Being a goaltender is one of the most difficult positions to play in all of sports. Think about the facts – the puck is only 1 inch wide, 3 inches in diameter and travels at speeds over 100 mph. It is very difficult to guard a net that is 6 feet wide and 4 feet high, with players skating and passing the puck at high rates of speed. Now, add the fact that opposing teams purposely try to “screen” goalies, and the black puck has to travel through an array of optical distractions (moving players, dark team jerseys, black hockey skates, etc…) and you have an extremely difficult situation for goalies. It takes an enormous amount of precision and focus to find the puck through traffic.
When a goaltender is playing a great game, you will hear every opposing coach tell his team to get more traffic in front of the net for tips, screens and rebounds. Every young player is taught to go to the net if he wants to score goals. As goaltenders, we need to counteract the goal-scorersʼ tactics by stressing the importance of developing this skill. The higher the level of play, the bigger the bodies, and the tougher it becomes to find pucks through traffic. It is obviously a hard skill to master, as we have all seen NHL goaltenders lift their arms up in surprise when a goal has been scored against them without them being able to find it.
A simple type of screen occurs when an opposing team has a rush down the ice and your defensemen are playing their positions in front of you. Many times, players will use the defense as a screen and either shoot through or around their legs. The quicker the release, the tougher it is to pick up through the small screen. My advice for this play is to be extremely focused and anticipate that the players will use this play to their advantage. Line up to the shooters stick and not to the shooters body to ensure that you have a good angle on the puck. Goals are scored on these plays mostly due to the element of surprise.
The most common type of screen occurs when a team has possession in your zone, either at even strength or on the power play. First, you need to find the puck on the opposing playersʼ stick and know that it will constantly be moving. Taller goalies are able to peak above the shoulders or around the players bodies in front of them. I am usually the smallest person on my team, so I constantly crouch low and look around the players and through their legs. You want to make sure that you donʼt lean or move so far in one direction that you leave yourself vulnerable to a lot of net opening up on the other side. If you canʼt find it in one or two seconds, immediately move your head to the other side or look above or below the players. You canʼt get caught too long using one method to find the puck. Also, be sure not to back away from the screening players too much, as it will create more open net and it will also leave more room for a tipped puck to get past. It is important to be as close as you can to the opponents, so that any change of direction on the puck wonʼt leave you helpless. Many saves on tips are due to good positioning and not always great reflexes.
Practice drill – Here is a description of my favorite drill to work on tips, screens, and rebounds….Have a shooter in the middle of the blue line with a pile of pucks. Have about 5-8 players in front of the net making sure to be actively tipping pucks and looking for rebounds. Make sure the shooter on the blue line is moving to either side and not always shooting from the middle of the ice. Play each puck out until it hits the boards, making sure to battle on every play. The more you work on it, the easier it will be in a game.
Reminder – Make sure to check out www.futurepro.com for all of the latest information on upcoming clinics and summer camps! We also have added a new element to Future Pro having a Playerʼs Development Camp. NHL player Erik Condra and AHL player Bryan Lerg will be directing this camp and it is a great opportunity to truly learn from the pros!