Thursday, December 05, 2013

Eli 12.4: Adversity (part two)

I spent quite a bit of time the next few days after the game thinking about how Eli 12.4 practices.

It's hard for a coach with 15 skaters to focus on 2 goalies during a practice. The drills have to focus on the skaters, and whatever work a goalie gets is a bonus. That can make it very tough for a goalie to get the kind of work he needs. So Eli was getting shots--even though probably not as many as he wanted--but just getting shots is not always helpful.

"I've noticed something about practice," I said.


"So many of the shots you get are from guys skating in from the blue line after finishing part of a drill. It's just one shot, and it's always from the same spot. And you always start from the same spot, in an ideal position."

"Okay," he said. "And?"

"And that's not even close to what happens during a game. You almost never make a single-movement save from an ideal position. It's either a screened shot from the point, moving off the post to get in position for a shot from the slot, or a pass across the top of the crease to the far post. None of those saves are single movements. So what you're practicing isn't help prepare you for what's happening in games. Does that make sense?"

"It does," he said. "I see what you mean."

"Your technique is crazy good, in general," I said. "But you still need specific work to prepare for the kind of shots you're getting in games. This is a long process, and you can't cheat the process. So let's get you some specific practice." There's a terrific coach at The Pond who has a hard and accurate shot, and I talked to him about shooting on Eli for an hour at a time. He agreed.

Eli and I talked about the drills that would help the most. The one I pushed for was coming off the post to the top of the crease (or higher), where the coach would unleash a shot. He'd have to make the save, and if there was a rebound, square up to the puck. Eli also wanted to work on a stuff drill, where the coach would shoot from very close range, then just start hacking at the rebound, and Eli would have to square up and, when possible, get so close that the shooter had nowhere to shoot the puck.

Eli skated out and started driving me crazy, because he warmed up with exactly the kind of shots he was getting in practice, starting from an ideal position. After he took a short water break, though, he started coming off the post.

That sounds easy, but it's hell. It's a very explosive movement to get from the post to the top of the crease (or higher) in time to defend a shot from the slot. It's hell, but it's required to defend one of the basic plays that every team in his league runs over and over again--get the puck on the wing, pull the defense over, then pass to a player in the slot.

What makes it so hard is that no one gets as high as they want before the shot is taken. Even getting to the top of the crease and square to the shooter is pretty good. Getting four inches higher makes the goalie so much bigger to the shooter that he's almost impossible to beat, but almost no one is that explosive.

As soon as Eli started coming off the post, it was easy to see that he couldn't get as high as he wanted, and he was having to make saves from all kinds of positions.

Which was perfect, because that's what happens in games. He was having to chain moves together. Instead of starting from an ideal position of strength, he had to get himself to a position of strength first.

"Okay, I totally get it," he said when he skated off.

"That was really, really good," I said. "Multi-movement saves, less than ideal positions, and your technique was still excellent. Well done."

He went back on and they worked on the stuff drill for almost half an hour. It's amazing how many little nuances there are to a goalie's technique when the puck is loose and inside the crease. Things most people wouldn't even notice, like having very aggressive hands (while still keeping your body square to the shooter). These are things that most goalies Eli's age would never be able to incorporate, but he can work on them one time and suddenly they're part of his game.

"That was great," he said when he skated off at the end of the hour. "I felt really sharp by the end."

He went through that same practice a few days later, and then it was time to go to Fort Worth for the big Thanksgiving tournament.

Tuesday: The tournament, of course (sorry--this ran longer than I thought it would)

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