KELOWNA, British Columbia -- If you want to understand why goaltending continues to improve and save percentages continue to rise in the NHL, visit this town in mid-August.
In a region known for warm weather, water sports on the lake and world class winery tours, you will find eight NHL-connected goalies, including James Reimer of the Florida Panthers, Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild and Eddie Lack of the Carolina Hurricanes, on the ice taking part in an annual five-day camp designed to provide the latest in position-specific training.
Founded by agent Ray Petkau of Alpha Hockey Inc. and trainer Adam Francilia three years ago, the NET360 Goalie Camp gives goalies a chance to work with four different coaches -- and each other -- on the latest techniques and tactics on the ice, and get cutting edge training off it.
"The way they do things I think is so much ahead of the curve," said Chris Driedger, a third-year pro with the Ottawa Senators. "I feel like the new wave of goaltending is being started here."
From the latest in vision testing and training, to workouts that isolate and build muscles used in movement patterns specific to goaltending, the camp is a microcosm of the offseason culture of the past 15 years that has helped goaltenders stay a step ahead of skaters, who only recently began to move beyond a bigger-stronger-faster approach to focus on skill building.
This summer, NET360 brought in skills coach Tim Turk to work the goalie camp, which not only helped attract good NHL skaters, including forward Andrew Ladd of the New York Islanders and defenseman Justin Schultz of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but allowed the goaltenders to have an ongoing dialogue with players who break down their styles and try to score on them.
"From the coaches to the goalies and even the shooters, you are sharing different ideas and different aspects of how you see the game," said Reimer, who is represented by Petkau, has worked with Francilia for eight years, and has been a staple at all three NET360 camps. "I was having good conversations with Tim Turk about what he wants the shooters doing, what they are looking for and trying to take advantage of, and what he is teaching them to be better at scoring. It's good to have all that information so you can kind of sculpt your game."
On the ice, the goalie coaching staff was led by returnee Ryan Cyr, who runs a school in Winnipeg and has worked in the Canadian Hockey League; former NHL goalie Fred Brathwaite, who works with Hockey Canada; Reto Schurch of SC Bern in the Swiss League; and Freddie Chabot, the goaltending development coach of the Minnesota Wild. Each brought their own unique drills, ideas and ideals, but it was clear they weren't there to dictate to their pro pupils, working instead to establish a dialogue with each goalie pairing.
"We are challenged every day with new techniques, adjusting to drills and using our skills to try new things," said Mackenzie Skapski, entering his third season in the New York Rangers system. "That's the developing part of the position, hearing different voices and seeing what you like and don't. We had four different voices, and I pulled something from each one."
Just as important was the interaction among the goalies, whether it was comparing notes on how they play certain situations on the ice, or making small equipment adjustments off it.
"I feel like the interaction with other goalies and just hanging out with these guys and seeing a couple things they do on and off the ice has been extremely helpful for me," said Lack, who changed how he ties up his skates to get more ankle flex after talking with Dubnyk. "It's a very easy thing that me and (Troy Grosenick of the San Jose Sharks) didn't know about, but we tried it and we loved it."
Off the ice, NET360 also invited Dan Bos, a Vancouver area-based physiotherapist Reimer has credited with saving his career, to work with the athletes before and after each ice time.
Grosenick noticed the difference the first time Bos had him on the trainer's table.
"I told him my hip on my left side, down through [my thigh] was always sore," said Grosenick, beginning his fourth season in the Sharks organization. "I was on the table and literally 20 minutes later, my hip was not an issue. It was not an issue all week, which if I am working as hard as we did in this camp, my hip is always going to be sore all week. But it was not an issue at all, and the only thing that changed was him."
Skapski, who had hip surgery in 2015, had a similar experience with Francilia. Instead of treatment, Skapski adjusted the way he held his pelvis in his stance.
Francilia worked with the goalies to activate their core in their stance to neutralize their pelvis, tucking it under rather than sticking out their behinds and rounding their lower back. In addition to easing problematic pinching the hips, Skapski felt it freed up his hands and skate edges.
"From head to toe I could feel the difference right away on the ice," Skapski said. "It started with my upper body and hands, it went down into my hips, and I felt way more mobile."
NET360 also added vision training this season, bringing in Josh Tucker and Chelsea Laden of True Focus Vision in Minnesota to test how each goalie's eyes converged, diverged and tracked a puck moving around the zone. From there, Tucker and Laden showed the goaltenders how to improve any vision weaknesses they discovered and how to properly warm up their eyes before a game.
Several goalies signed on for continued vision training sessions during the season.
"Another resource some of us might not have otherwise had," said Laurent Brossoit, who will begin his third pro season in the American Hockey League as the Edmonton Oilers third-string goalie.
Giving goaltenders access to those tools is what NET360 is all about.
"It's disappointing when it ends," Dubnyk said. "It would be nice to do this all summer."