Incorporating Complete Goaltending Skill Development
Incorporating Complete Goaltending Skill Development
he following was submitted by Darren Hersh to USA Hockey as the final requirement to receive the Master Level Coach (Level 5) status in the USA Hockey Coaching Education Program.
by Darren Hersh
Many times you will here TV broadcasters, coaches and fans describe various goalies as having certain styles such as “stand-up” or “butterfly.” A problem with this type of labeling is that often coaches and young, developing goalies take these labels literally to mean that a goaltender who resorts to one style or the other is supposed to either ALWAYS stay up on shots or ALWAYS go down in a butterfly to stop shots regardless of what part of the net a shot is headed or what situation the goalie is facing. This common misconception often leads to serious limitations in a player’s skill development, because the label of the style that they have adopted makes them less receptive to instruction in fundamental goaltending techniques associated with another seemingly conflicting style.
For instance with younger butterfly goalies, techniques such as skate saves, kick saves and two-pad stacks are often completely abandoned. Conversely, stand-up goalies sometimes come to the conclusion that they should not use butterfly saves or two-pad stacks because they believe that they should always stay on their feet. In addition, goalies that consider themselves butterfly goalies often overuse moves such as the butterfly save and the paddle down move. Stand-up goalies also overuse skate saves in situations where other techniques will have a higher percentage chance of success.
The vast majority of the best goalies, those who make it to the college and professional ranks, are actually “hybrid” goalies, meaning that, at the appropriate moment in a game, they have developed and are able to incorporate any and all the fundamental goaltending skill techniques to stop the puck. They are not limited to any one style, but are able to use the tools of all styles. The purpose of this research is to relay to the reader the importance of instilling in young, developing goalies a complete, balanced and well-rounded skill set of fundamental goaltending techniques in order to advance their game as far as it can go. It is also meant to give coaches an understanding of some of the recent changes in the goaltending position and how they should teach these techniques.
Problems with Labeling a Style
(Butterfly vs. Stand-up vs. Flopper/Scrambler)
In the 1970s and 1980s, the predominant method of goaltending was the stand-up style. Goalies such as Bernie Parent and other disciples of Jacques Plante recognized the importance of positioning and angles and the value of remaining on the feet as long as possible to continually move into the proper position. This style was certainly an extreme that has changed to the other extreme since the insurgence of the highly effective goalies, like Patrick Roy and JS Giguere, from the province of Quebec with their latest version of the butterfly style. At the opposite ends of the spectrum, the labels of stand up and butterfly styles have led many people in the hockey world believe the most common myths that A. goalies should choose a certain style to play, B. these styles are literal explanations and that goalies who are stand up should never go down and goalies who are butterfly should never stay up and C. goalies should stick to their chosen style and not adapt the methods of a style that is perceived to be a competing style.
The danger of this mentality is that goalies are not often receiving the well-rounded technical skill education that will aid in their improvement at the position. To combat this phenomenon, it is important to dispel the myths about goalie styles and to help the hockey world understand that all goalies must develop all the fundamental skills of goaltending and that each is to be used at certain times and under certain situations. All the perceived myths about styles are in fact untrue and with a closer analysis of today’s best goalies, one can see that the games best puck stoppers use the proper save in the appropriate situation and the incorporate all of the fundamental techniques such as skate saves, butterflies and two-pad stacks. Mitch Korn, Goalie Coach of the Nashville Predators and former instructor of Dominic Hasek in Buffalo dispels the first myth that goalies should choose a certain style. As Korn points out, “In reality, no goaltender is purely one style or another. They are a hybrid…a combination that depends on the way the goaltender plays different situations.” 1 As Mitch Korn states, goalies are not exclusively one style or another, but they are a combination of all styles. It is true that goalies are not one style or another exclusively, thus a goalie, especially a young goalie, does not have to choose a certain style or believe that they must stick to the perceived rules of that style. Goalies must be taught that they need to learn all the “tools of the trade,” because all are used under the appropriate circumstance.
