Speed is not something you either do or don't have. It is learned. If you practice a move enough, it will get faster. Although the blocker hand also has the stick to carry, this is no reason to excuse it from becoming just as fast as your trapper - you just have to work it more.

This page was supposed to look only at speeding up your blocker, but since I won't likely get a full page up on the blocker soon, I have added in a variety of bits and pieces on the subject. Also, there is a lot of video on this page, and the move clips are large files. And finally, often, on the videos I will be commenting on the shooters as well, building on what was covered in Issues 1+2.
The small piece that follows is my standard prelude to discussing any move.

 

 
 

No move can get fast if it is rough, but when you learn a motion, that is what it starts out as, rough and awkward. Rough movement must be smoothed out before it can be speeded up. Also, rough points in a move are injury points, so begin by practicing the move slowly - be deliberate and methodical, get rid of the hitches and smooth things out first. Your first efforts should be modest, so that the proper muscle memory is implanted. Then you can speed things up.

Do not overdo it at the beginning, because when the muscles are learning a new motion, they get tired and stiffen easily. Goaltending moves are all very odd - they are not exactly what the body was designed for, so injuries are common. For example: the widening out that goalies do all the time stress the groin muscles, which are supporting muscles, not load bearing ones. Stressing these muscles is like pounding on a weak link in a chain. If, when practicing your moves, you feel a twinge, stop immediately and work on something else - there's always a lot of other things to work on. The risk of repetitive stress is very great because these are standard moves you'll be working on, so any injury here will become chronic. Witness the constant groin and knee problems pro goalies have without Overdrive.

Your moves are never in stasis - they are always either getting better or worse. They will degrade if you are inactive, and even games can break them down, so you must practice them to keep them. That will never change. At 20, you'll be smoothing your moves, and at 40 you'll be doing the same thing. If you want top level moves, you'll have to work them a ton, and they will degrade quicker if you don't keep that intensity. It's like a superfine edge of a knife; a small nick is all it takes to break off the edge, and you will be left with an edge that is below average. I work my moves a lot, and when I play a lot, I play well, but if I'm off for a week because of work, I come back and really notice it, while other goalies who play intermittently don't seem to suffer as much from a layoff. So, keeping a move is difficult and improving it is even harder, but either way, it's kind of like your stomach - you will always have to be feeding it.

 
 

 

In preparing this page, I went over a lot of video, searching for nice blocker saves. It's not hard to find great trapper saves, but highlights of blocker saves are a rarity. In assessing a goalie, we'll often note that he has a great glove (trapper), but how many goalies are known for their great blocker? The blocker save is the ugly cousin of the flashy trapper snagging the puck out of the air to halt the play, giving the crowd time to contemplate the goalie's genius. Blocker saves are hardly noticed: "...that shot hit something. I think it was his blocker, Dick" and on the play goes.

How can the blocker compete against saves like: the Michael Jackson (left), and the Flying LeatherFlash (middle)? Even the common toe save (right) gets more attention.

Goalies have to take some of the blame for this. A lot of them suffer from dead blocker syndrome: the shot comes in and the hand barely moves out, but to wave the puck onward. Other goalies lock their blocker into position, just happy if it stays were it should and doesn't wander off. Again, there's no good reason why your blocker shouldn't be as active as your trapper. This page is an attempt to correct the problem with some technique that will allow the lowly blocker to 'flash the leather' as well.

 

Not all goalies suffer from dead blocker syndrome. Below we see: The Ninja, The Backhand Stab, Over The Top, and En Garde.

 

 

 

Of course, the blocker has responsibilities that the trapper doesn't, namely, the stick, and keeping the stick on the ice is much more important than moving your blocker. Before you can work on your blocker, you must have the stick programmed to stay in place. If you're preoccupied with your stick position, the blocker isn't going to be moving soon. Still, as basic as stick position is, everybody runs into problems with it that can make blocker movement difficult.

 

To the left is a good example of the proper blocker and stick position. From the stance, your blocker can drift to one side or the other.

If the stick drifts over your pad, you're doubling your coverage, opening up the blocker side, and increasing the distance the blocker now has to move. (video right)

I find that one way to control the drifting of your blocker hand is by having a stick with a sharper heel curve (red line). I like this kind of a heel, because you can feel when the stick is sitting flat, and you can feel when it drifts. With the rounded heels that most sticks have (green line), you can't feel the corner, so you can't tell when it drifts.

The stick can also drift the other way and open up what I call the '14 hole': the area between the blocker and the body. (video left) All of the drills on this page involve the blocker moving out from a tight position against the pads.

 

One thing I like about blocker design now is the big square side (shaded in green). It butts up nicely against the side of your pad, allowing you in a lot of cases to be sure of your coverage and stick position.

 

When you go down, you get the same problems. Below left is a picture of good blocker and stick positioning. Center, the 14 hole is opening up. Right, when the blocker gets too tight, it can turn sideways, opening up more room, and flipping the stick.


Left is a clip showing what happens when the blocker drops too much.

 

 

 

In a proper stance with your angles covered, the blocker movement doesn't really need to be that big. To the left is a puck view of the goalie at the top of his crease with his angle covered (he should be in more of a crouch, but he's new). Any blocker move is going to be quite small.

