Goalies are alone back there, doing a job most would not. And yet they seem to face the most scrutiny for a team’s success.
By Christopher Gibson
Goaltending is an extraordinarily difficult game on the mind and body. Goalies are alone back there, performing a job that most would not, and yet they seem to face the most scrutiny for a team’s level of success. This scrutiny is heightened when a pattern develops in the location of where goals are scored on a goalie. Here are some of the common goaltending pitfalls and weaknesses, along with their origins and tips on how to be better prepared for shots aimed at these areas.
The most common spot for shooters looking to score a “pretty” goal, or looking to exploit the tendencies of the butterfly goalie (one who looks to make most saves from his/her knees) is over the glove hand. It seems that the goalies who have had baseball or softball experience have this one covered, for the most part. Those who have trouble must be sure that the glove hand is positioned with the palm facing outwards, towards the shooter. The angle that the hand is held at is important as well. If your hand is totally vertical—as if you are waving at the shooters, fingertips pointed to the sky—you will have difficulty stopping lower shots on the glove side. If your hand is held horizontally—thumb pointed to the sky—you will undoubtedly give up more to this high-glove area unless you have exceptional hand-eye coordination and very quick reflexes. A happy medium in glove-hand positioning is what some call “2 o’clock,” with the arm bent at roughly 90 degrees, and the hand somewhere between horizontal and vertical positioning, or whatever feels most comfortable.
Hand height is a matter of preference and is really secondary to the practice of holding hands forward and away from the body, almost to full extension. This is vital in the sense that you are cutting down the angle at which the puck can find its way around your glove and into the net. In theory, this is exactly the same practice you exhibit when skating to the top of the crease and beyond to challenge shooters, only it is being applied to the hands. The result is that shots either hit the glove or, due to its extended position, can only miss the glove if they are coming in at such an angle where they would miss the net all together. You will surely experience great results by following this one simple piece of advice: Be sure that both glove hands are always up and extended throughout all movements.
This shooting target became relatively popular with the advent of the butterfly. Goalies dropping to the butterfly are committed to keeping both legs on the ice, and shots coming about a foot off of the ice on the stick side can find their way over the leg pad and underneath the blocker. In fact, one of the most common goaltending pitfalls is that most goalies tend to have trouble with shots headed anywhere between the hip and the post at this height. The biggest reason for this is that the natural instinct is to pull the blocker hand in towards the body, in an attempt to trap a shot between the arm and body. This is almost always a serious mistake, as this move puts the large blocking surface (the “waffle board”) of the blocker facing up and backward, or really anywhere else that is not outward and facing the shooter.
The proper move for shots headed to this region is to reach for the shot with the blocker hand always in the same position, with the back of the hand facing the shooter. This keeps the blocker in optimal stopping position for maximum coverage. It’s tough to fight instinct in this situation, but if you watch closely you’ll see that the shots that beat goalies in this area feature the same “trapping” reaction. Keeping your hands in proper position at all times is the reoccurring theme here.
This spot is another troublesome one of those goaltending pitfalls that have plagued goalies since the beginning of time. While goaltenders have been stopping more low shots with the transition from standup to butterfly, the space between the legs remains a weakness for every goalie. No matter how big or small a goalie is, how aggressive or conservative they play, or even how often one drops to the ice, the five-hole is always a viable option for shooters. Even worse, opponents who favor the five-hole have a newfound opportunity against butterfly-style goalies: the breakaway. Lateral movements made by butterfly goalies to defend against dekes often feature reaching towards the posts with the feet, leaving a gap down the middle. This allows the shooter to “stop halfway” through the deke and let the puck slide right down the middle for a goal, a common move. The five-hole is also targeted on one-timers and other situations that require the goalie to spread out while moving laterally.
Of course, there is no one piece of advice to solve this problem. What can be offered are some tips that may help reduce the number of five-hole goals allowed, the first of which is to use a heavier stick. While it may seem counter-intuitive, it actually takes less effort to keep a heavier stick on the ice covering the five-hole. This especially comes into play when moving laterally, as a lighter stick will naturally come off of the ice when leading into a movement with the hands. Heavier sticks are also cheaper than lighter, composite ones, and therefore it’s a relatively low-risk experiment for you to try.
Also, there is the “dropping method” that many rec hockey goalies have never been taught. It is simple to explain and tedious to practice: Basically the heels must be “ripped” backwards and the knees pinched together in one smooth motion. This cuts down the amount of time it takes for the pads to hit the ice and therefore allows less space for a shot to sneak through. If you can consciously work on keeping your knees together at all times while in the butterfly, you should see an improvement in five-hole coverage.
Lastly, a surprisingly way of dealing with these goaltending pitfalls is to have a little help from your equipment. (It certainly can’t hurt.) While many levels are cracking down on goaltender equipment regulations, the recreational hockey leagues usually have little or no restrictions on performance-enhancing equipment. Many older leg pads have thigh “boards” that are designed to protect the thighs, but even more so, they provided some extra coverage against shots directed between the legs. When the restrictions on goalie gear cut them out of the equation, they were more commonly referred to as “cheaters.” Again, if your league does not ban them, they will definitely save you—and your team—a few goals over the course of a season.
Anything and everything you can use to gain an edge to overcome these goaltending pitfalls should become a part of your game.