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Mike Richter: ‘Being A Goalie Is The Funnest Position In All Of Sports And The Most Challenging’

By Justin Felisko, 05/30/24, 11:45PM MDT


Inaugural USA Hockey National Goaltending Symposium bringing together top goalie minds and legends of the sport

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Mike Richter was sitting in the back corner of the event center at 317 on Rice Park in St. Paul on Thursday night and some of his favorite childhood memories of being a goalie started popping across his mind.

Richter was listening to Joe Bertagna, who this year received the NHL's Lester Patrick Trophy, present on the history of goalie coaching in the United States as a series of old school pictures and names flashed onto the presentation screens centerstage.

Bertagna, who was joined by fellow American goaltending legends Keith Allain and Robert “Cap" Raeder, was helping kick off the festivities of the inaugural USA Hockey National Goaltending Symposium, showcasing where the position was at roughly more than 50 years ago and the growth that has subsequently taken place.

“Just watching the pictures here brought back so many memories of how fundamentally enjoyable this sport is, and this position is,” Richter said after participating in a Q&A session with fellow U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Ryan Miller. “I played forward. I played D. But goaltending was so compelling because it is a challenge, and it does feel so good when you get it right. It is a never-ending battle.”

The inaugural USA Hockey National Goaltending Symposium is similar in a lot of ways to USA Hockey’s Level 5 Coaching Symposium. However, instead of goaltending being a partial emphasis, it is the only focus over the next three days in St. Paul.

In fact, some of the sport’s top minds from men’s, women’s and sled hockey have all descended upon St. Paul to help teach, network and learn more about one of the most unique positions in sports amongst 150-plus attendees.

While some of the weekend is focused on coaching education tracks, Thursday night was just the appetizer of how coaches and attendees of all levels are going to learn how to support their goalies better and how the National Goaltending Symposium is a golden opportunity to network and brainstorm with others on how to improve the state of American goaltending.

Additionally, the USA Hockey National Goaltending Expo will also be taking place on Saturday, June 1, which is free to the public from 12-6 p.m. at the St. Paul Event Center and will feature five panel discussions, including one on Olympic Medal moments with Jim Craig (virtual), Maddie Rooney and Mike “Lefty” Curran.  

RELATED: Learn More About the National Goaltending Symposium

“There is no better time to be a goalie in the U.S., and be supported, than today,” Steve Thompson, manager of goaltending development of USA Hockey.

Bertagna believes that despite changes in the position since when he wrote his first book in the mid 1970s that everyone can still learn from the past and present as USA Hockey works toward the future.

“I hope this is not just a trip down memory lane or just a course of entertainment,” Bertagna said. “I don’t know what the connection is. But those of us that taught ourselves how to play in a different era had to figure something out. What we figured out, how does it apply, the game is so different now. The training is different. There are better athletes playing the position. There is better coaching available.

But you still try to get better at this. Maybe there is something about the old days that will trigger something that can complement or supplement all the good work that is being done now in the current era."

In the hockey community, some parents may worry about the idea of their child becoming a goalie. The stress and pressure that can come with the position may seem daunting.

However, Richter believes once you convince a kid to give the crease a try, it will be that much harder for a kid to want to give it up. Richter knows firsthand. He was a multisport athlete growing up. Playing soccer and football or running track and field were just not the same as standing tall in net.

“Being a goalie is the funnest position in sports,” Richter said. “I grew up in Philadelphia playing everything. I loved them all, but hockey was incredible. Just incredible. The grace and the speed in the sport and the uniqueness of the equipment and all that is when you are a goaltender. The aspect of being in your own kind of challenge and own world while being on a team is second to none. It is nothing like it. You feel individual accomplishment, but you have the support and responsibility to a broader group.

“For the parent of a young player, yeah, (let your kid) that position. It will help them even if they ultimately decided to be a forward or a d to understand the position better. I don’t think to many kids who play that position will waver to far from it because it is the funnest position in all of sports and the most challenging.”

Richter, of course, eventually developed into a U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer. In addition to leading the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years, the Abington, Pa., native also led the U.S. to victory at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and a silver medal at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Joining Richter on stage Thursday night was Miller, a fellow American goaltending legend in his own right. The second-winningest American-born goaltender in NHL history, Miller played in 796 NHL games across 18 seasons. The 2010 Vezina Trophy recipient also earned a silver medal at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and is the only player ever to be named the best goalie in the NCAA, the AHL, the NHL and at the Olympic Winter Games.

Miller, who is now a member of the San Jose Sharks hockey operations staff, called it an honor to be involved with the inaugural National Goaltending Symposium.

“I really want to help out,” Miller said. “It is something where I got some really great opportunities in my life as a player. I try to make a point anytime they need help. I want to show up, contribute and add to the conversation because it is a great thing to take an amount of focus, work, and time and effort that they are putting into goaltending.

It really is a position that needs to be crafted and grown. If you are going to have a healthy and popular game, you need goaltenders. On the other side of that, we want to be the best in the world when it comes to international competition so we need to have the most talented players getting the right kind of coaching.”

Miller not only reflected on his career and how his coaches, as well as his parents, helped him grow into becoming an elite goalie, but he also had the attendees roaring in laughter with his own honest asset of him of raising and coaching his own kids now that he is retired.

It was a good reminder that no matter what level someone plays or coaches at, there is room to grow and learn.

“Hockey parent is a different animal and being a youth coach is different as well,” Miller said. “It is the same as any other kind of parenting. You have all this knowledge to give your kid and you try to be there for them and it is just a process. You have to constantly remind them it is a process. Sometimes it is hard for me because you get to a competitive space in sports and that is all you know.

“You have to keep it as a fun place for sports. It can’t always be competitive even though some of the biggest lessons I learned came from playing a competitive sport, and I do want my children to have that same experience. It was a positive thing in my life. I learned how to be a teammate for better or worse. I learned to interact. I learned to have highs and lows and work through things and set goals. That little bit of competitiveness was important to me when I was younger, and I want my kids to still have that.

“Hockey is a good character-building opportunity.”

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