Roy Halladay was my favourite athlete. I’ve written about him before on this blog. Most players who I have worked with have heard me talk about him. I didn’t know him personally, but he was my biggest athletic role model. His former manager John Gibbons was interviewed today about him and the things he said are the things every athlete wants to have said about them. “He was always trying to get better. He got the most out of himself. He was a great example to his teammates. He was a coaches dream. He never complained when I took him out of the game, even if he didn’t understand why. He was a student of the game. It wasn’t easy for him to get as good as he was and he never stopped working at it.”
Simplify your game and focus on the fundamentals.
I recently read Shawn Green’s book The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH. In it, Green discusses, in great detail, his approach to hitting and how it evolved throughout his career. Through philosophical battles with manager Cito Gaston which eventually led to Green being banned from going to the batting cage without the batting, Green developed a routine of practicing hitting off a tee, which shaped his mental approach, which he describes as wanting “…to approach pitches with stillness, patience, and no thought, just waiting, watching, and seeing.” After a number of swings Green would enter a zen like state, where his mind would clear. This idea of emptying your mind and performing, commonly known as “the zone”, flow or zen, is the mental holy grail that all athletes and performers are searching for, especially in a mentally demanding position like goaltending. Most treat the mental side of the position and the physical side of the position as separate entities, but I have learned in my playing and coaching experience that both sides speak to each other and that it's important to try and create that “stillness” in your physical game, to complement and encourage it in the mental side of the position.
Practice makes perfect. It’s what every well meaning parent tells their children when they are learning a new skill. It stands to reason that more practice makes more perfect. In general terms, yes, practicing more will make a person better at a given pursuit, but the people who become the very best don’t become that way merely because they practiced more than others. Quality of practice is much more important than quantity of practice. In the book “Talent is Overrated,” Geoff Colvin talks a lot about one thing in particular which separates the elite from the average in almost every endeavour; music, sports, business. That magic ingredient that separated Mozart and Tiger Woods from the rest of the pack is “deliberate practice.”
One of my favourite drills to do when I run a team practice is a drill I call the “dots skate.” It’s meant to be done at full speed with lots of crossovers and direction changes. Usually, the first time we run through it most of the players stay in their comfort zones to make sure they don’t lose an edge and fall. After going through it once, I tell them I want them to fall. To push themselves outside of their comfort zone. The pace of the drill picks up after that and as we move through the season, players’ feet get quicker and their balance improves. Without that willingness to fall, the players don’t get much out of the drill.
Once in a while, I am going to write some very wonky, technical blogs about trends in the position or breakdowns of save selections. I'll do my best to find videos to help with the explanations, but you may be stuck slogging through my prose on some of these concepts. It’s always good to warn people that a post might be boring in the first paragraph, right? I promise, though, there will be some jokes thrown in.
Today, I'm going to discuss the trend of goalies playing deeper in the crease. Up front, I am going to say that I love this technique and I believe it is right up there with the butterfly in terms of effectiveness and impact on goaltending and how we see the position.
Today’s blog should be a quick one. I want to show two examples of similar situations. In the first example, one which I really like, we have Frederik Andersen of the Leafs. In the second example, we will show Kari Lehtonen charge out to a puck in the slot.
Carey Price is calm. Watch any game he’s involved in and you will inevitably hear those words. Again and again and again. Commentators will say that his calmness helps him make saves, and that his teammates feed off of it and probably something about ice in his veins. It’s a nice thought and it’s all sort of true (except the ice in his veins, that sounds like a serious medical problem.) He is super calm in the net; I’m sure it makes his teammates feel good when he’s back there, calm as can be, stopping everything. Staying calm under fire is definitely an asset in net, especially on scrambles in front, but it is only part of the package. Calmness on it’s own doesn’t help you stop pucks. There is lots of work that goes in behind the scenes so that Carey Price can stay calm in net. In this edition of Goalie School, I want to show you why Carey Price can be so calm.
