VANCOUVER -- For a lot of goaltenders, right up to the NHL level, summer has long been a time to go back to school and learn new things.
Whether it's working to refine existing techniques with an old coach or seeking fresh ideas from a new one, many spend part of their offseason at a goalie school. Combined with the increased access to position-specific coaches in-season, it's a big reason goaltending continues to evolve and improve.
Increasingly, however, goalies aren't the only players at goalie schools.
At a number of high-end goaltending camps this summer, it was common to find NHL players working as shooters. Ottawa Senators center Curtis Lazar, Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tyler Myers and free agent forward David Booth took part in OR Sports goalie sessions in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Lazar was a regular, giving him the opportunity to shoot hundreds of pucks at a list of goalies that included the Toronto Maple Leafs' James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, the Carolina Hurricanes' Eddie Lack, Winnipeg Jets prospect Eric Comrie, free agent Leland Irving, and 2015 Vezina Trophy finalist Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild.
For Lazar, goalie schools not only provide a great opportunity to work on his shot during the offseason, but a chance to learn the latest about and from the goalies he has to try and beat when the season starts.
"You get to see the mechanics and all the stuff goalie coaches work on," Lazar told NHL.com "It's their point of view. You can tell the angle they are supposed to hold their blocker or their glove, and as a shooter, you come in and you can find holes. A lot of it is specific skills, attacking from different angles and stuff the goalie needs to work on but we can also get better at. You see a goalie and see a weakness maybe. I now know the difference between a goalie that is pretty fluid in the crease and moves well and a guy that has holes, and how to hopefully embarrass him that way."
Lazar's comments show how the benefit of having NHL shooters at summer goaltending schools works both ways. In addition to giving skaters a place to work on their craft against the best, goalies appreciate having top-end shooters firing away at them.
That's one reason NET360 Goalies brought in Jets coordinator of player development Jimmy Roy to a week-long goaltending camp that included Reimer, Dubnyk, the New York Islanders' Thomas Greiss, and prospects Laurent Brossoit of the Edmonton Oilers, Chris Driedger of the Ottawa Senators and Nathan Lieuwen of the Buffalo Sabres. Roy, who was a center for 14 seasons in the minor leagues and Europe, added value for an impressive list of shooters that included Booth, Myers, Jets forward Andrew Ladd and Oilers defensemen Justin Schultz, making sure there was a specific focus for shooters in each drill and helping each side learn from the other.
"Part of what we ask Jimmy to do is don't just work with the shooters, work with the goalies too," said Ray Petkau, a Manitoba-based agent who helped start NET360 camps, which also include mentoring for young goalies. "His job is to create offense, to find ways to teach the forwards and defensemen to score. So we've asked him to work with the goalies too, tell them what you are teaching shooters."
Last summer, NET360 brought in shooting and skills coach Tim Turk.
"When there's a shootout in the NHL, how many times do we see a shooter go to the bench and ask the backup goalie what they should do?" Petkau said. "This is similar; getting a coach whose job it is to teach scoring and now ask them to help the goaltenders by telling them the same things."
Making sure the drills benefit everyone also helps keep the intensity level high on both sides of the puck, Petkau said. Goalies and shooters are so inherently tied to each other that new Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending coach Steve Briere eventually split his Canadian Professional Goaltending Schools into two parts: One for goalies, the other for shooters.
"It goes hand in hand," said Briere, who has each component at his school's 30 locations and has worked with pro shooters. "Players are working on shooting in specific spots, and goalies are working to stop specific spots."
There are other signs that some shooters may be catching up to goaltenders when it comes to using the offseason to improve skills. Where goalies often would work on their game during the offseason while players worked out off the ice, more now are seeking biomechanics-based scoring help from coaches like Ron Johnson, who runs Elite Hockey Shooters in Vancouver and has worked with the Anaheim Ducks' Ryan Kesler, the San Jose Sharks' Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, the Maple Leafs' Shawn Matthias, and the Islanders' Kyle Okposo, among others.
As goalies use the offseason to study new and better ways to close holes and shut down shooters, Johnson teaches how to open them up with a variety of techniques to improve shot velocity, accuracy and deception. And as goalies have developed their own language, with terms like "reverse-VH," "vertical angles" and "box control," Johnson talks about 11 different scoring strategies and various releases, using phrases like "white space," "grip mechanics," "false lines of attack" and other techniques designed to change things up on goalies.
"Because goalies are getting better and better, there is more emphasis on different shooting styles and goal-scoring styles," Johnson said. "Deception is becoming a really important shooting topic among pro players. So they are now taking different lanes to the net, they are shooting with their feet moving, they are shooting by looking off the goaltender. They are trying to hide the natural reads that goaltenders have off shooters."
The advantage still belongs to the goalies simply because there are more of them that have taken this skill-based approach to the offseason for a longer time. But that pendulum appears to be swinging slowly.
"Unfortunately, shooters aren't dedicated to their craft to point of being on the ice or in a shooting room twice a week," Johnson said. "But goalies work every day at their craft, so goaltending has surpassed the shooters. I think shooters need to wake and realize this is a competition and that goaltenders are getting better."
Part of that includes taking part in summer goaltending camps.
"I spend a lot of time talking to goaltenders about what the shooters think," Johnson said, "And I encourage all my shooters to go spend time talking to goalie coaches about what they think."