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Let's Talk About Flinching

Posted on January 13, 2018 at 8:05 PM Comments comments (379)

Let’s Talk About Flinching

Evan Kurylo, Coretex Goaltending (2018)



Why?

Because whether we like it or not, flinching is almost a taboo topic in the world of goaltending. I mean, the basic premise of being a goaltender is you have to not only be willing to put up with getting hit by pucks, but actively put parts of your body in front of pucks sometimes moving fast enough to cause serious damage to those body parts if unprotected. This almost doesn’t seem natural, and from an evolutionary perspective it’s amazing that the genes that produce good goaltenders have survived this long and haven’t been completely eliminated from the gene pool. We would assume that the people who ultimately choose to goal-tend voluntarily waved their natural human right to flinch on pucks headed their direction in order to fulfill their role on a team as the last line of defense where sacrificing their bodies is not just appreciated, but expected on a daily basis.

Herein lies the challenge. Goaltenders will inevitably find themselves in situations that cause them to flinch. Everyone is different and has a different threshold, perception, and past- experience that will influence their response to a given shot, but it’s important to note that a stigma does exist surrounding a goaltender flinching. In my experience, goaltenders usually have no problem seeking advice for their post-play tactics, puck-handling, or rebound control, but I don’t recall often being asked for advice on flinching despite seeing it happen fairly regularly. Maybe this is just due to goaltenders being unaware of themselves flinching, although it seems unlikely as goaltenders know when they’re tracking pucks well, competing to stop shots, and executing a game plan, and they know when their eyes are closed and their body is rigid as is indicative of a flinch.

Every January, it’s encouraging to see the hockey community being quite active in the #BellLetsTalk campaign to raising awareness and fighting the stigma associated with issues in mental health. It is not my intention whatsoever to invalidate the serious mental health issues such as anxiety or depression by including flinching in the same remove-the-stigma category, instead I view it as a way for us to practice mental health initiatives on a regular basis if we see a goaltender struggling with flinching and the corresponding embarrassment and shame about seeking advice. This article will be an introductory look at what the flinching response actually is and what it means from the perspective of human evolution, physical characteristics of a flinch, the two kinds of flinches applicable to goaltenders, situational variables enhancing or eliminating a flinch (an introduction to the over-ride theory), and some tangible tactics more in-depth than “just don’t flinch” or “just watch the puck” to help goaltenders un-learn the flinching response.



Flinching is a healthy, adaptive response of the human nervous system

Every single person on this planet will instinctively flinch in some situations when they perceive a rapidly approaching threat [1]. Built in to the human nervous system is a startle reflex, which is a robust natural response to intense stimuli with abrupt onset [2], like a loud crack of thunder or a puck shot hard at the face. Some theories (e.g. looming) suggest we have a zone around our bodies with specific brain regions that function to maintain a margin of safety, and select and coordinate the proper defensive behavior when that zone is violated [3]. Other theorists even suggest that escape is the most urgent survival requirement for any animal, even more important than eating or shelter [3]. The startle reflex or flinch involves several different brain regions and pathways but much of the research supports the involvement of a small almond-shaped brain structure called the amygdala, which has a major role in processing emotions, the one most related to goaltenders and flinching being fear (which will be discussed later in the article). Fear is a healthy, adaptive human state which prepares us to respond to a threatening situation, generally caused by a fairly obvious source and subsides shortly after the source is no longer a factor [2]. The defense of our bodies is a challenge taken on by our sensorimotor system, and served by reflexes such as the startle reflex (i.e. flinching). The research shows that our natural defensive systems place the priority on protecting certain parts of our body like the head and neck, and abdomen which contains essential organs [2]. We know that the defensive behavior used is flexible and greatly influenced by factors like emotions, environment, and context, which is extremely encouraging news for goaltenders who feel as though they may be over-responding to seemingly harmless shots by unnecessary flinching. In other words, there is a high likelihood that unnecessary flinching can be un-learned and over-ridden.



What happens during a flinch (or Startle response)?

In humans, the typical startle response is to bring the body in to a generalized defensive stance as rapidly as possible in order to protect the most vital organs [3]. The first stage of defense is associated with vigilance, but immobility, where we’re primed to respond but not actually active in the response yet. The following should sound familiar when thinking about a goaltender flinching; The head draws down and the shoulders lift up to protect the neck, the eyes close, facial and skeletal muscles contract, and depending on the threat the arms pull inward to protect the abdomen. Secondary movements can include the hands coming up in order to protect the head, or a duck away from the direction of the threat. The most important movement during a flinch for goaltenders is what happens with the eyes. The very first thing that happens during a flinch is a blink and a squint that will actually be stronger to the side the puck is approaching from (although in most cases we would assume this to be simultaneous if facing and square to a shot). During this blink, there’s actually a quick centering of the eyes as they also retract slightly back in to the head, which is likely due to rapid contraction of the extra-ocular muscles surrounding the eyes. This extra eye movement creates a significant wobble in the direction of the gaze as the eyes first move downward and toward the nose, then rotate out toward the center of the gaze. The most robust reflex of a flinch is the burst of activity of the muscle that surrounds the eye called the orbicularis oculi, which leads the squint and blink and happens almost immediately once we perceive a threat. The eyebrows also lower and the skin under the eye is raised, which again all contributes to protecting the eye from harm as the first stage of a defensive response. The big point here is that vision is all but eliminated during the first stage of a flinch, which is important to remember for later on in the article as we discuss the different points in a shot release that a flinch may occur. Other characteristics of a startle reflex is a heart- rate acceleration and overall contraction of skeletal muscles- think of the body’s natural fight or flight response [3].



Not all flinches are the same

As stated above, there are some situations that will cause everyone to flinch at least to some degree. For example, a quick snap-shot from close range coming at the face is one of those situations where the startle response (i.e. flinch) will be elicited, and it is this type of flinch that we aren’t worried about eliminating. This response is deeply engrained in our human biology, and to flinch when a puck is quickly approaching the face is to be expected. This is something we can call an “unconditioned flinch”, meaning there’s no learning involved with that type of flinch, it’s something that will happen naturally as there’s a real perceived potential for physical harm. The type of flinch that is the focus of this article is the “conditioned flinch”, a flinch that goaltenders eventually learn to do after previous experience, on shots that wouldn’t actually elicit an unconditioned flinch. Where an unconditioned flinch would start to occur is immediately after the puck has been released as it expands symmetrically in the goaltender’s visual field at a high enough rate to signal danger, which then starts the cascade of the defensive reflex (eye squint and blink, shoulders shrug, head turns away, hands come up, etc.). The conditioned flinch actually begins just before or just as the puck is being released, when the goaltender perceives the shooter, wind-up, shot location, etc. as one that is likely to have a high potential for physical harm, so the response is to protect the body with the designated movements (eye squint and blink, shoulder shrug...) in preparation. The implications are numerous, starting with losing valuable information about the release off the stick as vision is greatly restricted during the squint and blink, and a general contraction of the skeletal muscles drawing the limbs inward as the body’s natural response to protect vital organs. After the puck is travelling to the goaltender and the realization is made that it is not in fact on a direct collision course for the face or other vulnerable area, the disengagement is made from protection, and the save selection can actually begin. However, by this point it is usually too late, as the save itself is being executed with a huge delay from the time of the release.

The terms conditioned and unconditioned come from an early learning theory in psychology called classical conditioning developed by Ivan Pavlov. This name may sound familiar as it was the famous experiment he did with the ringing bell and salivating dog that demonstrated the concept. In short, classical conditioning is a way of learning about our environment. When a person naturally flinches at a rapidly approaching object or at a loud clap of thunder, no learning is required and we have what Pavlov called an Unconditioned response- the response occurs naturally. The stimulus, for example the thunder clap, is an Unconditioned stimulus, that which provokes a natural response. What Pavlov noticed what that these natural biological reflexes could be elicited with completely random, unrelated stimuli. After a number of trials, he successfully paired the ringing of the bell (conditioned stimulus) with the delivery of food (unconditioned stimulus) to the point where the bell alone was enough to cause the dogs to salivate (conditioned response), which would have been their natural response to the delivery of food [4]. For goaltenders, a shot coming hard and high (unconditioned stimulus) will often elicit a flinch, which is the natural, unconditioned response. The rapidly, symmetrically expanding puck in the goaltender’s visual field acts as the threatening (unconditioned) stimulus to elicit the natural startle response (i.e. flinch). Again, this natural, unconditioned response is not the focus of this article, instead it’s the conditioned flinch which often happens in the absence of any actual threat. Consider the situation during a team practice where the player with the heaviest shot walks in on a goaltender uncontested for a shot from the slot. The player takes a big wind- up, either for a slap-shot or pulls the puck back and loads up for what appears to be a high and hard wrist-shot. The combination of player + shot location + wind-up is now acting as the

conditioned stimulus, because now only the potential for what’s about to happen (largely based on what happened in the past) is being acted on and prioritized rather than an actual puck in motion. Thus, during the wind-up in this situation the goaltender may already be starting the flinch, which is in this case now a conditioned response to a perceived predictor of potential threat, rather than the actual threat itself. As noted above, the most robust response of a startle reflex (i.e. flinch) is the increased activity in the surrounding eye muscles [5], meaning that during the wind-up or release the squint and blink is now occurring, greatly reducing the valuable visual information about the shot release.



Over-ride Theory

With the focus on the conditioned flinch, let’s examine how a goaltender’s mindset and environmental factors can influence the frequency or amplitude of the flinch. A fairly common observation is that if a goaltender is going to flinch on a shot, it is most likely going to occur in practice or warm-up rather than a game. In other words, a situation with little consequence or meaning behind each particular shot, where the priority may actually be more toward self- protection rather than competition. Over-ride theory considers the interaction of two major factors that produce a high or low likelihood of flinching. The first factor is situational consequence, i.e. the external meaning behind each shot. Is it a warm-up shot in a mid-season practice, or is it a rebound in overtime for the league championship? The second factor is a goaltender’s cognitive appraisal on a shot for perceived potential for physical harm. Is it a snap- shot from the smallest guy on your team from the point with no traffic, or is it a one-timer from Shea Weber from close-range with a hidden release? The following chart and video clip is an attempt to explain how the two factors interact to determine the likelihood of a goaltender flinching on a particular shot:


What this chart shows is the variability in responses from an individual goaltender, depending on the situation. Some goaltenders tend to flinch fairly regularly during a practice or game warm-up but less than an hour later during the game they’re putting their head in front of shots. With this over-ride theory, I am theorizing that several factors are interacting to determine the response and that the prominence of one factor like meaning behind a shot can be enough to over-ride other variables like potential for physical threat. This is explained in more detail in the following video:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HT52YarSEoE



Symmetrical & Asymmetrical Expansion

Several references to symmetrical and asymmetrical expansion have been noted in this article, so the following will be a brief description of what those terms mean and how they relate to flinching. Think of watching a video of an object as it moves toward you. In relation to the frame, the object will appear to get bigger and bigger and take up more of the frame as it approaches the camera and as long as the path of the object is heading straight for the camera, it will expand symmetrically. On the other hand, asymmetrical expansion still provides the information that the object is approaching, but is not on a collision course with the eye/camera (i.e. facing a right-handed shooter, shooting to your top left). In some models of looming, symmetrical expansion is a sign of danger and depending on the rate of expansion, can trigger an evasive reaction such as flinching [3]. This is something that will continue to be researched for future articles as I have observed a higher frequency of goalies flinching when the shot is “across the grain”, like a left-handed shooter aiming high glove (on a left-catching goalie) so my speculation is that the puck spends more time in this “looming zone” of the visual field and may appear to be expanding symmetrically, but is actually moving across the body. The asymmetrical expansion of the puck would also partly explain why goaltenders wouldn’t flinch on shots to the mid-line for a chest or stick save as the puck isn’t expanding at the same rate in the visual field to trigger the flinch response. For those wondering, the research suggests the threshold for a flinching response to a rapidly approaching object is object magnification beyond ~30 degrees of visual angle [6].



Reducing the Flinch Response

This last section will go over some strategies when working to overcome an overactive flinching response. Keep in mind that it’s not the shots at the head that we’re trying to eliminate flinching, instead it’s the conditioned flinch to a situation (i.e. a big wind-up) that a goaltender has learned to be threatening. The goal is to un-learn this response, and the research says it’s very possible.


Raise you green, lower your red

Think back to the over-ride theory video. A good place to start is to evaluate the quality of protection and check the equipment. Remember, ill-fitting, broken down gear is enough to raise the red line (perceived potential for physical threat) to the point where a goaltender starts flinching on what were once routine shots if the gear if failing to adequately protect. In conversation with some past professional and WHL goaltenders, the biggest factor that came up was the quality of the chest pad especially toward the end of the season as it starts to break down. The chest pad covers vital organs like the heart and lungs, so the body’s natural defence threshold is likely quite low when the confidence in the protection has dropped. When evaluating the gear, it’s always a good idea to add a plastic dangler to the mask, and to wear a padded undershirt and/or throat guard especially if the conditioned flinching is an issue. We can’t control where, or how hard the shots are going to come but we can control how well we’re protecting ourselves.

Raising your green line is a bit more abstract, but something I have noticed to work quite well. To refresh, the green line represents the situational consequence, or the meaning behind each shot. The situations with low meaning (i.e. mid-season morning practice) are the situations where conditioned flinching is more likely to occur because the red line is over-riding, and the goaltender is more worried about self-defence on shots rather than preventing a goal. Sometimes it’s as simple as applying more meaning to the shots, like having the goaltender imagine themselves is a game scenario or the shooters as a part of their rival team. Each goalie is different but the intrinsic meaning is typically much more robust than attempting to increase extrinsic meaning, like keeping score among teammates during a drill or putting something on the line, although it does help. It comes down to how much a goaltender is competing on a shot, and doing what is needed to raise that compete level during the low-consequence situations will provide several benefits, most notably getting the goaltender more comfortable in higher pressure situations, and treating practice shots like a game which greatly helps reduce the flinching response.