The second myth that must be dismissed is the notion that the labels for goaltending styles are literally explanations. While it is true that stand-up goalies stay on their feet more often than other goalies is true, but that does not mean that stand up goalies NEVER go down to the ice to stop shots or that they do not use some type of butterfly save such as a half butterfly or a butterfly slide to make saves. Stand-up goalies, like the recently retired Mike Richter of the New York Rangers often used a half-butterfly or full butterfly to stop shots low on the ice. In fact, Richter himself credits his long, illustrious career as a USA Olympic and NHL goalie to being able to improve and add more tools to his “goalie toolbox.”2 In 1997, Richter was quoted as saying,
"I'm proud of the fact that I made it to the NHL, but even more proud of the fact that I learned to be a better goaltender. Times change and if you don't change with the times, you're lost. I remember playing for the famed Eddie Shore in the American Hockey League and having him tie me to the crossbar so that I couldn't leave my feet and had to stand up and face the shooter. But I wouldn't be in the game anymore if I was still a standup goaltender all the way with the way the game is played today -- so much east to west with the European influence we have seen in the way the puck in passed from side to side. Look at the flow of the game, from up and down the wing to a criss-crossing skating and passing game -- especially the quick passing game in front of the net that has forced goalies to go from side to side. Let me tell you, you can't do that if you stand up." 3
At the other end of the spectrum, butterfly goalies like the recently retired Patrick Roy do not necessarily use a type of butterfly for every save, but they too stand up to make glove saves on high shots when it is appropriate and they use other tools in their arsenal to stop pucks from entering the net on low shots such as two-pad stacks. The labels on styles exist as a way to describe the moves that the goalie performs more often, but those labels should not be taken literally to mean that a goalie ALWAYS stands up OR butterflies.
The third myth that goalies should remain completely within the limitation of their “chosen” method of goaltending and not adapt the methods of another style that is perceived to be a competing approach must also be removed from the thoughts of goalies, their parents and their coaches. The reason why a goalie does not want to simply adopt a solely stand up style or a butterfly style exclusively is that they both have serious shortcomings that can be overcome by implementing a combination of styles. For instance, normally stand up goalies cover the top portion of the net effectively, however most of all goals scored (nearly 70% 4) are in the bottom portion of the net below the goalie’s knees. Thus if a goalie were to always stand up, they have a diminished chance of stopping shots to the corners and sometimes the five-hole (portion between the goalie’s pads.) Korn adds that on the whole stand up goalies “have trouble with screens, deflections and quick plays around the net and from the slot.” 5
Conversely, a butterfly goalies who drops to the knees before or during a shot, effectively covers the lower portion of the goal where most goals are scored, however they leave the top portion of the net overly exposed. Joe Bertagna, the former Goalie Coach for the Boston Bruins, describes the shortcomings of an entirely butterfly or “V” style goalie, “The other extreme (to the stand up style) is carried out by the goalie who drops when it is unnecessary. Committing yourself before the shooter does is a cardinal sin for a goalie. The goalie is particularly vulnerable to high shots as well as shots through the legs.”6 Thus, a goalie must learn, practice and be ready to use any and all fundamental save techniques to be able to get the job done. As Jim Corsi, goalie coach for the Buffalo Sabres, and John Hannon, professor of management at the University of Buffalo, point out, “Everything and anything is fair game. You should use whatever tool is necessary to make the save, even if it appears to conflict with the basic style that supposedly defines you.”7
For these reasons a goalie should not overuse one style or another, but combine the overall fundamental techniques of all styles to reduce his her weaknesses as a net-minder. Mitch Korn has commented on the importance of goalies using the techniques associated with various goaltending styles, “Ideally, the goalie should take the pluses of each “style” and avoid the minuses in developing his or her own personal method or system of playing goal.” 8
Teaching and Developing a “Hybrid” Style & Skills
The key to a goalie’s playing style is the basic ready stance. The basic ready stance is the starting point of every save. It is from this starting position that a goalie “explodes” toward the puck in any given direction to place the body or part of the body in front of a shot to make a save. Just as it is problematic to label a goalie with a certain style for the reasons discussed in the previous section, defining a goalies style by the stance they normally use is also not favorable, because goalies need to use different stances depending on the situation. As Kevin Constantine, former San Jose Shark, Pittsburgh Penguin and New Jersey Devils coach, points out “Certain stances are better in certain situations. Each stance has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, a closed stance is best for handling bad angle shots: the butterfly stance is best in screen and deflection situations; and the open stance is best for lateral movement. So a goaltender should be ready to use all stances though most goaltenders will be more comfortable with a certain stance.”9 Corsi and Hannon add, “Today’s game has shown (and this is especially evident in the development of Dominik Hasek and Martin Biron) that a goalie must not lock into one particular style. Your ready stance will identify your starting point, but your save skills should be indifferent to your style.” 10
