Part One – The Phantom Stick Phenomenon

“Why is my stick not in position?”

Every day I am on the ice training goalies and one message that is consistently reinforced is stick positioning. With 70-90% percent of goals going in low in the NHL, having a strong stick position is crucial for success in the net. During my goalie sessions at Goalie U or in Goalie Review you will often here me referring to the “Phantom Stick”. This is when a goalie believes their stick is covering the 5 hole but in effect it is out of position leaving the area between the goalies legs wide open for a shooter to score. In part one of this three part article I will explain how having the wrong stick size can lead to having a “Phantom Stick”.


During my weekly training sessions I regularly see goalies jumping on the ice with goalie stick that are either too big or too small. In my opinion having the proper stick size is just as important as the proper pad length. As you all know you would never send an atom or peewee goalie out with size 36 inch pads. Then why is it that so many young goalies show up with sticks meant for someone who is 6’1 or taller? When a goalie uses an improperly sized stick they are setting themselves up for failure. The position is hard enough as it is why make our lives any harder?


In my opinion having a shorter stick is not as detrimental as a stick that is too big. However, a short stick can lead to many balance issues. When the paddle is too low the goalie must either bend their knees more or hunch their back in order to get the stick in the proper position (1.5 feet away from the skates). Bending the knees too much can result in fatigue and lowers the body which decreases net coverage. Most goalies who use a small stick cannot withstand the pressure on the knees so they relax resulting in an uncovered 5 hole.

Even worse is when a goalie must hunch over to keep the stick in position. This forces the shoulders to tilt above the skates leading to an unbalanced goalie. This also creates a sharp back bend which decreases the net coverage and makes it very difficult to make high saves as all the body momentum and balance is facing the ice. Because the shoulders are facing forward and the back is bent the elbows end up closer to the knees. This creates a very long distance to react in order to make a save to the top corner.


I often encounter amateur coaches ( you know who you are) who realise that their goalies are letting in many goals in the 5 hole. As a result, they tell their goalie or parents to go purchase a bigger stick with the assumption that it will cover the 5 hole. What these coaches are not realising is that their recommendation is causing greater damage then good. I often make the analogy that a bigger stick is like a crutch. If you give a crutch to someone who doesn’t need it, they will nonetheless become dependent of that aid. The same is true with goalie sticks. A goalie who uses a stick that is too big becomes dependent of the crutch. The bigger stick does cover the 5 hole more easily but it does also come with consequences seen on the scoreboard.

First, because the stick is bigger, smaller goalies don’t need to bend their knees as much to keep the stick in the 5 hole. As a result you see goalies that appear to be in their stance but lack the proper knee flex to be mobile and explosive. This means the goalie will have a harder time tracking the puck and moving throughout the crease. This also results in slower slides as power comes from bending the knees and then pushing explosively.

If a goalie is using a bigger stick and properly bends their knees it still creates issues because this opens a long gap between the pads and the stick. A shooter can easily stick handle around the stick and shot in the open 5 hole. The goalie thinks their stick ( Phantom stick) is in position but in reality there is still a lot of room between the legs.

Another issue with the bigger stick is when a goalie is sliding with a long paddle it takes longer for the stick to arrive in the optimal 5 hole position. A longer paddle means a longer arc/range of motion to get the stick in position on any type of slide. If a young goalie is not strong enough to bring their stick over on lateral slides it will create more 5 hole goals.

With a majority of young goalies following the Hybrid/butterfly style we see many goalies dropping into their butterfly on a low 5 hole shot. In the proper butterfly the blocker hand should be between the upper thigh and lower hip covering any hole between the arm and the chest. If a goalie assumes the proper technical butterfly but their paddle is to big you will see that the majority of the blade is closer to the trapper pad as opposed to being even between both pads. This phenomenon creates more room under the blocker pad resulting in soft 5 hole goals.

In short the proper stick length is crucial to covering the 5 hole. Take your time in selecting the right stick that suits your style. Doing this will surely help improve your game!

Part 2 of this article discusses other stick inaccuracies that can result in weak 5 hole goals.

8 Responses to “Part One – The Phantom Stick Phenomenon”

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