Find the Present

The link between anxiety and flinching (i.e. frequency and magnitude of the startle response) is known to be strong and persistent [7]. The implication for goaltenders is potentially a vicious cycle of elevated anxiety causing more flinches than should be occurring, and more flinches leading to higher levels of anxiety. This is something best dealt with through a professional such as a sport psychologist, but the big point to note is that the cycle must first be identified, accepted, then broken. Anxiety is about what we believe will happen in the future, and is evoked because people form exaggerated expectancies of the imminence, probability, and severity of a threat and underestimate their resources for coping [7]. The threat has not yet occurred but to the anxious goaltender, something bad is about to happen (e.g. getting hit up high with a hard shot) and the chance of being injured, at least as far as their cognitive appraisal, is much more likely. The resources for coping can be targeted by making sure the goaltender’s gear is in good shape and they feel protected, as well as intentionally facing a few shots up high (start in a controlled setting like practice with a trusted and competent shooter). The goaltender must stay relaxed, while they get some practice with tracking a puck all the way in to get a glove on it or even take some off the mask. Sometimes all that is needed is a reminder that the mask will do its job to protect and the goaltender (despite some brief ringing in ears potentially) will be okay. Likewise, they have increased their resources to deal with a high shot by knowing they can get a glove on it.

A more advanced technique that a sport psychologist may introduce is a breathing exercise. Focusing on breathing is known to be a great way to bring someone back to the present moment as it’s something we can 100% control, something we can focus on as it’s happening, and something we can attend to and really experience in the moment. Even if flinching is not an issue, having some breathing exercises in your tool belt at-the-ready will be beneficial in those pressure-packed moments where a goaltender needs to bring themselves down to their optimal mental state.


Desensitize

The final tip discussed here to potentially help reduce the flinch is to desensitize the situation. What this means is to experience the situations as close to real-life as possible, but without the subsequent fear or consequence. In psychology, it’s referred to as systematic desensitization, which is a technique used to eliminate things like phobias. Systematic desensitization is rooted in classical conditioning, except instead of learning to pair a random, unrelated stimulus with a natural response, we’re looking to un-learn an existing pairing, such as starting to flinch on particular shooter, shot location, or wind-up. The formal process of systematic desensitization is something that should be facilitated by a professional psychologist, but the concept is a simple 3- step process that includes relaxation, creating a fear hierarchy (i.e. what’s the least threatening shot up to the most threatening shot), and systematically working up the fear hierarchy while maintaining a certain relaxation state [8]. For goalies, this may be as simple as watching a video of pucks being shot at a camera or from behind the net, then to standing behind the glass or net as players shoot directly at you (introducing more sensory modalities now, the goalie can see, hear, even feel the shock of the puck hitting the net or glass). Essentially, they’re experiencing more and more features of the flinch-inducing shots but without any of the previously associated consequences.



Summary

To summarize, there are some flinches that simply a natural part of human evolution and biology. While the unconditioned flinch will happen naturally as a puck is travelling toward the goaltender’s head, the conditioned flinch will occur in anticipation of a puck shot to the head. The association between the puck and pain is assumed, rather than directly observed. The conditioned flinch is a learned association, with one of the first stages of the reflexive cascade being a strong blink and squint, which takes away valuable information about the trajectory of a shot as it’s being released plus briefly puts the goaltender in a tense, defensive physical stance which they must disengage from before the save is actually executed. The environment and surrounding context play a huge role in the goaltender’s cognitive appraisal of the potential physical threat behind each shot, the two main interacting factors being the situational consequence (i.e. meaning behind each shot), and the individuals perceived potential for physical threat. If the perceived potential for physical threat over-rides the situational consequence, likelihood of flinching is much higher than if the shot is more meaningful like in a championship game (think back to Marc-Andre Fluery in 2009 as he dove head-first to stop Nicklas Lidstrom with only seconds left to hang on to the lead and win the Stanley Cup. In that moment, I’m sure Fleury would have been happy to make that same save with no mask and wearing only a track- suit because the moment meant so much). Finally, just as a conditioned flinch is learned and often over-used in non-threatening situations, it can be un-learned as well. Goaltenders, parents, and coaches: if flinching is an issue, don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed as fighting it only increases the emotional arousal and anxiety that is underlying the issue. Talk about it and work through it. Make sure you’re protected and competing, and as always, thanks for reading.



References and other support articles

[1] M. Hitti, "What Makes You Flinch? Brain 'Hot Spot' Wired to React, Study Shows," 2004. [Online]. Available: http://www.webmd.com/men/news/20040820/what-makes-you-flinch.

[2] C. Grillon and M. Davis, "Fear-potentiated startle conditioning in humans: Explicit and contextual cue conditioning following paired versus unpaired training," Psychophysiology, pp. 451-458, 1997.

[3] M. S. Graziano and D. F. Cooke, "Parieto-frontal interactions, personal space, and defensive behavior," Neuropsychologia, pp. 845-859, 2006.

[4] M. A. Gluck, E. Mercado and C. E. Myers, Learning and Memory: From Brain to Behavior, vol. 2, New York, New York: Worth Publishers, 2014, pp. 119-121.

[5] D. F. Cooke and M. S. Graziano, "Super-Flinchers and Nerves of Steel: Defensive Movements Altered by CHemical Manipulation of a Cortical Motor Area," Neuron, pp. 585-593, 2004.

[6] W. Schiff, "Perception of Impending Collision: A Study of Visually Directed Avoidant Behavior," Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 1965.

[7] J. H. Riskind, "Looming Vulnerability to Threat: A Cognitive Paradigm for Anxiety," Behav. Res. Ther., pp. 685-702, 1997.

[8] D. H. Barlow, Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders, New York: The Guilford Press, 2014.

[9] M. Kim and M. Davis, "Electrolytic Lesions of the Amygdala Block Acquisition and Expression of Fear-Potentiated Startle Even With Extensive Training but Do Not Prevent Reacquisition," Behavioral Neuroscience, pp. 580-595, 1993.

[10] T. D. Blumenthal, "Prepulse inhibition decreases as startle reactivity habituates," Psychophysiology, pp. 446-450, 1997.

[11] C. Grillon, R. Ameli, S. W. Woods, K. Merikangas and M. Davis, "Fear-Potentiated Startle in Humans: Effects of Anticipatory Anxiety on the Acoustic Blink Reflex," Psychophysiology, pp. 588-595, 1991.

[12] C. T. Sege, M. M. Bradley and P. J. Lang, "Prediction and perception: Defensive startle modulation," Psychophysiology, pp. 1664-1668, 2015.

[13] M. Koch, "The Neurobiology of Startle," Progress in Neurobiology, pp. 107-128, 1999.

[14] J. H. Riskind and J. E. Maddux, "Loomingness, Helplessness, And Fearfulness: An Integration of Harm-Looming and Self-Efficacy Models of Fear," Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, pp. 73-89, 1993.

[15] M. A. Dosey and M. Meisels, "Personal Space and Self-Protection," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , pp. 93-97, 1969.

[16] M. Brandao, L. Melo and S. Cardoso, "Mechanisms of defense in the inferior colliculus," Behavioral Brain Research, pp. 49-55, 1993.

[17] D. Panchuk, J. N. Vickers and W. G. Hopkins, "Quiet eye predicts goaltender success in deflected ice hockey shots," European Journal of Sport Science, pp. 93-99, 2017.

[18] P. Dean, P. Redgrave and G. Westby, "Event or emergency? Two response systems in the mammalian superior colliculus," TINS, pp. 137-147, 1989.

[19] D. L. Walker, J. V. Cassella, Y. Lee, T. C. DeLima and M. Davis, "Opposing Roles of the Amygdala and Dorsolateral Periaqueductal Gray in Fear-potentiated Startle," Elsevier Science Ltd., pp. 743-753, 1997.

[20] H. S. Hoffman and J. R. Ison, "Reflex Modification in the Domain of Startle: Some Empirical Findings and Their Implications for How the Nervous System Processes Sensory Input," Psychological Review, pp. 175-189, 1980.

[21] P. J. Lang, M. M. Bradley and B. N. Cuthbert, "Emotion, Attention, and the Startle Reflex," Psychological Review, pp. 377-395, 1990.

[22] P. J. Lang, M. Davis and A. Ohman, "Fear and anxiety: animal models and human cognitive psychophysiology," Journal of Affective Disorders, pp. 137-159, 2000.

 

The Multi-Sport Goaltender

Posted on April 28, 2016 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (5849)

Benefits of Being a Multi-Sport Goaltender

The season has ended, and I’m sure most of us are enjoying a bit of a breather away from the arena. A hockey season is a demanding time for players, coaches, and parents alike, spending anywhere from 4 to 7 days a week at the arena, and depending on the level of play it may mean extra team functions like workouts, yoga, study groups, power-skating, fundraising, hockey academy, skills sessions, mental training, dynavision, dryland training, the list goes on. In this article I would like to address three main topics: Goaltending is a technical position but it also requires a strong read of the play and ability to anticipate shots and recognize patterns unfold, in other words it is largely a conceptual position. The first point will look at the specifics of the goaltenders playing environment, and why we can’t be so quick to apply empirical solutions to conceptual challenges with training. The second is encouraging kids to participate in several different sports aside from hockey, especially in the spring and summer months once the hockey season is over. Developing a robust athlete is a major focus, and the athletic goaltender is defined. The third point examines the research on Early Sport Specialization (ESS), and lists the perceived benefits as well as the actual detriments and issues with it, especially with regards to goaltending. Goaltenders must be able to move, and because of the dynamic nature of the game it is near-impossible to train for every potential situation that may occur in a game, which is where having the solid athletic foundation will allow for goaltenders to adapt and react most appropriately to new and rapidly changing situations.

 



The Goaltender’s Environment

The movements that make up skills emerge from three interacting factors: the task, the individual, and the environment. The environment has regulatory features like the speed of the puck and shot origination, as well as non-regulatory features like crowd noise, distractions, circumstances surrounding the game, home or away, etc. In other words, features that may affect performance but movement does not have to conform to these features (if only it was as simple as that!).

The environmental context in which these skills are performed is a determining factor in how the skills are practiced. Is the environment predictable, like performing a gymnastics routine on a mat, or is it constantly changing and unpredictable like playing hockey? This question leads to the terms “open-skill” and “closed-skill” with regards to the predictability of the environmental context.

 

 



“Open” vs. “closed” skill sports & activities

Many activities we participate and compete in are referred to as “closed-skill” activities. Essentially, a closed-skill activity is one with a predictable environment where the response can be planned. The focus is largely on executing some skill or routine without reacting to a changing environment. Playing a musical instrument, executing a gymnastics or figure skating routine, are examples of closed-skill activities, where the instrument or ice surface is for the most part unchanging and success depends largely on how well a practiced routine is executed. That is not to say they are any less difficult to perform, when in fact the songs and routines are highly technical and complex, but the reactionary component and demand for use of a creative or novel movement pattern is not the same as in an open-skill activity.


(Photo from http://photos.oregonlive.com/photo-essay/2012/07/london_olympics_us_finishes_fi.html)


An “open-skill” activity is one performed in an unpredictable environment. Anything from chasing a butterfly, returning a punt, and of course goaltending are open-skill activities. The outcome is not dependant on how well an athlete is able to execute a set routine, instead it is largely dependent on how well an athlete is able to anticipate plays, read patterns, and react in often unorthodox ways to perform a task, like keeping a puck out of the net.

Hockey is a case where we can observe open and closed skills at work, sometimes occurring simultaneously. For example, a player coming in on a breakaway has a set move (the Datsyuk backhand toe-drag) they have practiced and plan to use. This is the closed-skill component, as all the shooter needs to practice the movement is a puck and sheet of ice, the move itself can be planned. However, if the goalie has managed to read the move somewhat, the shooter will have to react accordingly which might mean lifting the puck higher than usual to score. A shooter never knows exactly what the goaltender is going to do, which adds the open-skill component to something as seemingly routine and planned like a breakaway.


(Photo from www.hookedonhockeymagazine.com/frozen-memories-the-datsyukian-deke/)


Goaltending is almost exclusively an open-skill position. We’re back there reading and reacting to what is happening in front of (and behind) us. That is not to say there is no room for proper technique, in fact the open-skill nature of the position is a large reason we practice technique so much. When our mental arousal rises because of a high-pressure game or situation, we want to be able to fall back on good habits and stay composed to do our jobs. Having the proper technique is absolutely important in many situations, like quickly executing a tight RVH for a sharp-angle shot, but the ability to read a play and disengage one aspect of “proper technique” when appropriate is also critical due to the open-skill nature of the position.

The fact that goaltenders play in an unpredictable environment is not groundbreaking information for anyone. The purpose of the above section was to define and describe the nature of open and closed skill activities, and highlight how they can co-exist. Goaltending is not simply a technical routine to be planned and followed as is the definition of a closed-skill. Goaltenders are reactive, adaptive, always adjusting, reading the play and patterns, and optimally reacting to perform the task of stopping the puck. Practicing the optimal parameters of the movement is important but given that it’s impossible to replicate each and every possible situation we’ll see in a game, we can’t be so quick to label “unorthodox” as “improper”. There is no doubt a technical component to the position, but goalies aren’t robots and in the advent of another equipment downsizing, the block-mode robotic style is more easily exposed than ever before.

Given the unpredictable and open-nature of the position, I don’t believe we can totally address the conceptual challenge of “stopping the puck” with empirical solutions, like conforming to set “save algorithm” or technique alone. The solution itself must also largely be conceptual in nature, which can call for unorthodox movements never before practiced, and which also may not ever be replicated in the future. But how does a young athlete train for this? It starts in the younger developmental years, anywhere from 5 to 12 (and beyond) years old. Athletes at younger ages will benefit more from participating in several different sports to better develop their ability to react to an environment while developing a wider range of motor skills complimentary but not specific to goaltending. Encouraging exclusive participation in a single sport or single position from early ages may actually be limiting the motor skill development to the narrow window of skills and movement used for that particular position, and may put the child at a disadvantage later on especially if they’re participating in an open-skill position like goaltending that calls for a high degree of athletic, creative, novel, and unconventional movement.


