Coaching The Crease

Coaching Goaltenders Is Not Rocket Science
Joe Bertagna

“I never played goal so I don’t know how to coach goalies,” is a common refrain heard at hockey rinks across the country. It’s a coach’s way of washing his hands of responsibility to his most important player.

Well, a lot of my high school buddies who are youth coaches never played on the power play either but they have taken the time to develop their own man-up strategy.

Coaching goaltenders is not rocket science. Learn the position, help develop your goalies, and raise both your team’s record and its level of enjoyment.

Educate Yourself

Like anything else, a coach should seek out the assistance of people who have devoted considerable time to the position. There have never been as many books or videos on the market as there are now. Some are better than others, but almost all offer the basics needed to understand the position.

Qualified goalie coaches offer a number of services, not limited to on-ice clinics for kids. Sit down and take a crash course on fundamentals, mechanics, strategies and on-ice drills. Then see if a goalie coach will not only run monthly clinics for the goalies in your program but will also consider an off-ice session with your program’s coaches, identifying common goalie errors by age group and common practice extremes by coaches.


The first contact between coach and goalie is likely to be tryouts or evaluations. Coaches must create a tryout environment that gives each goalie a fair chance to show what he or she is all about. This means a chance to observe their skating, athleticism, mechanics, game skills and attitude.

Scrimmages are most important because they provide game-like situations. And the evaluations should be conducted so the goalie can be rated on what they do now, not what they did in last year’s playoffs. It is best to conduct “blind evaluations,” where the evaluator only knows the goalie’s number and not his name or credentials. Bring in an outside evaluator, perhaps, whose only job is to rank the goalies, noting which pairs of goalies are close and which are far apart. With this information, the program people, who know more about the kids (like who is a first-year or second-year player at that level), can place them on the appropriate team.


The biggest problem in the development of goalies is how they are used at practice. Or, in some cases, not used. A visit to a typical practice will find much of the following:
• Goalies being idle, perhaps left by themselves, for long stretches of time, then given 95 percent of their shots in a 20-minute block of time
• Drills that are designed to come exclusively at the goalie (not out of the corner, not across ice)
• Drills with shooters and no defenders, so the goalie sees the puck easily
• Drills with no rebounds or screens
• Drills where the goalie knows in advance who will shoot and from where
• Rapid-fire drills where the goalie faces many pucks, each for a second (as opposed to games, where the goalie has to deal with one puck for a long time, finding it through feet, staying with it after the shot)

The reality of games (i.e. confusion and unpredictability) should be replicated in practice.

Get To The Heart Of The Problem

If your goalie is getting beat on rebounds, you can’t just say, “You are giving up too many goals on rebounds.” You have to know why. Is it a mental error? (He doesn’t know the offensive player is there and thinks he is directing the original shot safely.) Or is it a mechanical error? (He sees the guy but isn’t able to direct the puck to a safe area.)


Two issues a coach must deal with involving games:

The selection of who plays (and how it is communicated), and communication within a game.

As for who plays, participation is a legitimate concern at younger levels. Being part of the game is important. Splitting games is preferable to alternating whole games for the young. However, as they get older, goalies must learn the concentration it takes to play an entire game. Alternating whole games is a more valid

During games, positive reinforcement is as important as constructive criticism.

option for the older goalies. This also allows for some strategic assignments if there appears to be a stronger goalie and a weaker goalie among your pair.

As for how you tell them, the coach really has no obligation to give advance notice. All goalies should be ready to play at all times. But if you know what you are going to do ahead of time, don’t play head games. Let them know.

During games, positive reinforcement is as important as constructive criticism. When the goalie does something well that he has been struggling to achieve, congratulate him and do it so that others can hear it. When the goalies struggle, particularly in effort or concentration, speak to them as you would the others.

Remember: you may refer to “the defensemen” and “the forwards” when giving between period critiques and the individuals who play those positions are never singled out. But if only one goalie played that period, everybody in the room knows who you are talking about. Don’t baby the goalie but show him the same sensitivity the others receive. And after the game, draw the distinction between “responsibility” and “blame.” Goalies make the final mistake on many goals; but it’s a good idea to remind everyone in the locker room that others bear some responsibility on those goals allowed as well.

Joe Bertagna is a former goalie coach with the Boston Bruins (1985-1991) and the 1994 U.S. Olympic Team. He has four instructional videos on goaltending, including his latest one "Goaltending Today: Traditional Values Through New Techniques." To learn more check out




Who is your favorite 2023/2024 NHL Rookie?
Connor Bedard
Matthew Knies
Brock Faber
Logan Stankoven
Logan Cooley
Total votes: 4