Every year during the spring tryouts I get calls from coaches asking me to help in assessing the goalies trying out for their teams. I usually decline the invitation on the grounds that I frequently coach a number of the youngsters trying out and if they were to make the team there would always be the suggestion of bias. This would be unfair to the youngster and cast aspersions onto his or her accomplishment. Over the years, however, I have sat in on a number of goalie selection meetings at the minor hockey, college and Jr. “A” levels. I have to admit that I frequently left these meetings knowing that the better goalie was not selected.
In my thirty years of coaching goalies, it goes without saying that the position has changed or evolved considerably… and not always for the good. I remember the days when the issue of size was never a consideration in which goalie to select. Today, it often seems that being a certain size is a prerequisite and “smaller” goalies are written off arbitrarily. This emphasis on size is something that I find both baffling and disturbing; especially when the smaller goalie who is about to be cut is far more skilled and tenacious than the larger one. Yes, the cliché that “you can’t teach size” is true; but that does not mean that bigger is better or that one should disregard technical skills in favor of size.
So why do some coaches sometimes miss or ignore the technical skills that are so important to goaltending? In some cases, they simply don’t understand the position or the skills required to play the position effectively. Without digressing too far, this is why coaching certification programs at all levels should include a component on goalie skills, drills and assessment. Over the years, I have worked with some “higher” level teams where the coaches readily admit their complete ignorance of the position. I have seen these coaches almost drool when “bigger” goalies show up for tryouts. It is little wonder then that minor hockey coaches sometimes place such an exaggerated emphasis on size. Even if a minor hockey coach has some understanding of the position, the tryouts are often short and the coaches are preoccupied with picking other positions. Towards the end of the tryouts coaches may devote more attention to the goalies but at this point, the decision can be somewhat rushed and under the pressure of a deadline it is based on something that is apparent to everyone… goalie A is bigger than goalie B.
So what does one say to the smaller and more skillful goalie who was released because he didn’t “measure up”? No doubt, there are many answers to this question. One might try to explain that adversity makes one stronger or even refer to the work of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross in helping her patients work through the five stages of disappointment from denial to acceptance. Somehow though, I don’t think the aspiring goalie would find these very pertinent… even though at the deepest level they probably are … but that should be saved for another time. Personally, I would try to tell the young goalie that even though he didn’t make the team, he is not alone in this type of disappointment. Almost every great goalie has experienced the dejection that comes from not making a team. Curtis Joseph is but one who was cut by almost every team in his region before finally landing a spot in Richmond Hill. All he needed was an opportunity to prove his talents and when that opportunity came along, he was ready to seize the moment. What enabled him to seize the moment was his love of the game and the challenge of being a goalie. So, to the smaller goalie, all I can say is keep working on your skills. They will serve you well in the long run. Eventually, they will shine through and you will be ready to seize your moment when it arrives.