(Photo from http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/04/penguins-red-wings-shootout-nhl)

 



Develop an Athlete

So why is it important to have a robust athlete under the goalie equipment? Because it’s impossible to replicate all of the situations a goaltender will face in a game. Some situations are more common and should be practiced, like the mechanics of executing RVH for a sharp angle shot or tactical guidelines for movement to new angles, just to name a few. But there are going to be scrambles, rebounds, rushes, deflections, weird bounces, or any number of things that calls for a reaction and a novel movement sequence that has never been done before. Establishing and strictly relying on an exact technique is not ideal in an open-skill sport or position as goaltenders may be feel they’ve done something wrong if unconventional movement had to be used to get a piece of a shot. Practicing the parameters of a save or movement is probably more ideal, where good habits are established but there is also room for deviation if the situation requires it. Having an athlete under the goalie equipment rather than a goalie robot under the equipment will allow for better adaptability if and when unconventional movement has to be used.


(Photo from http://thepinkpuck.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/CGY-VS-LAK-416.jpg)


Anytime we see someone take a free-throw shot they are using a very specific and practiced motor movement, one that is likely to look almost identical with each shot as there is no reason to deviate from the conventional movement if that technique works for them. There is no reason for a basketball player to suddenly use an unconventional arm movement during their free-throw as their environment is not changing at that time. The ball, the distances, the heights all stay the same with each free-throw situation (the changes that we would see would likely be due to increased tension or arousal if it is an important shot, in which case the player would try to use psychological tactics to reduce their tension and allow them to use the movement they have practiced and that they know works for them).


(Photo from http://www.kusports.net/boards/viewtopic.php?id=8954)


Given the unorthodox and unpredictable nature of the goaltenders environment, having a solid athletic base underneath the equipment is proving to be more and more valuable. Hockey Canada has done an excellent job with recognizing the importance of developing a robust athlete instead of having hockey as the sole focus from the kid’s inception to the sport.

From ages 5 to 8 the focus is on developing physical literacy, motor skills and coordination. Physical literacy is defined as “the mastering of fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills that permit a child to read their environment and make appropriate decisions, allowing them to move confidently and with control in a wide range of physical activity situations”. The Long Term Player Development (LTPD) model encourages mastering fundamental movement skills through participation in many sports and activities, with an emphasis on motor development.


(Photo from http://www.hockeyeasternontario.ca/pages/players/ltpd.htm)


Many factors are involved with learning a new skill. The skill that is learned is typically performed in a specific environment, some environments stay constant and predictable like hitting a ball when playing T-ball, and some environments are always changing and unpredictable like playing hockey. When first learning a new skill, the environment it will be performed in has to be a huge consideration when training. Some skills are more technical and precise and require a narrow training focus, and others are more dependent on reacting to the environmental context.


Skills and movements all lead to a more general term, Motor Control. Motor control is a general overview of how our neuromuscular system functions to activate and coordinate the muscles and limbs involved in the performance of a motor skill. But with 650 skeletal muscles in the human body, the central nervous system is faced with the monster task of organizing our joints in to coordinated functional movement.


For goaltenders, physical literacy and motor development are major factors in skill development, as the ability to read the environment and emerging patterns leads to anticipation, which allows for quicker, more efficient processing, and more efficient movement. This is where we see goaltenders developing their tactical game with less emphasis on the technical. As goaltenders get older and start to play at higher levels, the differences between elite and near-elite are more to do with how well the goaltender understands the game and is able to anticipate plays. This is even evidenced in Hockey Canada’s approach to training for different age groups in their pyramid diagram that shows how strategy and team play are major focuses of training in the older age groups, when the younger groups are almost exclusively focused on developing technical skills and individual tactics. The priorities of training change as the athlete gets older, but like any hierarchy progression to the next level is not possible without becoming proficient at a the lower levels first. It is difficult to teach/learn the technical skills of goaltending if the fundamental skills of skating and puck-handling aren’t developed first.



Goaltending obviously requires a huge amount of dedication and investment physically, psychologically, financially, and socially to reach elite status. But careful consideration to the type of practice should be a primary focus during the early years. Canada Sport for Life has a training model that highlights the appropriate training habits of Canadian youth called the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, based on the same principle as Hockey Canada’s LTPD model. It proposes six stages of athlete development:


1) FUNdamental stage

2) Learning to train

3) Training to train

4) Training to compete

5) Training to win

6) Retirement


Hockey Canada’s LTPD model aligns the age of the players to these 6 stages:


1) 5-10 years old

2) 11-12 years old

3) 12-16 years old

4) 16-17 years old

5) 18+

6) Retirement


To become an elite athlete, specialized sport training is absolutely necessary, but it has to be at the right stage in an athlete’s development. In other words, the athlete has to be developed before specialization should occur. The focus of the early stages is encouraging activity in many sports in a fun, stimulating, challenging, and engaging manner. The later stages focus on the more sport and position specific skills, and the training gets more intense. Understanding when to specialize is imperative to promote long-term success for the athlete. The “training to train” stage is about the time when training becomes more specific to the position, and specific muscle groups, skills, and neural recruitment are becoming a major focus. This type of training starts at 12 years old, with training at earlier ages being thought of not so much as training, but physical activity. I am completely on board with the thought that reaching elite status requires intense specific training at some point and a willingness to do so, but the athletes overall motor-skill development must not be hindered because specific training started too early.


(Photo from http://thehockeywriters.com/nhl-offseason-training-so-much-for-summer/)


Ingoalmag.com published an article this past July just after Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals signed a 5 year, $30.5 million contract. The title of the article was Braden Holtby Wasn’t Full-time Goalie Until Age 12, and the author Kevin Woodley pointed out a few very important points. Goalie guru Mitch Korn (current goaltending coach of the Washington Capitals) believes that no kid should commit to playing goal full-time until at least peewee, the 11-12 year old range. Korn points out that there’s nothing wrong with the kids trying the position out for a week at a time throughout the season, but it’s important to learn how to skate first. Kids confined to the crease at an early age simply don’t cover the area and distance to practice the fundamental skating skills required to build off when they learn to skate like a goalie. The article then goes on to discuss developing the motor skills and physical literacy before learning the specialized technical skills of goaltending. (Article at http://ingoalmag.com/general/braden-holtby-wasnt-a-full-time-goalie-until-age-12/)


(Photo from http://goaliestore.com/board/forum/equipment/equipment-forum/108969-official-2013-2014-gear-sitings-thread/page136)

 



The Athletic Goaltender

Ingoalmag.com published another terrific article in December 2015 where Clare Austin and Dan Stewart define the “athletic” goaltender. To many, a goaltender is athletic if they are constantly making saves sprawled out or desperately reaching for a puck. While these situations are inevitable in a game, this is probably a description of a goaltender who often misreads the play and is out of position, or has poor core strength, balance, or mobility. The term athleticism with goaltenders is not so much a descriptor of a perceived Hasek-style of play anymore (Hasek was actually incredibly calculated with his movement, as unconventional as it may have appeared), but more in line with robust athletic fundamentals like skating ability, core strength, balance, agility, anticipation, play reading ability, even psychological attributes like staying relaxed under pressure, and play-reading ability. As Dan Stewart describes, a goaltenders athleticism is “a combination of speed, power, balance, eye/hand coordination, control of body and each of its parts, and the ability to combine these things while playing the position. Being a great skater takes athleticism, as does the ability to sprawl across the net to make a save in desperation.” (Link to article: http://ingoalmag.com/features/goalies-101-athleticism-isnt-what-you-think-it-is/)


(Photo from http://o.canada.com/sports/stanley-cup-new-york-rangers-vs-los-angeles-kings-game-3)


It takes more athletic ability to move around in control and react appropriately to shots and make saves look easy, not to mention recovering quicker when things do get “unconventional”. A better developed set of motor skills and physical literacy will allow goaltenders to use their more developed coordination and auxiliary muscles to add control to the ever-changing and unpredictable environment. The point is, goaltenders are not relying on a specific muscle group that drives a specific movement the same way a closed-skill sport or activity would. It’s full-body involvement from the toes to the eyes, and the types of situations we can potentially face in a game are limitless. There is no such thing as “if situation “A” happens, just use this save and you’ll be successful 100% of the time”, goaltenders don’t have that luxury. Goaltenders have to be ready to react in a way that’s as controlled as possible, putting the goaltender in the best position to make the save and recover afterwards. This makes the athletic components described earlier so important to develop at early ages, and somewhat paradoxically, attempting to develop these components (muscle strength, balance, coordination, agility, power, etc.) by exclusively relying on goaltender-specific training is actually doing the young athlete a disservice and limiting overall athletic development.


(Screenshot from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikeCcQg6sf4)


If a young goaltender seeks the expertise of a goalie coach, they are going to be taught the fundamentals of the position from the stance, T-pushes, shuffles, c-cuts and rotations, butterfly technique, tracking pucks, recoveries, etc. They will not likely be instructed to practice saves like the one Jonathan Quick (or Carey Price) is using in the above photograph, and for good reason. That is just one of countless situations faced where Quick had to get something in front of the puck and in that case it worked, and we witnessed a highlight-reel save. The technique he used probably wouldn’t be considered proper form by many, so logically as a goalie coach it makes little sense to teach that particular save whenever a rebound comes off the blocker side pad. In that particular situation, the puck was deflected right in front of Quick which led to him kicking a rebound out to Brassard on the doorstep. If the “conventional” save selection was used, probably a back-side push to the middle to get a blocker on the shot, even someone as robust in his skating ability and leg strength like Jonathan Quick probably wouldn’t have made it in time to make the save. Brassard’s shot came so fast that Quick was forced to rely on his reflexes and athleticism. Without the core strength to reach with the paddle while extending his legs and keeping his upper body upright, or the flexibility to reach as far as he did, or the coordination to get a piece of the puck with the back of his stick, or the balance to stay tall instead of falling back, or the quickness to get his pad and stick over, or any number of other athletic attributes, that save would not have been made. Being an extremely talented athlete with highly developed motor skills allows goaltenders like Jonathan Quick to make those saves where others wouldn’t, and I highly doubt Quick routinely practices that particular save or any number of incredible unconventional saves he regularly makes. Likewise, highly developed athletic ability will allow goaltenders to learn new skills and techniques more efficiently, and to apply them in control in the right situations.

This is why a multi-sport component in a young athlete’s life is so important to their development and performance in a sport or position they may choose to specialize in later on. Along with the limited range of motor skill development for a physically demanding open-skill position, there are other drawbacks to early sport or position specialization like psychological burnout and overuse injuries.

 



Early Sport Specialization (ESS)

Early sport specialization or ESS is defined as intense year-round training in a specific sport, to the exclusion to other sports at a young age. Rest or time off is minimal, there’s a high amount of structured training with a misguided emphasis on physical development. There are some extreme examples as seen in the Netflix documentary Trophy Kids, and although that might be perceived as the parents simply seeking bragging rights for raising an elite athlete, it would be at the extreme end of the ESS continuum. ESS does have a time and a place, however it is with highly technical and closed-skill activities, not so much with goaltending. Thankfully, there is accumulating research that argues against early sport specialization, especially considering the common negative effects like overuse injuries and psychological burnout.


(Photo from https://theeverydaystrong1.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/trophy-kids/) 

Participating in many sports at an early age does far more to develop a wide variety of motor skills that simply cannot be developed if one sport or position is committed to too early. Specializing at a young age is actually more likely to stall athletic development as the motor skills required for any one sport or position are repeatedly practiced, essentially only focusing on a thin sliver of all of the athletic components like balance, muscle strength, muscle endurance, agility, coordination, etc. at the expense of the wide range of all others.


Early specialization, The 10,000 hour “rule”, and goaltender development

A lot of the arguments in favor of early sport specialization are actually based on a misinterpretation of a theory made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. In it he talks about the “10,000 hour rule”, where expert performance is achieved only after starting deliberate practice at an early age and accumulating close to ten-thousand hours of practice and competition. This was actually an earlier theory put forth by Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson, where he investigated what factors helped predict expert performance. His results showed that a huge investment of time dedicated to deliberate practice (deliberate practice defined as specific, focused, skill-based practice) starting from a very young age (he estimated 5-7 years old) was the strongest predictor of achieving expert or professional performance. This led him to form the 10,000 hour rule, since it was after this amount of time where performance was at or near expert levels. However, the original studies were NOT performed on athletes, especially those involved in open-skill sports or positions like goaltending. Ericsson’s studies were focused on musicians, mathematicians, and chess players, all of which perform (largely) closed-skill, non-athletic activities.

There are some areas of athletics where the 10,000 hour rule is more appropriate. Highly technical sports like rhythmic gymnastics, diving, and figure skating are examples since the nature of these sports require peak performance at a young age. Something to note is these are largely closed-skill sports where performance is judged based on how well the athlete executes a set routine on a fixed, predictable playing surface. Again, not to take anything away from the athletes that perform these highly complex sports, but the characteristics of the performing environment is significantly different from that of goaltenders.

[As an aside, this may be a reason for the high frequency of more evolved pre-game routines that goaltenders are known to have. A gymnast has far more control over the outcome of their performance than a goaltender does, much of it has to with how well they execute their routine during competition. Goaltenders are arguably the least in control of the outcome of a hockey game as there’s nothing they can do when the puck is in the other end, and everything that happens up until the puck is actually released is largely out of the control of goaltenders as well. One way to relieve some anxiety and pre-game jitters is to become involved in a set game-day, pre-game, or pre-shot routine, something the goaltender has complete control over executing, and something that has some functional value built-in to increase the chances of being successful.]

The 10,000 hour theory is a neat-and-tidy idea of what it takes to become an expert at something, which is what led to the over-application of it as it made its way to the sports training world. This is not to say that being an expert at math, guitar, or chess is easier than developing an elite goaltender, instead I’m saying we can’t attempt to solve conceptual challenges with empirical solutions. Encouraging a young child that has never played goal before to commit to the position at an early age, and relying on the number of accumulated hours spent with pads on to develop the athletic abilities necessary for elite goaltending in an unpredictable, always changing environment may be putting the child at a disadvantage. The empirical “solution” of accumulating 10,000 hours alone will not work in a position governed by pattern recognition and understanding novel concepts of the game to read the play, and that requires a wide range of athletic abilities to react.

