Goalies: 5 Things to Learn from the Pros

By Geoffrey Medweth


I started playing hockey, specifically as a goalie, in the 1970s. The styles and equipment may have changed since then, but there are some things I have taken away from my 40 years of watching the game. If you’re a goalie, or even know someone who is, these 5 pointers will help you step up your game.

1. On Goaltending

The book “On Goaltending,” written by Jacques Plante, one of hockey’s greatest goalies, is probably the best tool any coach or player who has to deal with the position could ever have. I picked up a copy back in the ’70s; it should be every hockey goalkeeper’s bible. Frankly, only a fool would say, “yeah, that guy is from a bygone era, so what could he tell me?” Some elements of goaltending are not only universal but perpetual. Elements of positioning never go out of style, and Plante’s written and photographic descriptions are timeless.

Much of what Plante wrote in his book is reiterated in Tony Esposito’s book, “We Can Teach You to Play,” where you can find much emphasis on his revolutionary butterfly style. But if you want to start somewhere, start with Plante.

2. Goalies: Keep Your Stick on the Ice!

If you’ve ever watched a professional hockey game, you will see goals that go in (usually through the 5-hole) because the goalies did not have their stick—or had only the hosel—on the ice. If there’s anything that drives me nuts, it’s seeing goalies with their stick in the air.

Pick up a book or video on how to play in net. How many show the goalie in a crouch with his stick in the air, or only the heel of the stick on the ice? I’ll tell you how many: NONE. No coach will ever tell you to wave your stick around. And if you are playing any particular style, keeping the blade of your stick completely flat on the ice will keep a lot of pucks out of the net!

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I remember the awe-inspiring Terry Sawchuck once said that the key to his success was keeping his knees bent deeply. It works, but it means you have to make a stick adjustment. I am six feet tall; I use a stick that was patterned for a man who was generously listed at five-foot-ten. The paddle is 24½ inches long. (Try finding a senior stick with that short a paddle; paddles are generally 26 to 28 inches long.) Most sticks sold today are copies of the pro model, and today’s pros are getting bigger every season. When you are doing a butterfly, a paddle that big forces your stick hand and arm into a kind of ‘chicken wing’ position, and the blade either pops off—or leaves only the heel—on the ice. When choosing a stick, think about a shorter paddle. It will make it easier for you to keep that blade on the ice.

3. Old Equipment is not Junk Equipment

Some of you may remember the era of leather pads and felt arm and chest protectors. My pads are from the 1980s (DR Maximum Professional); they are held together with tape on the bottom and at the knees. Since I don’t like the masks of today, I still use a helmet and cage but with a football chinstrap (I can explain the benefits of this to the extreme but that would require a whole other article).

Do a search for Tony Esposito to see the way he modified his gear: Extra materials were added to his pads, gloves and face mask. So if you find something that fits well and is not terribly worn out, keep it. I’ve got a brand-new set of 21st-century pads that I used once; it felt like I had two sheets of plywood strapped to my legs. I think I’ll stick to my DRs as long as I can.

That said, I got my hands on a cache of Grant Fuhr’s sticks when he left the Maple Leafs. They were absolutely the greatest sticks ever. I ended up having the pattern copied by the fine people at Louisville, and have been using the same sticks for decades.

4. Stand Up and Watch Your Positioning!

In the NHL, goalies have regularly played into their 40s. How do they do that? Obviously they have to have some talent, and/or the league has less talent than they have and they stay in shape.

Watch some videos of these oldtimers. The NHL greats of any era before the 1980s are mostly stand-up goalies. My personal theory is that because the head protection (while better than nothing) was not great, you still did not want to get your head down low where all those nasty sticks, skates and pucks are to be found. That resulted in a stand-up style that kept the head out of danger and emphasized positioning. Besides all that, it’s faster to skate side to side (versus sliding on your pads) and it’s less tiring to stay on your feet (versus popping up and down). I can’t count the number of times I’m yelling “stand up!”at some keeper in a game on the TV, who looks like a fish out of water.

Positioning is the most important part of the game, especially when it comes to goaltending. But with the enlargement of equipment and the technology that allows for sliding and flopping all over the place, positioning is becoming a lost art. How many times have you seen a team stymied by a lousy goalie? Sometimes it’s poor shooting or bad luck, but if that goalie is in the way, it’s because he’s in position.

5. Never Give Up

People have always marveled at Dominick Hasek. He made stops that would make your head spin. Personally, I believe that if half the guys he stopped knew how to take a backhand properly, he would still be known as Ed Belfour’s back up. But they couldn’t so he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

I would not advocate playing that type of style (if he even had a style) but without a doubt, I have never seen a goalie that was so unwilling to give up on a play. Tossing out a leg, arm, stick, or head, this guy would do anything to stop the puck. If you notice, shooters do tend to ease up when they think they have it in the bag. Hasek was The Man when it came to stealing away a sure goal.

Pros are the best in the game; they have a gift that rec league players will never have. However, they each have pieces of their game that we all can take away. Just because you have not faced a 100-mile-an-hour Zdeno Chara shot does not mean you cannot speak with confidence about how to play.

Your weekly game is most likely populated by guys who play at your level. It’s all relative: If you are the best player in your beer league, you’re no doubt in the same position as Cary Price—the best goalie in your league.

Geoffrey Medweth is a Cambridge, ON-based trucking entrepreneur. He has been playing and coaching hockey off and on for the better part of 40 years.

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