Justin Goldman is a Regional Goalie Scout & Mentor for the USA's National Team Development Program and frequently contributes to NHL.com's fantasy section.
This Texas native is also the founder of The Goalie Guild, one of the most popular and well-recognized goalie websites in the world. His new book called 'The Power Within' provides great insight into the mental preparation for goalies of all ages and skill levels. Justin (@TheGoalieGuild on Twitter) was kind enough to spend time with us and provide his typically in-depth thoughts about hockey goaltending, Medvescak's two goaltenders and much more.
Ok, firstly, as a major fan of goaltending and your site, I've got to ask - how did the idea for The Goalie Guild first start? Was it primarily educating people about the position or was it something else?
'I have been a student of goaltending since I was 12 years old. Growing up in Texas in the 1990's, I was forced to teach myself how to skate and play the position. I learned most of what I know by intensely watching NHL goalies on a nightly basis. The Goalie Guild came about a few years after I graduated college when I was ready to start publishing all of my thoughts, observations, and scouting reports on goalies in one central location. I graduated with a degree in technical journalism and creative writing, so scouting and analyzing goalies from a technical and creative standpoint was the combination of my two biggest passions. The Goalie Guild has taken on many shapes and forms since I founded it in 2009, but it's basically a haven for me to publish and promote all of my goalie-related literature and projects.'
You've recently co-authored a book with Dallas Stars goalie coach Mike Valley called 'The Power Within' about elevating the mental aspect of one's game - how do you develop mental fortitude of young goaltenders?
'You develop a goalie's mental fortitude by increasing their awareness, and a goalie increases their awareness through sheer experience. I often use the phrase, "A young man's deeds becomes an old man's wisdom" when discussing the path a goalie must take to develop an elite mental game, because it simply takes time. The more you experience, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you know how to handle the different emotions that come with being a goalie under intense pressure. The book includes in-depth and personal interviews with a handful of elite NHL goalies that have gone through some tough times, which allows younger goalies to see that even the best goalies in the world had to learn through sheer experience.'
There are probably as many goalie routines and quirks as there are goaltenders. I've recently read about a guy in Finland who always put the puck at the opposite stall in the locker room and starred at it for one hour prior to game time. Medvescak's goalie, Barry Brust taps his pads prior to every face-off. What's the quirkiest thing you've seen during you scouting career?
'I've seen some really quirky things over the years. I remember one guy I played with in college had to eat a small bag of Planter's honey roasted peanuts exactly 10 minutes before a game started. If he ate them too early, his whole mood would change and he would usually struggle. I think today's goalies are less superstitious than goalies in past eras, but goalies are lying if they say they don't have at least one or two quirks!'
You've probably got a little black book on NHL, AHL and developing North American goalies, don't you? If so, do you have one on Barry Brust and/or Mark Dekanich? Could you analyze their game for our readers? Of the two, who's the better goaltender?
'My "black book" is extensive, but a lot of my time is now spent evaluating things beyond traditional scouting reports. I say this because goalies are constantly evolving on a daily basis, so filing a report on one goalie could quite possibly be totally obsolete a few months later. As a result, more of my time is spent learning about the way a goalie moves, thinks, and develops. I'm borderline obsessed with the biomechanics of goaltending because it allows me to visually assess a prospect better. I study how things like posture, body alignment, and muscle memory influence a goalie's ability to perform. Every goalie is unique in the way they move and react and develop physically, which is another reason why I spend more time learning about the complexities of body movement, and on the different methods that can help improve a goalie's efficiency, mobility, and overall development. It's easy to watch a prospect play one game and track things like rebound control and technique and scoring chances, but once you do that, a goalie scout must be able to dig deeper and understand how a goalie moves, why they move in certain ways, where potential inefficiencies lie, and how their unique traits impact the way they need to develop in order to improve. This is why I say that I'll always a student of the position, because every day I watch a new goalie, it presents an opportunity to learn something new about the way a goalie moves.'
