By Joey J. Ali
Ask any professional goalie and they’ll tell you the eyes are the keystone to their success. The ability to pick up a deflection off a 90-100 mph point shot and convert it into making the save in a tenth of a second is a skill unlike most other positions in sports in the world.
Needless to say, having amazing hand-eye coordination is critical and should be a mastered skill. As a goalie coach, I’m constantly emphasizing “Eyes First”: If you can see what’s coming you must prepare according to that play before it unfolds, as opposed to being late and chasing the play.
Chasing the play occurs when your body moves before your eyes actually have a chance to see and process the information to your brain in order to make a decision.
Here are 3 eye techniques that all goalies must learn, to be an effective presence between the pipes:
- Visual Lead
- Visual Attachment
- Vision Checks/Shoulder Checks
This technique is used on shots to make saves and recover for the rebounds. It specifically involves EYES ON THE PUCK, or watching the puck all the way into your body (not halfway; all the way) and in some cases off your body (like on the blocker side or off your pads).
The reason this technique is so important is it will allow you to be on the puck as soon as it leaves your body, in turn getting you to the point where it’s allowing you to set up early on the next play.
Imagine that you get a shot to the glove side. You stop it but don’t catch it, and the rebound bounces up. If you’ve made it a point in practice to have strong visual attachment, then you’re the goalie who tracks it off his glove into the air and catches it. Whereas if you aren’t practicing with good habits this puck will go off your glove, up in the air, and fall beside you for an easy tap in.
Vision Checks (or Shoulder Checks) are used for reading the play. It’s when your favorite NHL goalie looks over his shoulder when the puck is in the corner to see where the other players without the puck are. Or, when there’s an odd-man rush, he quickly looks to get a fix on where the other player(s) are.
This technique will dramatically help in determining what the options are, and allow you to get ready for them. The three details you should be looking for when Vision Checking are:
1) Where are the player(s)? Knowing where the players are—high slot, low slot, backdoor—will allow you to get ready with the proper approach to the play
2) Does the player(s) shoot right or left? This allows you to push to the correct side of the player and on the stick blade (not the player’s body)
3) Is the player standing still or moving? If the player is stationary the read is easier. But if the player is moving you’re going to need to know where he’s’ going to be receiving the pass.
If all this seems like a lot of information to make decisions on, that’s because it is. And that’s why it’s so important to establish good habits. As you continue to make this technique a part of your game, at first it will be challenging. But like most things it will become way easier mentally.
Lastly, the only time you shouldn’t be Vision Checking is when there are no pass options, such as on a breakaway. Other than that, it’s always a good idea to Vision Check every time the play is coming into your zone, setting up in your zone, is behind the net, or on power plays.
Joey J. Ali is the Founder of ProAli Goalie Training and co-owner of Pro-Formance Goalie Schools and iSOG. His insight on goaltending is brought forth from years of experience, including Junior B (PJHL), Junior A (AWHL) and College (NCAA and MCHA). Republished by permission of HockeyNow.ca and Joey J. Ali.