Yes, you read the headline correctly.
I see so many parents and coaches in minor hockey making the age-old mistake: "Put Joey or Jenny in net, they can't skate!" They couldn't be any more off base!
When parents or goalies ask me what the single most important aspect of goaltending is, without fail I say skating. I've heard some smart alecks out there say, "I thought it was about stopping the puck." For those I say, it's pretty tough to consistently make saves if you can't get into position on time or ahead of time.
Since we're talking hockey and not street/road hockey, skating has and will always be the name of the game. Especially now - the game is faster than ever and has more changes of direction.
Skating adds strength to your net game
If you watch the best receivers in football, they catch more than 90 per cent of the balls that hit their hands, but they have to work to get in position to catch the ball. That's a similar concept to goaltending, but goalies are on quarter-inch steel blades on ice and all their movements are done in and around the net area, which is roughly 36 square feet. This is why their movement has to be so precise.
When I started playing hockey, Mike Torchia's dad told my dad that I should go to power skating. He said skating was the key to a goalies' game. We signed up and went to Mike Pelyk's Power Skating at Lambton Arena in Toronto. I was out there in my goalie gear and skates, minus the pads. At the end of that summer I was one of the most polished skaters among the forwards and defencemen. Two years later at the age of eight, I tried out for the Toronto Red Wings and made the team as an underager. Our coach Keith Armstrong, who was from rural Manitoba, told my dad, "I want your son - he skates better than most of the players!" By the way, our captain was Mike Peca.
This advice and hard work set my career on the right track.
Know your edges
Goalies have to make adjustments, many of which are quick and instantaneous. To make these, one must be a master of their edges. For years these adjustments focused on your feet: push, glide, stop or shuffle. The tempo of today's game makes pushing and stopping for small lateral adjustments harder to do. Backward skating is a crucial element to both straight-on and lateral breakaways.
The new element, however, is the "down game." In addition to skating on your feet, you have to be able move for power pushes, butterfly slides and rotation recoveries. All of which require balance, power, core strength and yes, edgework! To those of you who are completely new age and think you have to butterfly on everything, take a look at Nikolai Khabibulin, Tuukka Rask, Jonathan Quick, Steve Bernier, Carey Price, Ryan Miller, Miikka Kiprusoff or Dwayne Roloson (just to name a few).
Goalies that are able to skate well on their feet and have that control on their knees give themselves a chance to make more of the saves they should be making, as well as more of the ones they aren't supposed to make. They'll also be less prone to slumps.
As with most things, there are exceptions to the rule: Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas aren't the strongest skaters per se. In Lundqvist's case, he compensates by mastering the art of playing deeper in his net a la Felix Potvin, meaning he has to move less in and around the crease, but he's a one-off! Nobody is as effective as he is playing this way. Thomas is a battler and will compete on every and any puck, but he's worked hard to add a butterfly base to his game and now adds an effective "down game" to his arsenal.
Getting into position tiring
The most tiring but crucial part of the goalie's game is movement for positioning. That's why penalty killing and defending sustained pressure from the opposition's cycle are deadly on a goalie's legs.
With the shooter changing the point of attack, passing or moving, they are forcing the goalie to work hard and make those adjustments to be in position to make saves.
Watch these videos of different saves. The common element in each one is skating:
For parents, coaches, goalies or anybody reading this - I can't give you a more important pearl of wisdom for the position than this.
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