Not just a target

Goalies need specific training to reach goals

27.07.2017
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The hand-eye co-ordination of the goalies is put to test with tennis balls. One of the off-ice training methods used for the goalies at the 2017 IIHF Women’s Goaltending Development Camp. Photo: Martin Merk

GRANADA, Spain – Many players who decide to become a goaltender do it because they love it. They stand in the net at practice and in games and often learn to catch and block the pucks by doing or by watching their idols. But for those having the highest ambitions simply practising with their colleagues skating out of the crease may not be enough.

“If you look at the game on the ice, the goaltender has a completely different role than defencemen and forwards. It’s a totally different skillset they need to work on,” said Lisa Haley, a former coach of Canada’s senior and U18 women’s national teams, while working as one of the directors at the 2017 IIHF Women’s Goaltending Development Camp.

“For defencemen and forwards there’s a lot of similarity in skating, shooting and passing. The goaltenders are at a unique position. On the ice they need specialized training; they need experts at their position. The typical coaching staff of head coaches and assistant coaches typically don’t have that knowledge and they also need to focus on the larger group. Goaltenders need specific training on the ice so you need experts, you need goalie coaches on the staff of the federations’ teams so that they can continue to grow the goaltenders.”

That’s one reason why this camp was held for the first time. Not every of the female goalies from 16 countries has the experience of working with a goaltending coach or getting specific training off the ice. Goaltending coaches may be common in top hockey countries but less so in smaller hockey communities and in women’s hockey.

Of course not everything is totally different what the 40 goalies learned in Granada, starting with a nutrition session by one of the therapists at the camp, Amie Lee. She explained about the importance of proper nutrition to recharge the battery in time. “It’s like your phones, the more you use it, the more the battery goes down,” she said and talked about carbohydrates, protein, good and bad fats. About a hockey player’s plate three to four hours before doing sports with a big portion of vegetables, as well as some food rich in starch like rice, potatoes, corn or bread, and about a quarter of protein-rich food like meat. Too much fats, especially bad fats from processed food, can slow digestion too much and lead to cramps.

The more one plays, practises or faces shots, the more one need to eat. Like here where a big and variety-rich buffet restaurant gave them enough choice. “There are only goalies here, nobody else,” she said about the expected energy consumption. “Eat good food otherwise you will be tired by 5pm.” And eat less when one is not active like during an injury. She also recommended to eat fruits that give more constant energy than juice where the energy level goes up fast, and down fast.

Water is important especially when it’s hot like here in southern Spain. How to know if the body has enough water? An indicator apart from feeling thirsty is the urine. The clearer it is, the better hydrated the body is. A dark colour can indicate a health risk. Another indicator can be a fast loss in body weight (like 2%) because such a loss comes through a loss in hydration. During a game or practice it’s recommended to drink every 15 to 20 minutes. Water is your best friend but isotonic sports drinks can help when you’re active for more than an hour.

The strength and conditioning coaches at the camp, Jon Brown and Eric Innes, also emphasized the importance of sleep. Eight to ten hours in the night should be the goal for an athlete. And since we’re in Spain, a siesta can be helpful too, but shouldn’t finish later than one hour before practice, and should be either short (10-30 minutes) or a full cycle of sleep (90 minutes or more). Without enough sleep the reaction time is slower, it can affect the muscle mass and increase the chance of injury.

Proper shoes that don’t risk twisting the ankles were on the list as well. The importance of warm-up, cool down and stretching were emphasized not just in the class-room but in the daily schedule before and after the ice sessions.

So how about off-ice training? Do goalies do anything different than defencemen or forwards?

“I think off the ice their position is unique as well. They have different areas of focus in their training that they need to learn about. Being able to understand where they need to have their balance on their feet, how important it is to have the core strength throughout their bodies so they can do the specialized movements they need to do versus the skating and shooting of the players. It is unique so you need to take the time so they understand how to train their bodies, how to build the flexibility within their bodies so that they can excel at their position on the ice,” said Haley. “And once they’re on the ice, the individual skillset they need to have needs special goaltending coaches who can focus on them and help them refine the game. If we can help them to be the best that gives their teams the best opportunity to be successful.”

Brown was taking care of the senior goalies off the ice in Granada where training areas were installed at the arena.

“Co-ordination and single-leg stability is important, that’s something they need to improve one. They’re super mobile but need stability,” Brown said after the first sessions. “I’m not sure if all have done the warm-up in the same intensity like we do. They sweat a lot for what is normal for us. The levels they’re at is very different.”

Talking with the goalies, the camp is certainly an intense three-day event both on and off the ice but they appreciate what they learn. For many it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn how to become a better athlete and a better goalie.

“For goalies you need to train co-ordination, single-leg exercises, lateral work, a lot of hand-eye co-ordination for example with tennis balls to bring them in weird situations they’re not used to and see how they react,” Brown said.

But before becoming that specific, players need to work on their overall fitness.

“It depends on the age,” said Innes, who took care of the off-ice work for the U18 groups in Granada. “When they’re young you do more general exercises like for skaters.” His focus was on lateral movements, hips and balance. “Both goalies and skaters need strong legs and strong glutes. They use the same muscles but in a different way. The goal is to make them faster and stronger with more speed in the net. But for young goalies it’s more general. They need to be good athletes before doing specific stuff.”

Some of the exercises had the focus on a strong lower body such as deadlifts, normal jump squads or lateral single-leg jumps. They can use the body weight for the start. Additional weights can be used later when they’re ready for that, otherwise they risk injuries.

“For some here to work on co-ordination is most important,” Innes said.

After the warm-up the fun part began. Going on the ice and learning from the goaltending coaches who were mentored by Joe Johnston. Beside the ice session, Johnston had classroom sessions as well were the goalies saw the more scientific approach done for the top goalies at Hockey Canada and a lot of videos.

Johnson’s key development concepts: First of all, find the puck – eyes first. Second: movement – getting into position. Third: position – stance, angles and depth. Fourth, select the save appropriate to the situation. Fifth: rebound and recovery. It’s learnings the participants saw on videos from the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. The goalies need to be consistent in all these things to be successful. They need to work pre-save, save and post-save.

“The goalies who come to Hockey Canada’s camps are technically good,” he said about Canada’s top prospects in the net. “Most work has to be done on the tactical side.”

He recommends having a plan for each ice session including pre-ice session and post-ice session for which strength and conditioning coaches were flown in, was teaching about reading the game better, about adjusting to the movement of the puck and not the shooter, about tactical situations like net drives, tips and deflections, rebounds and loose pucks, east-west lateral plays, north-south passes, recognizing the next most dangerous player and warn teammates. And he emphasized low-post plays. “85 per cent of the shots in the recent Women’s World Championships came low,” he said.

Watching videos is important. That’s why they saw many examples from Team Canada at the recent Women’s Worlds but later also about themselves following the ice practices.

It was a busy time for Johnston not just with the players but also mentoring the goaltending coaches who joined from many of these countries as well and will help their female goaltenders in their countries. And once there was a free minute, he answered one of the questions coming from social media about why skating is important in this video.

What was his impression about the young goalies from Europe and Asia coming to the camp in southern Spain?

“Their individual technical skill is good but the foundation, the stance and balance, is off. Not every movement should be a save moment, they need to work on pre-save. Many girls don’t have, or have limited goaltending coaches compared to Canada. It’s important to improve goaltending coaches, they have a lot of questions here, everybody is taking notes and photos. It’s a phenomenal opportunity for the girls, they can learn much here,” he said.

And that’s what they certainly did with a backpack full of new impressions for their work on and off the ice as they prepare for their new season. A season that for many will include an IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship below the top division, an U18 Women’s Worlds event and for a few even being on the roster at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Check out our photo gallery for some impressions from on and off the ice.

MARTIN MERK

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