Long gone are the days where a goaltender would be the biggest player on his team, placed between the pipes because he could cover the most area.
Today’s goaltenders need to be quick, and they need to be agile.
“A goaltender needs to be able to move side to side,” says Corey Hirsch, Hockey Canada’s goaltending consultant. “It’s really all about skating if you want to be effective. If your agility isn’t what it needs to be, you’re probably not going to be successful.”
If a young goaltender wants to improve their agility Hirsch suggests letter drills, which involve the goaltender making letters – popular ones include ‘Y’, ‘W’ and ‘Z’ – in their crease to mimic the movements made during a game.
As for off the ice, the former NHLer and Canadian Olympian suggests simple things to improve footwork, such as skipping or running through a rope ladder placed on the floor.
For the goaltenders attending this weekend’s Program of Excellence Goaltending Camp, agility plays a major role in their games.
“It’s huge,” says Peter Delmas, a goaltender for the QMJHL’s Lewiston MAINEiacs, of being agile in today’s game. “Goalies are a lot different than what they used to be. They need to be always moving.”
Leland Irving of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, a member of Canada’s 2007 gold medal-winning National Junior Team, agrees with Delmas, saying the position has evolved over the last number of years.
“You’ve got to get into new positions and be able to cut down your angles, and if you’re not agile, you’re not going to get there quick enough,” the 2006 Calgary Flames first round draft pick says. “It’s an extremely important part of the game for a goaltender.”
Much like Hirsch, both Delmas and Irving preach the benefits of the letter drills, while Delmas also likes general side-to-side and up-and-down movements in the crease to perfect his agility.
Irving, meanwhile, employs a much more straightforward method.
“Just compete during practice,” the Swan Hills, AB native says. “Work hard, battle for every puck, just as you would during a game. If you do it in practice, you’ll see results in a game.”
When they’re not on the ice, both Delmas and Irving keep it fairly basic when it comes to agility drills.
“Just try to build quickness and leg strength,” Irving says. “Mix in some weights and sprints, and just make sure you’re doing everything explosively. If you’re explosive off the ice, you’ll be explosive on the ice.”
“I do a lot of lunges, a lot of jumping side to side,” Delmas says. “Anything that can build quickness would be a great thing to do. Anything to improve your power and improve your speed.”
With NHL goaltenders needing exceptional speed and agility to keep up with the pace of today’s game, getting an early start, according to Hirsch, would definitely not be a bad idea.
“There are things you can do anytime, at any age,” he says. “You don’t need to be a Midget or Junior goaltender to be skipping or sprinting. Get started at a young age, and you’ll see results.”