It is extremely important that coaches realize these differences in stances and that a different stance is used depending on the situation and that they teach these skills to their goalies. Because differences in the goalie’s starting position make certain types of fundamental saves easier for goalies, coaches must work on these different stances with their goalies and especially they must inform them and practice the situations in which they will use them. For instance, when a goalie stands with the legs far a part leaving a large “five-hole” (Constantine’s “butterfly stance”), he/she is more apt to use the full butterfly save because the stance facilitates dropping to the knees to cover that hole. Furthermore, a wide open stance of that nature already covers the low corners of the net (especially with goalies bigger in size), so skate saves or kick saves to cover those areas is often not necessary. The butterfly stance should be used for tips/deflections, screens and in plays close to the goal where low shots are more likely and for situations that transpire directly in front of the goal where a shooter see more of the net. By using the butterfly stance and style in these situations, goalies will have a higher percentage of success.
On the other hand, when a goalie stands with the legs closer together and does not give the shooter a large five-hole at which to shoot (Constantine’s “closed stance”), he/she is likely to be more inclined to close the five-hole in a standing position by bringing one leg in rather than going down in the full butterfly to close the five-hole. Additionally, a more upright standing goalie will give more space low to the corners and thus will tend to use skate saves and kick saves to cover the low corners. Situation where a goalie is more likely to use the closed stance is for very sharp, off-angle plays where a shooter does not have much net at which to shoot except the five-hole. In these situations, a goalie does not want to give up more of the five-hole than is necessary nor does he/she want to have such a wide stance that the leg pads are outside of the posts and not covering the net. Also, a closed stance is more beneficial for a goalie when the play is farther from the net as well. A goalie will have to travel farther to get into the appropriate position when passes are made from far out or dump ins around the boards are made and a closed stance allows for greater lateral movement. Also, with a closed stance, a goalie can more easily transition to the outside edge of the skate for a skate save. Thus, a closed stance is better to field for long shots, low to the corner, where there is no traffic in front of the goalie.
A coach must help goalies understand that certain saves are better than others in certain situations and these saves are more easily performed if they are begun with different basic stances. Thus, a goalie must have different stances in different situations so that he/she may transition to the appropriate save at the appropriate moment.
A Complete Development Program
Developing hockey skills is similar to learning to drive a car in that all the skills must be developed at the same time or the results can be less than desirable. When learning to drive, you did not learn how to press the gas one day without learning how to apply the break that same day. You had to learn about steering, using the directional and changing gears at the same time as well. It is no different developing a goalie. All the skills must be taught and practiced constantly in order to develop a complete goalie like you would a complete driver, one who is ready for and can react to any situation no matter how unexpected and “dangerous” it can be.
To develop a complete goalie, it is important to institute a weekly plan that incorporates all the fundamental tools a goalie will need and then you must follow that plan. Although skating is the most important skill, all the other skills must also be developed in conjunction with skating so that the goalie is well rounded skill-wise. Francois Allaire, famous NHL goalie coach to Patrick Roy in Montreal and to JS Giguere in Anaheim, has built a year-round development timetable and plan for young goalies that includes off-ice as well as on-ice training. The table below describes the plan in terms of time periods and the type of training that is to be completed during that time:
July & August
Sept thru Feb
March & April
May & June
For the purpose of this research project, the focus is on the in-season, on-ice training. As Allaire shows in his graph, skating techniques and the basic save techniques must be taught, practiced, reinforced and evaluated in combination throughout the season. The different basic save techniques are also reinforced throughout the playoffs indicating their overall importance to the position.