The evidence also supports the idea that high levels of training for a single sport or position during childhood and adolescence will not improve overall achievement and will increase the athletes risk for injury compared to those who participate in several different sports (Feeley, Agel, & LaPrade, 2015). Take a look at this comparison:


Notice the findings listed under the Study Conclusions heading. The common theme is that elite athletes in several different sports began their specialized training after age 11, and participated in multiple sports (or multiple positions) up until that time. The exact nature of the training is not the important factor in the early developmental years (11 and younger). We’re finding that if the willingness to be active, participate in many sports, and train for different sports carries over to the specialization training once that stage is reached. Studies looking at elite athletes found that during their younger developmental years, they actually spent less time with intense specialized training than non-elites did, but by the time they hit 21 years of age, the elites had accumulated more time training in their main sport. As mentioned before, to reach elite status absolutely requires intense and specialized training, but before the age of 12 is probably not the time to specialize.

 


Conclusion

I’m not saying don’t play goal and don’t see a goalie coach. I am suggesting that before the athlete commits to goaltending full-time that they have spent some early developmental years (between 5 and 11 years old) learning the basics of hockey like skating, stopping, puck-handling, turning, passing, shooting, etc. There is a reason why the progression starts with skating, then basic hockey skills before introducing the kids to specific positions, especially goaltending. Skating is hard enough to learn on without the bulky goalie pads on, especially when kids are still learning the fundamentals. A common concern I get from parents is that their young hockey player has committed to goaltending full-time too late in the later atom or early peewee years. A later commitment to the position is actually more likely to benefit the athlete later on, although I understand the concern. A robust athletic skill-set is required to be a good hockey player, and solid fundamental skating and other hockey skills are required to be an elite goaltender.

If you are a parent of a young goaltender (below age 12) who has committed to the position for a couple of years already, I would suggest encouraging different positions in the spring and summer months, and even throughout the regular season, as well as a wide variety of sports during the spring and summer months. Easier said than done, but the reasons why are all listed above. These early years on the ice are so important for a child’s motor skill development, and we should be encouraging a wide range of activity rather than narrowing in too early. Specializing too early with structured training limits the motor skill development that goaltenders need in the open-skill, unpredictable nature of the position.

 


Thanks for reading,

Evan Kurylo

 


For any questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to contact me at [email protected]

 



Works Cited

Epstein, D. (2013). The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. Westminster: Penguin.

Feeley, B. T., Agel, J., & LaPrade, R. F. (2015). When Is It Too Early for Single Sport Specialization? American Journal of Sports Medicine , 234-241.

Ferguson, B., & Stern, P. J. (2014). A case of early sports specialization in an adolescent athlete. Canadian Chiropractic Association , 377-383.

Myer, G. D., Jayanthi, N., Difiori, J. P., Faigenbaum, A. D., Kiefer, A. W., Logerstedt, D., et al. (2015). Sport Specialization, Part 1: Does Early Sports Specialization Increase Negative Outcomes and Reduce the Opportunity for Success in Young Athletes? Sports Health , 437-442.

Myer, G. D., Jayanthi, N., DiFiori, J. P., Faigenbaum, A. D., Kiefer, A. W., Logerstedt, D., et al. (2015). Sports Specialization, Part 2: Alternative Solutions to Early Sport Specialization in Youth Athletes. Sports Health , 65-73.

Siebenrock, K., Kaschka, I., Frauchiger, L., Werlen, S., & Schwab, J. (2013). Prevalence of cam-type deformity and hip pain in elite ice hockey players before and after the end of growth . Sports Medicine , 2308-2313.

 



Recommended & supplementary reading

Between Two Worlds: Discovering new realms of goalie development by Justin Goldman

Justin travels all over Europe and North America to the goaltending “hotspots” to learn and describe the development culture in other parts of the world. A notable finding was in Finland, where he noticed goaltenders receive qualified training at every practice during the season which freed up the summers and allowed the young athletes to participate in different sports, and spend some time away from the arena. They found this broader athletic development was greatly beneficial for the goaltenders, especially with regards to having more active hands.

 

Beating Hockey Burnout by Mike Toth

A short article that highlights the fact that many of the top players and goalies in the NHL grew up playing different sports that actually helped them on the ice. The multi-sport childhood is also a prophylactic measure against overuse injuries and psychological burnout. Article can be read at http://hockeynow.ca/major-junior/beating-hockey-burnout

 

April 1, 2016

Posted on April 1, 2016 at 3:50 AM Comments comments (33)

April 1, 2016


Coretex Goaltending is pleased to finally unveil a revolutionary new piece of technology that will change the face of goaltending. Over the past century we have seen an extreme evolution of some of the goaltenders equipment, specifically the pads, masks, skates, and upper body protection. One area the equipment industry has been lacking in is the goalie stick, until now. It is virtually the same shape, size, and proportion as it was back when the position was in its infancy, so it was time for a change. Coretex Goaltending partnered with a local aerospace and quantum engineering firm to develop the latest in goalie stick technology: the Simultaneous Hydrostatic Interferometry Teleportation, or S.H.I.T. stick (patent pending).

With all the talk about the lack of goals being scored in today’s game, Coretex felt an obligation to leave its mark on the game and do its part to increase scoring. But several board meetings on our private yacht, company dinners in Athens, and brainstorming retreats to the Hamptons later, it finally dawned on us that we were in a difficult position being a goalie school with our primary focus on preventing goals, so we started to feel a sense of conflict. But we stayed with it and after our 4th or 5th company retreat to Dubai to our satellite headquarters on the 163rd floor of the Burj Kahlifa, we finally came up with a logical solution.



When a goalie makes a save (aka: when a shooter is cheated out of a goal), the natural reaction is to feel pity for the shooter. The only reason goaltenders make saves most of the time is because they have cheated, and done something despicable like play with sharp skates, shout insults as the shooter is winding up, not hold the door open for the opposing team as they enter the rink, work-out during the summer, scramble the opposing coaches roster card, do vision training, steal the other teams pucks in warm-up, or work with a sport psychologist. The point is, shooters shouldn’t have to work as hard as they do to score and be faced with the task of raising the puck to excessive heights of 12 or more inches off the ice over a goalies pad. Goals should come easy! On behalf of goaltenders everywhere I would like to apologize to shooters for making them frustrated, making them skate more than twice a summer, and just forcing them to adapt and become stronger, smarter, and faster. That is clearly of no benefit to the game. The only logical answer is to increase the frequency of goals at all costs, starting with the last line of defense.


If a piece of the goaltenders equipment was able to not only make a save at one end but simultaneously cause a goal at the other end, we can end the extremely serious issue of not enough red lights blinking in hockey arenas due to a goal being scored. We understand that saves, no matter how unlikely, athletic, spectacular, desperate, or even simply due to thousands of hours of practice and good positioning, are not worthy of fan appreciation. They are not only boring to watch but are destroying the game. People want to see puck-go-in-net, and each and every player who has ever been a part of a low scoring game owes the fans an apology as they are rarely exciting, and tend to un-justifiably divert the fans attention from new and exciting smart-phone apps they could be playing instead.


So we found a way to make goals happen more frequently without the goaltender being at fault. We asked ourselves one simple question- what if a piece of equipment was so advanced that it was capable of interacting with, and manipulating the space-time continuum to instantaneously transport a saved puck at one end and deposit that same puck in the net at the other end behind the opposing goaltender? We knew we were on to something, so R & D began work on the SHIT stick.


According to rule 3.3(a), the goaltender’s stick shall not exceed 3” in width, 15.5” in blade length, and 26” in paddle length. This gives a maximum surface area of 124.5 square inches between the paddle and the blade. Through extensive testing at NASA and CERN, we quickly discovered that this design is actually extremely inefficient with regards to simultaneous puck-stopping and teleportation, and changes had to be made.



 


Instead, we developed a revolutionary new design that incorporates the natural phenomenon commonly found in nature, the wormhole through the fabric of the space-time continuum. The entrance for the wormhole is integrated in to the new shape of the goalie stick, a simple shaft with large diameter circular opening in place of the paddle and blade.



This design complies with current NHL regulations for equipment size, with the surface area of the material comprising the circle not exceeding 124.5 square inches. Here it is in use:

  

The goaltender will hold the stick as normal, and any pucks that enter the circle will not only be considered a save but subsequently directed to the inside of the net at the opposite end of the ice via some basic wormhole teleportation programming on a solid state quantum hard-drive prior to the game.




Initially we had some difficulty with directionality as the pucks would exit the net-end of the wormhole in the wrong direction and shoot back down the ice in an infinite loop at 99% the speed of light, vaporizing anyone and anything in its path while creating a small black-hole at center ice, but a change from a foam core to composite material for the circular opening fixed this minor glitch. Directionality can now be programmed to exit the wormhole to go bar-down, post-and-in just above the pad low blocker, or pop the water bottle which is a real fan favorite.


Of course the post-and-in parameters can be adjusted if facing a south-paw goaltender and can be done so using the iPhone app ($1.99 from the app store) that the coach will have access to on the bench. Exit velocity has also been reduced from 99% the speed of light to a mere 3194 MPH, so there is virtually no risk of creating a black-hole or reversing time anymore upon the pucks exit in to the net, although the sonic booms have been known to cause a brief ringing and discomfort in the ears.

 

 

 


Here is an expensive and highly professional graphic that shows how the SHIT stick works:




As you can see, the SHIT stick simply opens a wormhole entrance from its location at one end of the rink, and creates an exit at the other end directly depositing the puck in the net. All we had to do was bend space-time using a modest amount of energy, as the below diagram displays clearly with no need for explanation.




In conclusion, the SHIT stick finally solves all the scoring related problems with hockey. Goalies are finally able to consistently get on the score-sheet, hockey scores now resemble a typical lacrosse score, fans aren’t forced to waste their money watching saves or almost-goals, and goalies can leave the ice knowing that most of the goals weren’t their fault.


SHIT stick is available for sale through online hard-goods stores on the CERN website under the “Particle accelerator spare parts” tab, on the NASA website under the “used sound suppression water system” tab, and at www.coretexgoaltending.com. MSRP: $79.99, 30 day manufacturers defect and accidental apocalypse warranty. Comes with a free T-shirt.

 

The 12 Second Rep.

Posted on February 24, 2016 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (131)


As seen on Ingoalmag.com


This article was inspired by one simple question: when a goaltender is performing a skating drill with the intent to increase power and foot-speed, how long should the drill last? This will be a basic look at the specific physical demands of the position and ways to target these demands in training.

Power-skating should be a crucial aspect of any goaltenders training regimen. The term “power-skating” implies two things: 1) Power, which is synonymous with other terms like explosive movement, agility, weight transfer, quickness, and foot-speed, and 2) Skating which as we all know is a crucial backbone to the success of any goaltender with their ability to get around in control. In kinesiology, power generally refers to generating maximum force as quickly as possible. Generating maximum force is something we are all able to do, but it is important for goaltenders to be able to shorten the time in which they generate this force to be able to explode across the crease when it counts. Goaltenders train to perform quick, explosive movements, with quick and agile direction changes from forward to backward, side to side, up and down, or any combination of these dimensional movements.

 

Acceleration

Just what is acceleration and why is it important here? Goaltenders need to be able to accelerate from stationary to full-speed, or full-speed in one direction to full-speed in another direction. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, goaltenders have to be able to generate maximum force between their skate blade and the ice in a very short period of time when pushing to a new angle for a quick shot.

Force is a product of two factors: The mass of a goaltender (how much the athlete weighs with all the gear on) and the rate at which they are able to accelerate from one velocity to another. This is represented Newton’s second law of motion in the well-know formula


Force = Mass x Acceleration


Over the course of a game or practice, a goaltenders mass stays relatively constant (assuming proper hydration and no deer hair stuffed in the pads), so the variable in the equation is the rate of acceleration a goaltender is able to use when moving.

Acceleration is not the same thing as speed. Speed (or velocity) is a constant term that describes the rate at which something is moving at a particular instant, while acceleration is a derivative of velocity, meaning it describes the rate at which the velocity changes. This change can be positive acceleration, like accelerating from a stationary position to some velocity, or negative acceleration like coming to a stop or slowing down. In both instances there is an initial velocity and a final velocity, but the important factor in the acceleration formula is the time in which this change in velocity occurs.




The time in which this change in velocity occurs is the most important variable here. Assume the (arbitrary) final velocity is 30 m/s and the initial velocity is 0 m/s, in other words the athlete starts moving from a stationary position. If this change in velocity happens in a longer time period like 5 seconds, that gives us an acceleration value of 6 m/s². Now shorten the time window to get to the same final velocity to say 2 seconds. That gives an acceleration value of 15 m/s², a significant increase just from shortening the time. This means that shortening the amount of time to reach a certain velocity means an increase in the rate of acceleration, which can be a very good thing in the world of goaltenders. (Keep in mind that the time it takes to execute a quick T-push or butterfly slide is significantly less than 2-5 seconds, those values were just used as examples.)

So we see the importance of decreasing the time it takes to reach a maximum velocity with regards to acceleration. Because Force is a product of mass and acceleration with a goaltenders mass staying the same, a higher force output depends on a higher rate of acceleration, which depends on decreasing the time it takes to reach a maximum velocity.

Linking this physics and calculus mumbo-jumbo back to goaltending, it essentially translates to “A quick, explosive goaltender is one who is able to reach a high rate of speed in a short amount of time”. When we’re in the crease and have to get from one angle out to another to make a save, time is everything and shooters don’t wait. When the game is on the line and we have to be on a new angle, we have to be able to get there as fast as possible while ideally staying as controlled as possible. This means being able to accelerate up to full speed in a small time window, which might be pushing in to a butterfly slide from standing-and-set to follow a pass, or stopping your slide in one direction and exploding to a slide in the opposite direction to follow a deflection, block, rebound, etc. The next question is, what measures can we take to properly train for this?

 

SAID Principle

If you want to be fast, train fast. This is essentially the underlying concept of the SAID Principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands). When training goaltenders, we obviously want to be efficacious in the sense that we have moved the goaltenders outside of their comfort zone during training which calls for a neuromuscular adaptation in some way. What this means is that if a goaltender wants to stay the same speed, they should train at a speed that is already comfortable to them. If a goaltender wants to improve and get faster, they have to train at a higher speed and make their body adapt to working at those higher speeds and higher force outputs, quicker weight transfers and direction changes. Essentially, the goaltender has to get comfortable with being uncomfortable if they want to experience constant improvement. It is not always a fun, comfortable, or enjoyable type of training, but the benefits to athletes like goaltenders are so numerous that the components of the SAID principle need to be incorporated in to physical on-ice workouts.

