The Goalie Guru blog, and all its linked materials, is offered as a one-stop resource to assist ice hockey goaltenders, their coaches and parents (realizing that the latter two are often one and the same) in gaining a better understanding of this truly unique position. Comments, questions, and suggestions welcomed! Reach me at 978-609-7224, or

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Guidelines for age-based goals

Hi gang,

If there's a silly season in youth hockey, it's spring, when every youth hockey organization under the sun -- non-profit and for-profit -- holds tryouts. I'm often asked to help do evaluations during these sessions, to help avoid any suspicion of favoritism among members. And that makes sense.

But what I often think about while sitting in the bleachers, trying to keep warm and jotting down notes, is "What's most important to this organization?" Is it winning? Is it player development? Is it providing a fun environment for everyone? It's obviously a complex question, with many potential answers. To find out what's most important to a particular program, start by figuring out what the organization's goals are. Then you can apply those to the goaltenders in the program. Here are some guidelines that I'd recommend.

Thanks for reading. As always, let me know what you think.
Best, -Brion



One of the most difficult aspects of coaching is applying the right approach to each goaltender, at varying age levels. The reality is that not all goalies are created equal. As a result, goalie coaches have to adjust their methods based on a number of factors, including the age of the goalie, their experience, their commitment level, and their talent level.

Good coaches know there's no "one size fits all" approach to coaching. There are so many physical and mental challenges to the position that you need to assess each child (or young man, young woman, or adult) individually.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Even as an experienced coach, I sometimes need to reassess, remind myself to keep the individual in mind, and reboot.

TrueSport ( recently ran an excellent article on just this topic, featuring sports psychologist Roberta Kraus. A former competitive collegiate tennis and basketball player who works with athletes ranging from novices to Olympians, Kraus has an impressive resume. She holds a pair of master’s degrees, one in higher education from the University of Northern Colorado and another in sports psychology from the University of Arizona. Her doctorate from the University of Denver is in communications, specializing in its application to individual and team effectiveness.

The following are the highlights from that article, tailored to young goaltenders.

Getting started

Foremost, parents and coaches need to be on the same page in terms of the overall objectives. According to Kraus, parents and coaches typically agree on the "right" answer in terms of the reasons sports are beneficial for kids: building character, reinforcing a work ethic, developing integrity, teamwork, etc. But knowing the right answer doesn't always stop parents and/or coaches from applying too much pressure on kids to win, be a star player, or live up to the investment that parents have spent on private training and travel teams. Essentially, we all need to remind ourselves that the fundamental goal is (or should be) to keep young athletes engaged in sport. Staying engaged reinforces the values parents and coaches say they want. Sports help foster and fortify exercise and nutrition habits that lead to improved health throughout adulthood. The question Kraus asks is, how can we help kids set and achieve goals in a way that keeps them engaged?

Focus on "competitive maturity," not actual age

This is such a critical element for coaches in the youth ranks. Kraus encourages parents and coaches to consider an athlete's competitive/training maturity over chronological age. For example, your team might have two 12-year-old goaltenders. One has been playing competitive hockey for four years, the other just picked up the game (or position) this season. They might be the same chronological age, but could be vastly different in terms of competitive maturity, based on playing experience. From a goals perspective, the athlete with more experience is more likely to thrive despite greater challenges compared to the more novice athlete. Coaches need to adjust accordingly.

Goal setting versus goal getting

The traits of control, self-determination, and accountability can change dramatically as an athlete progresses from elementary school through high school. For goals to be effective, a young goaltender needs to have adequate control over the factors necessary to achieve them. This is why Kraus encourages players, parents, and coaches to focus on "goal getting" instead of "goal setting." This is more than semantics. Goal getting is based on what a young athlete can achieve through effort. Goal setting is based on win/loss types of outcomes, and can depend heavily on teammates. These are real and measurable goals that children can achieve (or fail to achieve, as the case may be). But the achievement or failure is based on the only thing they can really control: their effort. Here are some examples:

Goal setting
# Win more than half our games this season
# Win the league championship
# Make the varsity squad

Goal getting

# Develop more confidence in handling dump-ins and making passes (skill acquisition)
# Faster recovery from the butterfly, or stronger lateral push (power development)
# Encourage teammates at every practice and game (leadership)

Employ words deliberately

Likewise, the words that parents and coaches use can have a dramatic impact on a young athlete. Kraus believes adults tend to be specific with criticism and vague with praise. Think about the post-game car ride home. Do you point out specific instances where your young goaltender didn't cover a loose puck quick enough, or a specific time when he (or she) was off his angles? Do you follow that up with nebulous praise for "battling" or "working hard"? Kraus said very specific criticism paints mental pictures of what went wrong, but vague praise doesn't help players to similarly visualize success. It's important for coaches and parents to be as specific with praise as with criticism. Instead of "you were aggressive," recall a specific example: "It was great to see you challenge the shooter during that breakaway late in the first period, and take away the net." You still have every right to point out areas that need improving. But consider how quickly and specifically we can identify and describe failures, and how critical it is to identify and accurately describe achievements.

Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation

According to Kraus, parents and coaches need to understand the source of an athlete's motivation when it comes to establishing appropriate goals. Athletes motivated by internal, personal achievement have high "intrinsic" motivation (the fire within). Athletes motivated by external validation, like social status or prizes, have high "extrinsic" motivation. Both are valuable, but intrinsic motivation is crucial for long-term participation and achievement. If an athlete exhibits high intrinsic motivation early on by prioritizing personal achievement and what success feels like – rather than what it looks like – then coaches and parents can help the athlete progress by encouraging the pursuit of extrinsic goals (winning). Conversely, if an athlete exhibits high extrinsic motivation early on by prioritizing winning and elevated status that results from success, then coaches and parents should help nurture that player's intrinsic motivation before reinforcing his (or her) extrinsic motivation.

