Integration of Finnish Goaltending Techniques in elite North American Goaltending

Certification white paper by Ted Monnich

Integration of Finnish Goaltending Techniques in elite North American Goaltending (Certification white paper)
05/04/2015 Jukka Ropponen

By Ted Monnich April, 2015

I was delighted to be invited to GoaliePro’s 2014 coach mentoring program. My coaching colleagues and I have been monitoring and discussing the articles on Finnish techniques appearing in, and reflecting on the history and prevalence of Finnish goaltenders in elite competition in North America. GoaliePro Director Jukka Ropponen was no stranger to me. I had studied goalie coaching under him in 2002 at the Puckstoppers Goalie Coach Certification Program, led by him, in London, Ontario. I had also coached under Jukka for several years at Puckstopper’s camps. I knew Jukka as a thoughtful, but tough and demanding coach who valued motivated and competitive goaltenders.

Ted Monnich (right) on the ice at 2014 GoaliePro camp discussing with Jukka Ropponen

Ted Monnich (right) on the ice at 2014 GoaliePro camp discussing with Jukka Ropponen

I have been coaching with GDI since 2008 when I began work with Ryan Honick and GDI Southeast, and attended my first GDI National Development Camp at Shattuck St. Marys. I was attracted to the technical nature of GDI’s philosophy and coaching format, and I worked hard to understand and integrate the techniques into my own game. Key to fast lateral movement in that system is a powerful T-push followed by a hard stop, squaring up and getting set in position to the puck. A lot of strength and power go into those T-pushes. Now, at one point, years ago, I had heard that the T-push was no longer utilized by goaltenders. However, I believe that there are only a few goaltending techniques that have become truly obsolete and should be abandoned. Instead, I view goaltending techniques as tools in the goalie’s tool kit. Each tool has certain applications, maybe only one application. However, just like a craftsman or artisan, the goaltender needs to be prepared to utilize that particular skill when the need demands it.

My motivation for attending GoaliePro’s program was to learn what was going on so effectively in Finnish goaltending, to bring it back to North America and GDI, and to integrate these coaching techniques into our program. I have been a devoted believer in the techniques I have been coaching in North America. I believe any coach must believe in what they teach. However, as the position of goaltending continues to evolve, its coaches must, of course, evolve with it; identifying and sharing new techniques. I had read about the general use of shuffling, instead of the T-push, in Finland, for lateral movement. I had also read about the active glove use, and forward glove positioning of Finnish goalies. The Finnish glove techniques were already very familiar to me, and, in fact, a long time part of my coaching having studied them with Jukka twelve years before. However, I must admit, I was skeptical about eliminating the T-push and replacing it with shuffling. Would it be fast enough (?) Could it be efficient enough (?) were questions I asked myself.

My first day of GoaliePro camp in Helsinki, Finland felt like I had landed on another planet (the jetlag didn’t help). There were elite goaltenders pushing off the post in a shuffle, to the near angle, and stopping on their push leg. I had never seen this. It went against every principle I had taught. Yet, this is what was being practiced, and it was working for the goalies, and it was confusing the hell out of me. I sought out Halifax’s FinnGoalie coach Jack Hartigan, on the ice, to explain the principles of this elemental, but very different technique, to me. Jack explained that, when facing a rush down an outside lane, the puck handler will attempt to gain position in the slot. By stopping with his push leg the goalie automatically has his weight loaded on his outside leg for a quick lateral transition, either up or down, to the slot without having to effect a weight transfer from the push leg to the stop leg and back to the push leg (as would be required with a lead leg stop in a T-push). This made sense to me, and was economical, and thus fast. I just had to get used to seeing it, and I had to try it, and practice it, to better understand it. Luckily, as a foundational movement I had a week to do this. It should be noted that this is not a cookie cutter pattern and in some fast close-play situations we also push off with the post leg and then stop on the inside leg. Later in the camp I had the opportunity to talk to Jukka about this technique, and the use of long and short shuffling for lateral movement around the crease. Jukka agreed with my assessment of the technique’s economy and effectiveness. However, what was as important to him was how effective the technique is in reducing and preventing strain and injury to the goaltenders’ hips. Jukka reminded me about the amount of stress the powerful North American T-push and stop, and moves like popping up with both legs at the same time placed on the goalie’s hips, especially professional level goaltenders who exerted the greatest force in their movements. There were four professional goalies attending camp that had, or were, recovering from hip surgery due to physical stress. Obviously, effective techniques had to be developed to reduce the stress and injury to goalies. This foundational technique for lateral movement was one of these. I was sold. I spent the rest of the camp studying this technique.

As a Mental Conditioning Coach and sport psychology graduate student I closely studied the coaching approach and philosophy of Finnish coaches, as well as Finnish junior-aged goaltenders. What was reflected was the difference in the educational system in Finland, resulting in the students’ high level of motivation and coachability. During our time away from the rink I discussed this at length with fellow-coaches Larry Sadler (Toronto) and author Justin Goldman (Colorado). I never saw a Finnish goalie banging his stick in frustration. Instead, when a goalie was scored on consecutively he talked to his coach, asking for correction and explanation, to better understand why they were scored on.