Not every drill done on the ice is done to increase a goaltender’s acceleration, nor should they be. Just as drills can target something technical or tactical, there is also a component for state-specific physical fitness when moving with the resistance of all of the equipment that cannot be done off the ice in the gym. It is during these physical fitness drills designed to increase foot-speed, power, quickness, agility, etc. that the proper energy systems should be a major focus. Some energy systems are responsible for sustaining movements for long periods of time, and others are responsible for short duration, high-speed, high-intensity movements. So what is an “energy system” and how can we target them?

 

Energy Systems

Bear with me as I comb through my old kinesiology resources now to provide a basic and hopefully digestible explanation of human energy systems, which will lead to why it’s important for a goalie (coach) to know about them.


For us to do any kind of movement, we have to call on one of our body’s energy systems. No movement is free, every time we do some movement as small as blinking or as big as an Olympic lift, our muscles are driving that movement, and our muscles need fuel. Just as a car uses gasoline and oxygen in a combustion process to power the wheels, our muscles use a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) as the immediate source of fuel to power our muscles. The cool thing with ATP is that the molecule is held together with high-energy bonds, and the energy released when these bonds are broken is essentially what drives our muscles.




But we don’t have an unlimited supply of ATP, and it takes some time to re-fill our ATP stores as our muscles are working. The harder our muscles are working, the faster the ATP is being used up and depleted. If muscle contraction is to continue, our bodies must continuously rebuild the ATP molecule, and replenish the ATP stores. The metabolic processes for producing ATP can be broken down in to two main categories: Aerobic, and Anaerobic.


Aerobic essentially means a chemical process that requires the presence of oxygen delivered by the bloodstream.

Anaerobic is just the opposite, it means a process that does not require the presence of oxygen delivered by the bloodstream.

 

Within these metabolic processes are the three major energy systems:


(Some researchers suggest branching these in to 4 or 5 systems depending on the percentage of use, but for the sake of this article we’ll assume the three major categories)


1) Oxidative system- The aerobic system. This is the system used when the demand of the exercise is low enough that there is enough oxygen present to allow the required ATP to be produced before used up by the muscles and completely depleted. Think low-intensity, long-duration movements like walking, or in the case of goaltenders doing a light warm-up skate at 50% speed. The aerobic system also has access to a wider variety of fuels, mainly fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.


2) Glycolytic system- An anaerobic system that uses glucose as the primary fuel. The breakdown of glucose (and lactate) here produces about 2 or 3 molecules of ATP. This anaerobic glycolysis is able to rapidly produce ATP to help meet energy requirements during more intense exercise, when oxygen demand is greater than the body’s ability to transport and supply oxygen. However, this high rate of ATP production cannot be sustained for very long, only about 60 to 90 seconds.


3) Phosphagen system- The rocket fuel system of our bodies. As the name implies, the phosphagen system makes use of the phosphate bonded to the ATP molecule. The third phosphate is held to the ATP molecule by a very strong, high-energy bond. Once this third phosphate is released, ATP turns to ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate), with the energy from this bond being used to power the muscles. Our bodies have a limited amount of ATP available for use in high-intensity exercise, and must be replenished once depleted. ATP is stored right in the muscle fibers, providing an immediate supply of energy. When performing an all-out power exercise like sprinting (or movement drill like full-speed butterfly- recover- T-push- repeat), our muscles only have enough ATP stored to sustain this type of exercise for about 10 seconds. Thus, this phosphagen system dominates for high-intensity, short duration exercise.


What this all translates to is that an anaerobic breakdown of fuels produces far fewer ATP molecules (2-3 molecules per molecule of “fuel” than aerobic breakdowns, which produce 36-40 molecules of ATP per molecule of “fuel”. The takeaway message is that the ATP fuel stores are depleted much faster than the can be replenished during intense exercise, where low-intensity exercise produces a near-continual source of fuel that allows us to sustain the exercise for much longer.




Different sports rely on different energy systems, but that is not to say that one of the three energy systems is either relied on 100% or not used at all, just that the ratio of use between the three systems changes depending on demand. Here is a simple chart describing the reliance of some sports on the different energy systems:



The important note here is at the bottom where it states “All types of metabolism are involved in some extent in all activities”. Just because one system might dominate in a particular movement, it doesn’t mean the others are shut off. Some movement calls for a lot of power very quickly (exploding back to the post to get a pad on a rebound/ deflection/ bounce off the boards), in which case the phosphagen system would be used. Other types of movement call for a smaller amount of power over a long period of time (sitting at a desk to type out a 12 page article), so the oxidative system would be used.


Energy Systems and Goaltending

Now take a midget or junior aged goaltender (15 to 21 years old). By this stage in their careers, the basic movements that often need to be done at full-speed like butterfly slides, t-pushes, shuffles, and recoveries should be practiced enough that the movements are fairly automatic and require minimal conscious thought to execute the subtle mechanics of the movement. The technique will require fewer technical changes as they get older, so most of the training will be done at becoming faster and more efficient.

On the other hand, younger goaltenders will still need to take the time to get the reps in to build a proper technique. These technical adjustments require more conscious intervention for the smaller details like performing the proper movement sequence (leading with the head, hands, stick, getting a proper rotation, recovering with the proper leg, etc). Speed isn’t as much of a priority as it means sacrificing proper habits at an early age.

With the older goaltenders, there are going to be times in practice where the focus is on getting faster and more explosive with our basic movements. We can design any number of movement drills to target this element, but I believe we have to be aware of the capacity of our energy systems when executing the drills. Skating drills that call for “game-speed” movement at 100% output designed to increase power should be timed to actually increase power! The drills we use have to be valid and improve what they are actually meant to improve. Because this type of movement is almost exclusively reliant on the anaerobic phosphagen energy system, we must be aware of the fact that they are depleting their ATP stores in about 10 to 15 seconds. If a drill like this is timed for 60 seconds or longer, the goaltender physically cannot maintain the high rate of speed they start at for that amount of time, and only the first 25% of the drill is done at the desired speed. This means the majority of the drill (~75%) is done at a slower speed than the goaltender is trying to perform at! Just because the goaltender is sweating and breathing hard, it doesn’t mean they are actually getting faster. They might be improving the capacity of another energy system like their Oxidative system (which is by no means a bad thing, unless it is the phosphagen system that is the focus), but this will have little if any impact on their explosive foot-speed. Train fast, be fast. Train slow, stay slow. Performing a 15 second drill at 100% speed will be far more beneficial than performing a 60 second drill at 70% speed if the intent is to increase foot-speed!


To clarify, I am not suggesting that goaltenders must only train using drills lasting 10-15 seconds. Like most sports, we use all of our energy systems and goaltending is no exception. Much of the game is spent relying on either the Oxidative or Glycolytic systems, but it is important to recognize the type of movement that relies on these. Any movement that can be sustained for a long period of time will rely on the Oxidative system (watching the play at the other end, skating out to stop dump-ins while on the power-play, following the puck as your defensemen regroup in the neutral zone, etc.). Plenty of movement is also reliant on the Glycolytic system, something more intense that can only be sustained for a couple of minutes like holding a deep stance following play in your d-zone like during a penalty-kill. It is important for goaltenders to train in all three energy systems and have a good aerobic base and muscular endurance, but we have to know that when training a specific component like explosive speed, it is trained differently than the other energy systems.


 Anaerobic Phosphagen Drills: Duration and Recovery Time

When we do decide that it’s time to work on our foot-speed and explosive movement, what is the work to rest ratio? As mentioned before the research suggests that an extremely high intensity event that relies exclusively on the phosphagen system will deplete ATP in 0-6 seconds.

(photo from http://athleticconditioningcenter.blogspot.ca/2011/03/carey-price.html) 


I would suggest it would be difficult to find a movement that would deplete a goaltender’s ATP in 6 seconds, and that this type of event would be something more along the lines of an Olympic lift that requires the athlete to move a constant load with full-body involvement. Goaltenders moving at full-speed probably don’t deal with enough resistance to deplete the ATP in 6 seconds, which is why the movement can be sustained at peak output for a bit longer like 10-15 seconds.




I would lean more towards 15 seconds as there will be a time in between the actual explosive pushes that the goaltenders have to regain balance and shift the center of mass appropriately to allow a maximal exertion in another direction. But another benefit of training fast is these weight-transfer shifts will be forced to happen quicker and more efficiently, causing a neuromuscular adaptation so essentially these faster shifts become more comfortable over time.

There are some differences in the literature, but the research generally suggests a work to rest ratio of between 1:5 and 1:20 for higher intensity exercise. The Olympic lift would probably require the longer rest interval, so for an activity that lasts 6 seconds the rest interval would be about 2 minutes. Depending on the skating ability of the goaltender and their ability to move in such a way that they are actually able to deplete their ATP in a 15 second window, they should be resting for anywhere from about 75 seconds to 3 minutes. For goaltenders midget and older, a good place to start is likely around 12 seconds on and 2 ½ minutes rest if the intention is to increase explosive foot-speed. Some judgment is involved when determining the skating ability of the goaltender and if they are agile enough to be able to shift their balance quick enough to explode in another direction and deplete their ATP in that amount of time. Younger goaltenders who still need to think about the mechanical nuances of their movement won’t be able to reach this peak output the same way they would if they were sprinting up a set of stairs, as the movement is not yet automatic enough to perform without thinking, and the shifts in balance take slightly longer as well. This agility will improve over time if drills are done at the proper work to rest ratio to allow the goaltender to move at whatever their full-speed is at that time.




As for the number of sets, 3 or 4 is a good place to start but there are other factors at play here. One factor is limited time, so with a 2-3 minute rest the goaltender might run out of time allocated to them during a team practice or ice-time. Also the goaltender will start to fatigue after a few sets and the top speed at the onset will slowly start to decrease.


 



So after all that, my takeaway message is this: Train fast, be fast. Train slow, stay slow. With the skating drills done to focus on increasing foot-speed, explosive power, weight transfers and direction changes, it is important to work smart as well as hard. Don’t expect to be able to perform a maximal exertion drill at 100% speed for 60 seconds. If the intent is to become faster and force your body to be able to perform at a higher speed than it is currently used to, the drills must be designed to allow for this. If doing a maximal-output skating drill at top speed, expect to be able to sustain this top speed for only about 10-15 seconds, with the top speed rapidly declining for any amount of time after. If a drill like this is done for 60 seconds, the goaltender is training to move at a slower speed as they are spending the majority of the drill back inside their comfort zone, which isn’t facilitating any improvement. Again, train fast, be fast. Train slow, stay slow. Performing a 10-15 second drill at 100% speed will be far more beneficial than performing a 60 second drill at 70% speed if the intent is to increase foot-speed and anaerobic capacity!


I hope this article was informative and useful in some way, and didn’t put anyone to sleep or bring back any bad memories from high-school science classes. For further discussion, contact me via the custom submission page or [email protected]


Thanks for reading!

Evan Kurylo



(Most of the information on ATP and energy systems is from Anthony Leyland, M.Sc., kinesiology Professor at Simon Fraser University. Bio at http://www.sfu.ca/~leyland/. Literature available upon request, including referenced information, charts, and graphs.

All of the information is taken from university lectures, academic articles, courseware, personal contact with kinesiology and physiology professionals, and relevant textbooks from several kinesiology and neuroscience classes from Simon Fraser University. All references are available upon request. Information is from academic, scientific, peer-reviewed sources, and not simply the result of a Google search or speculation.)

 

The Rule of Right-Angles: Understanding the term 'Angle Before Depth'

Posted on January 28, 2016 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (52)

I’m a firm believer in playing an efficient game. Goaltenders can increase their efficiency in almost every category of their game, from positioning to angles, save selection to tracking, puck-handling to psychological processes, and many more. In this article I want to focus on efficiency in angles and positioning and unpack the term “angle before depth”. What the term refers to is when following a pass and moving to a new angle, say from shooter “A” at the half-wall to shooter “B” in the slot, the idea is to get on your new angle as soon as possible, and then worry about how far you come out to challenge. If it’s a quick play that leads to a quick shot like a one-timer, the goalie should arrive at that new angle as soon as possible to at least give themselves a fighting chance at being able to reach the shot, no matter where at the net the shot is placed. If depth is the priority (maintaining your “challenge” to the shot), goalies create a longer path to arrive at the new angle, and often don’t quite get to the ‘leading angle’ in time for the shot.


This article covers a concept that is well known by goalie coaches and goalies everywhere, and I am by no means claiming to have come up with this “Right-Angle” concept. My goal with this article is to provide a clear explanation complete with diagrams to hopefully clarify what can be a challenging concept, especially when trying to implement it in to your game. I also believe that if anybody should be over-thinking during a game it should be the goalie coach and not the goaltender, which is why it helps to have some guided and simplified instruction on the ice when it comes to this concept to build the good habits, and have this movement pattern become more automatic in a game.


 First let’s touch up on some basic math, specifically trigonometry. Within trigonometry is something called the Pythagorean Theorem, which describes the relationship between the square of all three sides of a right-angle triangle. If it’s been a while, a right-angle triangle is one that has an exact 90º angle as one of the three angles:

(Image from image.wistatutor.com/content/feed/u459/5_0.GIF)

The remaining two angles will add up to 90, so the right-angle triangles can take a variety of different forms with lines of different lengths. This is important as the right-angle triangle is something that can be used on the ice to determine the best path to take to a new angle, as will be described shortly.


The second important feature of the right-angle triangle is the fact that it contains what’s called a hypotenuse. The hypotenuse is just a strange word for the longest line in the right-angle triangle, and is always opposite the right-angle. This means that the two lines making up the right-angle can be any length you want them to be, but the hypotenuse that connects them will always be the longest of the three lines. This is also an important concept to keep in mind with regards to moving to new angles, and here is why:




In the diagram above, the puck starts out at the bottom of the circle and is passed up to another shooter in the slot at about the hash-marks. Depending on the age, goalies tend to follow the pass in one of a few ways- (1) in a long arc that follows the shape of the crease, (2) on a path that parallels the path of the puck, (3) a shorter path to the middle of the crease, or any number of possibilities in between. Keep this idea of “different paths” in mind as you read on in the article.

