Amy Gist is a contributor for The Goalie Guild and the director of the Redfield Internship Program. Her goalie interviews and articles can be found on our website, and she can be followed on Twitter at @AmySnow17.
In the world of hockey, there are many multifaceted dimensions, and for lack of a better word, “kingdoms” that have to be studied and intellectually conquered. One such kingdom is that of goaltending.
I won’t be surprised if Wichita Falls goaltender Evan Cowley is selected in a later round of the 2013 NHL Draft in New Jersey.
During the 10th-annual NAHL Showcase, the native of Cranbrook, BC (but was most recently living in Evergreen, CO) generated more buzz than any other goalie. At least four different scouts from various colleges and independent programs mentioned he was already being considered as this season’s equivalent to Philadelphia Flyers prospect Anthony Stolarz.
After seeing him perform in his first two NAHL games, I wholeheartedly agree.
Cowley is obviously still a very raw-skilled 17-year-old athlete, but with plenty of size and decent athleticism, the potential for him to develop into a pro goalie is clearly there.
Not only does Cowley have the “optimal” frame at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, but he’s just a rookie in the NAHL with a birth date of July 31, 1995. And despite going 0-1-1 with seven goals allowed on 63 shots (a .889 save percentage) during the showcase, Cowley displayed a lot of tasty traits for scouts to devour.
You will likely notice the same mannerisms in Cowley’s self-published video above, but when evaluating him, I was quickly reminded of Carey Price. Comparables were popping up all over the place; hand placement, that cool, calm and quiet demeanor, the positionally-based foundation, the way they wear Reebok pads…it’s all there, and all in a raw fashion.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean Cowley has the same skill upside as Price. It simply means he exhibits a style that tries to emulate Price, with similar movement mannerisms.
Furthermore, Cowley displays a decent level of raw athleticism and reflexes to excel in the NAHL and eventually thrive at the higher levels.
Most of my notes on Cowley came in his first game on Wednesday against the Aberdeen Wings. Despite suffering the 3-2 loss in the shootout, he stopped 28 of 30 shots and alongside Wings goalie Marcus Zelzer, was the star of the game.
In his first-ever NAHL game, with over 200 scouts in the building, Cowley displayed a calm, poised, and confident demeanor. He swallowed a lot of pucks, he smoothed out his movements as the game progressed, and he never once appeared to be out of place.
When watching a big goaltender play against the best talent he has ever seen, I always focus on movements more than technique. I want to see if the goalie can control his slides, recoveries, scrambles, and of course his rebounds, as the game goes along.
Cowley passed all of those areas with high marks. There were a few instances (especially in the shootout) where he over-challenged shooters, but for the most part, he utilized his size effectively. He didn’t challenge too far outside the blue paint, and he did a good job of letting pucks hit him. There was not a lot of excessive reaching or lunging, either.
Like most of today’s young goalies, Evan had the “fingers up, elbows tight” arm and hand positioning. The glove is very upright, but it was still active and highly mobile. He made a few nice glove saves in the game against Aberdeen, and he tracked the puck well.
It certainly pays to be big, and Cowley entered the NAHL at the right time. With Stolarz being drafted so soon (45th overall by the Flyers), it bodes well for Evan’s future. His performance against Aberdeen was a tremendous start; it got the scouts talking.
For those scouts that asked me about Cowley’s game, I really had nothing bad to say. The potential is there, he has all of the assets NHL teams are seeking, and he still has a lot of elements to add to his game as time goes on. He can really improve the way he uses his size, making himself even more economical and durable.
He can also get stronger, as he’ll look to gain anywhere from five to 15 pounds of muscle over the next year. Eating properly will be important, as weighing closer to 200 pound will really help his draft value next summer.
But because he reflects a lot of traits we see in an elite goalie like Price, and because he uses his size relatively well for his age and experience, Cowley is going to get a lot of looks.
Oh, and if everything I’ve said doesn’t prove that Cowley will be sought after by NCAA and NHL scouts throughout the season, he was also one of only seven goalies listed on NHL Central Scouting’s guide for the NAHL Showcase.
Of those seven goalies, Cowley was clearly the most promising in terms of long-term upside, and that will further boost his value as the junior hockey season continues.
Riku Helenius is back in North America to prepare for the new AHL season, and he’s on a mission to raise some hell in Tampa Bay’s goalie depth chart.
