My Greatest Goalie Coach
By Patrick Hoffman
I didn’t learn how to stop a breakaway as a goaltender from the usual suspects. Was it from a goalie coach? No. Was it from summer hockey camps? Nope. Did my dad give me advice on the position? No way.
I learned how to stop a breakaway from one of the best goaltenders ever to do so in the National Hockey League: Former New York Ranger, Mike Richter.
Back in the 1994-95 shortened NHL season, I was a Pee Wee “B” goaltender for the White Plains Plainsmen in White Plains, N.Y. For most of that season I had trouble stopping breakaways because I was either too aggressive, too deep in my net, or I wouldn’t get enough of the puck before it went in behind me.
Essentially, I was stuck; desperate for guidance from someone, somewhere.
That all changed on March 10, 1995.
That day, my father and I – he being the then-lawyer for former Rangers head coach and current NHL senior VP and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell – were going to be travelling with the Rangers to Montreal. The team was scheduled to take on the Canadiens the very next night at the great Montreal Forum.
When we got to Kennedy Airport, I introduced myself to the players. I mingled, as any hockey-obsessed child would, with Mark Messier, Adam Graves and Brian Leetch.
While that was all good and dandy, the real person I wanted to talk shop with was my hockey idol, Mike Richter. As such, I took a walk around the airport and was able to find him in a small magazine shop.
Star-crossed, I introduced myself to the lifelong Ranger and told him my problem when it came to stopping breakaways. I knew he was a nice guy, having met him before, so I was confident he would have some valuable tips, but what I didn’t know was what that he was going to explain it all for me.
Richter looked at a nearby shelf and grabbed two small 3 Musketeers bars, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and a Snickers. At first, I assumed he was being courteous and buying me some candy, but then he took to the ground and started setting up the chocolates.
In the middle of the shop, Richter used the two 3 Musketeers bars as the net, the peanut butter cup as the goaltender and the Snickers as the shooter. With each candy bar having assumed its respective role, Richter demonstrated what I needed to change. He told me that my best bet was to do everything possible to stay with the shooter and let him make the first move. He continued, showing me how to play the correct angle and not start backing into my crease until the shooter was the perfect distance away.
Since that day, I have been a changed man when faced with an opponent on the break.
After always coming up on the losing end in penalty shot situations prior to Richter’s lesson, I went 5-for-5 to close out the season. In later years, I continued to excel, winning breakaway competitions at the high school level and in men’s leagues.
Looking back, it’s safe to say I owe at least part of my ability as a goaltender to to the best teacher I ever had.
And, I suppose, the availability of chocolate.
On top of his work as the New York Rangers’ blogger for Kukla’s Korner, Patrick covers the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, the NHL Home Ice web site and Liam Maguire’s Ultimate Hockey Web Site.
Prior to writing for the above-mentioned outlets, Hoffman’s musings have been published on the Red Light District Hockey Blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Spector’s Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com, as well as a slew of others.