I returned to a busy 2014 summer of coaching in North America. I again worked with Jukka Ropponen and Jack Hartigan at a seminar in Halifax, Nova Scotia in July. From there I went to GDI East’s elite camp at Quinnipiac University. While there I reported to all of the coaches on my findings in Finland, and enjoyed many debates about the merits of what I learned. I also worked with a few professional goalies in attendance, showing them the techniques, and discussing their principles. I was surprised at how readily these goaltenders embraced the simple elegance of the technique, and asked for more information which I shared.

Jeff Jakaitis

Jeff Jakaitis

As the summer ended I attended training camp of the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL. Then seven-year pro veteran and two-times ECHL Goaltender of the Year Jeff Jakaitis had re-signed with the Stingrays, and had attended the GDI East camp, and was interested in the Finnish techniques I shared. I have asked Jeff to share his impressions in this article. What follows is his comments of the techniques presented:

During training camp leading up to the 2014-2015 season I had the fortunate opportunity to work with goalie coach Ted Monnich for a few days. The main focus of our on-ice sessions was to introduce a couple of techniques which Ted had learned working with GoaliePro in Finland.  The first technique was the push-foot stop when coming off the post and the second we called ‘active’ hands/hand positioning.  

I found the push-foot stop technique to be quite beneficial when moving from the post to a near side threat then quickly to a central or far side threat.  As with any new technique it felt somewhat awkward at first but as we progressed in our work my transitions became much smoother.  In a controlled drill setting I really liked the technique and could see and feel the benefit over a non-push foot stop but I have had trouble implementing it into my game.  The biggest issue I’ve found with using the push-foot stop at game speed is reading whether or not there will be a shot off the initial move from the post.  If there is an initial shot threat I find that I have trouble moving quickly to that threat and staying square. In these quick situations we push off from the post and stop with inside skate, so technique really depends on the situation.  I feel that with more time and practice with Ted it is a move that would be very beneficial to add to my game.

The second technique we focused on was using what we called ‘active’ hands.  I am fairly small in stature as far as goalies are concerned so I’ve always played a more reactive style as opposed to a blocking style therefore the ‘active’ hands technique wasn’t a huge adjustment for me.  The main thing we focused on was keeping my hands out in front of my body rather than in closer to my hips.  I have had some issues with rotating my shoulders away from the shot especially to the glove side so keeping my hands forward has helped to remedy that.  I’ve also found this technique beneficial on plays in tight to the crease as having my hands forward can help to cut off the vertical angle and in effect smother the shooter.  

I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with Ted and be introduced to some of these new techniques.  He does a very good job of explaining techniques and how they can benefit your game.  I hope to have the opportunity to further explore these and other techniques in the future as I feel this style suits my game and strengths as a goalie very well.

The authors:
Ted Monnich has been involved with all levels of ice hockey goaltending for over 40 years, and in six countries in North America, Europe and Asia. He has served as Head Instructor at Puckstoppers Goaltending School in London, ON, coaches at Goaliepro Consulting Oy in Helsinki, Finland, and lectures and coaches at GDI Regional and National level events. Ted currently works as Mental Conditioning Coach and Goaltending consultant with teams, coaches, and players in the NHL, AHL, ECHL, NAHL, USHL, and NCAA. Ted provides mental conditioning coaching to amateur and professional athletes, ensuring that they are as well prepared mentally, as physically, for the rigors of their sport. He is pursuing graduate studies in Sports & Exercise Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Ted is a Contributing Author to InGoal Magazine. He is originally from Pittsburgh, PA and resides near Charlotte, NC.

Jeff Jakaitis won the Warrior Hockey ECHL Goaltender of the Month for March. Jakaitis, who shared the February monthly award with his teammate Adam Morrison, extends his ECHL record with the sixth Goaltender of the Month honor in his ECHL career. Jakaitis went 8-0-0 with four shutouts, a 1.29 goals-against average and a save percentage of .949 in nine appearances during the month. The 31-year-old set a new ECHL record with four consecutive shutouts from March 7-20, and in the process established a new league record with a shutout streak of 321:46, which fell just 10:16 shy of the modern-era professional hockey record set by Brian Boucher of the National Hockey League’s Phoenix Coyotes in 2003-04. Jakaitis allowed two goals or less in five of his eight starts in March as he helped the Stingrays set a new ECHL record with a 23-game winning streak. Jakaitis is riding a personal 15-game winning streak, which is a league record for longest winning streak by a goaltender in a single season. A native of Rochester, Minn., Jakaitis leads the ECHL with six shutouts, is second with a 2.02 goals-against average, third with a .922 save percentage and tied for sixth with 24 wins. Jakaitis has appeared in 200 career ECHL games with South Carolina, Gwinnett, Columbia and Charlotte posting an overall record of 108-60-24 with a 2.40 goals-against average and a save percentage of .921. His 22 career shutouts are second all-time in league history, just three behind Marc Magliarditi. Last season, he was named ECHL Goaltender of the Year for the second time in three seasons, joining Scott Stirling (2000-01 and 2003-04) as the only two-time winners in the award

Jukka Ropponen