The starting gig in Syracuse rightfully belongs to Dustin Tokarski, but Helenius didn’t sign a new two-year contract (two-way the first year, one-way the second year) with the Lightning to sit on the bench. He wants to play every game, and he has the skills to earn just as many starts as Tokarski.
“Tick” won’t make it easy, however. He’s on the cusp of becoming a full-time NHL backup, so the former WHL standout is pushing hard to finally prove to the organization that, once and for all, he’s fit for the job.
And while I do think he’s close, he’s still not 100-percent ready to back up Anders Lindback.
But Helenius is a former first-round draft pick (15th overall in 2006) and is coming off an SM-liiga championship with JYP. He did this by posting a 1.64 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in the regular season, then a 1.73 GAA and .947 SV% in 13 playoff games. For his efforts, he earned the Urpo Ylönen Award as the league’s best goaltender.
Being a first-round draft pick might not make a difference to you and me, but to the Lightning, there’s a sense of urgency to legitimize his high selection. That means he’s likely to earn some opportunities that other goalies might not receive, and that bodes well for a guy with so much confidence right now.
Furthermore, Riku has been developing at a steady pace with JYP goalie coach Jarkko Hyytiä, and now at the age of 24, he’s ready to prove his worth at the AHL and NHL levels.
So the battle in the Crunch’s crease is on, and this intriguing duel is sure to see some sparks fly.
RIKU HITS THE ICE IN EDINA
Since Riku’s agent is friends with former NHL goaltender Robb Stauber, he was able to secure some ice time at Stauber’s Goalcrease training center in Edina. Goalie coach Jeff Hall personally invited me to come out and evaluate Helenius during their training session on Thursday, and even though I had originally planned to scout Day 2 of the NAHL Showcase up in Blaine, I couldn’t miss this rare opportunity to see one of the top Finnish goalie prospects.
So I was there faster than a Pekka Rinne reflex save.
Once we hit the ice, the first thing that stuck out to me was Riku’s extremely wide stance, but more importantly, how well it worked for him. His feet really flare out beyond his shoulders, and even for a flexible and athletic Finnish goalie, his balance points (front, back, and vertical) are pretty unique. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds, he doesn’t necessarily look that big in the crease due to having such a wide stance, but he still sits very tall and upright in the butterfly.
Like most successful Finnish prospects, Riku’s quickness and athleticism are two of his finest traits.
To be honest, there’s not much I take away from a simple one-hour training session this early in the new season. He was clearly not at peak performance in terms of his stamina, which is only fair to expect from a guy that is just starting to fire up the blades in preparation for training camp.
I also hold off on posting more than a few scouting notes because I don’t have any comparisons to work with. He spent the past two years in Europe, so it has been quite some time since I’ve last seen him play a full game. Obviously he has come a long way since his run with Norfolk in 2009-10, as he has more experience, intelligence, and body control than ever before.
Either way, you can still get a good idea of how he moves in the crease from these three videos. For the most part, he was smooth and in control of his slides, yet extremely quick to seal the ice, or to pop back up to both skates and square up to Jeff’s shots.
I also really appreciated his stick discipline, his active hand placement (in front of the body), and his ability to make minor adjustments as verbally dictated to him by coach Hall.
Beyond the movement and recovery drills you see in the videos, Helenius did some unique skating and agility drills in the first 10 minutes, then finished up the session with some patented Goalcrease puck-handling drills.
Away from the technical stuff, it was a treat to personally meet Riku and talk about one of my favorite subjects, music. Many of you know I’m a huge Finnish metal fan, so I naturally had to ask him what kind of music he liked. Although his answer included country, I was excited to hear he was also a fan of some of my favorite bands, including Kalmah, Children of Bodom, and some others.
As a former first-round draft pick, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Riku’s potential in a Lightning uniform. Despite the fact GM Steve Yzerman signed Lindback over the summer and drafted Andrei Vasilevski in the first round, there’s no doubt in my mind he realizes that Riku has the potential to evolve into a very solid NHL goaltender over the next 2-3 years.
Otherwise that new two-year contract wouldn’t include a “one-way” clause in the final year.
The second season of Goldman’s weekly “In The Cage” fantasy goalie articles has returned! He kicks things off this season with his first-annual Top-30 fantasy goalies ranking. Be sure to visit GoaliePost, which is powered by Dobber Hockey and The Goalie Guild, for all of your daily fantasy goalie needs!
When it comes to ranking goaltenders, there’s no way to escape the guessing game. The season is way too long, and too many obstacles keep a goalie from maintaining his value for more than a few weeks.