Consequences and rewards

Young athletes are more likely to tougher on themselves for failures (both perceived and real) compared to the criticisms they might get from parents and coaches, said Kraus. On the other end of the spectrum, neither young athletes nor their parents and coaches tend to praise effort or achievement to the same extent. In essence, young athletes, parents, and coaches are all biased toward criticism and negative consequences. To counter that, coaches and parents should encourage young athletes to establish concrete consequences and rewards related to effort, and not outcomes.

Goaltenders should ask themselves this question: How do I help my team by giving my best effort? This is the basis for the athlete's reward. If giving your best effort means you are constantly engaged, battling through screens, encouraging your teammates, that behavior should get rewarded (like taking them out to their favorite restaurant).

Then ask this question: How do I hurt my team when I don't give my best effort? This is the basis for the athlete's consequence. Giving up early rather than competing to the final whistle, or ripping a teammate for a penalty or defensive breakdown, are examples of you not giving your best effort. That's what you pay a consequence for (like losing Xbox or PlayStation for a couple of days).

The athlete, peers, and teammates should be the initial judges of whether an athlete earned a reward or should suffer a consequence (ensuring age-appropriate decisions). Team captains should provide input next, with coaches and parents as the last people to weigh in. That builds accountability, which is a hallmark of all great goaltenders.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sports without sportsmanship is a hollow activity

You don't have to be brothers - like Ken Dryden, left,
and Dave Dryden - to embrace good sportsmanship.
Hi gang,

I've been thinking about the concept of "sportsmanship" quite a bit lately, promptly by the unseemly practice of schools lobbying for their candidates for college hockey's Hobey Baker Award (really, if you're campaigning for this award, you have no idea why Baker was selected to represent college hockey's highest honor, and you should do some homework).

Sportsmanship, for me, is a critical component to playing sports. Winning is important, don't get me wrong. So is playing the right way. It's about treating your opponents, your teammates, the refs, and the game with dignity and respect. That's what this column is about.

Let me know what you think. Best, -Brion



February represents the stretch run for most high school hockey seasons. In other words, this is the time of the season when coaches tend to get hyper-focused on winning, whether it's simply to make the playoffs, or to get a better post-season seed. Far too often, I've seen coaches lose their composure, and their sense of sportsmanship. And if a coach loses sight of the overriding values that these game are supposed to impart, what can we expect of the players?

Last spring, I watched with serious concern and consternation as a local girls hockey coach went on a Twitter rant when his team lost a playoff game, in a shootout, against a lower-seeded squad. The game-winning goal may (or may not) have been hit a second time by the shooter. Hockey fans, coaches, and refs know that, in a penalty-shot scenario, a player can't touch the puck a second time after it's shot. In this case, the refs ruled that the puck wasn't hit twice, which ended the game.

Afterward, the coach of the losing squad took to Twitter to vent. Here's a sampling:

"They blew the call and I could tell they knew it."

"The player clearly saw the puck laying there after the initial attempt, instincts tell her to tip it again. Bad bad call."

"Why are the officials out of position? Horrible."

Now, I understand in this day and age, Twitter allows people – even our highest-ranking elected official – to go complain publicly whenever they feel like it. But I was clearly disheartened by the obvious lack of class, and the total absence of sportsmanship, on display in the coach's tweets.

To make matters worse, some players on the coach's team apparently followed his lead. At least one team captain refusing to take part in the handshake line after what had been an outstanding girls high school hockey game. That's such a shame. After all, we're talking about a girls hockey game. Yes, the games are important, especially a playoff game. But that's exactly when sportsmanship is supposed to trump bad behavior.

The more important the game, the higher the stakes, the more sportsmanship should matter. That's why Hobart Amory Hare "Hobey" Baker is a genuine hero of mine.

Baker, who played hockey and football at St. Paul's School in New Hampshire and Princeton University, was so supremely talented that he drew special attention from his opponents. Many of those opponents took liberties, and at a time (early 1900s) when hockey was incredibly rough, Baker took a beating. But he didn't retaliate. Instead, Baker was the epitome of "letting his play do the talking." After the game, he would visit the opponents' locker room to shake hands with each player.

Following his graduation from Princeton, where his team won two national championships, Baker joined the St. Nicholas Club in New York. During the 1914-15 season, when he led the club to national amateur championship, arenas advertised games by posting "Hobey Baker Plays Tonight," which embarrassed him. Baker would plead with sportswriters to highlight the club, not him.

In 1991, the great Sports Illustrated writer Ron Fimrite said this of Baker: "Through his Spartan example, he imposed a code of behavior on athletes, particularly college athletes, that was accepted, if not faithfully observed, for the better part of four decades. It is now, alas, as forgotten as the dropkick. In the Hobey code, for example, a star player must be modest in victory, generous in defeat. He credits his triumphs to teamwork, accepts only faint praise for himself. He is clean-cut in dress and manner. He plays by the rules. He never boasts, for boasting is the worst form of muckery. And above all, he is cool and implacable, incapable of conspicuous public demonstration."

Sadly, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation has lost sight of what made Baker great. They've ignored his legacy by turning the award into a popularity contest. School sports information offices churn out marketing material for their candidates, an act that would make Baker cringe. It is the antithesis of what he stood for, which is that no one player was any more important than any other. Baker was all about his team, which, somewhat ironically, is what made him legendary.

