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Patience is Key for Breakaways

Your defenseman pinches up to help out in the offensive zone and misses a pass or a cross ice pass gets intercepted by a speeding center or the game goes into a shootout, either way you know in an instant what is about to unfold: a breakaway. It all comes down to you, the last line of defense to stop the puck one-on-one. A lot of goalies have the misconception that the shooter has the advantage and that it comes down to luck instead of technique to stop the breakaway. Well it is time to set the record straight.

Patience is the key to stopping breakaways. If you get too aggressive or bite on the dekes you are going to get burned. To best demonstrate the patience you need, check out this shootout compilation of NHL goaltender Mathieu Garon. Mathieu Garon is one of, if not the best shootout goaltenders around. Not to mention he is a southpaw like myself :).

There are two types of breakaways that can occur: pressure situation or penalty shot/shootout.

Pressure Situation
In the case where a center/wing intercepts a pass and is coming at you one-on-one, you both are in a pressure situation breakaway. The shooter only has so much time to make their move(s) and try to score before your teammates get back to defend the zone. Depending on how fast the shooter is, how far away from you the breakaway starts, and how close your teammates are to catching up, determines how much pressure is on the shooter.

When there is not a lot of time for the shooter, they are not going to be able to setup fancy dekes to get around you. The shooter most likely will be reduced to one or two dekes or a quick wrist shot. This is why you have the upper hand and not the other way around. The important thing to remember is to not bite on any of their dekes when they are more than one stick length away from you. If you bite on any dekes that are more than 1 stick length away you will not have enough time to recover and the shooter will go right around you. Be patient and know that the shooter is not 100% focused on you, they have your teammates breathing down their neck. Not being fully focused will cause them to make poor choices and that puts you in the driver seat.

Penalty Shot / Shootout
A penalty shot occurs when a shooter is interfered with during a pressure situation breakaway. A shootout typically happens after an overtime period where no team finds a way to score. They might seem different, but essentially are the same type of breakaway where the shooter has zero pressure. At first you might be thinking that in a zero pressure breakaway that the shooter has the upper hand. This is not the case.

It is true that because of the lack of pressure the shooter has more time to plan his attack and more time to perform fancy dekes. However, it still comes down to the battle at the top of the crease. Let the shooter deke the puck back and forth a hundred times, who cares. Be solid as a mountain and don’t fall for the shooter’s trick.

How to Approach a Breakaway
As the shooter is approaching you match your backward speed to their forward speed as best as you can. If your skating skills aren’t that great or the shooter is moving too fast for you to match, only come out to the top of the crease. Otherwise, come out a few feet further than the top of the crease and start to retreat after the shooter crosses the blue line. As you are skating back do not fall for any fancy stick work. If the shooter’s blade is perpendicular to the goal line they are dekeing and cannot shoot from that position.

Be mindful of where you are in relation to your crease and the goal line. Once you get back into your crease, that is the time to make a decision. The shooter should be about a stick length away and about to make their final move. You have to decide which side the shooter is going and explode to that side. Will there be times when the shooter is skillful enough to adjust in that split second and score to the other side? Yes. However, the majority of the time the space between you and the shooter is so small that they cannot adjust. Exploding to one side is also known as the “Y” Theory because when the goalie backs up they have two options to move and it looks like a upside down letter “Y”. The goalie can make a save that angles to the left or angles to the right.

Alternatively you can try to poke check the puck instead of exploding to one side. This is a very effective technique but should only be used when you are absolutely sure you will succeed. If you miss, you will be left out to dry above the crease and the puck will be in the net.

Or you could always try this approach by Dominik Hasek 🙂

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