Then there are the 10-to-12 AHL goalies that earn unexpected opportunities due to frustrating and untimely injuries, all of which swiftly change the entire landscape of your fantasy team and league.
If things weren’t already tough enough, in today’s NHL, very few goalies bring a high assurance level in terms of durability, consistency, and truly elite talent. In fact, only a handful can be found on “strong” teams this year, so to secure one in the first two rounds is to solidify your team as a force in the league.
[Click above to read the full article on the NHL.com website.]
When it comes to evaluating the class of goaltenders available in the 2013 NHL Draft, a great place to start is by getting to know Halifax Mooseheads goaltender Zach Fucale.
Last season, Fucale’s draft value soared after he produced one of the most remarkable rookie campaigns in the history of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Since Tim Thomas made the personal decision to erase his net presence in Boston this season, Tuukka Rask has finally been handed the reins.
His patience has paid off, his time to shine is upon the horizon, and I’m very confident that he will excel.
The more I study goaltending, the more I realize the position is deeply rooted in a rich and nutritious somatic soil. This integral connection of body and mind is the foundation for a goalie’s physical and mental evolution. It reflects the true essence of their character not only as an athlete, but also as a human being.
When it comes to somatic (meaning the body-mind connection) goaltending, one of my “golden rules” is simple; Stress is a performance killer. A goalie under stress is tense, anxious, and unable to react cleanly. Their muscles and movements become rigid, they’re inefficient, and as a result, everything from their timing to rebound control may suffer.
But what exactly makes stress “somatic” for a goaltender? Well, there’s mental stress, which can stem from things like an exhausting day at school or work, or the pressure that comes from a “must-win” game. There’s also physical stress, which stems from dehydration, poor nutrition, a lack of proper stretching, or improper breathing patterns.
Beyond these obvious examples, however, many sub-levels of athletic stress and tension exist, and they all prove just how corrosive it can be to a goalie’s performance and development.
In this School of Block text, I want to explain one of these variants — it’s a very important concept for goaltenders to understand. Defined by the legendary psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, Muscle Armoring is something every goalie has experienced or battled at some point in time, regardless of their age or talent level.
Photo Courtesy of Tom Turk: Piratical Photography
Muscle Armoring, in the psychoanalytical form, is tied to both the physical and emotional realms of stress. But for this post, I’ll focus on mainly the physical side, since I’ve seen, felt, and evaluated it for years as a goalie and a scout.
Reich’s definition of Muscle Armoring occurs when a person wants to avoid physical fear or pain by “armoring” themselves with tense and contracted muscles. It can transpire in many different ways, but it always includes an impulse that is “halted” at the muscular level.
Reich also wrote that a person will “cease the muscle inhibition” once the threat passes, but when they repeatedly experience the same type of threat, Muscle Armoring becomes “learned and integrated” into the person’s daily life. It begins as a conscious reaction, but over time, it slowly becomes unconscious.
Naturally, when I applied Reich’s concept to goaltending, I had to write about it. This stuff matters.
When facing “high and heavy” shots, or shots that could cause pain, many goalies tense or freeze up, brace themselves, hold their breath, close their eyes, hesitate, and possibly even shy away from the puck in fear. Eye and face muscles are strained (which inhibits vision), as are the shoulders, the back, the chest, and the hips/waist/core.
It can also cause goalies to suddenly hold their breath…and some might not exhale for a few seconds.
Goalies can surely remember situations where this has negatively affected their confidence, performance, rhythm, and/or timing. In fact, I don’t think any goalie evolves without experiencing some type of Muscle Armoring. It’s inescapable.
Even more disconcerting is the fact that Muscle Armoring can slowly become muscle memory; it can transform into a bad habit and seep into the subconscious. Furthermore, some goalies can reach a point where they no longer even notice they’re tensing up at all.
Photo Courtesy of Tom Turk: Piratical Photography
True to the term, Muscle Armoring is a natural defense mechanism a goalie exhibits to protect themselves from a perceived threat. But unfortunately it diminishes (even if only for a moment) their ability to move fluidly and to track pucks.
For most goalies, Muscle Armoring starts at an early age. Beginner and intermediate goalies will hear their parents and coaches say, “Don’t be afraid of the puck!” But that’s easier said than done when you’re eight or nine, and even at an older age, there are times where goalies simply can’t escape that fear.