 

 

However, if you are deeper in your crease (left) or out of position (right), the area that the blocker will have to cover (green) is going to get bigger. The blocker will have to move up to cover the top of the net, across to cover the middle part, and down to cover that very difficult area below the blocker (which, Mr. Wilf Cude, looks to be illegal).

And then, when you go down, you'll have to cover even higher.

 

Moves to all of these areas have to be practiced; on your feet, on your knees, and as you are dropping into your butterfly.

 

It isn't possible to have the same motion cover the whole area, so I'll be looking at three slightly different moves to cover areas 1,2, and 3 - in that order.

 

You may think that a good blocker move is simply a matter of extending the arm out as quickly as you can, but it's not that easy, which may explain why so many goalies have trouble with it. Yes, the arm extends out as quickly as possible, and a straight line is always best, but I find that one small change at the end of the move can vastly improve it. When you get to the end of the motion, snap the wrists so that the stick flips. This provides rebound control, and more importantly, a stopping point for the move. Without a good stopping point, your arm will continue to drift up and over, pulling you along, affecting your balance and your control. Also, without a good stopping point, you cannot be as fast. A somewhat useful analogy might be that if you were driving, you wouldn't drive fast if you didn't have brakes (unless you were a few people I know). Flipping the stick effectively ends the move in a safe quick way, so you can get as fast as you want and not worry that the move will pull you off into the corner. This makes for a fast, clean, efficient move that you can safely repeat in practice.

As I understand it, many of the shoulder problems that baseball pitchers have are caused by the deceleration phase of the pitching motion. After the pitcher releases the ball, the arm has to go from 80mph down to zero, and this creates a pulling motion on the shoulder - the stopping motion of the arm is less than ideal.

Similarly, a poor stopping motion on your blocker move means the arm will drift off and tug on the shoulder. Blocker moves aren't over-used to such an extent that they create shoulder problems, but if we're going to be practicing the move, there will be a lot of repetitions, so you'll need a safe move. When it's done properly, the snap ends the move in a short sharp way that isn't stressful. I suspect the reason is because it puts a lot of the deceleration in the stick and the hand. It's sort of like a punch, but without the impact. In fact, when the motion gets smooth, it feels very much like a punch, but again, without the jarring impact.

 

 

Crucial to the move is that the stick remain close to vertical as it punches out. If not, it will wobble from top to bottom and create an instability in the whole stopping move.

And don't swing the hand up in a sort of circular way (left). I find that's the move goalies (me too!) default to when their blocker isn't sharp. The lines have to be straight. That's the quickest way to the puck.

Below is a strip of the same motion with a blocker on. Remember that you don't need to be on the ice to practice your blocker move. You can do it just as easily at home, where you don't have the distractions of the ice. I highly recommend it. You'll be surprised at how quickly you'll improve, and how soon this translates onto the ice. When you're working this move, you'll realize the value of having a snug-fitting blocker. My previous blocker (Koho) was awful, but this one fits nicely, though you'll still see me readjusting it slightly once in a while.

 

 

 

And here are two video clips to go with this move.

 

 

Below is a strip of the move to cover higher shots, above the red line. The move follows the arc of the green line: the blocker moves up, and out. Actually, the move is more of a diagonal, but I always think of it as 'up and out'. It's important to learn this motion, because many times, your first reaction to a shot will be to tighten up, especially if it is a high shot. You'll then have to move out of that tight position to stop the puck. The move is essentially the same as the other one, the same wrist snap and the same focus on keeping the stick sort of straight. Once you get this move working on the ice, you'll love it. Goalies will always have problems with going down early, and this move can save you every once in a while.

 


 

When you have your angle covered and the blocker doesn't have to move far, the first part of this move is extremely useful. The idea is to tuck your blocker under your elbow and get both of them up, sort of like the pic to the right. There's no need to get the blocker up there if the shoulder-arm-elbow combination is there already. The coverage on this move is excellent.

 


 

The strip below shows the move to cover below the red line. I'm not sure how much this move is used, because most of the time, a goalie will go down, and then get his blocker out like Move #1 (pic + video right). This move is different from the other two, in that there is no need for the stick to move out. The hand just snaps down. Most of the time, I go down and use Move #1, but I've seen some really good goalies using this move, so it's definitely worth looking at.

 

 

To the right is a clip of this move being used to perfection. It's a nice and snappy, the rebound goes where he wants it to, and there's a quick leg recovery as well.

 

 

 

 

The best thing about working your blocker is that you can do it anywhere. Do it at home - all you have to do is put on your glove, pick up your stick and get started. To the left is a drill I use once in a while, while the clip to the right shows one I use a lot.

 

One thing you may notice when you get on the ice is how much your chest/arm protection is hindering the motion. You won't get the same speed on the ice, but that doesn't devalue practicing at home. You hands will get faster, and it will definitely translate onto the ice. However, if you find that your move really slows down with your c/a pads on, then it might be time to adjust the fit of them. I altered mine so that I notice very little difference in this drill between wearing them and just using my stick and blocker.

