By Evan Tabachnick
In the rec leagues, warm-ups usually consist of a brief period of five minutes or less where your teammates often trickle in right till the opening whistle for a quick pre-game skate to get their juices flowing. Many (especially the older guys) will spend the majority of this time stretching, while others will work on their stickhandling and shooting skills, for lack of any better time to practice. What you choose to do during the warm-ups is of course totally up to you, but the most important member of the team you need to focus on is one person: your goalie.
As a former tender playing competitive hockey and now a forward/emergency goalie in the beer leagues, I’ve been on both sides of the equation. In my younger years, the warm-ups were a well-organized exhibition of 2-on-1s and other fast-paced team-oriented drills to get everyone involved and, most certainly, the goalie would get his/herself a solid warm-up. Those would invariably progress to two very effective shooting drills which are great for goalie warm-ups: the Half-Moon drill and the Crease Scramble. Considering that most of our rec league passes are not exactly tape-to-tape but rather tape-to-somewhere-between-the-legs-of-a-falling-player, I’m going to go ahead and omit the team-based passing drills and skip right to the “static” shooting drills that are easy for everyone to grasp and especially great for goalies.
The Half-Moon Drill
This one is as easy as it sounds. Players form an arc inside the zone, facing the goalie, and each one has a puck. From left-to-right or right-to-left, each player takes a shot of their choice (wrist, slap, snap, or backhand) on the goalie. Important: Do give your tender plenty of time to recover from shot to shot. This drill progresses nicely to the following one, as long as the team starts off a distance from the netminder. The players in the center of the ice should be just about at the blueline (a good spot for your defensemen to work on their point shots). After a few shots from afar, the goalie will get their reflexes, angular play, and lateral movement up to speed and gain more of a feel for the puck. The team can then start to progressively move in until everyone is right on top of the crease, which leads to our next drill.
The Crease Scramble
This relatively new drill—one that’s been gaining quite a bit of popularity in the NHL—is fun for everyone. Basically, the whole team is standing within a foot of the crease, trying to score with one puck. Inevitably, there will be a bit of “scrambling” for the goalie—diving, sprawling, flopping, etc.—otherwise known as desperation saves. Once the tender makes a few saves and gets their confidence up, the team can incorporate some short passes into the mix. Rebound control is paramount for the goalie. This drill is great for getting the team’s “scoring touch” and “nose around the net” in tune as these chances should really be converted more often than not (except when facing a well-warmed-up goalie!)
Inevitably, there are a few things that you really shouldn’t do when warming up your goalie:
Don’t shoot high Shots in the head/neck/shoulder area are no fun to be hit with. They usually hurt and leave a goalie’s ears ringing, despite how protected you may think they are in those areas. Also, before a goalie is warmed up, shots like these will take them by surprise and could actually cause injury. Certainly not the way to get your goalie ready for a game. “But people will be shooting high in the game!” you might hear. Which might be true, and by game time your goalie will be warmed up and well adjusted to the speed of shots at this level—that is, if they haven’t been decapitated from a poorly placed, ill-timed shot from one of their teammates in the warm-up.
Don’t deke Another one that begs the obvious complaint, “But people will be deking in the game!” may also be true. But the reason we caution against using this one is that you can’t really make a save against a deke on your feet; it takes energy to get up and down. If everyone starts deking in the warm-ups, the goalie is going to be awfully tired from all of that up-and-down action by the time the game starts. This one is less a hard-and-fast rule and more of a judgment call: If you have seen that nobody has really taken a breakaway on the goalie so far and you want to throw one in at the end of the warm-ups, go right ahead. But if you believe you’re the second coming of Patrick Kane and you plan to exclusively work on your shootout skills during the warm-ups, then get lost!
Don’t shoot while the goalie is recovering from the previous shot This one is just plain common sense. Don’t shoot pucks at a sitting duck. Granted, the goaltender is covered in heavy pads, but he/she is still vulnerable when they’re not in their stance and facing you. And besides, they’re still your teammate. Don’t hurt your teammates.
Evan Tabachnick plays as a skater in several leagues and will don the pads only if there are no goalies left on Earth.