The Butterfly in Goaltending

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The butterfly.

This one word is responsible for everything in goaltending past the early 2000s. And we do mean, everything. From the goalie training methods to goalie gear designs and the game as we know it today, the butterfly position is as critical to the position of goalie as anything that exists. 99% or more of saves in the NHL are made while in the butterfly position.

If you’re completely new to goaltending, we posted the video below on our Instagram (@goaliecoaches). The goalie in this video, former Nashville Predators goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo, is demonstrating the butterfly save technique as well as sliding in the butterfly.


What is the butterfly in goaltending?Ā 

The butterfly is a goalie term used to describe a position hockey goalies use when they go onto their knees in order to make a save. When a goalie uses the butterfly, his or her pads are tightly sealed along the ice. The term “butterfly” was coined as this position makes the goalie look like a butterfly.

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What does the butterfly look like without leg pads on?Ā Ā 

Without leg pads on, the butterfly position simply looks like a person going onto their knees, with their feet flared out to either side. Increasing the flare of your butterfly simply means to increase the length at which your feet go out to each side.

Who invented the butterfly?

The butterfly position was invented by Legendary Chicago Blackhawks goalie Glenn Miller. In the history of goaltending, there has never been one style change or technique that has revolutionized the game as much as the butterfly has. One of the goalies most responsible for making the butterfly as popular as it is today was Patrick Roy, a future Hall of Fame goalie who played for the Montreal Canadiens and the Colorado Avalanche.

Patrick Roy, entering the butterfly position while playing for the Colorado Avalanche

Did you know, that today, 100% of goalies in the NHL use the butterfly? Outside of the few remaining old school / stand up style goalies in your local beer league, the butterfly position has been adopted by nearly 100% of goalies in the entire world. The reason for this is due to the way pads are designed. Today, pads are designed to rotate while on a goalies leg. This ensures that naturally, when the goalie drops to his or her knees to make a save, the pad face will face out and send the puck flying out of harms way.

Patrick Roy, before wearing butterfly style pads

The photo above from The Chronicle.

Prior to the invention of butterfly style goalie pads, goalies would go to their knees to make saves, but the bulk of their pad would be directly under their knee. The butterfly position wasn’t the first time goalies would use their knees to make saves, it was the first time goalie pads rotated to face forward rather than remain directly under the knee.

How To Do The Butterfly

The butterfly technique is vital to learn, no matter what level of goaltending you are playing. It’s how the majority of saves are made in todays game and avoiding it will only hamper your overall development as a goalie. Put simply, to improve as a goalie, you’ve got to have a great butterfly. Let’s talk about how to do the butterfly and then how to get a better butterfly slide.

There are three basic steps to executing the butterfly position.Ā 

  1. Stand Feet Shoulder Width Apart
  2. Drop Onto Your Knees
  3. Stick On Ice, Hands Forward

Stand Feet Shoulder Width Apart

This is simple. Ensuring proper position in the butterfly starts with your position before entering into the butterfly technique. If you’re poorly set up to go into the butterfly, you’ll be poorly positioned when you’re vulnerable and in the position. Not only that, when you make a save using the butterfly you will likely have a shot coming at you, so if you’re set up poorly your odds of controlling the rebound have now reduced drastically.

Drop Onto Your Knees

Dropping onto your knees, you have now entered the butterfly position. However, there is one critical element to being in this position that should be executed simultaneously.

Stick On Ice, Hands Forward

Contrary to decades past, it’s actually more effective to make stick saves, glove saves, and pad saves while in the butterfly position. With the way pads are designed for the modern game, getting into the butterfly position allows goalies to have better control over their rebounds.

While you are in the butterfly position, you should have a proper angle, squareness and depth, allowing yourself maximum opportunity to make the save.

Improving The Butterfly Slide

For the sake of time, talking about improving your butterfly slide ability could chew up an entire article. The majority of goalie drills used today feature some form of the butterfly.

The video below is from our friends over at Goalcrease and it’s one of the most popular butterfly slide videos on the internet. One thing goalies should keep in mind is that when dedicating time to work on their butterfly slide, it can also help you with your RVH recoveries. Learning to overlap certain elements of goaltending goes a long way in your overall development as a goalie.

Risks Of The Butterfly Position

There are a few risks that happen automatically when utilizing the butterfly. Aside from the fact that more net is now exposed behind you, your lateral movement is now impeded.

Improving Lateral Movement In The Butterfly

While you may have excellent side to side movement on the ice in the butterfly, this is a huge risk for passes across the center of the ice. You’re by nature slower than if you were on your feet. To improve lateral movement in the butterfly position, there must also be a focus on recoveries out of the butterfly.

A proper butterfly recovery to lateral movement or a T-Push is outlined below:

  1. Head and eyes look in the direction of movement
  2. Hips and upper body rotate in the same direction (hands, stick should follow)
  3. The leg opposite of the direction you’ll be going in gets a solid edge on the ice
  4. The goalie pushes themselves to a standing movement, often called a T Push.

In the video below, NHL goalie coach Dave Rogalski talks about a proper T Push. Learning how to do this correctly will help your exits from the butterfly position and make you a more effective goaltender.

How To Get A Better Butterfly

For young goalies, the butterfly style of goaltending is naturally built into their game. So yet again, it’s the old timers who have to learn a new trick. Time and time again, we get the question of, “how do I improve my butterfly?”. Or, how do you learn how to do the butterfly? Like anything in life, practice makes perfect. Of course, there are a few things that will help you improve your butterfly, like off ice stretching, which we’ll cover below.

Stretches That Will Improve Your Butterfly

When stretching to improve your butterfly, we’re looking for stretches that will increase your butterfly “flare”, as it’s called. The photo below shows what we’re talking about when we reference the term flare.

When you think of improving your butterfly, think of the distance between your feet behind you. The further the distance, the more “pad coverage” you can get with your butterfly. The photo below shows the increased pad coverage that comes with more flexibility in a goaltenders hips.

As a general rule of thumb, the more a goalie uses the butterfly position, the better it’s going to get over time. With that being said, there are drills that improve your butterfly, just as there are stretches that improve your butterfly. We’ll get into those now.

Drills That Will Improve Your Butterfly

There are many butterfly drills that will improve your butterfly. Drills that will improve your butterfly involve the use of the butterfly throughout the drill. Typically, when we work on improving our butterfly position, we work on three things.

  1. Improving our entry to the butterfly
  2. Improving our recovery from the butterfly (to a standing position)
  3. How we move side to side on the ice in the butterfly

Below, we’re going to display a few drills that will help you improve your butterfly. If you’re a beer league goalie with limited ice time, implement these drills into your pre-game warmup.

Butterfly Slide and Rotation Drill

Controlled Butterfly Entry and Exit Drill

In this drill, the goalie uses a butterfly slide and returns to a standing position. The goalie then returns to the center, before completing the exact same movement on the other side.

Off Ice Exercises For Improved Butterfly

Improving the butterfly off the ice is a challenge, as your knees do not have the protection they have from your pads while on the ice. For beginner goalies simply looking to practice the butterfly position through repetition, wearing your goalie pads, knee guards, glove and blocker, as well as your stick, entering the butterfly position and holding it will give you the reps you need to become proficient in it’s use.

A Drill To Improve Butterfly Without Pads Off The Ice

One of my favorite drills for young goalies looking to become more explosive in their butterfly recoveries and lateral movements in general is the off ice butterfly recovery to lateral jump drill.

On a soft surface, the goalie starts in the butterfly position. As they would on the ice, they follow the steps of a butterfly recovery, ending with a lateral jump movement to the side. Rinse, repeat this drill.