Handling the Puck

Handling the puck is an important but often overlooked skill for goaltenders in today’s game.  This is an area of weakness for the majority of youth level goaltenders.   They either leave too many rims or turn the puck over too much.   In many cases coaches get frustrated with the turnovers so they discourage the goalie from handling the puck.  This can lead to a lack of confidence and skill as goalie moves up to the higher levels.   In this article I will give some simple tips to help effectively move the puck.

Philosophy

The goaltenders job is to help start the breakout by “setting” the puck for a defenseman or by “moving” it to an open teammate. The goaltender doesn’t necessarily require a great shot to be a proficient puck handler but it does make life easier on clears and rims.   For the most part the goaltender will be making a short pass to their defenseman in the corner or winger on the half wall.

Approach

The goaltender should start just inside the top of the crease and anticipate; not cheat, as the player approaches center ice. Being too aggressive will lead to a greater distance to travel.  Being too deep will cause the goaltender to lose speed by having to rotate too much to get behind the net.  I like either the continuous T-Push or T-push to C-cut as the best method of getting behind the net quickly.

D to Corners

The defensemen should make them self available for a pass in each corner whenever possible.  A common mistake is that the defensemen follow the attacking fore checker and they DO NOT make themselves available for a pass.  This limits the goaltenders options.  The defensemen should also skate back HARD to allow the goaltender (and themselves) more time to make a play.

Face up Ice

The goaltender should strive to face up ice whenever possible.  Obviously this will make reading the fore check much easier.  If the goaltender does not have enough time to completely face-up ice they should at least rotate enough to be able to see both walls. The goaltender should also look over their shoulder AS they are going back to stop the puck and not AFTER they stop the puck.  Most teams send 2 fore-checkers hard with the 3rd forward trying to take away the strong side half wall.

Typical fore-check

handling-the-puck_1

  1. Backhand side- Try to stop the puck with one or two hands with the top hand being on the butt end to be able to move the puck quicker. Pull the puck off the boards and face up ice when possible.
  2. Forehand side- Stop the puck with one or two hands at the butt-end and face up ice.

Communication

It is imperative for the goaltender and defensemen to have simple cues to help in the decision making process.  Every team may have their own system but some common cues are: PLAY IT, LEAVE IT, RIM IT, OVER or by simply calling the goalies name if they are open.

  1. Play It or Rim It-  The goaltender plays the puck around to the winger or they shoot the puck high and hard to clear the zone.  This is more of a last resort when there are limited options.
  2. Leave it- The goaltender leaves the puck in a position where the defenseman can pick it up on his forehand.
  3. Over or Reverse- The goaltender plays the puck to the opposite side that they are facing (usually a backhand pass).
  4. Goalies Name- The defenseman that wants the puck and is open is the only player that calls for it. )I think this is the easiest system.

In summary, handling the puck is an important skill for the goaltender to possess.  They can start the breakout and cut down on defensive zone time for their team.  It was also help out their defenseman from receiving unnecessary body checks.  The keys are to have good communication with their teammates, read the fore check, and execute the safest play.

Diagrams

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Goaltender faces up ice to read the fore-check

The goaltender face up ice and passes to the D in the corner.

The goaltender face up ice and passes to the D in the corner.

The goaltender plays the puck on his backhand.  D calls “over” or “reverse”.

The goaltender plays the puck on his backhand. D calls “over” or “reverse”.

The goaltender plays it around to the winger since both D are covered.

The goaltender plays it around to the winger since both D are covered.