“How do we improve a skill we’re already really good at?”
That’s the question Vancouver Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark poses to Thatcher Demko at the beginning of his 10-minute long mic’d up video. The answer, according to Clark, is to add pace — to increase the speed of every skill — but the answer may as well be just to work with someone like Clark every single day.
Canucks fans should watch the video to get insight into how Demko has become an elite goaltender but it’s really a must-watch for anyone who loves to nerd out about the minutiae of hockey, particularly goaltending aficionados.
Young goaltenders can glean insights into how they should be practicing as well. It’s like a ten-minute masterclass from one of the best goaltending coaches on the planet.
One thing that is eminently clear right from the beginning of the video is that Clark is a fantastic communicator. Every drill is clearly communicated — not just the parts of the drill but the why behind it. There’s a purpose to every drill and none of them are about going through the motions. Even the most minute details have a clear purpose behind them.
As Clark talks about adding pace to a skill, he says something intriguing.
“We’re actually looking for the loss of control, because ultimately that’s the signature of whether or not we’re challenging the pace of what we’re doing,” says Clark. “Because we shouldn’t have full control at a higher pace.”
In other words, if you’re performing a skill perfectly in practice, then you’re not challenging yourself enough. That’s how an already elite goaltender can get even better.
It’s also funny watching Clark getting in Demko’s face for a drill or whacking Demko in the head with a stick from behind, but looking silly can’t be an obstacle to improvement.
There’s also a great deal of focus beyond the physical aspect of goaltending: keeping a clear mind, which Clark links to the eyes.
“Clear mind, early eyes,” says Clark. “Really early eyes is what gives you a clear mind. Information gives you a clear mind.”
In other words, avoid overthinking. Use your eyes to take in all the information you need and react. Earlier in the video, he talks about that information going beyond just tracking the puck.
“That sense of a puck coming,” says Clark. “We may not even have a track on it, but we sense it within our view. We have an idea that it’s there, based on maybe periphery, maybe it’s the reaction of other people in our forward view.”
The most fascinating part of the video is watching Demko intentionally practicing what, in a game, seem like pure desperation plays. There’s intention and technique that goes into Demko stretching behind himself with his blocker and stick on the ice to take away an open net.
Clark demonstrates the technique, pushing his glove into the ice with his stick perfectly perpendicular, emphasizing that it needs to be firm and avoid presenting an angle so that the puck doesn’t just ramp up the stick and into the net. Then Demko performs the skill at full pace and it should immediately change how you watch Demko during games.
As much as it may seem like a goaltender like Demko is scrambling during a game, there’s technique even behind that scrambling.