A shortage is one way hockey people describe it. Others in some parts of North America call it a crisis. However you frame it, youth hockey in recent years has struggled to fill rosters with an adequate goaltending supply.
How tough do you have to be to want to stand in front of high-velocity pucks whizzing at and around you? And what about the mental pressure of the position?
There are other factors that weigh in, many of which are hopefully set to be stamped out by a new attitude towards the position, new practices towards development, and incentives like registration fee waivers as well as equipment assistance offered by most associations.
The equipment is too expensive, and there aren’t adequate coaching or development opportunities are two common misconceptions in particular that USA Hockey, Minnesota Hockey, and local associations have been eager to attack.
Steve Carroll, a goalie development leader who serves as Goalie Coach-in-Chief of USA Hockey’s Minnesota District, says there have been steps in the right direction, but re-imagining the way we think about developing the position has to take place.
“I think it has potential to work,” he said of associations reducing registration fees, providing outside instruction, and designing guidelines for teams on how to develop and play their goalies. “But we’re not to the point of having a universal agreement on everyone doing it.”
Registration waivers and provided equipment are financial barriers being cut down by several associations, while other new and innovative ideas and practices have become commonplace on the development roadmap.
Some coaches believe that what is happening is not as much a goalie problem as it is a parent problem. As in, not enough parents want to see their child play in net. It’s understandable, as nobody signs up to be a backup goaltender, and who wants to see their son or daughter not play at all in certain games?
Worse yet, there is the myth that there is not adequate coaching. Back when dad or mom played, Carroll says, they were probably more likely to be self-taught, relied on their athleticism to get by, and perhaps attended a camp or had some kind of goalie instruction here or there. That’s all there was 25 or 30 years ago.
In the modern era of development, that is light years behind us. At the national level, USA Hockey has been incorporating more goalie development into the required coaching certification programs as well as offering goalie-specific training. At the local level, most associations partner with outside goalie coaching companies to supplement practices and offer regular or weekly specialized instruction brought in-house without any added cost to the player.
Moreover, there is increasing accountability handed over to the team coaches to carry on and develop throughout the week.
“Today, there’s really no excuse for the everyday coach to lack the basic knowledge of how to develop a goaltender,” said Carroll, who’s an assistant coach for the NCAA Division III National Champion Gustavus Women’s hockey program. “With all the resources out there, whether through USA Hockey or on the internet, it’s so easy to find what you need.”
For the typical team, Carroll says it’s important for coaches to develop a practice plan that provides goalie development time for a designated coach on the staff to work on goalie-only development. Ideally, it would be one regular coach as opposed to a few, but having played the position previously is not important.
“There are a ton of resources out there to help coaches at all levels know what to do for goalie development,” he added.
The traditional way of thinking about goaltending; a starter who plays the whole game and a backup who watches from the bench —is being weeded out of youth hockey. Upper-level coaches would rather see a player involved than watch a Squirt or Peewee on the bench for an hour. Skating out is an attractive option, but if that’s not plausible, goalie rotations are becoming more the norm. Hockey development leaders continue to work with coaches to educate and instill a modern approach to how kids are coached and how games are managed.
“We’re trying to educate coaches to think about reimagining what the goalie looks like on your team. These kids need to play and be involved,” Carroll said. “If that means they are not playing in goal, then they are going to skate out. And if they are going to play in goal, then they are going to rotate in some kind of fashion so that they both get to play.”
“It can be done,” he added. “It’s just that it’s different from what has been done in the past, and therefore change is hard.”
RECOGNIZING THE IMPORTANCE OF THE POSITION
Many associations are taking extra steps to recognize their goaltenders for the toughness they bring and the critically important job they do.
Minnesota Hockey, as well as some associations, maintain a shutout wall on their websites, where the accomplishments are recorded and tallied, along with photos sent in. Some associations distribute specific T-shirts or hoodies for their goaltenders to recognize membership to a unique union or club (e.g. Goalie Nation).
There is increasing awareness and a more thoughtful approach for associations to promote and support their goaltenders from top to bottom.
“Too often, the goalie becomes the hero or the scapegoat based on the outcome of the game,” Carroll said. “Really, the goalie position is like the quarterback in football or the shortstop in baseball. It’s a special position, and it takes a special player to play goalie.”