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Eli Wilson and Brian van Vliet. Photo Courtesy David Hutchison, InGoal Magazine
There is no more technical position in hockey than that of the goaltender. From the specifics of the equipment, to the size of the net and the trapezoid, to the movements in goal, it's one of the most unique jobs in all of sports. Explaining all those factors in written form was a challenge for long-time goalie coach Eli Wilson and his writing partner Brian van Vliet
The result of their collaboration is Hockey Goaltending: The Definitive Guide to Elite Goaltending, from Human Kinetics, released in early 2018.
The publisher, which specializes in books that help people lead healthier, more active lives, approached Wilson about three years about writing something. His resume is top-notch, having worked with dozens of NHL goaltenders, including Carey Price, Tuuka Rask, James Reimer, Cory Schneider, Ray Emery and Devan Dubnyk; Wilson's camps have produced more than 50 NHL draft picks, over 60 Division I or Canadian university goaltenders, and more than 200 players drafted by Major Junior teams.
Wilson thought about it for a year, formulating a plan of sorts, knowing that he didn't necessarily have the skill set to explain everything in writing the way he could on the ice.
His chosen writer, Brian van Vliet, was someone he had known for almost two decades.
“I was fortunate to have a son that was a goaltender who worked under Eli’s tutelage for 15 seasons. I am also proud to say that Eli and I are very close friends,” said van Vliet, who was a competitive bodybuilder years ago, and wrote for Hockey Now magazine. He has also worked in the oil and gas industry and is a real estate agent in Calgary.
They spent about a year working on the book, with van Vliet attending most of Wilson's goaltending camps during the summer of 2016.
“The goal when writing this book was for me to talk about goaltending utilizing my knowledge of the position and have someone put those thoughts into writing,” said Wilson. “I spent hours with Brian talking about the position and his job was to translate my ideas into a logical, easy to comprehend manner for the book. I have the ability to simplify teaching strategies when working with goaltenders. I approached writing this book the same way, which in turn made it easier for Brian to do his job.
To van Vliet, describing Wilson's lessons had some challenges, but they persevered. “Throughout the writing process, I was always amazed at Eli’s innate ability to take what appeared to be the most difficult of concepts and simplify them,” said van Vliet. “Eli has incredible command over everything that takes place on the ice. His shooters and goaltenders know exactly what is expected of them when doing a session. Eli’s confidence, knowledge of the position and his ability to teach are second to none.”
Chapters include: Selecting and Fitting Gear; Stance and Movement; Save Execution; Postsave Recovery; Puck Handling; Tactics; Off-Ice Training; The Mental Game; and Mentoring the Complete Goaltender. A separate index on finding drills within the chapters will be useful to coaches especially.
The foreword is from Hockey Night In Canada broadcaster Kelly Hrudey, and guest authors help out early in the book: Sonya DiBiase on equipment, Pete Fry on mindset, and Maria Mountain on off-ice training. The guests, too, have a connection. “All the guest authors have been hands on involved in my goaltending camps at one time or another,” said Wilson. Likewise, since Wilson knew Carey Price, he was able to obtain permission for the Canadiens goalkeeper to appear on the cover of the book.
van Vliet shared how the individual pieces came together. “We approached each chapter of the book like an individual project. For instance, when writing the chapter on puck handling, I would attend all sessions in Eli’s camp that pertained to that skill. Often, I would come down to ice level and watch the drills and listen to the instructions that Eli was giving the goaltenders. At the end of the camp day, Eli and I would go back to the hotel and revisit everything that had been taught throughout the day. Many times we found ourselves up until one in the morning. Eli would demonstrate techniques in the hotel room using furniture as goalposts and nets. I always carried a tape recorder and would record hours of conversation. I would spend the next day filtering through all of my notes and recordings and begin to design the chapter.”
Back at home, van Vliet would go through the details and following up later with Wilson on the phone, fleshing out the chapter. Often van Vliet would drive from his home in Calgary to Abbottsford, BC, to hang out with Wilson and keep progressing on the book, until a chapter was done. “Once the chapter contained all the pertinent information, I would forward it on to the editing team at Human Kinetics,” said van Vliet. A couple of weeks later, edits and questions would come back, generally followed by a conference call between all parties. Usually, the goaltending experts won out, though it took some convincing at times.
“It was always interesting to see how folks who were not goaltending experts would perceive what we had written,” said van Vliet. “We would reflect on the editor’s comments and continue to make the chapter more concise and easy to understand for the readers.”
Complimenting the text are graphics and photos. An image of a half-rink, for example, can show multiple shooters, illustrating what each shooter should do, as well as what the goalie is to do. The team at Human Kinetics actually creating the final graphic, but it was all Wilson and van Vliet putting it together.
For the photos, the authors made a list of what they needed, and where it should go. “When all was said and done, we had a list of 100 plus photos for the book,” recalled van Vliet. “We set up a one-day on/off ice session in Kelowna, BC, with a professional sports photographer and shot all of the photos. The session took 11 hours to complete.”
Certainly, Hockey Goaltending is a different kind of book than has been featured in this column in the past. It is well-written and accessible, but it's not exactly aimed at your average hockey fan, beer in hand, watching the game on Saturday night.
“This book is targeted for goaltenders, parents of goaltenders and goaltender coaches. Some head coaches may have some interest in brushing up on the latest goaltending techniques but that is the exception not the rule,” said Wilson. “The reader needs to have some general understanding of the game. We don’t describe what a power play is or an odd man rush. It is a complete guide to goaltending taught in a progressive manner. The book has already been purchased by parents of beginners all the way up to NHL goalie coaches and goaltenders.”
During his two decade run working with goalies, Wilson has seen the position – and the game – change. This is not the same book on goaltending that would have been written in 1998.
“No position in sports evolves as quickly as that of the goaltender in hockey. A book written about the position 15 years ago may have the same general layout however the techniques and methodologies used by goaltenders today would be completely different than in the past,” said Wilson. “Our book touches on everything pertaining to the position. How to select and integrate pieces of equipment with one another, mental preparation (game, season, career), extensive off-ice training including in-season and off-season training schedules. Our final chapter is unique as it discusses building relationships between goaltenders, goaltending coaches and head coaches.”
Having seen Wilson work with his own goalkeeper son, and now, having toiled on a thorough, interesting book with him, van Vliet has a good perspective on why Wilson is in demand. “When coaching, Eli is a no nonsense guy.” Getting to sit-in on many camps, van Vliet came away impressed. “In terms of surprises, I would have to say the marked improvement I saw in his goaltenders from the start of a camp to the end. He is unequivocally the best of the best.”
WILLIE MARSHALL UPDATE
A couple of readers emailed me about the status of Willie Marshall's autobiography. The all-time leading scorer in the AHL said that it's all complete. “We're looking around, hoping that some publisher might look on it favourably,” said Marshall. “We're looking for a publisher and somebody will like it, somebody out there.”
He hopes that his journey is the appeal, not just his hockey exploits. “It's not the person, it's the story.”
So, we'll just have to keep waiting.
- Ken Reid said that Hockey Card Stories 2 is on track for release in the fall of 2018 via ECW Press, but he's still waiting on the “Greatest” of interviews, and it's just a matter of matching their schedules for the final interview for the book.
- Dan Robson, who teamed with Clint Malarchuk, Doug Gilmour, and baseball's Buck Martinez on books, and wrote the awesomely detailed Quinn: The Life of a Hockey Legend posthumously on Pat Quinn, has a book on Johnny Bower in the works.
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