Tracking the puck is the most basic skill a goaltender must possess.
Each year for over 30 years, I have selected a guest writer that can add variety and/or cover areas that I cannot handle well. This year I have selected a goaltender coaching specialist that I think is one of the best in the game – Peter Samargia.
Peter is the founder and owner of Attitude Goaltending Inc., a Minnesota-based hockey goaltending coaching group. Peter and his staff mentor students on how to handle adversity, goal setting, in addition to developing goaltender skills.
Peter played varsity hockey at Eveleth-Gilbert High School where he contributed in winning the 1998 Class A State Championship. He then played for the USHL’s Twin City Vulcans from 1998-99. He attended and played hockey for the University of Minnesota from 1999-2001. He then attended and played hockey for Augsburg College from 2001-03 where he was named All-MIAC Honorable Mention in 2002 and 2003. Following graduation, Peter played professionally in the UHL from 2003-04.
Coaching is a passion for Peter, having coached over 20 goaltenders into the college ranks and beyond. He has helped coach three teams to the state tournament, including the 2016 Wayzata state championship team where he continues to work daily training their goaltenders. Peter has also worked with the Upper Midwest High School Elite League as a goaltender instructor since 2010. He has also been the goaltender coach for the University of Minnesota women in 2007, Augsburg College men from 2008-12, USHL’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders from 2008-10; USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers in 2013 and USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers 2015- present.
He shares his hockey passion with his wife, Angela, and two daughters.
TAB – Tracking/Angle/Balance for Goaltenders (Part 1)
Too often we complicate what is meant to be simple. This is a problem in all ages of goaltenders. Coaches looking to impart the most effective advice to their goaltender can start with TAB. As a rule, goaltenders tend to over-complicate and misinterpret results. Because of this, goaltenders become their worst enemy. Goaltenders start to develop complex ideas as to why they let in the puck, instead of concentrating on fundamentals that are present with every good goaltender. Coaches can keep goaltenders focused on tried and true skills as described below. Coaches can also help their goaltenders rebound from mistakes quicker and have specific advice to center their concentration on a daily basis.
Obviously, goaltending has evolved and we cannot overlook new techniques. This article will, however, talk about how basic skills affect a goaltender as well as how to incorporate these skills. When coaches get involved in their goaltenders’ development, it adds a layer of feedback. Feedback as a coach during practice will be most effective if it is simple and consistent.
Simple is beautiful and is most often repeatable. So what is the most basic skill a goaltender must possess? TRACKING! It has been called many things, but without sight and an understanding of vision on the rink, a goaltender will struggle no matter how good the technique is. There are different levels of tracking. This is directly related to goaltenders focusing on following a puck, not only to impact, but through contact with their body or equipment. Coaching goaltenders to stay with each shot a few extra seconds will produce the following improvements:
• Ability to stay with and move towards deflections. By staying attached to the puck, a goaltender develops full body strategies to react to the puck. Their body “stays together” and connected, even on pucks that change direction on the way. Goaltenders that are tracking well are also better able to hold their edges longer. Coaches can parlay this advice to help them find poise in their game. Staying with the puck means goaltenders stay controlled in their stance and commit to a save selection after the shot is released.
• Rebound control. Rebounds seem to stick to goaltenders who are tracking pucks well. A goaltender who is “visually attached” to a puck gains an advantage as their body is trained to follow where their eyes are looking. When a goaltender is tracking well, the movements flow towards and with rebounds. Coaches can help their goaltenders control rebounds by setting up drills that allow for them to stay with one shot at a time and play out the rebound until the play is dead.
• Improved dexterity and “active hands.” Goaltenders that work on their tracking make routine glove saves and deflect pucks with ease on their blocker side. They play with more confidence due to their awareness. It is apparent in the calm but decisive movements that they utilize, as well as the limited amount of rebounds that result.
Coaches can remind goaltenders to keep their hands in a position where they can see them out of the corner of their eyes. Having their hands active takes away more net. Active hands also help them get to the pucks that wind up on the ice in front of them quicker.
There are times where the goaltender can bring hands and arms in and down their body – this is called a blocking save. Although it is a great save for particular situations, it is my opinion that these blocking techniques can become a crutch and be overused. Coaches should use judgment on when to teach proper use of this blocking technique. If there is no angle both vertically and laterally, then that is the time to use it. Active hands are by far the best technique.
• The IT factor. Finally, confidence. Goaltenders that know where the puck is move with confidence to it. It’s a simple but overlooked detail that affects everything. When goaltenders are not tracking well, everything suffers, specifically confidence. They guess and move sporadically in their crease and that eventually “leaks” into all facets of their game. Daily reminders on how important tracking is will keep them on task and aware of how to develop. Goaltenders that are really looking for an edge in their game should try out “True Focus Vision.” Josh Tucker and his team have been helping goaltenders for some time and offer a consult to new goaltenders at a reduced fee.
Coaches that instruct their goaltender to track a puck all the way and be on their angle create more success. It becomes very difficult for shooters to score on them with a direct shot. How important are the angles? If a goaltender is on proper angle and at proper depth, they have effectively taken away most of the net.
• Starting from the back middle of the net; preparing to succeed. Goaltenders who are disciplined in their practice habits start at the goal line, move directly out to the angle and manage their depth back. Coaches should note that the simplest way to help their goaltenders develop this habit is to allow for proper time between practice repetitions. They must be thoughtful in the amount of time allowed, keeping in mind that the goaltender’s effort must be good in getting up and back so as to keep the practice flow going.
Coaches should take the time to talk with goaltenders about the relationship between time between shots and effort getting ready in-between each shot. By explaining this concept, goaltenders will find one of the linchpins of quality ice time! Goaltenders must truly understand how critical it is to start on proper angle. They will require much practice and monitoring to angles.
Next time we will continue with angles, then move on to balance.
Order John Russo’s new chapterized book, “The Best of 26 Years of John Russo’s Coaches Corner”. It has been described as a “must read” for all youth coaches. Go to Russocoachescorner.com for information and ordering.
John Russo, Ph.D., is founder and now mentor to the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. He was a captain at the University of Wisconsin and recipient of prestigious hockey awards at the state (Peterson award) and national levels (Snooks Kelly). His Coaches Corner columns have appeared in Let’s Play Hockey each year since 1986.
Photo: Christine Wisch