It is important to add more detail to Coach Allaire’s table to include a weekly and monthly practice routine of all the actual basic save techniques. The coach must also be sure to teach the goalie and to practice the various situations in which the fundamental save skills should be performed. A coach must also explain the different basic stances and the situations in which they should be used as was outlined in the previous section (butterfly for close in situations, screens, deflections, and grade a scoring areas and the closed stance for sharp angles and situations that are farther from the net). A coach’s monthly goalie practice routine should be as follows (assuming a proper USA Hockey practice to game ratio of 2 or 3 practices to every 1 game 12):
Stick & Skate
Low & corners
Butterflies: ½, Full & Extended
Tips & Screen
1 or 2
3 or 1
1 or 2
3 or 1
1 or 2
3 or 1
1 or 2
3 or 1
The save techniques that are to be incorporated in the coaches weekly training plan for the goalie includes all the basic save techniques and various save situations in which the goalie will encounter in any given game. These techniques should be repeated on a weekly basis so that the goalie properly develops each skill for a well-balanced “tool kit.”
Lastly, the coach should be sure to continually evaluate the goalie’s performances and his/her progress. Ensure that the goalie can perform all skills equally as well both left and right to add to the balance of the goalies skills.
A well-balanced approach to a young goalie’s skill development will help goalies excel in the long run. Although some professional and college goalies
Adopt a specific stand-up, but mostly butterfly style, the vast majority have developed all the technical skills required to play the position effectively, which is why they have attained the levels they have. Those goalies that have become strictly butterfly goalies have some important intangible strengths that allow them to adopt a specific style such as above average height and impeccable anticipation. Young goalies are usually not physically developed enough nor do they have the experience to anticipate plays that would allow them to implement a strictly butterfly style. Thus, coaches have to ensure that they educate goalies to know that they must develop all the fundamental skills and know when to use them. They should not use style labels that could be misconstrued by their goalies.
1. Korn, Mitch. Goaltender Manual: A Guide for Players, Coaches and Parents. Goaltending Styles. Buffalo: Self-published, 1996.
2. Corsi, Jim and Hannon, John. The Hockey Goalie’s Handbook. New York: Contemporary Books, 2002. P69.
3. Wigge, Larry. Richter Ranks with the Elite. NHL.com article. 9/4/2003.
4. Korn, Mitch. Goaltender Manual: A Guide for Players, Coaches and Parents. Goaltending Styles. Buffalo: Self-published, 1996.
5. Korn, Mitch. Goaltender Manual: A Guide for Players, Coaches and Parents. Goaltending Styles. Buffalo: Self-published, 1996.
6. Bertagna, Joseph. Goaltending: A Complete Handbook for Goalies and
Coaches. Cambridge, MA: Cosmos Press, Inc, 1976. Pp.20-21.
7. Corsi, Jim and Hannon, John. The Hockey Goalie’s Handbook. New York: Contemporary Books, 2002. P49.
8. Korn, Mitch. Goaltender Manual: A Guide for Players, Coaches and Parents. Goaltending Styles. Buffalo: Self-published, 1996.
9. Constantine, Kevin. Goaltending: Fundamentals and Drills. Self published. P.12.
10. Corsi, Jim and Hannon, John. The Hockey Goalie’s Handbook. New York: Contemporary Books, 2002. P49.
11. Allaire, Francois. Hockey Goaltending for Young Players: An Instructional Guide. Buffalo, Firefly Books, 1995. P.17.
12. USA Hockey. 2001-2003 Official Rules of Ice Hockey. Chicago, Triumph Books, 2001. P.ix