The Most Challenging Position In Ice Hockey

Most Challenging Position To Play In Hockey: NHL Goalies

When people talk about ice hockey players, there is usually a lot to say about the forwards and defense, but not many people credit ice hockey goalies. Even though each of these positions is vital, the position of a goalie is usually undermined on many occasions. 

Whether playing in a professional, amateur, or junior level, the goalie position in ice hockey is the most difficult. While discussing the roles of goalies in ice hockey, some individuals have a simplistic perspective since they think a goalie’s only responsibility is to guard the net.

Although that is their main responsibility, it requires more effort than the forward and defensemen’s jobs entail.

What Makes The Position Of The Goalies So Challenging?

What makes the goalie's position so challenging

In every NHL game, the majority of the burden rests on the ability of the goaltender to perform excellently. No matter how talented a team’s forwards or defensemen are, if its goalie is below average, failure is all but guaranteed.

Why is that so?

While having only one primary responsibility, goalies require mastery of specific sets of skills to keep a team’s hopes alive. Here are some of the abilities and factors that make becoming an ice hockey goaltender the most difficult job.

1. Goalies Need An Unwavering And Focused Mindset

Goalies Need Unwavering And Focused Mindset

The goalie is the only player in ice hockey who is prohibited from getting distracted during a match. A slot in the NHL playoff or Stanley Cup game could be lost due to brief moments of spacing off by a goaltender.

Goalies always need to have a focused mindset on the game. They must be clear-headed and not temperamental or bickering during matches. Opposing players will try and get to the heads of goalies, but they must be able to keep thinking straight. 

Furthermore, goalies must overcome the intense pressure and expectation from fans during games. Even though they are playing a Stanley final and are being booed by fans or are playing in overtime, where a goal is needed to end the match, they must be able to shun all that doubt or urgency and focus on performing their role perfectly.

2. Quick & Sharp Ice Hockey IQ

Even though having a focused mind is great, goaltenders must also be able to reason and comprehend the game quickly. They must, however, complete this task in only milliseconds due to the speed of ice hockey.

Also, just having quick reactions does not make a goaltender good. This is due to the fact that the puck can occasionally move at rates that make it practically difficult to stop it with hands alone.

In instances like this, a goalie must be able to calculate and place himself at a measured distance that will allow him to block shots from all angles.

Goalies should also be able to read the range of the shot as well as how their opponent passes and makes shots. This gives them a split-second head start to prepare for a direct goal or an assist from a player nearby.

Fast thinking and a high Intellect in ice hockey are needed for all of this.

3. Physical Demands Of Goalies

Physical Demands Of Goalies

Goalies play fewer games than actual players because of the high physical demands they must endure. Although not moving around the rink as frequently as skaters do, goalies play a more physically demanding job.


Only goalies with exceptional skill are reportedly allowed to play 65 games out of the 82 total games in a season. When compared to skaters, the NHL is known for having players play all 82 games in a regular season.

When it comes to rules like waivers, restricted and unrestricted free agents, and other rules that depend on the quantity of games, goalies typically are given less playing time to qualify.

Moreover, when it comes to the dress-up of players in ice hockey, goalies are known to wear bulky body armor. Unlike goalies, skaters’ body armor was designed to protect while not impairing movement. The sole function of goalies’ equipment was to stop the puck. Therefore, it is often big and causes difficulty in movement.

Other physical requirements for moving forward include

  • Stamina
    They must be able to take up a position and hold it for an extended period of time to stop the puck.
  • Reflex
    To easily stop oncoming pucks, goalies need rapid hand-eye coordination. Goalies must be physically capable of doing this, as it is an essential quality. With a slow reaction time, goalies become more susceptible to goals and quick passing done in succession.
  • Flexibility
    In order to quickly pivot and shift, goalies need to be able to extend fully and have flexible joints. 

4. Designated Development Level

During NHL drafts, the least drafted position is that of goalies. The draft situation for goalies in the NHL is so bad that goalies are mostly never drafted, while those who get drafted do not always make it to the NHL

This is because, unlike positions like defense and forwards, goalies are considered more valuable the older they get. However, only a handful of goalies ever get signed to the NHL from draft picks. 

It is this way because the experience level of players from junior or collegiate leagues is not considered to be up to par with leagues like the NHL

In order to gain sufficient experience in the actual duties of their job, newly selected goalies are frequently assigned to a minor, affiliate, or European league. They can enter the NHL after having gained experience in these leagues.

Even with their experience from other leagues, goaltenders must get better as they get more accustomed to the league. Due to this, NHL goalies are 27 years old on average.

5. Consistent Performance Level

When forwards or defensemen have bad game days, are not in the zone, or lose their touch, they always have a partner or partners that can carry the game. 

If a defenseman is not playing well, he has another defenseman and centerman to carry him. The same goes for forwards.

However, if the goalie is not playing well, it is evident that even the defensemen can’t do much in such a game. There is only so much protection a defenseman can give with a stick compared to a goalie’s ability when it comes to guarding the net.

Top Goalies Currently In The NHL

The table below shows some of the high-ranking goaltenders in the NHL. They are among the best goalies because of having incredible stats that have shown the impact of their presence on their team.

Note: They are not arranged in any particular order

Igor ShesterkinNew York Rangers
Ilya SorokinNew York Islanders
Jake OettingerDallas Stars
Alexandar GeorgievColorado Alavanche
Linus UllmarkBoston Bruins
Connor HellebuyckWinnipeg Jets
Jeremy SwaymanBoston Bruins


The position of a goalie is both physically and mentally tasking. This is why not just anybody can take up the position and also why it is the most challenging position in ice hockey. 

Thanks for reading. 

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