goalie-specific movements, edge control and balance develop through all kinds of skating.

"Personally I don't believe a nine-year-old should be a full-time goalie," said long-time Nashville Predators goaltending coach Mitch Korn, who also worked with Dominik Hasek in Buffalo and is regarded as one of the position's great teachers. "There should be two goalies on the team and when you are not playing goalie you are skating out because that's how you develop skill, that's how you learn the game, that's how you learn to skate."

Most NHL goalies never stop trying to improve their skating.

Watch the warm-ups before a game and you'll see usually them moving around the crease -- often in an imaginary crease at the sideboards -- in predetermined patterns with quick pushes and stops, drops and slides.

It's something young goalies can work on outside of camps and schools, whether during a break in play or practice, to take advantage of any downtime.

"Skating is just so important," Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro said. "It's one thing to be in shape and another to be in goalie shape. We use a lot of different muscles that no one really understands, so those are good drills and movements and something I always try to keep doing."

Valley agreed: "You have to be able to move," he said, adding that can include participating in other sports, especially at a young age. For all the advances in goalie-specific training tools off the ice and the trend towards yoga right up to the NHL level, there is real value in developing eye-hand coordination through activities like racquet sports or baseball instead of year-round goaltending.

"Become an athlete," Valley said. "NHL goalies are mostly good athletes."

That part hasn't changed in goaltending, even if everything else has.

In the next Canadian Tire feature: For all the increased focus on, and improvements in, technique over the last decade, the NHL's best goaltenders the last few years have often performed outside the "butterfly box," and some fear teaching has become too technical in minor hockey. NHL.com talks to Boston's Tim Thomas about the need to channel your inner street hockey goalie, and find a balance between a solid butterfly base and the increasing need for more reactionary, instinctive saves.