A Quick Tip for Would-Be Hockey Goalies

If you follow hockey at all, you’ve heard of the five-hole. It’s the space between a hockey goalkeeper’s legs, and it’s a popular place to shoot at.

All NHL goalies that I know of use the ‘butterfly‘, a ligament-stretching move in which the knees are pushed together and the lower legs are parallel to the ice, forming a solid barrier to any pucks skidding along the surface. Why shoot for the five-hole, then, when it is so easily turned into an impenetrable wall? It’s all about time.

When a player slaps the puck toward the net, the time it takes a goaltender to close the hole is limited by the acceleration of gravity. Even after he recognizes the threat his body must fall into position, and no amount of strength or conditioning can make it happen faster.

I just watched in slow motion as the Rangers goaltender let a puck through his five-hole, and I had to cringe. You see, a lot of five-hole goals are preventable, and pretty easily, too. As the goalie collapsed into position, his stick was off to the side, pointing directly at the shooter, and completely useless. Had he simply kept his stick in front of him as he went into the butterfly, the goal would have bounced harmlessly away. His sloppiness might mean his team will not compete for the Stanley cup this year.

This failing is frightfully common. I often see keepers lift their sticks as they move down, and while that will get their legs into position a couple of milliseconds earlier, they lose their most important interim defense. It is a completely natural reaction to throw your arms up to get your body down faster. Don’t do that!

So, kids who want to be the next great net minder, when you’re practicing dropping into the butterfly long into the night (you are practicing long into the night, right?), always, always have your stick and always keep it in position. Watch video of yourself or have someone watch your stick as you work, and watch your GAA go down. I don’t think there’s any more easily correctable habit in all of hockey that can make such a difference.

One thought on “A Quick Tip for Would-Be Hockey Goalies

  1. It has been pointed out to me by loyal readers that if it were as easy as I make it seem here, then no NHL-caliber goalie would succumb to this habit. Absolutely true. It’s not easy. Arms-up-as-body-goes-down is wired into us.

    But to become one of the thirty best goalies in the world requires hard work. While you’re practicing all those other things, don’t forget your five-hole. You’re already practicing dropping into the butterfly; just make sure your stick is along for the ride every time. Ideally as you drop your stick is still connected to your eyes and is blocking as if you’re straight up. This is one case where dedicated drill can remedy a common problem. When I see a keeper forget his stick as he drops, I see a keeper who can benefit from working on fundamentals.

    If it was easy, everyone would do it. If you want to be the best, you will do it.

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