After two posts and three goals analysed, it’s probably time to discuss a few saves. The problem with analysing saves is that alot of the “fantastic saves” you see on highlight reels and on the nhl.com video page usually start from a mistake, or aren’t something you want to see as a goalie coach. When I played, a lot of times when I made a “great save” that got a big crowd reaction, I would be swearing at myself under my breath, or embarrassed that I had made a mistake and got away with it. One time in Chicago, I hadn’t played in a few weeks and I was a bit rusty, and somewhat nervous at the beginning of the game. Long story short, I caught an edge on the first play of the game and fell, while following a puck carrier across the zone, so I had to kind of slither on my side along with the guy, swearing and hoping he wouldn’t get a shot away or my teammates would bail me out. He took a shot that should have been a routine save, I reached up and caught it and then looked over at the bench where Ondrej Pavelec (my goalie partner) and Wendell Young (our goalie coach) were laughing at me. Things got worse when that save made it onto the team highlight reel on the jumbotron before every game and I had to remember falling on my ass and butt shuffling around the net.
As a coach and a player, I prefer my goaltending to be boring. My favourite thing to watch is one of my goalies in perfect position getting hit in the chest protector with a puck absorbing the rebound. So I chose this sequence from yesterday’s wild US vs Russia Semifinals at the world juniors.
These outdoor games seem like alot of fun. The players seem to really like them, but I wonder how the goalies really feel. People don’t realize how much the environment can affect a goalie. Everything from lighting in the rink, to the colour of the seats, even the ads on the boards and those banner lights they have that go around the bottom of the upper bowl. Next time you’re at an NHL game, pay attention to the way the light changes, when that banner ad changes. That change at the moment a shot is released can really mess with a goalies eyes. It’s not an excuse anyone wants to hear, but it’s something to think about and it’s perfectly valid. One analogous example I can think of is in baseball, where the Houston Astros installed new LED lights this season and everybody hated hitting there. Houston pitchers had the most strikeouts at home this year and were 18th on the road, with 186 more strikeouts at home than on the road. Their hitters were 3rd worst at home and 11th worst on the road, a smaller difference, but one which may be attributable to the Houston hitters getting more time with the lights and getting used to it than the visiting teams did. It may be a coincidence that Astros pitchers set mlb records for strikeouts in a 3 game series (52 against Baltimore) and a 4 game series (61 in a painful series against my blue jays) this season, but I doubt it. Anyways, enough of me being an apologist for the 2016 blue jays, on to Goalie School.
Thanks for checking out my site. The plan for these "Goalie School" blogs is to analyse goals and saves from the NHL and hopefully put some more goaltending IQ out into the world. As all goalies, and goalie parents know, there is a dearth of knowledge out there in the hockey world about what it is goalies do, what our process is and what makes a good save versus a bad goal. If you learn anything or have any questions, please don't hesitate to leave a comment.
First, I want to acknowledge that this is a fantastic shot from a really good player. I am lucky enough to have first hand knowledge of just how good Jeff Carter is, as I’m pretty sure he had 5 hat tricks on me in the house of horrors that was the old Sault Ste Marie barn. One game, I looked up at the scoreboard after finally covering the puck on a mad scramble early in the game to see 19:00 on the clock and the shots at 10-0 for the Soo. (10 shots in 1 minute!!!!!!)
As goalies, we like to believe that we can stop anything that comes our way, no matter what. That’s the attitude you need to have, because sometimes you get left alone by your team and you need to keep them in the game. Sometimes, though, you need to tip your mask after a great shot, accept that you couldn’t have done anything on the play and move on with the game. This is pretty much one of those ones. Carter made a nearly perfect shot from a prime scoring area, with speed, as he changed the angle moving across the ice. There were breakdowns on top of breakdowns before the puck got near Jones (What was the right defence-man doing in the neutral zone?) Having said all that, this is goalie school and we’re going to take a look at what Jones could have done differently on this play.
Before I get into the frame by frame analysis, I want to call your attention to Jones’ skating on this shot. Instead of staying square and shuffling, he kind of c-cuts diagonally across the net. That leads to him moving out of “squareness” as he keeps moving, and it also makes it harder for him to stop on a dime and get set when Carter releases the shot.