'I'm a big fan of Brust because he's very confident and creative in the way he plays. He doesn't fall into one particular mold or type of goalie. He surprises shooters because he's unpredictable. He's also quite adaptable to many different situations, which fans probably noticed when he first came over to the KHL from the AHL. Brust has seen a little bit of everything in his career, so I think he has a lot of confidence in the way he plays, even though it may not be the most efficient or technically sound. His game does have some areas that need improvement, as he can be over-aggressive at times, but his ability to compete and out-work opponents overshadows some of his flaws.'
'I would say Dekanich has a bit more structure to his game, but injuries have really limited his potential. It was unfortunate to see the injuries mount when he was with the Blue Jackets and Jets organizations, because he worked so hard to get an opportunity to prove himself as an NHL backup. Nevertheless, I describe Dekanich as a positionally-sound goalie with a lot of structure to his game. He relies on good fundamentals and angle play to stay square to shots. I think he is good laterally but is limited in some degree due to prior injuries. He is controlled and utilizes his frame well, but I don't have a lot on him since he was so often injured over the past few seasons here in North America.'
In the KHL, both of Medvescak's goalies have to adjust to transitioning from a smaller, North American sized home rink in Zagreb to bigger ice surfaces in Russia. In your experience, what are the most important adjustments a goalie has to make?
'I wrap everything up into one term I call Spatial Awareness. This basically refers to a goalie's ability to know exactly where he is in the crease in relation to where the puck is on the ice. A bigger ice surface alters everything from positioning to angle play, to how you manage your depth in the crease. Because a bigger ice surface alters all of those things, it also alters a goalie's timing and therefore their decision making. It doesn't take long for an elite goalie like Dekanich or Brust to make those adjustments, but it is still an adjustment. But the most important thing for them is to get comfortable with the different angles in practice. They probably realized they had to be more patient on their skates when plays developed outside of the faceoff dots. More aggressive goalies need to be a bit more conservative, and goalies that play deep may need to adjust their angles and hands a slight bit in order to stay patient and not commit too early.'
How big of an impact can a good puck handling goaltender have on the team's transition game?
'A good puck-moving goalie is paramount at the NHL level. Not only can he improve the transition game, it can alter the flow and pace of a game. So a goalie that knows how and more importantly when to move the puck has an advantage when it comes to managing the game. Goalies that have better management have a bigger influence on different aspects of possession and therefore the entire outcome. It becomes more important at the higher levels to be able to cut off dump-ins, make good outlet passes, try to catch teams on a line change, or make little plays behind the net to keep possession of the puck.'
Speaking of playing the puck, NHL goalies have been somewhat limited by the trapezoid. How different was Sochi in that regard, did you notice goaltenders helping transition all that much?
'I honestly didn't notice much difference because a lot of the goalies that played in the Olympics were not overly-aggressive playing the puck. Mike Smith is one of the best in the world, but he didn't play. Carey Price is excellent moving the puck, and he was solid throughout the Olympics, but he wasn't any more aggressive than usual. Jonathan Quick actually struggles managing the puck in the trapezoid, and I thought he had a few bad turnovers in the Olympics, so the lack of a trapezoid didn't really help him move the puck any better. So I would say that, aside from a few isolated plays, Sochi didn't really change things in my opinion.'
Let's talk a little bit more about the Olympics, were you surprised at how strong Latvian goaltending was?
'Totally surprised. Edgars Masalskis deserves all the credit in the world. What a battler! He plays an "old school" style that is not considered progressive, but he was still effective. You could tell he battled through exhaustion near the end of a few games, but his will to compete and his ability to make big saves at big times was outstanding. Kristers Gudlevskis is someone I knew had a lot of raw talent. I spoke many times with his goalie coach Dave Alexander leading up to the Olympics, and had a chance to evaluate some video. But to see his performance against Canada was stunning. It was one of the best goaltending performances I had seen in the Olympics since Dominik Hasek.'
Could you rate Carey Price's goaltending performance during the Olympics – how much of it was down to the stellar defense in front of him?
