(Note: As the token goalie guy on #TeamTRH I will be periodically writing about different aspects of the goaltender position, goalie history, what it is like to be on the business end of a breakaway or anything else I can think of. Chances are some or all of what you are about to read might fly right over your head. I apologize in advance.)

For the past few weeks I have been working with TRH trying to figure out ideas to get this goalie column off the ground, since chances are you all don’t really want to hear every week how cold it currently is in Minnesota.

But since I brought it up, it’s cold.

The Half finally reached out to me with a potential topic he thought of while listening to #MvsW, where Marek and Wyshynski were discussing the merits of goalie coaches in the NHL on their Nov. 7 podcast. (The goalie coach bit starts at 32:35 if you are too lazy to listen to the whole thing, in which case shame on you.)

It was a great segment, as the two pondered why some teams have goalie coaches, why some don’t and why some netminders flouish under specific goalie gurus while others seem to trend the other way. The issue is definitely an interesting one, as having a goaltending specialist on a team’s coaching staff has typically been a luxury rather than a necessity, at every level of hockey, not just the NHL. Since I have been able to work with several different goalie instructors through my own playing career, I thought I would be able to provide some added insight.

Before approaching the coach-or-no-coach debate, I feel the need to step back and divulge a bit of goaltending philosophy. To be a goalie is to play an individual sport within a team game. There is some merit to the overplayed stigma of the goalie being the lone wolf or the oddball on a hockey team, because they are, compared to their teammates, odd. They are playing an entirely different game than everyone else on their team. When I played, I always told people half-sarcastically and half-seriously, that I didn’t play hockey, I played goalie. There is a huge difference.

Goaltending offers an extremely simple problem with an impossible solution. A goaltender’s job is to stop the puck. That’s it. But the catch is that there is no perfect answer as to how to do it.

There are specific techniques goalies can use, such as different stances or save selections, and there are blanket “styles” that one can try and play, such as your positionally-sound butterfly goalie (think Henrik Lundqvist) or your athletic-aggressive type (think vintage Dominik Hasek), but each and every keeper has his or her own unique way of doing things.

This last statement is exactly why I am fundamentally opposed to the term “goaltending style”, where all goalies can be lumped into three or four categories. To use an odd metaphor, being a goalie is not like ordering from the extra value menu at McDonalds. A goalie starting out doesn’t just decide to be a “hybrid” or a “standup” goalie the same way you order a number 4; getting a pre-packaged bag of techniques and skills to adhere to, based on what style they initially chose.

Rather, being a goalie is like having an empty plate and walking through the biggest buffet in the world. You know there are the basic fundamentals you need to cover, but there are endless options, different approaches and theories to weed through while trying to find a combination that works.

Another metaphor that has stuck with me through the years comes from my favorite goalie coach: Robb Stauber.

Yes this Robb Stauber.

Back in my youth and high school hockey days in the Twin Cities I trained with Stauber a few times a week, and he would often wax poetically about how ones’ goaltending game is like a toolbox. A toolbox which a netminder can fill with whatever they choose to. Instructors, coaches and teammates can introduce a goalie to different approaches, drills and techniques, but it is up to the individual goalie to decide what goes in their toolbox and what goes back on the shelf.

I chose to build my specific game with many of Stauber’s ideas, specifically my penchant for poke checks and throwing the occasional two-pad stack. Aside from these figurative tools, I also grew up using his patented, physical tool to help learn to keep my gloves out in front of my body.


Behold: The StauBar

But as I found out, when you rise through the ranks you are exposed to a lot of different opinions. You meet new goalie coaches at every level – from high school and AAA to juniors to college and above – all who choose to coach their own way of doing things. That is a lot of different approaches, many often conflicting with one another, demanding for a developing goaltender’s attention.

Some goalie coaches subscribe to the toolbox theory, and make an attempt to work with the individual tendencies of each of their players, while others want their players to toss their toolbox into the dumpster and conform completely to how they see fit.

To circle back to Marek and Wyshynski’s debate on why there are such mixed results with goalie coaches in the NHL, consider this dichotomy that exists within the profession.  On one hand you have the stern teacher-types, who strive to sculpt their pupils into exactly how they want them to play, where on the other you have a more hands-off type of coach, who will let their goalies play their own game, stepping in with suggestions or alternatives when something isn’t quite working out.

The iron-fisted approach sometimes works, particularly with younger kids or when the coach and goalie share similar views on how the game should be played. But often when a coach tries to force a goalie to play a brand of hockey they aren’t used to, it can do more harm than good.

Goaltending is based on instinct and muscle memory, at high levels goalies rely on their past training and experience so they can just read and react during a game, rather than actively think of what they need to be doing. When a coach tries to instill a drastic change into ones game (for instance telling a more conservative, percentage-playing positional goalie that he needs to be more aggressive and challenge outside of the blue paint), it can cause a distracting cognitive dissonance, between what he is being told to do and what he has always known.

A netminder can try and quickly rebuild their game accordingly, which could leave them overwhelmed and lost in the woods, or they could ignore the orders given to them, which often does not sit well with the coaching staff, having adverse effect on ones ice time.

But when a goalie coach presents himself as an additional resource for his players rather than a tyrant, growth tends to be much easier. The trend of turning to part-time goaltending consultants over having a full-fledged goalie coach is catching on for NHL organizations.

The coach often will visit with their pupils a couple times a week, making themselves available to run through a few drills before practice or breaking down game tape in order to troubleshoot any deficiencies their goalies might have. They take on more of a mentor role to the goaltenders they work with, rather than being someone who wants to dictate every aspect of their game. Most goalies, especially at the highest levels, don’t want to hear a lecture on the position their glove should be, they want someone who they can talk through things with.

Jonathan Quick and Bill Ranford a perfect example of a coach and goalie who enjoy a symbiotic relationship with one another. Quick came out of UMass a raw talent, with an unparalleled athleticism and explosive movement, and after eight years in the Kings organization, Ranford has been able to fine-tune (not transform) the netminder into the two-time Stanley Cup Champion he is. Additionally he has been able to play a mentor role with all the netminders in the system; someone who has been through the ringer himself and can shed light on how to deal with the pressures of being an NHL goaltender, which Quick admitted was a massive help, especially come playoff time.

Goalies are by necessity an independent breed, so they can often fend for themselves just fine without the aid of a goalie coach. Someone does not rise to the professional ranks without being extremely aware of their own game and what works for them. However, there is an undeniable advantage for a team in having someone on staff who can give a struggling netminder more substantial advice than “watch your angles” or “don’t go down so early”.

Proof of how an effective goalie coach can work wonders with a crop of talent is crystal clear in the case of the Los Angeles Kings. The fact that the goaltending jalopy of the Cloutier, Aubin and Ersberg era has given way to the puck-stopping machine of Bernier, Scrivens, Quick and Jones is no coincindence. There was someone offering all the right tools.

Knick Rickle was a former junior and college goaltender and is a current aspiring journalist and mediocre adult league goaltender. While growing up in Minneapolis, he learned how to play by attending Robb Stauber's goalie school, which unbeknownst to him at the time was the first step in becoming a Kings fan. The rest of the steps came when became probably the first person ever to move to California from Minnesota to play hockey. He currently is unemployed, holds an English degree, while contributing to #TeamTRH, so you be the judge how his hockey career turned out. You can follow KnickRickle on Twitter @KnickRickle.