It all started with Jacques Plante “roaming” from the crease. Then Ed Giacomin became the New York Rangers so-called “third defenseman.” And now, Ron Hextall, with two goals under his belt, can fire the puck harder than many forwards.
Goaltending has evolved to the point where a goalie cannot excel without being able to handle and move the puck. The problem is that most goalies do not know how to handle the puck, or where to move it.
Once the goalie gains possession of the puck, he has a couple of choices. The first and best choice is to leave the puck for a teammate (most often a defenseman). Sometimes goalies will overhandle the puck, and make a bad decision when choosing to move it.
One task, two skills
There are two basic aspects to handling and moving the puck. First is how the goaltender physically positions his hands, and second is the mental skill of reading the play and selecting the correct option on how and where to move the puck.
The goaltender has six options on how to position his hands in order to play the puck. The best and quickest way is to move the stick hand to the top of the stick, with the catch glove supporting the stick at the paddle. This is the forehand set-up. It is difficult for some netminders to master because a right-hander (stick in the right hand and catch glove on left) has to learn to move the puck, effectively, as a left-hander. The second, and most difficult, is the backhand. The hands are set the same way as in the forehand example above, but the puck is moved on the backhand.
The third option is a one-hand sweep backhand, a move that has become very popular in making a direct pass or sending the puck around the boards from behind the net. This is actually easier than the two-hand backhand. Fourth, there is the one-hand, forehand push pass. The puck does not move very hard, but is a quick move.
Fifth and sixth (forehand and backhand) are the “turnover methods.” Here, the catch glove goes to the butt-end (top of the stick) and the stick glove remains at the paddle, with the stick “turning over.” The advantage of these two choices is that a right hander can move the puck as a righty normally would, unlike our very first example. However, it’s a move that often takes too long and leaves the goaltender’s stick way out of position.
Now that the goalie has gained possession of the puck, he must move it. Too often the goaltender either moves the puck past his teammates (too far), or just blindly throws it—seemingly with no reason—to the corner, possibly getting his defenseman crushed into the boards.
Ideally, the goalie should make every effort to leave the puck in a good position—behind the goal line and away from the boards—for a defenseman. But, if the goalie has to move the puck, he must have an objective in mind when doing so. The netminder usually has three choices.
First, the goalie can make a pass to a teammate. Whether he chooses a direct pass, or chooses to move the puck around the boards, the puck should not be sent too hard. Firmly, yes. But send it too hard and miss your man, and the opponent is sure to gain possession, and possibly create a good scoring chance.
Often, in order to assist the netminder, a defenseman “peels off” to avoid a forechecker and gets into a passing lane to wait for the goaltender’s pass.
A second objective would be to clear the zone. Many goalies are just not strong enough or quick enough to clear the zone—even though they try—and end up turning the puck over for a good scoring chance. When clearing, always avoid the middle of the ice. Try to get some elevation on the puck, and clear it toward the boards, close to the blueline. By taking this angle (close to the blueline), the puck will leave the zone most quickly.
A bad time to move?
However, there are times when nobody is open (forehand or backhand) for a pass and no open lanes exist to clear, so the goaltender must simply clear the puck to a “safe haven.” That means putting the puck in a place from which a reasonable, or direct, shot cannot be taken. In this case, the netminder must simply try to give his team a chance to set up defensively, and keep the squad “out of trouble.” Often this is accomplished by dishing the puck toward the corner, creating a “battle” in a non-threatening location. This avenue is better than a turnover.
Remember, do not just aimlessly fire the puck up the boards. Do that, and odds are it will wind up on an opponent’s stick—and then quite possibly in your net!
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.