I have worked with enough goalies from the pro to amateur levels to know that the goalie is ultimately responsible for the first save, and it is his teammate’s job to clear a rebound if there is one. I also have seen enough hockey games to know that this is the ideal but not the rule. Think of the great saves you have seen in hockey. Often, they are on a second or even third shot on net. You just cannot believe that the goalie was able to get back across the crease to get his foot on the puck. As hockey players progress with their competitive careers, they will pay more attention to off-ice training. Often, their quest for performance enhancement will lead directly to the weight room and strength training. Building strength is an essential ingredient of hockey training, but unless the player takes the time for the neuromuscular demands of speed and agility training, he may not see maximal benefit on the ice1. One way to help a goaltender go from good to great is to give him the quickness necessary to make some of these “impossible” saves. With that in mind, I have included quickness exercises in this article that will:
- Teach goaltenders to generate maximal power through triple extension and triple flexion at the hip knee and ankle
- Teach goalies to control their torso during crease movement and explain why this is important
- Provide goalies and their coaches with innovative, specific off-ice agility drills requiring minimal equipment
Triple Flexion and Triple Extension
Triple flexion and triple extension refer to the athlete summing the power produced across the hip, knee and ankle to either accelerate (extension) or decelerate (flexion) the body2. Any fitness coach uses this principle in movement drills, but this is the focus for an exercise that I call the crease push (see video).
I use it to help goalies get the feeling of applying force from their legs and hips very quickly so they can execute powerful movements on the ice. I like this drill because it also takes them from a kneeling position right into a push so it will help with transitions from the butterfly to a powerful lateral movement as may be necessary when making a second save.
The athlete begins the drill in a kneeling position, then brings one foot up underneath the body and immediately performs a powerful lateral push, getting extension from the hip, knee and ankle. The goalie should stay low as they bring the foot up beneath the body so they can generate more power through the movement, reduce wasted movements and train specifically in what Mel Siff, PhD. referred to as the “region of movement” for a goaltender3. Often, athletes will want to stand up and then re-bend their hips, knees and ankles to initiate the push, which is a waste of movement and time.
Another issue you may see is a loss of torso or core control. The goalie pushing to his right may “leave his shoulders behind” or side flex to the left. Not only does this side flexion shift the player’s center of mass away from the direction of movement, putting his off balance if another movement is required, it may also open up gaps in the net for the shooter. Cue the athlete to keep his shoulders level. You may want to try the crease push with a dowel, having the player execute the exact same drill while holding a dowel rod across the shoulders. If the dowel is tilting from one side to the other, you need to focus on teaching the movement with more core control.
If you spend time at hockey camps, you will notice that the goalies are often given the exact same drills as the skaters when it comes to agility training. I often use ladder or micro hurdle drills as a means for conditioning, which is more general in movement, but if agility is your goal, then try to make the movements more specific. Three of my favorite agility drills for goalies are the agility ladder pivot drill, push-push-hop drill and the micro hurdle arch push.
The basic agility drill I start goalies with is the agility ladder pivot drill, which works on quick lateral pushes and reinforces the habit of squaring up to the play. For this drill, the goalie will begin by standing to the right of the agility ladder.
- Step in with the left foot followed by the right.
- Step out with the left followed by the right turning the hips and shoulders as though they were squaring up to a play to the left of the crease.
For the agility ladder push-push-hop, the goalie will practice quick lateral movements followed by an explosive lateral movement. Imagine the goalie following a player who is carrying the puck from the top of the right circle across to the top of the left circle. He will push across the crease using his right leg. Now imagine that the goalie is standing square to the puck carrier in the left portion of the crease when the point player makes a slap pass to his teammate standing to the right of the net. Now your goalie must make one quick movement to follow the pass and get in position for the save. This type of movement pattern is what we are looking at with the following drill. Here are the steps:
- Stand on the right hand side of an agility ladder.
- Step in with your left foot and then your right foot.
- Step out to the left with your left foot and then your right.
- Explode with a lateral hop off your left foot back to the outside of ladder on the right side. Neithis foot will land in the ladder.
- Repeat the pattern the length of the ladder, moving ahead one square each time.
The micro hurdle arch push also targets lateral movement, but this time those small quick pushes a goalie will use to follow the play. The goal of this exercise is to help the player perform quick repetitive lateral movements. For this drill, you will need six to eight micro hurdles or other barriers. The athlete will begin in their low ready position with their glove hand and stick hand position properly. If a player has the habit of dropping their glove hand I may give them a two to three pound weight to hold as they complete the drill. The goalie will perform quick lateral pushes with the right foot when moving to the left, hopping over the hurdles as he follows the arch pattern all the way across. Upon reaching the opposite side of the arch, immediately change direction pushing back with the left foot while moving to the right.
Once the goalie is proficient, you may add in a hand-eye coordination element by passing and catching a tennis ball or squash ball as he moves across and back. You may also add in a read and react component by standing in front of the goaltender and pointing to indicate the direction of travel. Not only must the goalie react, but he must also keep his head up to see the visual cues.
Volume and Intensity
If speed and agility are the desired outcome, then the movements must be executed quickly and explosively, so the volume for these exercises will be low, but the intensity will be very high. You will run each drill for five to 10 seconds with a 1:4 to 1:6 work to rest interval. Remember that if the athlete’s movements are becoming labored, then you are no longer training his speed and agility, now you are performing conditioning drill. Could you use these drills for conditioning? Yes, but make sure you have a clearly defined purpose laid out at the beginning of your workout. Are you trying to improve agility? Or are you trying to train the anaerobic lactic system?
Below is a sample workout where I’ll show you that the rest interval does not have to be absolute rest, it can be active rest. This is how I may lay out an agility session for a hockey goalie.
||Perform 2-3 circuits
|Agility Ladder Pivot
||2 starting on right
2 starting on left
|Core plank for 30s between each
|Agility Ladder Push-Push-Hop
||1 starting on right
1 starting on left
|Tennis ball throw and catch off wall for 30s between each
|Micro Hurdle Arch Push
||2 x 5 seconds starting from right and left side of the hurdles. 20 seconds of rest between reps
- Brown, L.E. and Ferrigno, V.A. Training for Speed, Agility and Quickness. 2005: pp.72
- Twist, Peter. Complete Conditioning for Hockey. 2007: pp. 75-76
- Siff, Mel C. Supertraining. 2003: pp. 28-29