skip navigation

Plan for U.S. Goalie Dominance Starts in Youth Hockey

By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI, 04/19/21, 12:30PM CDT


For Americans to have more of an impact in net at higher levels, kids must have proper opportunities to develop


By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI – Ken Dryden, Jacques Plante and Patrick Roy are three of the best NHL goalies of all time.

But that’s not all that lumps these goal-robbers together; they all were born and raised with a stick and glove in Canada. 

Having non-American-born goalies dominate the NHL has been an all-too-familiar theme since the league’s infancy. The vast majority of all minutes logged by goaltenders are by foreign-born players. USA Hockey wants to change that. 

It launched an initiative in 2017 called “51 in 30.” The goal is to have 51% of goaltender minutes in the NHL and women’s NCAA hockey/NWHL — currently the top leagues skating right now for both men and women players — be played by Americans by the year 2030.

According to USA Hockey ADM Manager of Goaltending Steve Thompson, in the last three to four years, about 20-25% of the minutes in NHL games have been logged by American goalies.

“In 2010, we were at like 10%, so we’ve over doubled in the last 10 years as is,” Thompson said. “We’re hoping to keep this trend going and we’re really confident with the new curriculum we’re teaching coaches and the new camps we’re hosting for our kids that goaltending is going to become more attractive and it’s going to be better for kids in the future.” 

“To make it a reality, we’re really going to have to get on the same page with what it takes,” said Central District Goalie Coach-in-Chief Ryan Honick. “It’s only been a couple years since they announced that goal, but it’s only been one year since we put it to fruition — meaning put all these coaches at the table, get everybody on the same page with training and curriculum to our affiliates.” 

One important step in achieving that desired number of over 50% of goalie minutes put in by Americans is just bringing more attention to the position.

“That’s what we see in other countries that have had a lot of success: the Fins, the Swedes,” Thompson said. “Those countries that have had really strong per capita minutes played, the goalie coach is seen as one of the most high-ranking positions on the team. They’re a part of every discussion when it comes to team structure and team development. They get paid very well at the professional level. It’s just a very valued position because those countries feel that in order to have success, they have to have the best goalies in the world and they’ve actually been acting up on that belief. Where in the United States, if you’re a goalie coach in the NCAA, you’re often working for free. If you are a goalie coach in a paid position, you often make less than the assistant coaches that are focused on the offense and defense. 

“It’s going to be a cultural change of what we prioritize and what we value. It’s just going to take more people pulling on the rope.” 

Educating and training

Thompson pinpointed three stages in getting kids to not only start out between the pipes but stick with the position and succeed. 

The first stage is “Try.” Make sure kids get the opportunity to try goalie and have a positive experience. That means using intermediate nets — making sure the kids have a smaller net to start with, so they have a better opportunity to have some success and make more realistic saves based on their body height. Additionally, using the Quick-Change pads makes it easier for teams and the players to “Try”.

“The commitment level of playing full-time goalie can be a burden and so to be able to have kids just in 40 seconds become a goalie and 40 seconds later go back and score a goal, it allows more kids to try it and it’s a little bit less stressful than the old-school approach to, ‘You are the goalie for the day, you are the goalie for the week,’ or whatever the case may have been,” Thompson said. 

There has certainly always been a stigma around goaltending. It’s seemingly more exciting to play an offensive position where a player can score instead of stopping an opponent from scoring. One way to push that thinking aside is just to have players get in the net. Another way is by changing in and out of goalie equipment faster. 

“It’s important that you just try it and I do think you get more kids to stay at that position if they try it,” said Honick. “So, we need to create an environment for them to feel safe, have the proper equipment — which is Quick-Change equipment that one hockey player keeps the shin pads and player helmet on and can switch to a set of goalie gear in under a minute and try the position. Once they try it, they will have fun. And it’s up to us to make sure they have fun doing it.”

The next stage is “Develop.” This is for the kids that are committing full-time to goalie after hopefully having a great experience with the first stage.

“That’s going to be really based around the coaching education, so making sure that more of our coaches understand how to be an ally to the goalies and how to design better practice plans that are more goalie friendly than the traditional practices we’ve been running for so long,” Thompson said. 

The final stage is “Master.” That’s getting the USA’s best goalies to become the world’s best at that position. 

“It does take a quote ‘special breed,’ but you’d be surprised how many kids are meant to play the position,” Honick said. “If we can only get them over the fear of injury or of boredom from just standing around the crease all the time, but they realize they can play an entire hockey game down the road.” 

Is there a better success rate if a kid tries goalie at age 5 and can stick to it as opposed to a kid who might be 10 and is just starting to learn about the position?

“We believe strongly that the best athletes in the world are the best goalies in the world, so we would like for them to try goalie right away when they start playing hockey. But we don’t want them to specialize early,” Thompson said. “We want that 5-year-old to play every position in the game; we want that 9-year-old to play every position in the game. We really don’t like to specialize until about after their 10U [season], that’s when we think that it’s important for them. At that point, they like to make more of a decision, become more of a goalie, if that’s what they choose to do.” 

AHAI is making a concerted effort to push goaltender training and educate coaches. The organization has a slew of experienced goaltending coaches at its disposal. Along with Honick, Sanya Sandahl is the Central District female goalie coach-in-chief, Oliver Freij is the AHAI goaltending development coordinator and Amelia Murray is the AHAI female goaltending development coordinator. Please click here for AHAI and Central District goaltending development coordinator contact information.

Thompson is happy to share a little advice to coaches around Illinois to implement a good goaltending-based program.

“By following the recommendations, you’re not only helping your goalies out, you’re helping your forwards out, too,” Thompson said.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.