Many years ago, as the Director of the Goalie Program at the Okanagan Hockey School in British Columbia, I had the opportunity to work with a number of NHL goalies. For the most part, they were celebrity guest instructors, hired to attract students, pose for pictures and sign autographs. Goalies like Pete Peters, Daniel Berthiaume, and current NHL commentator Kelly Hrudey were regulars. I should not have been surprised that each took their coaching duties seriously. I think they understood how much a word of advice from them meant to their awestruck students.
However, one coach in particular stands out in my memory for his quiet disposition and his sage advice. Andy Moog spent 18 years in the NHL, playing at various times with the Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars and the Montreal Canadiens. He is probably best known for his years with the Oilers where he won three Stanley Cups. Even by the size standards of the 1980s and 1990s, at about 5’8”, Andy Moog was an unimposing figure, but his diminutive stature was rarely an issue because he simply knew how to play the position. Moog played a quiet, positional game that allowed him to shrink the net, he had quick reflexes with great hands and feet… but above all of these… he knew how to wait out the shooter. In other words, he had learned the virtue of patience.
When working with Andy, I was always impressed at how he never shouted or raised his voice when working with the kids. In many ways, his approach to teaching the position mirrored his playing style. In this, he reminded me of the legendary Paul Titanic who coached one of the best groups of kids to ever play in the OMHA. His teams consisted of players like Steve Stamkos, Michael Del Zotto, Cody Hodgson and many others. Like Andy Moog, Paul never raised his voice, not so much because he had great players, but because he understood that the best way to communicate ideas is by speaking them to his players instead of shouting at them.
Often, after observing a young goalie who seemed too tightly strung, dropping on everything, lunging around the net and biting on the first deke, Andy would quietly glide up to him, place his hand on his shoulder and say, “Be patient… learn to wait… don’t make it easy for the shooter”. This simple message, coming from a player like Andy Moog, had instant credibility. It is a message that still applies today.
So… what does it mean to be patient?
I’m sure it can mean many things to different goalies. But I always took it in the most basic sense of not over-reacting to any situation on the ice. In other words, don’t bite or drop on the shooter’s first move. Dropping early often means that you give up the top of the net and lose the ability to follow the shooter if he holds onto the puck. Essentially, successful goaltending hinges on your ability to control three factors: time, net and ice. Playing a patient game will allow you to wait out the shooter because he will eventually run out of time, it will allow you to control more net by staying on your skates longer, and it will allow you greater control of the ice because once you are down and out, the ice (and everything else) belongs to the shooter.
Obviously, all of this is easier said than done… but as your skills develop so too will your ability to stay under control and resist the temptation to commit too early. Every great player, whether a forward or goaltender, knows the importance of applying the proper skill at the proper time, and sometimes the most important skill is that of waiting.
So, whenever I see young goalies playing the game on their knees and sliding around unnecessarily, I often think of what a three time Stanley Cup winner like Andy Moog would say. I have a feeling that he would quietly tell them that over-reacting is as bad as not reacting… and that sometimes the old adage of “less is more” is really true. However, I have been around this game long enough to know that wisdom is best gained through direct experience. Like any other skill or lesson in hockey, acquiring the wisdom of patience requires a great deal of patience.
I hope this helps some of you… May all your dreams come true.