(As it appeared in inGoal Magazine). Nothing makes for a successful team and coach more than choosing your goaltender. The following points will help you to better select your goaltender.
Choosing Your Goaltender – Pre-Tryout Stage
1) Limit yourself to 4-6 goaltenders per tryout session This makes it easier to evaluate all the goaltenders. Also use an even number of goaltenders when you can so as to allow for equal rotation both in the drills and in the scrimmages.
2) Have a goaltending coach or instructor out to assess the goaltenders in the try-out. If a coach is not available have an older goaltender out to check on them.
3) Have they attended a goaltending camp or clinic and if so when and where? This lets you know how dedicated they are and how well instructed they may be.
4) Don’t judge a goaltender by their size. Too many great short goaltenders have been cut because the coach felt they would be too susceptible to high shots and just as many tall goaltenders were presumed to be too awkward. Judge the goaltender by how he plays and leave your preconceptions regarding size at home.
5) When talking to any prospective goaltenders find out what other sports they may play. Gymnastics and wrestling are sports that build great stamina, strength, flexibility and agility. Handball & racquetball sports improve eye-hand coordination. Soccer builds footwork. Soccer, lacrosse and basketball develop team play concepts and build conditioning.
6) Once the goaltender is in the dressing room getting ready look for specific signals from them. Are they overweight? In what shape is their equipment? Good goaltenders take care of their equipment. Does it fit them? Have they modified their equipment? A goaltender that improvises is a good student of the game and will most likely have an analytical mind, an important asset for a goaltender to possess.
7) Have the goaltenders wear different coloured sweaters. That will make it easier for you and your evaluators to distinguish between the goaltenders. Using numbered sweaters doesn’t work since the number is on the back and may not be easy to see. It’s easier to refer to them as the green, red or blue goaltender.
Choosing Your Goaltender – the On the Ice Stage
1) Have the goaltenders do their own stretches prior to going on the ice and at centre ice. Observe what they do. Do they stand around or do they start stretching properly on their own? This is a good indication they have had expert or professional goaltending instruction.
2) If they take the initiative to become properly prepared it will indicate if they are self-motivated and self-driven.
3) Does the goaltender look confident before entering the net? A successful goaltender must have confidence when under pressure.
4) Start off their warm-up with wrist shots from in close and then progress to harder shots from the blueline. Have the shooters moving when they shoot. Game situations should be duplicated as much as possible so you can better evaluate them under game stress. A moving shooter gives fewer cues and is to stop.
5) Stance and style – does the goaltender’s stance and movements appear aggressive and confident? A goaltender who never appears ready to stop the puck usually isn’t!
6) When does the goaltender set himself for the developing play? Does he get into the ready position or basic stance too soon? (i.e. when the puck is in the opposing zone). Or does he wait too long and pick up the cues only when the play is right on top of him?
7) When does he move back into the net on attacks or breakaways? Does he wait properly for the puck to reach the top of the face-off circles or does he misread and move back too soon and give away too much of the net. Or does he move too late letting the player deke?
8) When the goaltender stops the puck does he pull up or noticeably wince? Carefully place some fakes into the shooting drills to see if he does fear the puck.
9) Does the goaltender make too many unnecessary moves? If he drops down too much or makes an outlandish move to stop a shot then the goaltender has a problem. The goaltender could also fatigue too quickly.
10) Does he play the puck with his body or arms? A goaltender that relies only on his hands and doesn’t centre his body on the puck misjudges shots and allows goals.
11) Do they move their bodies into the shot to control rebounds?
12) Do they demonstrate second effort? A goaltender is constantly trying to keep the puck out of his net. The world is full of goaltenders that can stop the first shot BUT it is the great goaltenders that try to stop the second, third and even fourth shots on any specific play.
13) What kind of rebounds does he give off? Does he constantly kick the puck right back to the opposing shooters or does he control the rebounds? As a rule you don’t want rebounds going out in front of the net especially between the 2 defensive zone face-off dots. You want the puck directed off to the side.
14) Does he make unnecessary gambles? Good goaltenders read plays well, they don’t guess!
15) Does the goaltender keep his eyes on the puck when he stops the shot or does he just reach out without looking?
16) Does he recover well and get himself back into the play as quickly as possible? Slow goaltenders can be a hazard to themselves and the team.
17) Does he look back over his shoulders to align himself in the net? If a goaltender has to look behind himself to find the net then he hasn’t learned his angles.
18) How does the goaltender react when the puck hits him? Good goaltenders are oblivious to the pain or at least don’t let it interfere with their concentration.
19) Check their skating – forward, backwards, one-foot stops. When they skate they should be balanced, quick and allow for no unnecessary upper body movement such as bobbing shoulders.
20) Keep stats on where each goal entered the net. Was it high, low, between the legs etc.? Stats confirm weaknesses and strengths.
21) What does the goaltender do when he is not in the net? Does he just stand around or does the goaltender practice specific moves? Does he appear to be analyzing the shooters?
Choosing Your Goaltender – the Scrimmage
1) In scrimmage, have the goaltender rotate every 5 minutes. By leaving them in for at least 5 minutes, you will insure that they will get some shots. You’ll see how quickly they can get into the game.
2) How does he relate to the defense? Does he communicate well? Does he handle the puck properly and safely? Does he pass properly when the right situation presents itself?
3) How does the goaltender react when a goal is scored against him? Does he sulk or go into a childish tantrum? Or does he forget about it and prepare for the next play sequence? Good goaltenders don’t allow their concentration to lapse with a goal against. They approach the next play ready to stop the puck without allowing previous misplays cloud their mind.
4) How does he react to the opposing players in the crease? Does he ignore them? Does he let them push him back into the net and out of the play? Does he make sure the players who stand in front of him feel his presence? A well placed tap from a goaltender glove or stick shows a toughness that good goaltenders need.
5) Schedule either 3 on 3 mini scrimmages or 5 on 4 power plays so you can see the goaltender under pressure. Does he hesitate or panic in such situations? Or does he appear confident and ready to challenge at all times?
6) Have your most reliable players rank the goaltenders after each tryout session. In this way, they will be able to assess each goaltender’s strengths and weaknesses.
These are just a few essential pointers I suggest you use in choosing your goaltender. But remember goaltenders can be as different as coaches. How they do it often doesn’t mean a thing! It’s all about whether they stop the puck and stop it consistently!