NHL goalies are part of a special group.There are only 60 people in the world (2 goalies per team) who can call themselves NHL goalies. They have reached a plateau that very few people in the world could attain…or even want to. Most people would never dream of standing in front of hockey pucks shot at them at 100 mph.
All NHL goalies have worked hard to reach this pinnacle. They must have exceptional skills and athletic ability. Competitiveness is a quality necessary to make your way to the NHL as a goalie.
So, what makes some NHL goalies better than others? Skills and competitiveness being equal, from my point of view, there are two elements that separate the best from the rest:
Focus and Positioning.
Having FOCUS for a goalie means the ability to concentrate on the task at hand for a full game and to perform under tremendous pressure. The focused goalie has to maintain composure and control through adversity, through failure, every time he allows a goal and through great physical demands and rapidly changing situations. Hall of Famer and former teammate, Ken Dryden, had exceptional concentration and focus. He could describe a play resulting in a goal from it’s conception. He didn’t like to look at the clock so that he could keep the same level of concentration no matter how much time was left in the game. He could keep his focus whether he had 45 shots or 12 shots. Many goalies have difficulty keeping their concentration when not getting many shots. Goalies like Dominic Hasek had great anticipation of the play because of his ability to focus and concentrate on the moment.
POSITIONING is also a key to achieving higher levels of performance for a goalie. I learned a lot from Jacques Plante on positioning when he was my coach in Philadelphia. He taught me how to use markings on the ice, when to stay back and when to be aggressive. The idea that goalies have quicker reflexes than other athletes is really a myth. It’s particularly true of today’s butterfly goalies. Since they are down on their knees for most saves, it’s crucial that their position be perfect at all times. Too deep in the net exposes the top, too far out makes them vulnerable to being deeked .
During the many years that I’ve coached goalies and still today, I spend a lot of time doing what I call “ORIENTATION DRILLS” to help build confidence in positioning. The ideal save is to let the puck hit the goalie with minimal movement and great control of movement.
Goalies are drafted because of the saves they make and their ability to keep the puck out of the net. Once they reach the NHL, things change. They are expected to make saves and are rated on the GOALS THEY GIVE UP. A goalie can make 40 great saves but if he gives up a soft goal, coaches and fans will remember the bad goal easier than the great saves, especially if it was influential in the outcome of the game. Goalies that don’t beat themselves with many bad goals are those who achieve superior performances. Focus and strong positioning are essential to minimize bad goals and to make key saves that change the game.