That’s the nature of the position, and that is one of the parts of the game goalies must overcome with their mental toughness. They have to be gritty, they have to be willing to take the bruises and the cracks off the mask. Sucking it up and moving on is easier for some goalies, and tougher for others. It is very much a mental thing.
MUSCLE ARMORING PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
Here are a few (not all) main instances where I see Muscle Armoring negatively affecting a goalie:
- Bracing or locking up on heavy or high shots
- Dropping down into the V-H Stance (VHS)
- Building a wall in tight & some blocking saves
- Tensing muscles when losing sight of the puck
- Allowing screens in front to restrict movement
- Bracing or locking up on heavy or high shots is the toughest kind of Muscle Armoring to avoid. It takes tons of confidence, focus, and assertiveness to keep your eyes locked on the puck, especially if a heavy shot is rising fast. It’s also tough to stay fully relaxed when pucks are buzzing by your ears, or if they’re suddenly tipped and heading for your face. If a heavy shot goes wide and banks off the boards, Muscle Armoring can eliminate that vital moment of time you need to push or dive across the crease to make a desperation save. You can also lose sight of the puck and start scrambling when it otherwise wouldn’t be needed, or you simply “fall behind” the play.
- Dropping down into the tricky VHS is the most frustrating kind of Muscle Armoring I see. I say this because it’s very avoidable, yet goalies willingly elect to inflict stress upon themselves. The VHS can be utilized properly in some instances, but in many cases, it is forcing the body to lock and tense up. Unless you’re an elite goalie or extremely flexible, you’re probably somewhat uncomfortable in the VHS, so the body is strained, and it takes even more power and energy to recover from that position. You’re “hoping” the puck hits you at times, you can’t see pucks laying at your feet, and that is a slight form of inescapable fear, because you’re not confident in where the puck is at, or what it’s doing.
- Building a wall in tight, or some blocking saves is a form of Muscle Armoring; goalies are contracting muscles in order to seal holes under the arms or between the legs. This is different than a routine half-butterfly save on a low shot because that’s a natural reaction, a kicking motion that originates from the standing position. But as goalies continue to make more saves by sliding or shuffling on their knees in tight, the tension that comes from “building a wall” will always open a small window for potential Muscle Armoring. A goaltender learns over time how to build walls while still keeping their muscles relaxed, but that’s a kinetic component of development that is almost exclusively self-learned.
- Lastly, I see Muscle Armoring when goalies are screened and lose sight of pucks. Instead of fighting for sight lines, goalies will tense up, their bodies constrict, and they feel the mental pressure and fear that comes from not knowing where the puck is going. From there, they either drop early, do nothing at all, or react way too late. Again, this happens very quickly, but it still reveals hesitation, tension, and other forms of Muscle Armoring that affect performance.
It could also be argued that any time when the goalie is not tracking a puck, Muscle Armoring is likely to transpire.
If a goalie struggles with Muscle Armoring and wants to fix it, I have a few tips:
- Breathe deeply and eliminate any anxiety tied to performance.
- Reinforce the message of relaxing and having fun. Be assertive.
- Briefly imagine the puck as soft foam, not vulcanized rubber.
- Upgrade the chest protector, get a new mask or bigger pants.
- Become more aware of your muscles by methodically stretching.
- Visualize yourself not Muscle Armoring on imaginary hard shots.
- Take hard shots in a controlled environment with a fearless mindset.
- Take Pilates or Yoga classes to improve your mind-body awareness!
The third bullet point may seem silly, but in all honesty, imaging (not the same as imagining) is a concept that I plan on shedding a lot of light on in the near future. Imagery and the act of imaging shocks and refreshes the nervous system, and the nervous system is what allows a goaltender to move. Using imagery to better understand not only how to move but what movement is made of is a lost art, which is a bummer, because it is extremely potent and valuable.
But more on that special topic some other time.
I also consider this School of Block lesson “incomplete” until I point out the fact that there are going to be times where goalies simply can’t avoid Muscle Armoring. Players fire pucks right at our faces, and sometimes on purpose. Shots are getting harder, sticks are getting lighter, and players are getting stronger. No matter how protected or confident we feel in the crease, our natural instincts will lead us to duck or avoid getting hit.
You can’t exterminate Muscle Armoring, you can only learn to control it.
MY MUSCLE ARMORING EXPERIENCE
As a scout, I’m very careful when it comes to evaluating Muscle Armoring. Not every instance where a goalie braces for a shot is considered Muscle Armoring, and sometimes there’s simply no way to tell under all of that gear just how much tension or anxiety or stress a goalie is experiencing.
