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Stopping the breakaway

March 6, 2011 Goalies No Comments

By Mitch Korn

Learn to discern a real move from a fake.

Every goaltender and goaltending coach has his or her own theory on how to play the breakaway. Regardless of the approach, the bottom line is to stop the puck.

Certainly, every goalie will play off his strengths. A goaltender who is good on dekes will come out of his net a little farther and force the player to make a move. Conversely, a goaltender weaker on dekes will stay back a bit and take his chances with a shot. Certain goaltenders’ strengths might include the use of poke checks, or stacking the pads. It’s important to know your strengths—and use them—but also to work hard on your weaknesses so they don’t bring you down.

Most coaches use the famous old cliché, “Don’t make the first move!” In truth, it’s not that the goaltender actually makes the first move, it’s just that he buys the shooter’s first fake, and reacts. He simply doesn’t show enough patience. Practice, and “goaltending sense” developed from experience, will eventually help goalies discern the real move from a fake.

Three steps in net

In general, a goalie confronting the breakaway follows a three-step approach.

Come out extra far. As soon as the goaltender recognizes a breakaway, he should come out well above the top of the goal crease and get set. This leaves little angle for a shot, and will force a player to deke.

Back up. When the player reaches the top of the circles, the goaltender begins his backward motion. The gap between the goalie and shooter should close slowly.

Make a save selection. Whether it’s a stack of the pads, a half butterfly, or just getting hit in the chest, a decision based on the situation and visual cues must be made.

Visual Clues & Helpful Hints

Here are some things to consider in making your choices against a breakaway skater:

Where is the puck being carried by the shooter? If it’s in front, a deke is likely. If it’s on the side, there is a good chance the player will shoot.

Remember that an “off-side wing” (a right-hander down the left wing, or visa versa) has more angle to shoot than an “on side” wing.

Normally on a deke, the final move will occur after the shooter’s skates cross the hash marks in the slot. Anything earlier is likely to be a fake.

A way to tell when the shooter is ready to “make a move” is if he plants his feet, stops skating and begins to glide. The wider his feet get, the less options and lateral mobility he has.

On a deke, players go to their backhand most often.

Players will try all kinds of hand, puck, head and shoulder fakes to get the goaltender to move or commit. While the goaltender must follow the puck, the direction of the player’s chest or midsection can often show to which side he’s going. Isn’t that what defensemen are taught, too?

What Not to Do

Don’t back in too slow, or the player will go around you. But don’t back in too fast, either, because then the net opens up for a shot. Coaches often tell goalies to back up “at the same speed” as the shooter—but that’s not really possible. If one tried, by the time the shooter reached the hash marks, the goalie would be in the third row of seats! In truth, the “gap” between the shooter and the stopper should be closed slowly.

Don’t get any deeper than the top of the semi-circular goal crease, and don’t stop your backward motion or plant your feet. Playing a breakaway is a “flow.”

Don’t lunge forward at the player, because often he can then easily go around you. And don’t overuse the poke check, especially when the player is coming down the middle. It rarely works at the higher levels of competition.

Don’t try and use skate saves on dekes. They open up too many holes elsewhere. And don’t stack your pads parallel to the top of the rectangular crease when a player is coming down the middle, because a big hole opens up between your hip and elbow. If he goes to the side, he has a lot of space to score.

If a player dekes to your left, don’t plant your right leg while you extend your left. That opens the goaltender up, creating a truck-sized hole between his legs.

Finally, Don’t let a player score a goal from inside the goal crease—that’s your territory. But if you end up there, you’ve probably retreated too far.

Things to try

Practice your backward motion timing so the save selection can occur when you are at the top of the semi-circular goal crease. The backward motion provides momentum to move to the left or right with a deke.

Use your stick as an asset, but be prepared in case you miss the poke check.

Show patience by not reacting to the player’s first move; try and wait him out. Stay on your feet as long as you can, and do your best to stay with the shooter.

Use pad saves as often as possible on dekes. They cover more net, more quickly. When stacking the pads or using the butterfly on a deke, the goaltender’s motion should be at a diagonal from the top of the semi-circular crease toward the outside of the goal post. This eliminates any chance of the player going around the goaltender and getting a “lay-up goal.” I call it the “Y theory”: out, back, and toward the goalposts.

When stacking the pads, delay the stick movement by keeping it in front of you until the hole between the hip and elbow is closed.

Recognize that most goals go in low or through the 5-hole, so make sure you close those holes. This tilts the odds in your favor, because it’s hard for a player to “roof the puck” while moving at full speed on a deke.

If you keep these things in mind, you’ll always give yourself a chance to make the save!

Mitch Korn is the goaltender coach for the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL. In addition, he is an administrator at Miami University (Ohio) and directs the 8-week Summer Hockey School. Miami has Division I ice hockey in the CCHA.

This first appeared in the 02/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2011 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

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