 

When goaltenders line up to a puck, they are actually doing some pretty serious math without even realizing it. Although often inadvertent, goaltenders are masters at real-world geometry. We can place a puck anywhere on the ice and have a goaltender line up to it, which they do by “getting on the angle”, and “squaring up”. To get on the angle, what the goalies are doing (sometimes without realizing it) is drawing an imaginary line from the puck, to the center of the goal line between the posts. This is the anchor point, and it stays the same no matter where the puck moves on the surface of the ice. For example:




All six pucks in the above diagram represent shots from random locations on the ice. For a goaltender to be on their angle, they want to have the imaginary line pass through the mid-line of their body (think bellybutton), which ensures they are covering as much of the net as possible and not leaving themselves with an impossible reach to any one side by cheating or being misaligned. And of course, to further cut down the angle the goaltender moves out toward the puck along the imaginary line. So let’s view an example of the Rule of Right-Angles in action, and why I would argue makes the most logical sense to follow to increase movement efficiency, by decreasing distance travelled.



 


In the above diagram, the puck starts at point “A” and is passed up to point “B”. The green lines represent the imaginary lines that the goaltender must get centered on to be on their angle. The gray line on the point “A” line is the goaltender, who is outside the crease lining up to the shot and challenging the shooter. But now that the pass is made to a new shooter (potentially for a one-timer or quick shot), the goaltender must get over quickly to cut down the new angle. In other words, the goaltender must get from point “A” to point “B” as fast as possible. We’ve all heard it before how the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and in this case that straight line must be at the proper angle to take the absolute shortest path possible. Here is where the right-angles come in to play:




The goaltender moves along a path that will maintain their depth from angle “A” to angle “B”. Although they arrive outside the crease, they are intersecting the line of the new angle in such a way that they have increased the total distance covered by potentially several feet. In other words, the more a goaltender tries to maintain depth on the puck, the longer their path to the new angle becomes. It doesn’t always have to be about having the quickest feet when navigating around the crease if goaltenders can optimize their movement paths to travel along the shortest path. A fast goaltender can play even faster, and a goaltender with average foot-speed can play fast if they increase their efficiency.

 

The Optimal Path


The optimal path with regards to ‘angle before depth’ is the shortest path to the new angle. This isn’t exclusive to quick one-time plays either, as there’s something to be said for conserving power wherever possible throughout the course of a game. Here is an example of what the optimal path looks like, and the reasoning and simple math behind it:




The above diagram shows the optimal path to take to the new angle. Mathematically, this is the shortest possible path a goalie can travel, one that intersects the line of the new angle (shot ”B” at a 90º, or right-angle. Because this path is one of the lines that forms the right-angle, anything either above or below this line (towards the goal line or towards the top of the crease) must form the hypotenuse of this established right-angle triangle, as it will connect to the adjacent line forming the right-angle. From earlier in the article we know that the hypotenuse is the longest line in any right-angle triangle, so any path that is not along this right-angle intersection must be a longer line and thus, more ground for the goaltender to cover to arrive at the new angle. Depending on where the pass originates and where the shot is taken from, this added distance of taking the “hypotenuse” line instead of the “right-angle” line might be a difference of several inches, or several feet.


As stated before, you don’t have to be the quickest goaltender in the world if you are efficient. Of course once a goaltender arrives at this new angle, they should track out to challenge the shot if there’s time and the situation allows for it (eg. no back-door presence). This is the mathematical concept behind ‘angle before depth’.


Tracking out and re-gaining the depth is important as well and I am by no means suggesting that every goaltender starts to play a deep game like Henrik Lundqvist, but this concept may be one of the many things that makes him so successful as he moves with increased efficiency throughout the course of a game. Even a smaller goaltender like Jaroslav Halak rarely plays outside of his crease while the play is in his defensive zone, until he gains depth by challenging a shot. Most of the movement following the puck as it’s moved around the zone is done by taking short lines within the crease, which allows him to arrive at the new angles early and well before the shot is taken. Once a player looks like they are about to shoot, by all means track out to cut down the angle if the play allows for it.


(screenshot from www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4BScvS2JXQ)


I feel this optimized movement is especially important when killing a penalty. Penalty-kill units are structured to keep the puck on the perimeter until a play can be made by the power-play unit to get a high quality shot. With so much of the PK being perimeter puck movement with the killers putting themselves in the shooting lanes, goalies can afford to utilize this angle-before-depth-type movement when following the passes to reduce the total distance travelled during a PK. Two minutes of explosive movement in the form of shuffles, T-pushes, butterfly slides, C-cuts, etc. is physically taxing, so it’s important to optimize this movement and not expend most of the energy tracking the perimeter passes before a shot is even taken. Again it’s all about efficiency, arriving early to set the feet and read the play to increase the chances of making the big save once the shot comes.


(screenshot from www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoPFX2od4rA)

I have found that goalies naturally do a fairly good job of taking close-to the optimal path to the new angles, but if they are going to be off it usually means they have chosen to maintain some depth on the puck and have under-rotated before pushing to the new angle. Alleviating this means getting slightly more rotation before the push to the new angle, to intersect the new angle at a right-angle. Taking the extra split second to rotate further will actually save the goalie time in the overall save process when the added rotation allows them to arrive at the new angle sooner, set the feet, and maybe even track out to challenge if the play allows it.

 

There are situations where the “Rule of Right-Angles” doesn’t always apply. For example, longer cross-ice passes like from one faceoff dot to the other. Have a look:




In the above diagram, the two green lines form an angle of 90º or greater at the goal line, so for a goaltender to be out challenging on line “A” it doesn’t make any sense for them to arrive at line “B” at a right angle, as they would end up doing a complete 180º rotation and end up inside the net, not exactly an efficient or logical movement pattern. In this case there are a couple of things to keep in mind: Longer distance passes like this mean more time to get across. They also mean a greater distance for the goalie to cover, so I believe the biggest thing to keep in mind is the pre-movement rotation. Rather than making a long distance even longer, goalies should focus on rotating enough to arrive at the new angle at close-to a right angle, erring on the side of gaining depth (the alternative being ending up inside the net). Depending on the play, this might mean aiming for the far post, or if there’s time arriving a bit further out. For the short passes, maintaining a lot of depth may mean increasing the path by a matter of inches. For these long passes, maintaining a lot of depth will mean increasing the path by a matter of feet. The diagram below will map out two different paths, one has depth as the priority and the other has the angle as the priority:




The “Angle first” path would be a result of a fairly large rotation before the push, and has the goaltender arrive at the new angle inside the crease. The “Depth first” path requires a smaller rotation, and has the goaltender arrive at the new angle at the same distance outside the crease as where they started. Scaled up (calculations and measurements available upon request), the “angle first” path is about 14 feet, 5 inches long where the “depth first” path is about 19 feet, 3 inches long. Maintaining depth in this case adds almost 5 feet of extra distance to be travelled! In a case like this where the shot is coming from so far off center, the available net to shoot at is greatly reduced and the goaltender is likely overlapping with unnecessary coverage, where the “angle first” path has them in a good position to reach any puck with the reduced available net behind them. Not to mention maintaining depth in this case would greatly open up the back-door options, and require another very long push in a very short period of time to have any chance of making a save, where the reduced depth position is in a much better place to act on back-door plays. By taking the shorter more efficient path, a goaltender hasn’t guaranteed a save but they have made the good choices which greatly increase their chances of making the save, which is something we can control and something we need to do.

 

I hope these concepts make sense and don’t complicate movement patterns too much. It is no doubt adding to the cognitive load of a goaltender to have to think about intersecting imaginary lines at 90º angles during play, but the habits that arise mainly due to focusing on getting an extra rotation actually arise fairly quickly. We all have those systems practices where the players work on special teams and goaltenders can go for a while without a shot, so this is a good time to think about getting on to the new angle more efficiently when following the passes. I have found it also helps to spray paint some lines on the ice originating from the middle of the goal line and extending out to the faceoff dots and up the middle of the slot, and to just have the goaltenders do simple movement drills following a pass from one line to the other, focusing on intersecting the new line at a 90º angle then gaining depth by tracking outward if there is time and the play allows for it.


I hope this was helpful in some way. For further discussion please contact me at [email protected], I welcome any and all discussion! Make good choices, control what you can control, and get out of your own way.

Evan Kurylo

 

Don't let your Warm-Up Burn you out

Posted on January 7, 2016 at 5:35 AM Comments comments (675)

The warm-up is good for a lot of things. We get a feel for our gear, our edges, the ice, for bounces in an opponent’s arena and the size of the ice, how well the nets are anchored, and much more. The warm-up should also be approached different than the game, especially from the goalie’s perspective. No stats are kept during warm-up, and nobody wins or loses a warm-up. It is a short time slot allocated to get a feel for the game of hockey, before a game of hockey, so it’s important we approach the warm-up properly from a physical stand-point, and more importantly a mental standpoint.

(photo from: brookslaichyear.com/tag/braden-holtby/)

We enter the warm-up and the game with 2 different objectives. A game is where the results matter, where the goals we let in and saves we make influences the outcome of the game, which obviously we are trying to win. There is a greater “outcome orientation” associated with the game, which in order to achieve we break down in to components we can control, and focus on the process. The warm-up has no outcome. Nobody is (or should be) counting the save percentage or goals allowed during warm-up and comparing it to anybody else. There is no “Hockey God” watching over us to make sure we make that one last glove save before exiting the warm-up drill so he can grant us good fortune in the outcome of the game. I will go so far as to say there is little to no correlation to a goaltender's performance in the warm-up and a goaltender’s performance in the game, meaning sometimes you can have a good warm-up and a good game, or a bad warm-up and a good game.

Simply put, the warm-up should be heavily focused on the process of getting game ready, and executing game-day routines. I would like to go in to more detail about exactly what this means, and where the focus should be when you arrive at the arena for the pre-game warm-up.

(Sam-Jaxon Visscher of the KC Pats Major Midget AAA in a warm-up drill at Max Bell Centre in Calgary, Alberta)

 

The Process

Warming up is a process. We hear in interviews all the time about how important it is to “stick to the process” or “focus on the process”, and for good reason. A process, unlike an outcome, is something within our control and essentially comes down to choices. A goalie should come off the ice after the warm-up knowing that they have stuck to their own warm-up process that works for them, and gets them both physically and mentally ready. Oftentimes this starts even before the gear is strapped on, with many goalies having an off-ice process they follow as well. It is a common scene around the arena to see a player in shorts and running shoes juggling, bouncing racquet-balls or tennis balls off the wall and catching them, or having a partner toss or bounce balls or pucks their way. These players are almost exclusively the goaltenders, catching a bouncing ball in order to stimulate the neural pathways between their hands, eyes, and brain.

(GIF image from: www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2014/01/25/warm-up-gifs-caps-play-soccer-with-yoga-ball-braden-holtby-sharpens-hand-eye-coordination/)

Now bear with me as I dust off some of my old university textbooks and get a little bit in to neuropsychology. There is an old saying in Psychology and Neuroscience first coined by Donald O. Hebb (of the “Hebbian Synapse” or “Hebbian Learning”;), and it goes neurons that fire together wire together. What this means is the more a neural pathway is used, the stronger it becomes. With relation to goaltending and eye-hand coordination, the more the neural pathways are used to track an object in to the hand, the stronger and more robust these pathways become. However, due to the extremely adaptive nature of our brains (for a very interesting read on this, check out The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge), these neural pathways must be stimulated regularly or else nearby brain regions and other neural pathways will recruit some of these neurons, which will be allocated for use in another function. Similar to the first term “neurons that fire together wire together”, the opposite is also true where “neurons out of sync lose the link”. Because our entire brain is always working (despite the popular but largely erroneous cliché that we only use 10% of our brains), neurons of one established pathway are often recruited for use in a nearby brain region that may be more active in performing some other task. By doing something as simple as catching a tennis ball off a wall, we are re-establishing nearby neurons in order to make that neural pathway more robust come game-time when it’s time to make a glove or blocker save. This is what I mean by the Process and focusing on those things that we can control. By activating our nervous system before the game, we are not participating in some silly superstition that we have to catch “x” number of balls in a row in order to have a good game because that’s what happened last week, we’re simply increasing the likelihood of being able to make that save once game-time rolls around because we have made the choice to activate those neural pathways involved in our eye-hand coordination. 

The same is very much true when we get out on to the ice. The exact spot on the ice we stretch at, the exact number of shots we face in the 3-shot drill, or whether we stretch our left or right leg first, are all arbitrary components of the warm-up. This is not to be confused as me suggesting that stretching or facing shots is completely meaningless, considering the above argument that it is important to activate those neural pathways we’ll need for the game. What I’m suggesting is again to focus on the process of the warm-up, rather than the outcome of the warm-up. Although it seems silly that a goalie would be worried about the number of shots they let in, it is natural for that to weigh on the mind sometimes. A piece of advice I first heard from my goalie coach growing up (and now mentor, and Professional Sport Psychologist) John Stevenson, is that a situation has meaning only if we give it meaning. That shot that beats us low glove in warm-up is NOT an indication of things to come in the game, but it is all-to-easy to psych ourselves out by choosing to let it mean something. Make the choice to move on with your warm-up, and get out of your own way. After-all, hockey is a game where goals are supposed to be scored, and that is especially true in warm-up. Don’t use the energy worrying about the rebound that got by you in the 3 on 2 drill. Instead, control what you can control which means at that moment making the choice to do the things you have practiced that you know greatly increases your chances of stopping the next one.

(Josh Brindza of the KC Pats, Major Midget AAA in a stretch that hurts us more to look at than it hurts him to do.)

Much of the warm-up is about feel, like getting a feel for the ice, the posts, your edges, your butterfly slide, and getting a feel for the puck. But it’s also about getting the right feeling, that mindset that you are prepared to go in to battle and be a force to be reckoned with. Being prepared leads to being confident and we’ve all felt the difference when we are playing with confidence, and without confidence. When we play without confidence, we tend to make ourselves smaller, play deeper, play back on our heels with hands drifting behind us, our eyes don’t track the puck as well, and among other things we are generally performing well below our ability. Nothing in life is ever certain, and it is especially true with hockey and goaltending. Most of what happens out in front of us is totally out of our control, although there are some situations where we can have an influence like baiting a player to shoot for a particular location or communicating with our teammates. That being said, whether or not they take the bait or listen to what we are shouting is still very much still out of our control. I say this because there is a certain degree of acceptance that a goalie must have to properly control for the things they can change during a game, and accept those things we cannot change.


...grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

 

This is an excerpt from a version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. No matter your religious beliefs or denomination, I truly believe the concept is one of the most important for a goaltender, hockey player, or athlete in general to keep in mind during practice and performance.

Trying to control the outcome of a game is a futile exercise, with so much of what happens during a game happening outside of our control. Focusing on the process of tracking pucks, setting our feet, taking efficient routes to new angles, breathing, communicating, and all the other choices we make when we’re playing our best, greatly increases our chances of achieving the desired result. If these aspects are focused on during warm-up (and practices), they start to become less of a choice and more of an automatic process at game-time, which is the frame of mind we ideally want to be performing in. That which requires minimal conscious thought about our specific movements, so we can focus on reading the play in front of us to anticipate shots. This starts with the warm-up and knowing that we have made the right choices and executed our game-day routine, so when the puck drops to start the first period we know we’re ready.

 

 

The Routine

First and foremost, I want to make a clear distinction between a routine, and a superstition. A routine with regards to goaltending is a series of steps put in place that are easy to execute, that when executed have a practical significance to our preparation, which increases our chances of achieving a desired outcome. Building a game-day routine for a goalie is a process in itself, and should not be resistant to change. Game-day routines follow a similar trajectory to that of natural selection, in the sense that the routines are usually evolving to some extent, with some components being replaced by others that a goalie feels are more advantageous to their performance.

A superstition is a belief that two completely unrelated events are somehow connected, usually by supernatural means like through a “Hockey God” watching over us. There is no practical significance, and a failure to execute a superstition-based ritual often leads to increased anxiety about the upcoming game, in a game that can already quite anxiety provoking. The lucky shirt, getting the lucky parking spot at the rink, eating your pre-game Subway at location “x” instead of location “y”, etc. are all examples of superstition-based rituals. What we are essentially doing is moving the locus of control from ourselves, to the unrelated objects and events around us. A poor performance in a game is quickly attributed to wearing the wrong tie or dress socks to the arena that day, and the real issue (whatever it is that day) is covered up. This is an easier way to think if we want to preserve our ego, but a dangerous way to think if we want to improve.

Superstitions are likely to arise when a goaltender is lacking in areas of confidence, preparation, self-efficacy, and a feeling of control over their game. When they do finally get a desired result, they look at the events leading up to it and assume they had something to do with the outcome, which is where a lot of the little quirks and rituals come from. These quirks and rituals eventually become reinforced and become a bigger part of the pre-game warm-up. Eventually, goalies have given a great deal of meaning to meaningless events which is an extremely inconsistent and unreliable way to prepare for a game. A routine on the other hand is built up from components that have some practical contribution to you achieving that feeling that allows you to play your best.

 

There are as many different pre-game warm-up routines as there are goalies. Off the ice, the game-day routine can start as early as the morning of a game. Getting enough sleep and not over-sleeping is a good place to start. Choosing to eat a healthy breakfast instead of stopping in at Denny’s for a plate full of bacon is also a good choice. Every goalie is different, but a very light workout or short activity such as racquetball, a light jog, skipping, or any number of full-body activities is a good place to start. It is important to read your body during this activity, and to not overdo it so early in the day before the main event. This is why NHL morning game-day skates usually last no longer than 45 minutes, and consist of flow drills designed to wake up the senses without burning out the muscles. After the morning activity, a light stretch can be a good idea, while making sure to re-hydrate and replenish your body’s nutrients with a healthy meal (I don’t claim to be an expert on sport nutrition nor am I certified, but there are plenty of good resources readily available for reading if you wish to learn about the specifics of what to eat on game day).

Lots of players will take advantage of some spare time in the afternoon to take a quick pre-game nap. Again I don’t claim to be an expert on circadian rhythms or sleep, but I see it more as reading your body and giving in to what it needs on game day. In a book by Dr. Michael Lardon titled Finding Your Zone, he talks about observing Phil Mickelson catching a cat-nap just before teeing off on the final day at the 2006 PGA Masters Tournament at Augusta. Mickelson knew he was prepared, and rather than frantically trying to get as many practice shots in as possible before teeing off, he read his body and knew what he really needed to do in order to perform was not practice, but take a quick nap. Mickelson ended up holding the lead and winning the tournament. The nap on game-day is more than a ritualistic activity, it actually serves a purpose by providing athletes with some restorative sleep. So again we see another functional, practically significant aspect of the warm-up routine. Keep in mind this sequence of game-day events is just a template laid out to give examples of some of the practical activities you can incorporate in to your warm-up routine. After a nap (which in my experience and research should last no longer than 90 minutes, probably even less) something many players do is have a cold shower, which will wake you up better than any coffee or energy drink. Then it’s time to dress, and get over to the arena.

Once at the arena there are a ton of options to include in the warm-up routine. Depending on the level of hockey and specific team there may be time to lounge and have a small snack, team warm-up workout, individual workout, video sessions, equipment maintenance like taping up sticks, the list goes on. The important thing to notice is that each of these activities has some practical significance to preparing for the game. Getting together as a team for a game of sewer-ball (or 2-touch, whatever you choose to call it) activates the feet, coordination, and brings up the energy and compete level in the players. An individual workout on the exercise bike warms up the legs and allows the player some time to be mindful, and think about their role in the upcoming game, and reflect on successful past games. Video sessions are not done just for the sake of doing video sessions, but to study the opposing teams systems to gain a tactical advantage. Taping a stick can sometimes be done compulsively, but again you need a comfortable grip on your stick and a fresh tape job on the blade does have a practical significance as well.

Once on the ice, the specifics of the warm-up aren’t as important but taking care of the process is. You can’t control where the players shoot, so don’t become upset if you haven’t faced as many blocker-side shots as you would like since you can’t control it. Focus on your tracking, your pre-shot movement, arriving early and setting your feet, reading the release, having a good forward lean, your breathing, your save selection, and whatever other aspects of your game you feel are important to you. Stay loose, stay hydrated, and stay focused. These are all choices, and a good warm-up is about making good choices.

 



So for your next game, evaluate what you are doing in both the off-ice and on-ice warm-ups. Ask yourself if what you are doing has any practical significance to your physical or mental components of your game. Ask yourself, “Is it really worth beating myself up for that shot I let in during that warm-up drill?” Are you worried about your upcoming performance based on the fact you accidentially tied your left skate first instead of your right? Do yourself a favor and get out of your own way. Let yourself feel good in the warm-up, no matter the outcome or meaningless events leading up to it. You already have 20 players on the other team playing against you, so you don’t need to battle another one inside your own head.

I hope this helps in some way! For any questions or further discussion, please send me an email at [email protected]

(Information for the neuropsychology and superstition content taken from Biological Psychology, 6th Edition- An introduction to behavioral, cognitive, and clinical neuroscience (Breedlove, Watson, Rosenzweig), and from Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders, 5th Edition (Barlow).

 

Take Pride in your Short-Side

Posted on December 30, 2015 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (2666)

This is the first entry on what will be a regular contribution to some technical breakdowns. There has been a lot of talk and progression in the last couple of years on new save selections specifically developed to increase the consistency of making short-side, and sharp angle saves. Among the "soft" goals that we know we should have, the sharp angle goal is somewhere near the top of that category. Even the most casual hockey fan realizes that the further off-center the puck moves, the less net there is to shoot at, so with so little net to cover, how come goalies can't make that save 100% of the time? There's a few reasons these types of goals have been scored in the past on some of the biggest stages, and why they continue to be scored from time to time today. This article will provide a brief history of the evolution of goaltending with respect to the sharp angle shot, and focus on some of the technical aspects of new save selections designed to decrease the challenges that goaltenders face when facing a short-side, sharp-angle shot. 

This story really starts in 2010. It was an exciting year for hockey, with Team Canada winning gold at the Vancouver Olympics and the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup in a thrilling OT victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Both winning goals were scored in Overtime by 2 of the leagues top players in Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane, but what these goals also had in common was they were shot from poor angles just above the goal line. Here's a refresher: 

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In both cases, the shots aren't all that hard, deceptive, or perfectly placed, yet they are still able to give NHL goaltenders a difficult time (not perfectly placed as in a hard, quick snap shot off the post low blocker an in, for example). The problem was, in 2010 we didn't have a very good save selection for playing these types of shots. There were a few options though, for example a straight butterfly a step outside the short-side post, which would allow the goalie some overlap to seal off the short side. A big problem here is the goalie greatly increses the size of their back-door, and any play to the slot or far side would leave the goalie completely exposed and leave a wide open net for the shooter. 

Another option would be to hang back on the short-side post, and execute a sort of awkward pseudo-butterfly with the pads facing up-ice and chest facing the shot, or vice versa. This is not without its issues either, as Ryan Miller demonstrates in the first video (and will be examined in more detail later in the article). This save would leave the short side exposed as there is no real means to lean in and seal off the post. The puckstopping surface area is also decreased as some part of the body, either pads or chest is facing up-ice away from the shot. 

This brings us in to the one-knee down saves, first focusing on a save called the "Regular VH". Here's a picture:

 (http://www.tsn.ca/polopoly_fs/1.107869!/fileimage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_300/post-to-post.jpg)

The VH refers to the orientation of the legs relative to the ice. In this photo, Tuukka Rask has his post leg Vertical, and back leg Horizontal, abbreviated as VH in the name. Today, this is known as more of an old-school save selection, not to say there isn't a time or place in todays game to use it since there absolutley is. 

 (screenshot from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er2-XfJrVLU)

This is the other VH variation, commonly known as the "Reverse VH". In this save, the orientation of the legs is reversed, so the post leg is Horizontal along the ice, and the back leg is Vertical in relation. This is a relatively new save selection that has been incorporated in to the save selection arsenal of goalies all over the world. 


Advantages and Disadvantages

Let's start with the traditional, Regular VH. To move in to the save from standing, all that is required is essentially dropping the back leg along the ice, so the Regular VH is a faster save to execute and take away a good part of the bottom of the net very quickly. Also, because the puck is at the goalies short side, shooters may elect to pass out to the slot for a higher percentage shot. Because the leg that will push is already vertical, under the goalie, and blade is engaged, the pushing leg is "loaded" and ready to push at any time to get to the new angle. 

Jonathan Quick demonstrates the lateral push from Regular VH for a quick walk-out play from beside the net: 

(Photos taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMuUXXnH8NM)


Leon Draisaitl collects the puck in the corner and has some room to make a play. Quick realizes it will probably be a jam play once Draisaitl gets closer, so holds his ground on his feet and begins his backward tracking back to his post. 

Draisaitl is moving the puck from backhand to forehand while carrying some speed east/west, hoping to open up Quick. Because Draisaitl is on the backhand so close to the net and behind the goal line, there is virtually no risk of a shot to the short side, so a Reverse VH isn't necessary to seal up that post. Instead, Quick knows he is going to have to make a push to his blocker side, so he keeps his post leg engaged and ready to push. He is just entering Regular VH in the above photo, dropping his back leg to seal off the ice which is where shooters are looking to put the puck in this scenario. 

Draisaitl now has the puck in a shooting position. Because he is in so tight, his shooting options over the shoulder are eliminated, and the only way he can score is by putting the puck through Quick by opening him up. Quick has been here before and knows exactly what to do. Because Draisaitl is in so tight and his blade is closed, he's looking for a hole somewhere along the ice so Quick elects to go paddle-down, with virtually no risk of being beat over his blocker shoulder he is able to maintain a tight seal along the ice with his paddle as he pushes from side to side. 

Draisaitl gets a shot off toward the far post. Quick did such a good to seal the ice at his 5-hole Draisaitl was forced to hang on to the puck and try to reach it around Quick. But Quick does something else very well in this sequence. Instead of dropping and pushing out toward the shooter, he pushes straight across the goal line to his far post. He takes away any angle Draisaitl thinks he may have, and makes an important save early on in the game. 

To contrast, the very next period at the same end of the ice, a similar play unfolds on Cam Talbot.

From the same corner, Michael Mersch is moving out from below the goal line, from backhand to forehand. With 2 Oilers quickly converging, his only hope is a quick jam play on net similar to Draisaitl on Quick, but with less room to pull the goalie across. In this photo, Talbot is in the midst of executing a Reverse VH, to seal off the short side post despite no immediate threat of a shot there above the goal line. 

Mersch avoids the poke check attempt. It's clear that Talbot is in trouble in the above photo, with his stick essentially out of the play and still moving laterally with nothing to close the 5-hole. With Mersch being in so tight and Talbot being a fairly big body, the Regular VH with paddle down similar to Quick in the above example would have been the ideal save selection in this case. Mersch also has the blade of his stick closed, indicating a low release is coming. 

Talbot does well try to salvage a save here by bringing his stick back in front of his pads, but it's too late. The puck has already crossed the line, and the 2nd of 3 short-side goals in 90 seconds has been scored (although a 5-hole goal, the play originated on the short-side). 

This just goes to show that although Regular VH is known as an old-school save selection, there is still very much a time and place for its use in todays game. Quick demonstrated one of the advantages with the post leg being loaded and ready to push, but he was also aware of the play and his tactical use of the save was spot on.


A disadvantage of the Regular VH can sometimes be the quality of the short-side seal. I don't mean to pick on Cam Talbot again, but he has let in a number of strange short-side goals so far this season with the Oilers that are worth exploring. Another goal I'd like to examine demonstrating the post-seal quality of the Regular VH was a game winner with 11 seconds left, earlier this year against Calgary.

(screenshots from www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ri3DEgE-TA)

With less than 15 seconds to go in a 4-4 game, Matt Stajan beat both Oilers defence back to negate an icing call in the Oilers zone. The Flames are pressing hard looking for a shot, and Frolik has the puck in the corner just below the goal line in the above photo. Watching the video you can see Frolik gather the puck, look up at the net, bury his head and fire the puck. Talbot sees this as well and expects a shot, so he keeps himself tight against the post to seal it as best he can. The only area of vulnerability here is the gap at his knee, which is not much bigger than the puck but still an inviting place to shoot.