The photo below of Martin Brodeur is a really good example. To me, this is not a display of Muscle Armoring. At the same time, a picture is a frozen moment in time, so in most instances, a scout must watch plays develop with a keen eye in order to evaluate whether or not Muscle Armoring takes place.
That’s one of a million instances that makes scouting goalies so enjoyable; no matter how good my vision is, some things are simply inconclusive. And there’s definitely no way of picking something like this up in a statistic, either. Yet it can play a major role in a goalie’s frame of mind, including their confidence, consistency, and overall performance. Those things influence statistics, but good luck finding that in a sabre-metric.
Photo Courtesy of Tom Turk: Piratical Photography
At the same time, I can say with full confidence that some goalies I analyze display way more Muscle Armoring issues than others. The best example I can think of is Jonas Gustavsson. I think he displayed a lot of tension and hesitation over the past two years, and while it could stem from a variety of somatic elements, the fact remains that he looked very rigid when playing for the Leafs.
A few other goalie that I believe display Muscle Armoring more than others would be Corey Crawford, James Reimer, and Semyon Varlamov. I’m not going to get into details with each one, but rather point them out so that you might be able to pick it up on your own.
In my own personal playing experience, I can admit that avoiding Muscle Armoring was very tough. I’ve never been a big guy, and I’m more bone than muscle. I never committed myself to the weight room, and I’ve always played with a slight subconscious fear of getting hurt by shots. When I’m confident, it doesn’t exist. But when I’m not, it gets in my head and hinders my true skills.
When I moved from Texas to Colorado for college, the talent level around me improved, but I didn’t get any bigger or stronger, so my natural tendency was to sink deeper into my crease. I didn’t have the private coaching to notice or help me fix the issue, and I didn’t have the discipline to self-correct it, either.
Looking back at it now, I was partially unaware of the problem, but partially unwilling to face it.
I also idolized Felix Potvin growing up, so I always thrived by playing deep and giving myself more time to use my reactions and reflexes to make saves. It worked for me in Texas and Colorado, but now that I’m in Minnesota and playing against excellent talent, I’m being forced to shift my mindset and overcome my petty fear by “sucking it up” and being more aggressive than ever before.
It’s already working, but it will take more time, and it might take a new pair of pants and a safer mask, too. I also don’t allow myself to over-think this stuff. I ponder it during the day, but when it comes time to strap on the pads, it’s the last thing on my mind.
In fact, this article is a perfect example of the type of self-reflection and self-analysis I think it takes to truly resolve the issue. If you want my advice, journal your issues with Muscle Armoring, write it down, and learn to fix it yourself.
No matter what type of experience you have, the issue of Muscle Armoring is now clearly defined. Overcoming numerous muscular contractions during a game, a tournament, a season, even a career, isn’t easy. On top of that, consuming the energy required to maintain this state of contraction is clearly detrimental to both the physical and mental side of a goalie’s performance.
MUSCLE ARMORING CAN BE MANAGED
Forever I will stress to goaltenders, readers, and clients another one of my golden rules. If you’re very competitive and want to enhance your game, become more aware of your body, your movements, and your muscles.
Goaltending is so automated and standardized today that we rarely even realize what muscles we’re using, and how we’re using them. So much of today’s training is technically-based, so it’s up to the goalie to implement a better balance in their development.
Spend more time training in areas such as plyometrics, self-reflection, mental toughness, and my personal favorite, body mapping. Keep a journal. Write stuff down. Express yourself. Share your experiences with others. It has helped me immensely, and it will help you too. So much of what you learn about being a goalie has to come from within.
The more aware you are of exactly what your body is doing and how it’s moving, the more you can control things like Muscle Armoring. Awareness improves confidence, consistency, and your ability to make tough saves look easy.
Whatever you do, don’t be afraid of the puck. Don’t be afraid of anything. Don’t be afraid to dive around, to scramble, to flail, to challenge, or to experiment with your style and technique. You won’t get hurt, and if you do, you’re no more a victim than any other goalie out there.
Goaltenders can fight off the fear of heavy shots and still win big games in a suit of armor. But when we’re constantly experiencing different types of Muscle Armoring on the ice without even knowing it, or when it’s not really necessary, it becomes impossible to play up to our potential. We’re limiting ourselves, we’re holding ourselves back.