Loose pucks like this are crucial moments in a game. Let’s treat them as crucial in practice too. Photo: Teri Bretz
Coaches often say, “We have to win those battles in front of the net,” but rarely focus on it in practice. It’s an epidemic that spreads from traditional drill design that makes it unrealistic for the goalie and ends up negatively affecting the entire team. In games, many of the best offensive scoring chances come from rebounds. Yet we ingrain the bad habit of ignoring rebounds in practice with thousands of repetitions. On most drills in youth hockey, rebounds are a distant afterthought.
A common complaint we at Goalcrease hear from coaches is that their goalies are “too robotic.” This is a common theme in all hockey players, we believe, in this age of organized sports and skill development. Young athletes are trained to rely on skill more so than guile. Simply playing out rebounds can fix this. Rebounds are a dynamic and unpredictable event. Practicing rebounds will get skaters and goalies alike to learn when to throw technique out the window, and how to think on their feet.
There’s no better way to teach a goalie how to COMPETE than to play more rebounds in practice.
Coaches should ask themselves these questions:
How many times in a game should my goalie freeze the puck? Probably a dozen or so. How often do they actually do this in practice? Sometimes never.
How often in a game does my goalie need to be ready when a shot goes wide for a rebound off the end boards? At least a handful. How often do my skaters play those rebounds in practice? Probably never. (Watch the state tournament at the X this year. I can promise that a few rebound goals will be scored from bounces off the end boards.)
There are several hard-to-teach skills that goalies will be forced to use and develop when playing rebounds. Goalies today are generally well-schooled in lateral movement and high-percentage blocking positions. In short, they slide around on their pads quite well. When the puck takes an unexpected bounce through the crease, those slides are not always enough. Goalies must be able to adapt and improvise. Here are some of the subtle, yet crucial goalie skills that might be the difference between a win and loss:
• Using the stick to corral a loose puck before it gets too far away.
• Freezing pucks quicker and more often.
• Using the stick to clear loose pucks away from danger.
• Long body saves (how and when to lay down flat on the ice to take away space in front of the puck).
• Finding loose pucks that lay behind or underneath them.
• Dynamic recovery skills (when to get back up vs. when to stay down and slide across).
When these skills are called upon in a game, it’s because the opponents have generated a dangerous scoring chance by getting the puck to the net through traffic or with players crashing the far side of the crease. Ask any youth goalie how often they perform these skills in practice and the answer will be “rarely.” Ask them how many of their goals against in games result from rebounds and the answer is something like, “at least half.”
In an NHL practice, you won’t see a goal scorer go through a drill, shoot at the goalie then circle back to the end of the line. They look for the rebound after the shot. Then, they hang around the net while the next player in line shoots. That’s a simple formula coaches can use to develop better goal-scoring skills and the mentality to go with it. Still, this isn’t quite enough to make it fully beneficial for the goalie.
These rebound situations are very physically demanding on goalies. They need some rest in order to practice well and compete hard. There needs to be MORE TIME BETWEEN SHOTS on most drills. Yet, we want to accomplish this without having too many players standing around. How can this be done?
Here’s an example of a typical hockey “flow drill.” A player catches a pass at center ice then skates uncontested into the zone straight at the goalie and shoots whenever they want. This sort of shot comes at the goalie every 5 seconds or so and continues for 5 to 10 minutes. It’s not a good drill for goalies and no realistic scoring skills are taught to the shooters.
To make it better for everyone, take that drill and make the player bring the puck in down the wing and shoot from somewhere near or outside the dot. A second player is sent in from high slot or the far side without a puck to look for a rebound (not a pass). Change the pace so this happens about every 10 seconds instead of 5 seconds. The slower pace shouldn’t be a problem because more players are involved. When the rebound does pop out, many rebounders will take too long to take their shot because there’s no defense forcing them to hurry. This is not realistic and again, slows down the drill. You can have a third player or an assistant coach hang around the slot with the sole purpose of providing resistance against the offensive players, forcing them to get those rebound shots off quickly.
When the drill is performed in this way, goalies are forced to adjust their angle when the puck moves down the wing, be aware of the players around the net, and track the puck all the way through the save or off the end boards. Most importantly, they are forced to COMPETE after the save. These are mental challenges as well as physical. Now that’s a recipe for development. If the drill is performed the usual way, the unrealistic way, goalies get tired and bored pretty fast. That’s a great way for a goalie to develop bad habits and your team to lose more games.
Jeff Hall is the Coaching Director at Stauber’s Goalcrease Training and Equipment Center in Edina, Minn., and serves as goalie coach for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL.