It is common, when a goaltending coach drops in on a coaching friend’s practice, to hear the coach lament, “My goalie is pretty good but rebounds are killing him.”
The team coach is often perplexed when the goaltending coach asks, “Is it a physical problem or a mental problem?”
Goaltenders give up costly rebounds for one of two reasons: either they don’t know the dangerous rebounder is there (mental problem), or they see the rebounder but don’t have the ability to direct the shot elsewhere (physical problem.)
As is often the case with other aspects of goaltending, the challenge of rebound control goes back to the way goaltenders are used at practice.
Rebound Control Through Physical Skills
Goaltenders need to develop mechanical skills through repetition. These days, that means on and off the ice, with the advent of off-ice training on synthetic ice. The latter is certainly not as efficient as training on real ice but for some skills, it can serve a role.
The primary focus in rebound control is to prevent the rebound altogether. That means that goaltenders should work to develop a “soft stick” to absorb on-ice shots right at them.
They should also practice controlling high shots in one of three basic ways:
One constant physical technique in all of these situations involves watching the puck into the equipment that is making the save. Goaltenders who “explode,” with arms flailing and head snapping back, often lose sight of the puck and, as a result, handicap themselves. They can’t follow where the rebound goes and are at a disadvantage to stop the next shot.
Goaltenders who have difficulty controlling their upper body after a shot — they lose their balance — also are disadvantaged, as they wipe out and leave themselves vulnerable to follow-up shots.
If a rebound is not prevented but remains close by, the next skill that is required is the ability to tie up or clear a loose puck. This is an attitude as much as a technique. Goaltenders should be encouraged to pounce on loose pucks at practice with the same zeal they will need in games.
If the rebound cannot be prevented, then the goaltender’s next choice is to direct shots away from trouble. This requires that coaches give their goaltenders time to take a steady diet of shots at practice, working the proper technique to direct pucks to specific spots on cue.
Rebound Control Through Mental Skills
It is not enough to master the physical ability to direct shots with precision alone. The goaltender must know where it is safe to put pucks. This requires that the goaltender has the presence of mind to look off the puck even before a shot is taken and know what’s going on right in front and to the side. Where are opposing snipers lurking for a pass, a rebound, or a deflection? The positioning of the opposition might even determine what particular save technique a goaltender should use on a certain shot.
Just as goaltenders need adequate time at practice to work on glove and pad skills, he or she has to be allowed to work on what takes place in that moment just before the puck leaves an opponent’s stick. In that crucial moment, the goaltender must be in the right place, must be in a proper balanced stance, and must know what is happening around him or her. Only then is the goaltender best prepared for what follows.
By being in the right place, the goaltender only has to move a little bit to stop the shot. By being balanced, the goaltender can execute the save in the most efficient manner. (And be better prepared to hop back up if the puck stays close.) By knowing what is going on in the neighborhood, the goaltender is less likely to direct the rebound blindly to an opposing forward.
The coach plays a key role in this process. Drills must be paced so the goaltender has time before and after the shot, to prepare for the shot and to deal with the aftermath. Too many coaches favor rapid-fire drills that give the goaltender work only in the middle aspect of a scoring situation.
Coaches should also encourage goaltenders to be specific about what they see off the puck. Don’t just see “an open guy.” See if it’s a “left shot open guy” or a “right shot open guy.” That distinction will serve the goaltender well in his or her selection of the next move and exactly where that move is directed.
One other mental skill to mention: it was established earlier that goaltenders have to cover or clear loose pucks that break off of them just slightly. Often, the goaltender’s fate depends on making the right decision here. Do I have the time, and talent, to gather that puck in and tie it up? Or is it more practical to clear it into the corner with a quick poke check? It is not so important that the goaltender has the puck than it is that the opposition doesn’t. This is another of so many examples in a goaltender’s game where proper decision-making, based on knowledge of the situation and an honest assessment of one’s skills precedes execution.
Rebound control involves physical and mental skills.
Joe Bertagna, former Goaltender Coach with the Boston Bruins (1985-1991) and the 1994 U.S. Olympic Team, has directed summer goaltending schools for the past 30 years. He has three instructional videos on goaltending produced by Championship Productions of Ames, Iowa. He also serves as Executive Director of the American Hockey Coaches Association and as Commissioner of Hockey East. For more instruction, check out www.bertagnagoaltending.com