A general lack of sportsmanship not only impacts how we deal with opponents, and officials, but also how we treat our teammates. When there's an overall erosion of the values of the game, the fabric that binds a team can fall apart. Conversely, when players put the team first – a basic tenet of sportsmanship – great things can happen.

Here's an example. I'm not using real names, because I haven't asked for parental permission to tell this story. But it's a great story about a player putting his team's interests before his own. "Jack" has worked with us at Stop It Goaltending for at least eight years. And when I say "worked," I mean he busted his tail, and parlayed that work ethic into a chance to play for a solid New England prep school program.

By his sophomore year, Jack appeared to be on track to be the team's starter. But injuries, and the emergence of one of his goalie teammates, derailed that plan. By his senior year, he was resigned to a spot on the bench. Still, Jack continued to strap on his gear, every day, pushing his teammates in practice, making the team better. It paid off, and his squad made the New England prep school playoffs.

That's when Jack was confronted with a gut-wrenching decision. Sitting together in the locker room before the team's first playoff game, the starting goalie confided he had forgotten his skates. The kid was crestfallen, and presumed Jack would take his spot in the net. Jack, though, didn't blink. He knew that he and the starter wore the same skates, and the same size. He also knew the starter had earned this game.

So Jack gave up his skates, and watched as the starter led his team to a win. But I've never been more proud of Jack, and I'm sure his parents were as well. I'm guessing his teammates, and his coaches, felt the same.

More recently, the NCAA college football championship game served up another prime illustration of selflessness, and sportsmanship. Trailing Georgia at halftime, Alabama coach Nick Saban pulled long-term starter Jalen Hurts, a sophomore. Hurts entered the game having won 26 of 28 games over the past two seasons, but was benched after completing just three of eight first-half passes, replaced by freshman Tua Tagovailoa. And the freshman delivered, passing three second-half touchdowns, including the stunning game-winner in overtime.

But what grabbed my attention throughout the second half of the game, and in the celebration following Tagovailoa's heroics, was the dignity that Hurts displayed.

"As a team player, you have to do what's best for the team," Hurts told ESPN. "It was important for me to be true to myself and be the team leader I have always been. Don't change because of a little adversity."

Novelist James Lane Allen said: "Adversity does not build character, it reveals it." Hurts has character in abundance. That, more than his championship ring, makes him a winner. Just like "Jack." Just like Hobey Baker.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Parents, school officials must respect boundaries

Hi gang,

I'm revisiting a column that I wrote a year ago, because we're heading toward hockey playoffs, and tensions between parents, school officials, and coaches always seem to ratchet up this time of year. That's especially true in this case, when a parent who happened to be a school official (a superintendent, no less) went way over the line in disciplining his son's coach.

Hockey, and the dynamics surrounding the game, are complicated enough without a parent in position of power having a personal vendetta against a coach. There's simply a right way and a wrong way to handle disagreements. This is an example of the wrong way, by any standard that I know.

Let me know what you think! Best, -Brion



Sigh! Seems like every time I want to focus on a basic goaltending topic – from techniques to game preparation – something happens that pulls me in another direction. Recently, it was the suspension of Andover (Mass.) High School hockey coach Christopher Kuchar and two assistants for alleged mistreatment of their players.

Sheldon Berman, superintendent of Andover schools, took that action after saying Kuchar prohibited players from eating for 12 hours after a loss. That charge, on its face, was absurd (seeing the away game was, at most, only two hours from Andover). Berman said he was acting on complaints from parents, some who had contacted the state's Department of Children and Families.

Then the story gets really bizarre. Seems two years earlier, Berman wrote a memo to Andover Principal Philip Conrad and former Athletic Director Don Doucette, chastising Kuchar for the treatment of Berman's son, Dale. Obviously, I can't go into every detail of a six-page memo (yup, six pages!); it's easy enough to find it online. Suffice to say, Berman's memo is a classic example of parental overreach. Considering that it came from the superintendent of schools, addressed to two men who work for him, Berman's memo borders on egregious.

Dated March 28, 2016, Berman's memo starts: "I would like to express serious concerns about Coach Christopher Kuchar in his role as Head Coach of the Andover Ice Hockey Team. My concerns are twofold. On the one hand, I believe his coaching style is not one that is aligned with the larger interests of the Andover Public Schools. On the other hand, I believe his treatment of my son falls close to the category of abuse."

What followed was a six-page character assassination of Kuchar (and a bloated ode to Berman's son), ending with the superintendent recommending that Doucette fire the coach. "It is my belief that Andover would serve students far better with another coach," wrote Berman.

The memo, frankly, is mind-boggling. It's a particularly vile bit of skullduggery, because Berman sent it privately to two men who not only answer – directly or indirectly – to him, but also have a direct say in Kuchar's employment. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Some 40 Andover parents recently attended an Andover School Committee meeting looking for answers. According to published reports, Andover Selectman Bob Landry said the bigger issue wasn't the coaches, but Berman's questionable behavior.

"It is remarkable to me as a School Committee that you are ignoring the elephant in the room," Landry told committee members. "You have evidence now that the superintendent of schools wrote a six-page memo to two subordinates encouraging them to terminate the Andover High School hockey coach in clear retaliation for how he felt his own son had been treated. How that doesn't warrant an investigation by you immediately is beyond me."

The crowd applauded, but School Committee member Shannon Scully accused Landry of grandstanding.

"We can't entertain personnel matters in open meeting," she said. "This will be dealt with in executive session. If you don't mind getting off of your soap box that would be fantastic."

