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Stopping the Low One

August 17, 2011 Goalies No Comments

Stopping the low one
By Mitch Korn
Oct 30, 2001, 07:18


There is always a lot of debate about the best way to stop the puck down low. Should it be a skate save or a half-butterfly? In my view, there is no single right answer. A lot depends on the circumstances and the individual strengths of the goalie. And while the goal stick should always be involved no matter which choice you make, both approaches are valid.


The basics

The skate save (also known as the 1/2-Split) requires precision. Turning a 12-inch blade must be timed perfectly in order to stop a 3.5-inch puck. Skate saves open up “holes,” but when they are done properly they can reduce or eliminate rebounds.

The half-butterfly covers much more space than the skate save, and thus requires less precision. The math is simple: a 30-inch goal pad that is 12 inches wide covers 360 square inches of net! On the down side, however, this save can give bad rebounds and often opens up the top portion of the net.

Do not confuse the half-butterfly with a full-butterfly. Most goalies simply cannot do a full-butterfly, a maneuver that requires a tremendous, almost inhuman, amount of flexibility. Those who try probably can get a 50% leg extension to each side. But a half-butterfly gets a 100% extension to one side—the puck side.

When to use each save

Generally, the higher the level of hockey that you play in, the fewer skate saves you will make. The pure speed of the game—and increased goal-mouth congestion—makes it less likely that you can physically complete the maneuver in time for it to be effective. The skate save is most effective when you use it “situationally”—in other words, when the odds are in your favor.

For example, the skate save is a good choice on clear shots from the high slot, or around the tops of the circles, without a screen or risk of a deflection. In these cases, the goalie has time to be precise with the skate, and can risk opening holes.

Conversely, here are some situations in which you should not use skate saves:

 on breakaways, or around-the-net dekes;

 on quick shots around the net;

 on backdoor passes;

 on screens, or when there is a risk of deflection;

 on rebounds.

The half-butterfly is often the most versatile choice in situations, like those above, in which you do not want to use a skate save. It allows you to fill the space and close holes. Again, it can be done moving laterally into deflections; moving forward while cutting down an angle; moving backward while playing a breakaway, or moving diagonally on a backdoor play.

How to make…

Skate saves:

 drop to knee. All weight should be on the knee, with the leg directly under the body;

 sit up, and keep gloves up;

 explode your save foot on outside edge, angled to the corner;

 keep the stick down, and lead with it;

 keep the skate blade on the ice—do not “sink” your heel;

 your gloves should never touch the ice;

 recover with the leg that makes the save.

There are some common problems resulting from trying to use the skate save. Sometimes the goalie spins, and ends up no longer facing the shot. Sometimes the knee/leg which bears the goalie’s weight is not directly under the body, and the goalie falls on his butt. Still other times the goalie does not sit up, but rather sits back—sitting on the skate blade—or falls forward, and the goalie gloves touch the ice. Finally, the goalie often does not “lean into” the save, or—if the puck is on the stick side—the goalie rolls the shoulder and stick out of the play.

Most important, however, is the first decision the goalie makes—the save selection. Remember, on a quick slot shot or on a deflection or screen, a pad save is more appropriate.

Half-butterfly saves:

 drop to knee. Extend other leg by “getting off the skate blade” on the inside edge, and explode;

 keep gloves up in from of the body. Sit up. Gloves should never touch the ice;

 limit the size of the 5-hole;

 keep the stick down between your legs. Lead with it when possible to deflect rebound to corner;

 keep knee tight to the ice on the save leg;

 recover with the leg that made the save. Turn and attack the rebound.

Common problems resulting from the half-butterfly include; the goalie recovering with the wrong leg; the goalie not getting the knee flush to the ice; not getting enough leg extension, and not keeping the pad facing the shot.

Also, a “flat” half-butterfly—with no push into the shot—often lets the puck go “around” you into the net. A “soft” half-butterfly lets the puck go between the pad and the ice into the net. And an “early” half-butterfly gives the shooter time to adjust and shoot upstairs. These three problems can be offset if you are aggressive, strong and patient.

While the situation dictates the save selection, in the upper levels of hockey there are more screens, more deflections, more snipers and less chance to be precise. That means one day—if you’re lucky enough to move up in the game—your skate save will largely become obsolete.

So, goalies, master that half-butterfly!


Mitch Korn is the goaltender coach for the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL. In addition, he is an administrator at Miami University (Ohio) and directs the 8-week Summer Hockey School. Miami has Division I ice hockey in the CCHA.

This first appeared in the 07/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2001 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

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