If nothing dictates a hockey game more than the play of a goaltender, then it’s no wonder the USHL’s level of play is sky high.
“Goalies are like a rising tide,” says Doug Christiansen, USHL director of player development and recruitment. “It forces everybody to increase their game. The rising tide pushes the entire league up. Good goalies force good hockey, which forces good players to play better in key situations.”
BY THE NUMBERS
The numbers tell us that if you’re a goalie in the USHL, you’re one of the best goalies in the country, and possibly one of the best goaltenders in the world at your age.
Because it’s such a hyper-competitive position, and because it’s arguably the most important position in sports, USHL goalies increase the value of the entire league.
“If the players are forced and pushed to be scoring on goalies that are NHL draft picks and Division I commits, they become better shooters. They get tested,” Christiansen says. “It forces players on a daily basis, whether it’s a shooting drill in practice or it’s the Clark Cup Playoffs, you’re always testing yourself against the best.”
And the same can be said about goalies facing premium talent. More than 95 percent of USHL players will have the opportunity to play Division I college hockey, and no other league in the world had more NHL draft picks in 2015.
“That collection of talent forces our goalies to be better on a daily basis,” Christiansen added. “There are no nights off in our league. There are no games where the goalie walks in and knows they’re going to win. Every single night is close.”
WHERE “BACKUPS” ARE HIGHLY SOUGHT AFTER
In the USHL, every team’s “backup” goalie is also going to play Division I college hockey. Every team’s “backup” goalie is one of the best goalies in the country. Just look at the two Hobey Baker finalists, Demko and Lyon. The two were teammates at Omaha during the 2011-12 season. Demko served as backup until Lyon left for Yale. Then Demko starred for a year with Team USA.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a starter or a backup – you’re in an elite class in and of itself,” Christiansen says. “That means the starters have to stay sharp, because they know, if the other guy gets in the net, you might not get out of it.”
THE BEST COACHING AND TRAINING
Every team in the USHL has a goalie coach on staff or a goalie consultant working regularly with the goaltenders. This past season, Fargo graduated its goaltending coach to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL.
The coaches use video to break down goals allowed, saves made, touches, reads, rebounds, positioning and everything in between.
“That video analysis is helpful,” Christiansen added. “The work that you have before and after practice is helpful. Obviously that translates to things that you’re doing off the ice – increasing your flexibility, improving your core and leg strength. All of those things are taken into consideration in the fact that you have people there whose job is to make you better.”
THE RIGHT PATH AT THE RIGHT PACE
The most important thing for developing goalies? Put yourself in situations where you’re ready to have success.
“As a player, you might be able to go through some slumps. You might be able to go through some times where you’re learning your craft on the job,” Christiansen said. “But as a goalie, because it’s so important, when you step into that moment – whether it’s your first USHL, college or pro game – you need to be ready physically and mentally. The USHL provides the path for you to be as ready as you can possibly be every step of the way.
“And if you are ready ahead of schedule, it also provides you the opportunity to go succeed whenever you are ready.”
USHL goaltenders have the option to further their career in college and attract NHL free agent deals. This is especially important for goaltenders, as their development curve is usually later than forwards and defensemen.
DON’T BE DISCOURAGED
With only 17 teams in the USHL, there is only room for 34 goalies. But do not be discouraged if the USHL isn’t an immediate option. At the Division I level, there are 60 schools, which equates to 180 goalies (each program carries three).
“We can’t fill them all,” Christiansen adds. “We might build the best goalies, but we can’t fill them all, and so there are lots of paths and opportunities for goalies. And maybe that path to our league is through the NAHL or through Midgets or through high school or through the BCHL, and then they come to the USHL a year later.
“If you’re able to play goalie in our league, it’s an indication of where you stand in the marketplace. But that doesn’t mean that your path is over if you can’t get here right away.”
For more information on USHL player development, click HERE.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.