First, Ms. Scully, you CAN entertain personnel matters in an open meeting. This is a classic dodge that public boards use to avoid conducting public business publicly. There are exceptions that allow boards to meet in private, or "executive session." Here is the first one, per the state's Open Meeting Law Guide: "To discuss the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence, of an individual, or to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual."

Note the phrase "rather than professional competence." Landry was specifically questioning Berman's professional competence. I agree. Berman was completely out of line with his memo. Now, you can say the " discipline or dismissal" phrase applies, but that doesn't prevent committee members from suggesting an open hearing with the coach and the superintendent. Did you ask, Ms. Scully?

If Kuchar or Berman decline, you then assure your constituents (yes, you work for them) that the full minutes of the "executive session" will be released once the issue is resolved, per state law. Your community deserves complete transparency.

Second, if you don't like people getting up on a soapbox, Ms. Scully, be more forthcoming. This isn't on Bob Landry. This is on the members of the Andover School Committee. Residents have every right to question whether the committee fully investigated Berman's memo. For it to come out in the press feeds that suspicion.

I've had this happen to me, though on a much smaller scale. I am an Old School coach who believes in working hard while we're on the ice. I owe that to my goalies, and to their parents and/or their program, who foot the bill. I also like having a good time. There's almost always a lot of laughter and good-natured ribbing during my sessions. My favorite students are those who can smile while working their tails off.

But I'm also the first to admit that my approach is not a one-size-fits-all. I welcome conversations with parents, especially if they think my style isn't working for their child. I can handle it. My only goal is to make sure my students gets the maximum out of their ability. Having fun is a close second, and important, but it's not my top priority. If that rankles a child, or parent, they need to talk to me, so I can understand what their priorities are. From there, I can adjust. But if parents take a backhanded approach, there's little I can do.

Two years ago, one of my bosses asked about a particular student. The young man had told his father that I made him feel bad about himself, and he didn't want to work with me. The father (who didn't attend the sessions) didn't contact me; he contacted my boss. When asked about the student, I answered honestly. I couldn't remember treating this young man any differently than any other student. I wasn't even sure what behavior I was answering for. But I was disappointed that neither the student nor his father brought their concerns to me.

Likewise, I'm a parent. My two daughters played varsity sports through high school, and my eldest continues to play collegiate volleyball. My wife (also a coach) and I haven't always seen eye-to-eye with the coaches that our girls have played for. But when we've had issues, we addressed them civilly, respectfully, and directly with their coaches. Not after games, or practices, but usually over coffee.

In short, it's okay if you don't agree with everything your child's coach does. But there's a right way to address those concerns. Don't do what Superintendent Berman did. That was the very definition of cowardice. He tried to leverage his position to oust a coach he didn't like. There's no place for that in youth hockey, or high school hockey. Berman, and the Andover School Committee and school officials, need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dealing with the fear of losing

Hi gang,

At the goalie coaching outfit I work for, we have some general rules about goaltending that have stood the test of time. The first is this: "You're going to give up goals." A corollary to Rule No. 1 would be this: "You're going to lose games." In fact, it's inevitable.

And that's not the end of the world. Trust me. The reality of competition is that there are going to be winners and losers. No one is going to win them all, and (hopefully) no one is going to lose them all. Still, given the pressure that goalies typically accept as the "last line of defense," it's worth taking a closer look at how to deal with the outcomes of our games.

Let me know what you think! Best, -Brion



A decade ago, I was working with a young goalie who showed considerable promise, despite his tender years. He had good athletic ability, terrific control of his body, super concentration, was very coachable, and was willing to work his tail off. That's not a combination of traits that you often see in an 8-year-old.

But there was one additional trait that "Danny" had that concerned me. He was consumed with winning. Every goal, whether it was his fault or not, was cause for a meltdown. He'd work himself into a lather, which always made me nervous. Because when Danny was in that state, his game fell apart, and pucks would start flying past him. In other words, his competitive streak was sometimes his own worst enemy.

Obviously, it's one thing to compete, and it's another thing altogether to lose your composure. So I found myself in the unenviable, and unpredictable, position of coaching a young man who was the polar opposite of many of his peers. Instead of slacking off, he worked himself to exhaustion. Instead of not caring enough, he went overboard. While we worked (and worked) on the technical aspects of the position, I made sure to spend more and more time just getting Danny to lighten up. To laugh. To enjoy the game. Because if it's not fun, what's the point?

That's what makes goaltending so stressful. So much of you sense of self-worth, and success, is predicated on team success. I once won an Over-40 tournament where I hardly saw a shot. My team simply dominated, and I only gave up a total of five goals in sweeping five games. My teammates raved about my performance, even though I knew I didn't deserve the praise. They did. But it's one thing for a 45-year-old man to understand that situation. I'm not sure it's fair to ask the same of an 8-year-old.

That's why the following question – posted on the Positive Coaching Alliance ( web site – caught my attention: "Can you send me information on how positive coaching affects how certain athletes play to win instead of not to lose? How can coaches help athletes feel good about themselves, have confidence and own that 'fighters' mentality? How does a 'fighters' attitude translate to team sports and how is it affected by positive (and negative) coaching?"

The PCA turned to Lucid Performance's Graham Betchart for a response. Betchart provided the following three tips for helping these players so they can play to win and be great instead of playing to avoid mistakes and not to lose, with additional comments from yours truly.

One. "Emphasize process over outcome." This is a great way to make sure your goaltenders don't get too high or too low. Regardless of whether your goaltender has a great game or stinks the joint out, and regardless of whether your team wins or loses, make sure your very next practice plan focuses on simply getting better. The best players know this intuitively; they're never satisfied. No matter how many achievements, or accolades, they collect, they want to improve. Cultivate that mindset.

