Depth is the most difficult of the 3 Positional Elements. The adjustment of depth whether outwards or backwards is dependant on information gathered from surrounding defensive support and attackers. Adjustments of depth and the other two positional elements of angle and body position derive the goaltender’s optimal position. In order to gather this information a goaltender must have great visual habits, especially ice awareness. These visual checks are split second head rotations and must occur while the puck is in the “quiet” zones in their own end. This includes the perimeter, off the rush and behind the net activity.
Once the location of the puck and potential attackers are determined appropriate decisions can be made regarding depth. There are several items the goalie must consider to determine their depth selection:
1. Weak-side, offensive support
2. Defensive support
3. Body language
Let’s look at offensive support first. This is whether or not the offensive attacker has options to make a pass. If they have an option to pass to the weak side (meaning the side away from the puck), then the goaltender must reduce their depth to stay behind the potential receiving players stick. This is known as “building momentum”, when a goaltender drifts back as the threat backdoor gets closer. If the offensive attacker has no weak side option to pass, then the goaltender can hold their depth or gain depth. Secondly, defensive support plays a more dominant play-anticipation role and is easily identified by the aware goalie because much of it is in the field of vision.
For reference lets look at two situations that each show a 2-on-1 attack. In the first case, you can see that the defensive position is skewed towards the puck carrier. In the first case, the goalie can anticipate that the puck carrier will move the puck laterally to the open weak-side player. The goaltender can then give up some depth in order to combat the lateral feed. In the second case the positioning is skewed towards the weak side so conversely, the defender’s positioning suggests that the puck carrier will make the play. These reads allow the goalie to hold ground for the shot.
Another classic D-support example is an outside drive in which the defender gains position. The attacker, with no weak-side support, has one option – to shoot. This read allows a goalie to optimize position (i.e. add depth to solidify an already strong position).
Four common scenarios will help a goalie read a player’s intentions. The first and most likely is the reduction of speed. For example, an attacker driving down the wing may stop striding. This allows the defender to strengthen position. This means that the puck carrier is committed to shoot or is waiting for support to catch up for a pass. In either event, the loss of momentum can provide key information regarding this player’s choice.
Another common item to check is the attacker’s eyes and survey of the ice. Many puck carriers get tunnel vision on the net. This is similar, but in reverse, to a goalie that gets tunnel vision on the puck. In both cases, due to a lack of awareness, the weak-side is an unknown and, therefore, not factored into the decision-making process.
The third sign of commitment is the puck position relative to the body. A puck position in front of the attacker suggests continued stickhandling. A puck position, which is moved from the front of the player to the side, suggests preparation for a shot.
A final item to look for is the path of the puck carrier. Players driving up ice may adjust their path wider, for example. This means that the player is buying time for teammates to catch up or to improve a passing lane to a teammate. Again, this is useful information for anticipatory purposes. In closing, depth and awareness is dependant on each other.
Offensive and defensive support as well as the body language of the puck carrier will determine the depth of a goaltender. The goaltender can strengthen their position by adding or subtracting depth from their initial position preparing themselves for different types of attacks that occur during a game. These depth adjustments would not be possible without ice awareness.