In this first screenshot, you can see that the puck is rolling and Carter is moving across the ice slightly to Jones’ blocker side to get into position to shoot the puck and also trying to get Jones to move. Players in the NHL know that if the goalie is moving from side to side it opens up holes and makes it easier to score. In this picture, Jones is in good position, he looks big and Carter probably doesn’t see much net to shoot at.
In screenshot number 2, Carter has moved all the way over and is loading up to shoot the puck. Jones is in good position still, his shoulders are at crossbar height from this camera angle, most likely above the crossbar from the puck angle, and he’s mostly centered, maybe a few inches too far to his blocker side, but it’s hard to tell from the angle we’re looking at. He also, may not be completely square, perhaps thinking about the pass option on his glove side. However, in this pre-shot frame he’s in good position and Carter probably doesn’t see a ton of net. Take a look at Carter’s head in this frame though, he is clearly looking at the net thinking about where to shoot the puck.
This screenshot is where you can really see a few cracks in Jones’ armour. They’re definitely not major, and without them if Carter takes that same shot, he probably still scores. It’s hard to tell from the screenshot, because the puck is already on it’s way to the net, but the puck hasn’t really changed angles from the pre-shot in screenshot 2. Carter is further over to Jones’ blocker side, but that’s just something he does, as he knows how to use his long reach (once again, it pains me to have first knowledge of Carter’s long reach.) He’s good at moving his body around the puck without moving the puck, creating the illusion of movement, and opening up bigger holes. Comparing Jones in this picture versus the last one, his blocker side skate is a few inches closer to the post than it was, opening up even more room on the glove side. He’s still not really square either. It also leads to a slower stop and set when Carter does take the shot. But the biggest change is the compression in his shoulders.
In this screenshot the tops of his shoulders are in line with the crossbar, now that the shot is coming, Jones compresses in his stance and there’s lots of daylight between the crossbar and his shoulders. So, Jones isn’t in his true stance prior to the shot. He’s about half a foot lower. I’m not sure if this is something Jones wants to do. It may be just a bad habit that he knows about, but it also may be somewhat strategic, where he tries to look bigger pre shot to give the shooter less to shoot at. My issue with that as a strategy is that NHL shooters can change where they’re shooting at the very last moment, not to mention video and scouting reports would definitely be able to catch that, so you’re not really gaining any edge there, especially against a guy like Carter with that much time and space. (Dino Ciccarelli used to tell me when a goalie held his glove high, he would shoot right at the glove, because he knew it would drop when he shot it. Players are smart! (sometimes))
On top of that, Jones’ head moves 6 inches right as the shot is being released. A shot like that is difficult to see and save, without creating optical illusions because your head is moving. Any sport where you rely on hand-eye coordination requires a level of stillness at the point of contact, or things get more difficult. When your eyes are moving, it’s much harder to have the fine detail in your vision required to stop a puck moving at 90+ miles per hour.
In the final screenshots here, we see Jones down in an awkward 80’s style toe up kick save. This tells me he was mostly guessing here. I think his head moving at the last moment made it impossible for him to see and stop this great shot.
So, to sum up the play, Carter takes a great shot and scores a really good goal. Jones made a difficult play harder on himself by skating diagonally backwards instead of shuffling, which led him to being less square and less centred on the shot than he could have been, his upper body compressed right as the shot was being taken, which caused his head and eyes to drop 6 inches right at the critical moment to see the puck, he then had to guess where the puck was going and made a hesitant one pad save attempt with his toe up.
Rob Gherson is a former NHL draft pick of the Washington Capitals. He played 5 years of professional hockey, winning an AHL championship with the Chicago Wolves in 2008. He represented Ontario in the 2000 World Hockey Championship, winning a silver medal. Since finishing his playing career he has worked with hundreds of goalies from age 5-25. Along with running his own goalie school with former NHLer Chris Beckford-Tseu, he is the goalie coach for the prestigious private school Upper Canada College. He also coaches in the GTHL having coached AAA, AA and A, as well as Sterling Hall School’s under-12 and Under-14 team who has won 2 silver medals and a gold in the 3 years he has coached there.