Two. "Emphasize and recognize athletes who are action-oriented, with a great attitude and giving maximum effort." This is another variation, I think, of "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." There is simply no substitute for hard work. And when you can combine hard work with an upbeat, positive attitude, magic can happen.

Three. "Stay present. Coach your players to lock into the present moment, focused on what they can control. The only place an athlete can affect an end result is in the present moment. They can't replay the last play or play the next play before it arrives." My daughter Maddi had a volleyball coach who had a great expression: Drop the brick. In short, it meant "let it go." This is not the same thing as "having a short memory," which is a favorite-if-flawed adage among sports analysts. Goalies need to have long memories, in order to learn. But in the moment, they need to "move past" a bad goal, because they need to concentrate on the next shot. You never want one bad goal leading o another bad goal.

On a related note, I want to credit Stop It Goaltending's Brian Daccord for a terrific idea that he recently posted on Facebook. Daccord is one of the true innovators in goalie coaching circles, specifically because he's open to new ideas and new techniques. His suggestion for teams to create a "goaltending department" – essentially a team within a team – is inspired.

"So you've got your goalie coach, your starter, your back-up, whoever that may be," said Daccord. "It's about everybody in that goaltending department making the team better. How do you make the team better? You challenge guys to work harder in practice. You make it harder for them to score. You make them become better. You push your other goalies. The goalie coach helps both goalies, or all three goalies.

"And then when it comes to game time, one guy gets to play," he said. "Only one guy plays, but that guy is a reflection of the department. And if that guy does well, everybody does well."

It's a new twist on an old concept – you win as a team, and you lose as a team. And that helps take the pressure off any one player (i.e. the goaltender). Now, there are a couple of necessary caveats with this idea. First, I've actually dealt with parents who would actually see the team lose with their kid playing than the team win with their kid on the bench.

Second, Daccord assumes each team should have a goalie coach. He's right, of course. But the reality is that far too many teams still don't consider having a goalie coach a necessity. That's simply shortsighted. These days, having a goalie coach is a must. Not a separate coaching program where you send your goalies, but a coach who is actually on staff. That provides a far better conduit between the head coach and the goalies, and will allow you to create that "goaltending department."

POSTS AND CROSSBARS: Kudos to the New Jersey Devils for stepping up and making the forward-thinking decision to support the National Women's Hockey League's Metropolitan Riveters. Far too many NHL owners talk about growing the game, but it's just that: Talk. Too many of them fail to walk the talk. This is something that Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs should be out front of, but that hasn't happened. Given the less-than-charitable nature of the Bruins ownership (see "failure to uphold TD Garden agreement to fund local youth hockey"), that's hardly surprising. But it's disappointing nonetheless. Supporting the NWHL is a tremendous way to grow an audience – young women – that's full of potential. That's how you grow the game. For example, the Devils-Riveters alliance began in early October at Prudential Center with a World Girls Hockey Weekend. The Riveters joined more than 60 area youth hockey players for the Devils home opener against the Colorado Avalanche. The girls not only met the Riveters, but also participated in a skating clinic after the game. Brilliant. The Bruins, and the rest of the NHL, should take note.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

If you're a hockey coach, try to think like a goalie coach

Little goalies need patience, and understanding.
Hi gang,

I'm returning to a familiar theme, based on a recent telephone chat I had with a concerned dad from Arizona. The father had an 11-year-old daughter who was a goalie, and was already developing a case of the "yips" because of the amount of shots she was seeing each practice. This simply drives me nuts. Hockey coaches, at every level, need to develop an understanding of the right way -- and the wrong way -- to coach goaltenders. Stop treating them like some oddball. They are part of the team. You, as a coach, owe it to them to take care of them.

Remember, I'm not talking about all the technical details about the position. It is different ... I get that (even though you should strive to have an understanding of the basics). What I'm emphasizing is an awareness about what drills are beneficial, and how many pucks a goalie ought to see each time he or she steps on the ice.

Let me know what you think!
Best, -Brion



Consider the following a cautionary tale heading into your 2018-19 hockey season.

Perhaps the worst thing for a dedicated coach is to see a team fail to reach its potential. All things being equal, wins and losses are usually predicated on talent. And talent, particularly at the high school level, can vary dramatically from year to year.

Getting the most out of whatever talent you have on the ice is the goal. When a team doesn't, it's incredibly frustrating. To illustrate, I'll refer to a girls' team that I knew well (I'll refrain from identifying the squad, to protect the guilty and the innocent alike).

Part of the reason this particular team fell short of its potential is the predictable dilution of talent that often happens with girls' high school hockey programs. The 2016-17 team I'm referring to lost its best natural sniper, who led the team in scoring as an 8th grader, to a local prep school (why any prep school is allowed to compete against public schools is beyond me, but that's a topic for another day). They also lost another talented 8th-grade defender to a full-season "select" program.

I saw this changeover firsthand. The year before, during the 2015-16 season, I was part of the staff as a goalie coach. The first-string netminder that season was a freshman who had come on board the year before as an 8th grader, having never played hockey, much less goalie. She hardly saw the ice that first year, backing up a senior. Her mom even told me that she was happy in the role, content to record stats and cheer on her teammates.

This youngster (I'll call her Patty), was a very good student, and a solid little athlete, playing field hockey and softball. Those are all good things. But it was also clear that hockey was going to be number No. 4 on her "depth chart," behind academics, field hockey, and softball.