The shot has been taken, and Talbot begins to execute a Regular VH save. He does not ever actually close up the gap at his knee on the post, and this is one of the final frames it is still visible from this camera angle.

Talbot knows the puck hit him in a dangerous area of vulnerability with regards to a bank shot from below the goal line, and knows the puck is under him somewhere. In a last ditch effort to try to squeeze it between his legs, his brings his back leg right underneith him and against the post, but again it's too late.

Granted this was a lucky shot that took a bad bounce that worked to Calgary's favor. Being on Talbot's blocker side was especially difficult, as he had a threat pinching in from the point so couldn't take his stick out of the play to use the blocker to overlap the knee area. With the blocker hand playing the dual role of blocking pucks as well as manipulating the stick to block passes as well as cover the 5-hole, I'm going to say that Talbot was right the keep his stick in the passing lane as a priority. A few things could have been done different on this play- one would have been to stand up and use his back leg to lean in to the post even harder, while straightening his post-leg to minimize the hole. Another option would be to flatten out along the goal line, which faces the goaltender up-ice and reduces the amount of available surface area for the shooter to bank the puck off from below the goal line. This is also a rare case where the Reverse VH may have been a better option to get a proper post seal and eliminate the bank shot, despite the shot coming from the corner below the goal line. This is ultimately just an example of one of the disadvantages of Regular VH, highlighting the lower quality post seal on what was a flukey goal.

One more disadvantage of the Regular VH is simply the rebounds. Looking back at the Rask photo near the top of the page, it is easy to see that any shot off his far pad, blocker, or stick will result in a rebound being directed out to the slot, potentially creating another quality scoring chance. Also, if a rebound falls just in front of his body along the ice, we want to cover it up as soon as we can. Because of the positioning of the chest and head behind the Vertical pad, it can be difficult to find pucks down at the feet and becomes somewhat awkward to adjust the pads to allow us the reach to cover the pucks. In order to get the reach, ideally we would be moving our post leg from a Vertical position to horizontal along the ice, in to a butterfly. But to do so means opening up and coming out of the save in a time when the puck is loose right in front of us, opening up holes in the worst possible time. Remember, with so little net to shoot at from the sharp angles, by executing the Regular VH we are in more of a "block-mode" mindset, doing our best to seal off the holes between our arms, legs, and chest, as well as our bodies and the post. To fight to find loose pucks and cover them up we sometimes have to exit the block-mode, ideally minimizing the movement and regaining a seal along the ice as quick as possible. 


Examining the 2010 goals

I mentioned earlier that I believed this story started in 2010, with the Golden Goal and Kane's OT winner drawing a lot of attention from the goaltending world. Both were quick shots thrown on net from sharp-angles above the goal line. Both were low along the ice, and both snuck in under the pads of Miller and Leighton. Miller's goal was in a 4 on 4 scenario, with the shot being taken from the bottom of the circle to his blocker side. When Crosby releases the puck, Miller's hips are actually facing up-ice, square to Scott Niedermayer pinching in from the point. His shoulders are sort of lined up to Crosby, and he ends up in the weird twisted butterfly not fully committed to either threat. Have a look:

(screenshots taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBol-8Gfo5g)

Just as Crosby is releasing the puck you can see Millers hips and feet actually squared up to Niedermayer at the point. His head is on Crosby, and his shoulders are somewhere in between Crosby and Niedermayer.

This photo captures the awkardness of Miller's commitment to the shot. I really feel that if the Reverse VH was developed at this time, Miller would have used it to make an easy save. The face of his blocker side pad is about the only thing square to where the shot was released, plus Miller is back on the post covering the short-side. Where Crosby shot the puck from was just at the cusp of an area goalies should use the Reverse VH for, as indicated in the map courtesy of InGoalMag.com:

(This map will be explored in more detail later on)


As we can see, Crosby released the shot just at the bottom of the circle on Miller's blocker side. It was a quick release and no doubt a difficult play, however a Reverse VH would probably have prevented that goal (being a proud Canadian, I am more than happy that it wasn't developed until a couple years later!).

 

(i19.photobucket.com/albums/b154/spyboy1/TSG%20Blog/Crobsygoldengoal.jpg)


One of the reasons I love video work so much is there are some situations where you can see a clear snapshot of the evolution of the position. With Patrick Kane's OT winner against the Flyers, Michael Leighton attempts a save that somewhat resembles a Reverse VH, which would have been the perfect save for that situation. Have a look:

 (screenshots taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dvol_n-gkCQ)

In the above photo, the shot has been released from right at the bottom of the circle on Leighton's blocker side. Leighton is hugging the post and likely didn't expect a shot from such a sharp angle. 

This is the screenshot that shows the evolution of the position since 2010. Leighton is down in a save that resembles a Reverse VH, except with his post leg pad flat on the ice rather than making a wall. The puck is already in at this time, but if any one frame was a catalyst to the development of the Reverse VH, I believe this is it. With only a slight modification to his post-leg pad, as well as getting his paddle up to stay tall and use the blocker to seal the post, this is a look at what was to come. It is unfortunate for Leighton that it took a goal of this magnitude to spark the develpment of a new save selection, but what are goalies if not adaptive? 


Reverse VH

Before getting in to the technical aspects of the Reverse VH, I want to make something very clear. Although an effective, consistent, and fun save selection to use, there is a time and a place. I see too many goalies coming out of summer camps excited about the new save they learned that allows them to be more like Jonathan Quick, and becomes the default save once the puck moves off center or is in the corner. I will refer to the map by InGoalMag.com once again that highlights the areas of the ice where Reverse VH can be used if the puck is in:

The problem with using Reverse VH when the puck is above the "blue zones" (between the goal line and bottom of the circle) is that it opens up the far side, and more important it simply isn't necessary. Being a save designed to provide a good lean in to the post to seal off the short-side, it makes no sense to use it when the puck is closer to the middle of the ice and the goalie would benefit from being on their feet to move to new angles. Likewise when the puck is in the corner below the goal line, it is physically impossible for it to enter the net without being banked in, so unless you have a situation like the Frolik example on Cam Talbot earlier in the article, goalies are best to stand up and make themselves aware of threats roaming in the slot. 

Some key points to consider when using Reverse VH:

Being a save used to seal off the short side, make sure you seal off the short side! Starting at ice level with the post-foot, find a seal that works for you. Some Goalies prefer the toe of the skate blade on the post, some prefer the boot of the pad. Personally I will try to encourage something in between known as a toe-hook, which has the goalie seal the post with the toe of their skate, having the front of the pad hook around the post:

 (screenshot from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ixav0K1A7_0)

Although difficult to get in to consistently especially when arriving at the post in a butterfly slide, it feels like more of a sweet spot by combining the benefits of the boot and blade seals. The boot seal is probably the easiest to arrive in as it is the biggest target, and is easier on the goalies hips by not requiring as much of a lean to seal off the post. A downside is that it is more awkward to push out of, as it requires a push from the face of the pad which must be perpendicular to the desired trajectory line to get the strongest push. Also, the face of the pad must stay vertical and not lean inward, which will open up a hole at ice level big enough for the puck to sneak in.

The blade seal is a widely used option as well. With the angle of the ankle being easier to manipulate, it is easier to get good contact with the post for a good push out of Reverse VH, or to the other post. It is relatively easy to arrive in with some practice, although it is a bit harder on the hips as it puts the goalie several inches further from the post than the boot seal, requiring a greater lean to seal the post. Also, there is some hesitation to arrive at the post with the blade first, as we don't all have the luxury of NHL goalies to get our skates sharpened each period. 

The toe-hook pictured above provides a firm seal at the post, as well as a lot of contact to push out of. This would be a preferred seal when starting off hugging the post, as the inside leg will drop straight down and should find the sweet spot easier than arriving from a butterfly slide. It also reduces the strain on the hips and knees by reducing the distance the goalie has to lean to seal off the post. It will preserve the skate blades as well by using the front of the skate cowling extended down to the front of the blade, toe bridge on the pad, and underside of the boot of the pad as the primary point of contact on the post. An obvious downside is that it is difficult to find this sweet spot from a slide to the post, which is why goalies should be comfortable with each of the pad seal methods. 

 On this particular model of Bauer skate, you can see a natural curve from the bottom of the blade up to the top of the cowling, just above the logo on the toe. Aim to get this part of your skate on the post for the toe-hook method.



Engage the back leg: The Reverse VH is not just a butterfly at the post. We still need to maintain some contact with the ice to stay in a controlled position, to allow us to rotate about the post as well as lean in to the post for a better seal:

(screenshot taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W0jMJ2omv4)

Hutton's glove leg should be up enough to allow his skate blade to be engaged with the ice. The following sequence will show Jonathan Quick yet again with proper back leg engagement, which allows him to adjust his positioning along the goal line and follow the play from behind the net to above the goal line:

(screenshots taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ixav0K1A7_0)

Quick elects to use Reverse VH to track the puck behind his net, holding his ground on the blocker side post. Bobby Ryan has the puck behind the net looking to make a play to Quick's blocker side. As a worst-case-scenario, should Quick fail to adjust his upper body in time for a shot from his blocker side, his skate is already against the post and he is filling a fair amount of net on that side. The next photo in the sequence shows the pass move from over Quick's glove shoulder, to his Blocker side:

This screenshot was taken in the midst of Quick adjusting his back foot after using it to push and rotate his hips and shoulders to the new angle above the goal line. Without the back leg engagement, he wouldn't be able to have the lean that he does in to the short-side post. 

In the last photo of this sequence, not only has Quick re-established back leg engagement allowing a solid post lean, but he has found the toe-hook as well. Should there have been a shot from in tight above the goal line, Quick would be in excellent shape to re-adjust his upper body even further to square his shoulders to the shot, largely by keeping his back skate engaged with the ice. 


The Reverse VH is a fairly technical save that requires attention to many small details. For more information, check out Mike Valley's article Mastering the Reverse VH, available for free at magazine.ingoalmag.com/publication/?i=140306&p=88


One last topic I want to cover with Taking Pride in your Short-Side is the use of the stick. Earlier in the article we saw how Jonathan Quick used the paddle down to perfection against the Oilers in the Regular VH save selection, and where Cam Talbot could have used it as well. This last topic will focus on using the stick as a deterrent, as well as actively blocking passes from quiet zones to shooting threats. 

In a scenario where a goalie is in Reverse VH on the blocker side post, it is important to know when to be in paddle down and when to be taller. As mentioned earlier, the blocker side can be tricky, with the blocker hand serving a dual purpose of making blocker saves and controlling the stick to cover shots along the ice. A good rule of thumb is, when the puck is below the goal line inside the Reverse VH zone (as indicated on the map posted twice this article), use the paddle down option. 

(screenshots taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er2-XfJrVLU)

Our priority here is to block any passes coming out to the slot from behind the goal line. We don't have to worry about staying tall as the puck is behind the goal line rather than in front, so it doesn't do any harm to drop that blocker shoulder to get the paddle down. Even if a pass were to make it above the line for a quick shot, Holtby is still filling a lot of the net and is in a decent position to make the save despite focusing on the pass below the line. Also, his back leg is still engaged, no matter if playing a pass or a shot from Reverse VH, an example of good habits manifesting in game situations. 

Now look what happens when a shot is taken above the goal line from the blocker side:

 (wpmedia.o.canada.com/2013/05/capitals_rangers_hockey_26853111.jpg)

Holtby has moved to a taller position on the post, using his blocker now to cover the gap sometimes created by the hip bend at the post. The camera sees a little bit of net beside his ear, but down from the angle the puck was shot at there was likely very little. Again this demonstrates the importance of the back leg engagement, as it would allow Holtby to push up and in to the post once he sees the shooter is commited to the shot.

So simple rule of thumb: In Reverse VH on the blocker side with the puck below the goal line, think paddle down. With the puck above the goal line and shot is imminent, think paddle up and make yourself tall. 


On the glove side, a simple wrist rotation is all that's needed. Above the goal line, the stick is much less of a priority. 

We can see that the stick is overlapping an area already tightly sealed. The priority is more with the blocker, which is used here to cradle any shots to the chest, or actively deflect rebounds away from the slot. Another major advantage of the Reverse VH in general is the rebound control. If a shot from the bottom of the circle is on net and hits Holtby in the short side pad, stick, blocker, or chest, the rebound is directed right back to the side of the net rather than out front like with the Regular VH. 

This final sequence shows Team Sweden goaltender Linus Soderstrom use his stick as a deterrent at the 2016 World Juniors in a game Sweden would win 1-0 over the U.S. 

(screenshots taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7435iwSZi8)

With the U.S. on a 5 on 3 powerplay, Soderstrom had just made a save with the rebound picked up by the U.S. forward and taken behind the net. Soderstrom is likely aware of the 1-3-1 powerplay formation and knows there is a threat alone in the slot, and has arrived at his post in Reverse VH with his stick extended to the passing lane out front. 

The U.S. player now has his head up and is looking to pass to the slot. Soderstrom likely uses this visual cue to adjust his stick position to stay in the passing lane. Soderstrom is likely also aware that the threat in the slot is a right-handed shooter, so the forward behind the net will be trying to make a pass out from Soderstrom's glove side.

Finally, after a good look the U.S. player dishes the pass to the player in the corner, and a high quality scoring chance was avoided in large part to good stick positioning by Soderstrom. 


I hope this article was useful in some way to those who took the time to read it! Please feel free to comment below or contact me at [email protected] for further discussion. 

I'd like to thank the NHL youtube channel, as well as Sensfan0206 for providing amazing footage of NHL goaltenders to study. Check out his youtube page for a ton of quality footage: www.youtube.com/channel/UC-GlL4ETmf6oWNME6xsyV0w

I'd also like to thank InGoalMag for providing goalie coaches with the means to collaborate, and for posting some outstanding articles by some of the best goalie minds in the business. ingoalmag.com 

Finally I'd like to thank Sean Murray of PFGS in Vancouver BC. I learned a lot of what I know about the Reverse VH from him, and it was fun instructing for him, and watching him at work during my time in Vancouver.   www.progoal.com

Thanks for reading!

Evan Kurylo


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