One of the most exciting plays in hockey is the breakaway. This one-on-one situation can even garner the attention of the most talkative hockey moms. The chaos of the game seems to disappear and all of the attention is now on just two players. A breakaway save can be a big momentum swing in the game. Stopping breakaways is all about taking care of little things. A foot too far back in the crease and the puck could go over you; a lazy stick and the puck can go through you.
There are five key steps that will help a goalie be successful in this situation:
1. Challenge out from the crease
The initial challenge out gives the shooter less options and makes them start to think of making a deke rather than shooting. If they do shoot the puck, you at least have more net covered and you make the shooter be more precise. The reason you see many goalies get beat with a five-hole shot on a breakaway is because the shooter doesn’t see many other open parts of the net and purely releases the puck before the goalie can explode into the butterfly. This save is all about reading the release of the shooter’s stick. I recommend watching Jimmy Howard as an example of getting a good initial challenge on breakaways. He comes out far enough from the crease to give himself room to develop speed for a slide, but he doesn’t over challenge so that the player can easily deke around him.
2. Identify the speed/shooting hand of the opponent
A goalie should recognize the shooter’s speed in order to gauge how aggressive he can be on the initial challenge out. If the player is already entering your zone at full speed and you haven’t challenged yet, then an aggressive challenge will most likely end up with the shooter faking around you. It is also important to take notice of the shooting hand of the player so your muscle memory can take over when the dekes of a lefty or righty occur.
3. Locate when the shooter’s stick/feet get into a shooting position
Two things that you can take notice of are when a skater stops moving his feet and when the stick goes from a stickhandling position (blade facing the boards) to a shooting position (blade facing the goalie). When these things happen, the shooter will either shoot the puck or try his first fake on you.
4. Patience and stick aggressiveness
A shooter’s worst nightmare is a goalie who stays patient on his feet. A goalie who falls for the first or second fake will have to make a difficult recovery save to make up for it. Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils is a good goalie to watch as he uses small shuffles to follow the dekes. Another aspect of having patience is the poke check. It also needs to be a patient move because if you show your cards too early, then the shooter will easily deke around you or shoot through you. The poke check is most effective when the shooter is stickhandling with his head down and is within a stick’s length of the goalie.
5. An angled slide to the post/seal all holes
After you have forced the shooter to deke, they now have three places to put the puck: around you, over you or through you. I always try to eliminate the first option by angling my butterfly slide to a couple inches in front of the post so the puck can’t get around. Having good gap control and active hands will help eliminate some options of the puck going over you. Stay as tight to the shooter as possible and work on stacking your arm on top of your pad so that they can’t lift it over you. The last common move for a shooter is the five-hole deke. The five-hole opens up when the goalie thinks the shooter is going around him and extends his leg too early toward the post. Being patient on the extension and having a stick that immediately returns to the five-hole will help this problem.
Many of these technical aspects are figured out by trial and error of practicing breakaways. Although it seems like a lot of information, breakaways are really about having that mindset of winning the one on one battle with the forward.