Patty worked hard, made nice strides during the 2015-16 season, and actually was given the "Most Improved Player" award at the team's banquet. It was nice to see. However, the following summer, things went sideways for me.

My lower back tightened up in early July. By August, I was losing feeling in my feet. A visit to a back specialist led immediately to an MRI on my spine, and a next-day appointment with a neurosurgeon. The prognosis was spinal stenosis – an arthritic narrowing of the spinal column and nerve openings – and two herniated discs.

By mid-October, I was scheduled for surgery, with a three-to-12 month recovery period. When it became clear that my back wasn't going to allow me to get back on the ice, I immediately told the head coach that I wouldn't be able to work with Patty.

Another long-time goalie coach attended a few early season practices, but that was it. That's not going to make much of a difference. The instruction has to be consistent to have any lasting impact. There was also a former All-American goaltender who lived in town, but no one bothered to reach out to her.

That gets to the very core of my frustration with this team. When you, as a coach, have an obvious need, you have to be creative in addressing that need. That's an integral part of coaching. You need to go beyond the X's and O's.

Out of habit, I attended several practices, and quickly noticed that not only was Patty not getting any specific instruction, but she was also victim of the traditional "goalie killer" drills. Warm-ups consisted of players waltzing right down the slot, on their forehands, without any pressure, ripping shots. Seriously, how the heck is this supposed to "warm up" the goalie? Instead, it's the perfect recipe for developing a case of "the yips." And Patty had the yips in spades. How a coach could not see this is beyond me.

Moreover, Patty wasn't doing any of the goalie-specific skating exercises that I gave her the previous year. Those exercises are specifically designed to allow goalies to limber up without getting peppered by pucks. So I went home, drew up a set of three goalie-specific shooting drills (which, by the way, are also excellent shooting drills for the forwards), and a "save sequence" warm-up developed by Brian Daccord at Stop It Goaltending.

This sequence is a form of physical visualization – or "ghosting," as Daccord calls it – where a goaltender mimics the basic saves (stick left, stick right, smother, butterfly glove, butterfly blocker, standing glove, and standing blocker, following the imaginary rebound (except for the smother and glove saves). I walked the coaches through the "save sequence" warm-up, and the drills. I reiterated how important the drills were for the shooters as well as the goalie. Shooters had to go at game speed, stay on their backhand if they cut in on their backhand, and drive the net for rebounds.

The first session was encouraging. And then … nothing. I checked in occasionally to make sure the goalie-specific drills were being run, and was disheartened to learn they weren't. It was if the other coaches felt as that single session would make a difference.

News flash: It won't. Goalies, especially young goalies, need to work on these basics, over and over again. If you're coaching kids at the high school level or younger, you have to make sure they're adhering to a good warm-up routine and good practice habits. That's your job.

Almost predictably, Patty's development stalled, and the team finished two games below .500, and out of the playoffs. In short, nowhere near its potential.

So here's the bottom line: It doesn’t matter if you're not a "goalie coach," per se. You owe it to your goalies, and ultimately your team, to learn the basics and be able to run some rudimentary goalie-specific drills. Your goalies will benefit. And if they benefit, your team benefits. What other motivation do you need?

 POSTS AND CROSSBARS: Typically, I'm a fan of technology (even if I'm a slow learner sometimes). I'm perfectly OK with using cameras and instant replay to determine a goal at the game's higher levels (NHL, minor pros, and collegiate). But the idea of winding back the video 20, 30 seconds, and sometimes even more than a minute to determine if the offensive team gained the zoned illegally, is ludicrous. So I wholeheartedly endorse the NHL rule change that penalizes teams with a two-minute penalty if an offside challenges isn't upheld upon review. In fact, I'd like to see the offside review rule abolished altogether.

In a game that's starving for goals, this review simply makes no sense. It seems like everyone (except goalies and goalie coaches) complains about netminders and their gear being too big, and taking up too much space. At the same time, rule-makers are allowing borderline calls to take goals off the board. I've found that linesmen at the game's higher levels do an exceptional job at making these calls correctly, on a consistent basis. Even if they get the occasional call wrong, it's typically a matter of inches, and certainly doesn't contradict the spirit of the rule (which, of course, is to prevent cherry picking). I equate it to the strike zone in baseball. Can you imagine a video review after every close call at the edges? Of course not.

There is rarely any distinct advantage gained by an offensive team when a call at the blueline is that close. Let it go.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Young people, and hockey players, need good mentors

Patrick Keough was an exceptional mentor.
Hi gang,

My wife and I were winding down from a recent mountain bike ride when we spun past a spot in town that once housed Looking Glass Farms. For years, this was something of a magical place where our daughter Brynne delved into her unbridled infatuation with all things equestrian.

The stables and paddocks were plowed over a few years back, and replaced by a handful of large single-family homes. But the original ranch house is still standing, and the site will always remind us of Brynne, and horses, her instructor Karla Parnell, and Patrick Keough.

As we pedaled past, Lauri mentioned that it had been two years since Patrick's untimely passing. We still both think of him often, and every time I do, I pause to check my emotions. Which reminded me to post this column I wrote about him last fall. Let me know what you think.

Best, -Brion



Earlier this fall, my wife and I were settling in for a relaxed evening. I'm typically immersed in early season hockey this time of year, but noticed that Lauri was particularly quiet.

"What's up?" I asked.

"I was just thinking about Patrick," she replied. "It was a year ago that we lost him."

"Patrick" was Patrick Keough, one of the finest gentlemen I've ever met. I didn't know him well, but I knew him well enough to realize that I'm enormously indebted to him, and the life lessons he taught my daughter, Brynne. He died suddenly, of a heart attack, doing what he loved most – riding one of his horses here on Boston's North Shore.