'A+ for Carey Price. Considering the amount of pressure he was under, and considering he played behind a dominant team that forced him to be very focused and ready for key saves at key times, he was outstanding. He is so controlled and efficient with his movements, and he never loses his composure. You couldn't ask for a better goalie to play in that situation. I jokingly said on Twitter that I think he's genetically predisposed to play in those type of big games. He is reaching his prime at the right time and it was great to see him have that success for Canada.'
Give us your opinion on the best goaltender in the world right now – who is it and why?
'I do believe that Carey Price is the best goalie in the world right now, for the same reasons I explained above!'
What's with Finland lately? I know they have been producing goaltending talent since Upi Ylönen but the explosion of elite Finnish netminders from Miikka Kiprusoff to Tuukka Rask has been amazing of late, don't you think?
'Yes, it's amazing. Finland's success stems from their systematic approach to developing goalies at young ages in an effective and appropriate manner. They focus on skating and catching pucks more than in other countries, which lends a hand to their success at the higher levels. There have even been some amazing articles written about the mental and emotional disposition of Finnish athletes, and how that makes them more effective goalies. That is more advanced stuff, but Finland is truly the goalie capital of the world right now, and will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future.'
As a goalie scout, how much time do you study other, European goaltending schools and styles they employ? For instance, Finnish goaltending coaches put a little more of emphasis on catching and trapping the puck, negating second chance opportunities as evident in Pekka Rinne's game. Is skating the biggest difference between North America and Finland compared to the rest of the world? What have you learned outside North America?
'I spend a lot of time comparing and contrasting styles all over the world. It is important to note and understand and evaluate these differences. I am actually planning my first trip to Finland this summer to study how goalie train and develop in Finland. Much of what I learn will be part of the next book I am writing this summer. Again, the more you learn about different methodologies, the better you can predict and project what kind of upside a prospect might have. Finland has a very solid and systematic structure to developing youth goaltenders, which leads to better athletes at the junior and minor league levels. They have much better coaching and the coaching is streamlined. The goalie coaches that work with pro-level goalies in Finland also work with young amateur goalies, so the methodology they teach is consistent across the country and through all levels. They stress athleticism and instincts first, then technique and advanced tactics a little later. These are just a few of the major differences between Finnish development and development in North America.'
Despite the new regulations for goalie equipment it seems like scoring in the NHL hasn't risen all that much – how do you explain this?
'Simply put, goalies must be amazing athletes. When you slightly reduce the gear, it actually plays a hand to them having better mobility and agility. Smaller gear also makes goalies a little bit lighter, so they can be more explosive moving laterally. Those are probably a few reasons why scoring hasn't risen like the league expected.'
Some of our readers in Croatia are just now beginning to pay more attention to goaltending, what should they be watching first when analyzing a goaltender's game? What do you pay more attention first when scouting?
'If you are a fan of hockey and want to get better at analyzing goalies, the main thing to watch for is body control. There are many different ways to stop the puck, but it is extremely important for a goalie to make saves in a controlled and efficient manner. If they lack control, they will give up bad rebounds and be out of position on second or third chances. Most goals are scored close to the net when a goalie is caught moving laterally, or when they are screened. So look for that body control, and how they move in a controlled manner when sliding on their pads or moving out to challenge a shooter!'
In the end, do you have a message for young Croatian goaltenders, something starting with: 'If you're crazy enough to step in front of speedy vulcanized rubber then...'?
'No matter who you are or where you are from, a goalie plays at their best when they are having fun. Goaltending is a form of dance, so you have to love being yourself in order to truly excel. Love yourself, love the game, and love putting on the pads. If you have that passion, success will find you. Other than that, my biggest piece of advice for young goalies is to do one thing: Focus on the puck. Track the puck like a hawk, and you will make great saves. Don't worry about looking perfect or having the best technique because that takes years and years of practice. Just follow the puck with your eyes everywhere it goes, and you will learn the rest as time goes on! Trust your instincts and have fun!! If you do something wrong in the crease or give up a goal at the wrong time, it does not mean there is something wrong with you! Every goalie, even the best in the world, make mistakes. Do not be afraid to fail, do not be afraid to be creative, and don't be afraid to try!'