 

For all the reasons I stated at the beginning, there is no need to overdo these drills. A little can add up to a lot very quickly. The big problem with working out at home is always the number of distractions, so if you're serious, just aim for consistency - three, maybe four times a week. When I find the get-up-and-go to do these, I'll do about 3 or 4 sets of 20 of the high and the medium, maybe a couple of sets of the low drill, and then a few sets of the circle drill. By then, I'm ready for my nap. These are just suggestions, and you should find out for yourself how much you feel comfortable with.

 

Don't forget that when you first get on the ice, run through these drills quickly to get your hands moving. If you're standing around in practice while the coach does a boring drill with the forwards, don't waste time, work on your moves, all of them. And don't forget to do them while on your knees. This is a good way to keep busy when your legs are tired. Even in a game, you can do them, but be careful. I have stood around through a lot of boring games, waiting for something, anything to do, even an iced puck was excitement sometimes. If you are starting to stiffen up, you have to do something, and working your hands is an easy way to stay active. There's nothing worse than waiting forever for a shot and then being too stiff to move on it. This happens all the time, so prepare for it by staying loose with practice. Everyone will know you have nothing to do, so they'll understand if you have to entertain yourself. When I got older and I wasn't playing seriously anymore, I was never very subtle about this, and the other team would get the message that they were BORING THE CR*P OUT OF ME. Sometimes, it spurred them on to actually get some scoring chances, usually out of hatred. Other times, I would decide that for the next 10 minutes, I would work my trapper. Then, 11 minutes later I would be scored on, to my trapper side of course, since I had tired it out, and that's the way things work.

 

Here is what would be my ideal method for integrating any move into my game. I realize that not everyone has the luxury of practice time, so do what you can. First, get the proper movement set, and this you can do at home with the drills shown above. Then, get on the ice and practice the move by yourself. Being on skates and having all your equipment on will change things quite a bit. Next, if you can, get a shooter, not two or three, just one who will take his time and do what you want and not start fooling around and ruining your drill. Shooters usually get bored and change things up, or a few more come over to join in, but make sure you only have one. All he has to do is send very slow shots to your blocker side, as slow as is necessary for you to get the move right. They must be slow, because you need to coordinate your eyes and your hands with the puck. Take as long as you need - don't move up to faster shots unless you are moving smoothly. It can take quite some time before things speed up, so be patient. Only when you have the move down should you move up to faster shots. Think of it like you would when doing weights; slow, gradual improvement, measured in months and years. Then, repeat all of the above until the end of your career. Moves are always degrading; they always need tuning up, so you'll likely have to backtrack to slower shots once in a while. There will be times when you have it down really well, so you focus on something else, and then the blocker loses its fine edge.

If you don't have the benefit of practice time, then you can still make nice improvement just be practicing the move by yourself, which is what I've had to do. Either way, you do get a payoff, and sometimes it can happen quite quickly. You'll be playing your usual game and then, out of nowhere, your blocker makes a nice save, surprising you and everyone else. Every time I have worked on a move, that has happened; it just pops into your game at some odd moment, and there it is.

Another note is that hands can be horribly undisciplined. As you can see on the video clips, even the best goalies can have their hands doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Hands are easily pulled out of position by your legs - if your legs are tired or if it's a big move, or if you're just not tight, they will slacken. It really can be infuriating. You can be saying, "Keep the glove up, keep the glove up" to yourself until the moment the shot is released, and then the glove drops. It drives me nuts. It's like all of your brainpower has to go to disciplining your hands, so you don't track the play properly. Maybe I just need more practice, because that's the only cure for this. However, having your hands in proper working order is absolutely crucial to your game. I will elaborate on another page, but good hands will keep you on your feet longer, and make you a whole lot more patient, since you know they have things covered.

 

Another thing is that you can do these drills sitting down. Yes, doesn't it look silly, but if you're in a crouch doing a couple of hundred jarring moves, your back will feel it, and goaltending is horrible on backs. Don't do the whole drill in a chair, but try it, just to see. The chair in the pic is too low; comfy chairs are no good, and the couch is definitely out. This also works well if you're visiting your grandmother and get a little bored, and it's great for meetings as well - your boss will be impressed by your multitasking.

 

Because goaltending is so injury-prone, I think it's important to also look at the injury possibilities when analyzing a move, or when recommending a drill.

Goalies are always down in the stance with their necks arching to look up, so they have to be careful of damaging this area. Practicing these moves will work the blue area in the pic to the left, and if you strain it, the pain can run right up your neck. Neck injuries aren't common in goaltending, but neck problems in older people are, with tingling or weakness in the fingers being a symptom, and this area is the prime culprit. As older people's posture worsens, their head pushes forward and the shoulders hunch - kind of like the computer pose. This is a long-term concern for most people, so you should be aware of it. Of course, if you feel twinges in this area, or it is stiff the day after practicing your moves, you'll have to stop for a while, or lighten up.

 

 

Finally, here is a series of video clips looking at various blocker issues. The clips follow in a loose order, across each row, then down.

         
         
         
         
     
   

 

 

It's a good thing those new rules came in, because goalies were really getting carried away with their equipment...