Patrick was a legend locally, known as something of a "horse whisperer," a man completely committed to the animals he was responsible for. When Brynne, at 6 years old, indicated that she wanted to ride horses, I asked a hockey buddy who belonged to a local "hunt and polo club" for recommendations. He replied, without hesitation, "Patrick Keough is your guy."

It was one of the best pieces of advice I ever got. You have to feel absolutely comfortable trusting your 6-year-old daughter to another adult, especially when that person is putting your child atop an 800-pound animal. Patrick put my mind at ease right from the get-go.

"Oh, we'll take good care of her," he told me with his trademark grin that conveyed a calm, self-assured manner. "And we'll make sure she earns her keep."

Perfect. Even before her first lesson, I told Brynne that riding horses meant more than simply "riding horses." It meant learning about these fabulous animals, and committing the time before and after lessons to care for them. Brynne embraced those duties. In turn, Patrick Keough embraced my daughter. Horses weren't a hobby for Brynne – they were a passion. And Patrick knew a kindred spirit when he met one.

Once Brynne became a teenager, Patrick gave her more tasks. If Patrick was out of town, she'd stop by the stables to feed the horses, and clean out their stalls. Her payment was the chance to ride, and that was a reward far greater than any paycheck. I felt Brynne, much like Patrick, would trade just about anything to be in the saddle.

Of course, Brynne wasn't the only youngster to benefit from Patrick's guidance. There were hundreds. Heather Player met Patrick when she was 8, when her folks brought her to Patrick's barn for a riding lesson.

"I looked around for Patrick but couldn't find him anywhere. All of a sudden from up above I heard 'You better get out of the way, kid; this will give you one hell of a headache,'" said Player. "Patrick was up in the hayloft, directly above me, getting ready to throw down a bale of hay. He climbed down the ladder and acted as though I had been there forever and knew what I was doing.

"He quickly put me to work, watering horses, mucking stalls and turning horses in and out," she said. "I thought I was just showing up to ride a pony. I loved it though. I loved it enough to sneak out of the house, take off on my bike and pedal a few miles down the road to go work for Patrick. After a few hours of searching for me, my mother would show up at the barn ready to ring my neck for disappearing on her. Patrick, with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, would look at me, shake his head, and laugh. 'Time's up,' he'd say.

"This went on for years. Twenty-seven, to be exact."

I absolutely love Player's story. Patrick Keough was a peerless instructor, with a firm-but- easygoing manner that helped his students relax. He seemed to know intrinsically what a kid wanted and, more importantly, needed. He had rules, and his kids had to follow those rules. But he was wise enough to know that kids also needed freedom to explore, to find out what they wanted to do. Not what their parents wanted, but what they wanted.

"Patrick had a way of sort of throwing you into things, that sink or swim sort of thing," said Player. "But he was always quietly there if you needed him, although he wouldn't tell you that much."

When Player moved to Virginia when she was 21, Keough, who was shipping horses up and down the East Coast, "started staying at my house, overnighting the horses he had on the van at my barn," she said. "This was one of the ways Patrick would show you that he was looking out for you."

For the past four years, Player has been the "huntsman" for the Norfolk Hunt Club in Massachusetts. "There isn't one day that goes by that I don't sit on a horse or go out with hounds that I don't hear him say, as he always did when we left the barn to exercise horses, 'Now don't get casual out there.'"

Patrick never let my daughter "get casual." Which was how I knew he was looking out for her. To him, she was much more than a young girl hopelessly in love with horses. She cared intensely about them, and Patrick cared about her. My wife, revealing her mother's instincts, saw this before I did.

"It's just so important for young women to have strong men in their lives who aren't their dad," said my wife, tears welling in her eyes. "Patrick was that for Brynne."

I suspect the same holds true for many young women, and young men, who play sports, especially these days when so many kids come from single-parent households or broken homes. Life may seem complicated for us grown-ups, but it's infinitely more complicated for our kids. My daughters – Maddi and Brynne – are lucky if only because they've had a stable home life. But they've each had teammates who weren't as fortunate. And even in a home with two loving parents, and without any lingering drama, they still needed adult role models.

Which brings me back to Patrick Keogh. This is a man who rubbed elbows with some of the wealthiest folks in the Northeast, but you'd never know it. He was utterly and completely comfortable in his own Irish skin. I'd drive up to Brynne's events in my old Subaru wagon, a bit self self-conscious parking between Range Rovers or Mercedes. Patrick couldn't care less.

As Patrick's daughter said at his funeral last fall: "He could connect with everyone, whether they were 70 or 7 years old. Because he was so raw, and genuine, it allowed those in his company to follow suit, and let down any guard that they may have carried with them. He found common ground. When defenses are down, and the act is over, that's when the real connection can begin."

Every coach should aspire to that standard. Patrick Keough always did. And we miss him, deeply.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Want better goalies? Be sure to appoint a goalie director

A goalie director helps every goalie in your organization.
Hi gang,

With the start of the youth hockey season just about a month away (I know, I know ... way too early), I wanted to share this column on an outstanding suggestion by Brian Daccord of Stop It Goaltending and the Foundation for Goalie Research and Education. Establishing a "goaltending director" position within your youth hockey organization -- someone who oversees every aspect of the position -- may be one of the best methods of ensuring improvement of every team in the program, top to bottom. Here's why ...


Want better goalies? Appoint a goalie director

As coaches, my colleagues and I are always telling kids that summer is when they can really make a difference in their game. But they're not the only ones who should be taking advantage of the off-season. This month, I'm imploring parents and officials with youth hockey and select hockey programs to do the same.

Take the quiet summer months to reinvest in your program, and the brave kids who step up to play goalie. Establish a "goaltending director."

Don't delay. Because if you don't create and fill the position during the summer, it will get pushed aside. That's simply unfair to your goalies and their parents. Once September rolls around, board members are going to be up to their eyeballs with issues ranging from team placements and practice times to rink rentals and league schedules.

This is one of the reasons why programs hire goalie outfits like the one I work for – Stop It Goaltending – to provide separate goalie training. But, for reasons I'll get into, that's simply not enough. Programs need a point person to serve as goaltending director.

Now, the standard excuse for not creating this position is this: "We don't have any former goalies among our parents or volunteers." That's simply not good enough. The reality is, you don't need to be an "expert" in goaltending to take on this responsibility. You don't need to have played the position. You simply have to be willing to be an advocate for these kids, and to take the time to learn the basics.

How can I be so sure? I've seen it firsthand. My older brother Sean is an orthopedic surgeon in New Hampshire. He has countless demands on his time, to the point where there literally aren't enough hours to get everything done. Yet, despite that time crunch, he has made himself a very good goaltending coach in girls' lacrosse and field hockey.

Why? Because his daughter Michaela played those sports, and Sean wanted to have a role in helping her teams. Michaela wasn't a goalie, but Sean recognized that the position wasn't getting the attention it deserved. So he went to work, attending clinics, reading how-to books, scouring YouTube for clips on goaltending technique. And he made himself into a fine coach.

We'd sit around his kitchen, chatting about the differences between playing goal in the three sports – field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse. My eldest daughter was considering playing lacrosse goalie, and I leaned on Sean's expertise. He never once gave me bad advice.

The flip side is poor coaching. What we goalie coaches also see, time and time again, is goaltenders who perform really well in camps and clinics, and then regress when we don't see them for a while. I've written about it before. I call it the "Auto Body Shop Approach to Goalie Training."

That approach works like this: A goalie starts the season with his team, and for the first month he gets completely barraged with shots. Then the coaching staff realizes that he or she is starting to falter, maybe even acting a little puck shy (d'uh!). So they decide to send their goalie to us. What we get is usually a kid with potential, but often dented and banged up. We fix them, send them back to their team running like new, and the coaching staff promptly runs them into another tree.

It's frustrating beyond belief. Some of these kids excel despite the "coaching" they get with their team, not because of it. The reality is that too many of the kids we coach go back to a team that has no dedicated goalie coaching. And they suffer, or stagnate, as a result. What's the solution?

Stop It owner Brian Daccord established the Foundation of Goaltending Research and Education to broaden the scope of goalie development. FGRE encourages all youth hockey organizations to institute the position of "Director of Goaltending Development." I agree wholeheartedly.

The following is an abridged description of the position and its function, a blueprint that can be tailored to meet the needs of each organization.

Director of Goaltending Development

The director is responsible for the development of all the organization's goaltenders, including oversight of tryouts, placement, coaching, skills, practice and games as well as education. The director reports directly to the organization's president or board. Being a former goaltender and educated in modern goaltending techniques is preferred, but not a prerequisite.


The director should oversee the organization's tryout procedure for goaltenders. This includes providing a clear understanding of opportunities for goaltenders and communication how the tryout process will be conducted.


The director should oversee team placement of goaltenders. Once a goaltender is placed, the goaltender and parents should be informed of the name and level of the team, how many goaltenders will be on each team, whether the squad emphasizes "play to win" or "equal ice time," how many games and practices will be included, and whether there will be goaltending-specific skill sessions.

Goalie Roster

The director should create a roster of the organization's goaltenders. This roster should include all contact information of the goaltender and parents, enabling the director to directly contact them to distribute information including educational material.

Goalie Coaching

The director should oversee the structure of goalie coaching within the organization. If each team doesn't have a dedicated goalie coach, the director should work with each team's coaching staff to create an "Assistant Coach responsible for Goalies." Each team should have either a goalie coach or assistant coach responsible for the goalies, a copy of the protocol associated with the assistant coach responsible for goalies, a written policy of how ice time will be distributed for the goalies, and a coaching staff that is informed of what training the goaltenders will receive throughout the season.

Goalie Skills

The director should oversee the structure of the organization's goaltending training, presenting training options and working to provide the best training alternatives within the organization's budget. Options include no additional training, providing a goaltending Junior Instructor (current Midget/Junior-level goalie), a goaltending coach (professional) at specified team practices, goaltender-specific skills sessions on the organization's ice time with organization coaches, goaltender-specific skills sessions on the organization's ice time with a contracted goalie development firm, or goaltender-specific training at a professional goaltending training center.


The director is responsible for providing coaches, goalies and parents educational material that might benefit the goalies, including goalie-specific websites, books, magazines, and videos, material on off-ice training, nutrition, and cognitive training, and notifying coaches, goalies and parents on any local workshops or presentations.

Follow Up

The director is responsible for following up with the team's head coach, goalies, and goalie parents to ensure there is either a goalie coach or assistant coach responsible for the goalies, that the protocol for the assistant coach responsible for goalies is being followed, that the policy of distributing ice time is being followed, that there is feedback from everyone involved on the organizations goaltending development training, and providing feedback and suggestions on how the organization can better provide for its goaltenders.

Is this a lot of work? Yup. Is it important? Absolutely. And your goalies are worth it.

For more details on the Foundation of Goaltending Research and Education, visit