Carter Hart Uses Eye-Training to Get an Edge
For a lot of goaltenders, “tracking the puck” is a major part of their game. If you ask Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips, it’s everything.
After wrestling the starting job from Austin Lotz during the playoff run of 2014-2015, Hart has followed it up with even better numbers this year. In 37 games, he is 23-11-3, with a 1.97 goals-against-average, and .925 save percentage.
But watching him stand in the net, you probably wouldn’t think that he looks like one of the top-ranked prospect goaltenders heading into the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He isn’t the prototypical 6-foot-4 monster, like Adin Hill of the Portland Winterhawks, for example.
Hart has been putting up incredibly similar numbers to his larger WHL counterpart in Hill – who was drafted 76th overall to the Arizona Coyotes last season, despite being listed at a shade under 6-foot-1 by NHL central scouting. So, how does he do it?
He has developed a physical ability that is commonly forgotten by goaltenders: His eyesight.
Working closely with Zone Performance in Edmonton, Hart (a Sherwood Park, Alberta native) trains his eyesight with owner John Stevenson and his wife Jaci once a week.
John, a former goalie coach with the Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers, focuses more on the mental side of the game. Jaci is the visual trainer that puts him through testing with “CogniSense” training software and on a “Dynavision” board.
“CogniSense is a program where you put on 3-D glasses and look into a wall. There are 6 tennis balls, they light up about 2 or 3, and you have to remember which place they were in. There’s a sequence of events, and they move around,” said Hart, trying his best to explain the revolutionary program.
“It’s a really good tool that can help all goalies at all levels develop their peripheral vision. For example, like on plays where you’re trying to take a quick look and try to get as much ice awareness as possible – that’s where your peripheral vision really comes in.”
The Dynavision board has many different lights patterned across the front, and the athlete must react to each light using only their peripheral vision – which gives them an idea of their reaction time in certain areas. It has received a considerable amount of attention in the past year for its effectiveness.
“The Dynavision board is great because you can really see where your weaknesses are. Like low glove, for example, it will show your time, and you just have to keep working at it. You can really see it translate into your game.”
Both of those techniques are important tools to help train eyesight in game-like situations, but it’s still only part of the puzzle. The more he learns how to track the puck cleanly, the more he finds out that the mental side plays a major role as well. That’s where his training with John Stevenson comes in.
“You can’t focus 100% of the time,” Hart explained, touching on a subject covered by InGoal in a September 2014 article.
“You have to find breaks, like on a timeout, where you’re not really thinking about anything. When you start to find your focus drift off, you have to catch yourself and bring it back to the game.”
One of those ways to regain focus, Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has found, is by shooting some water into the air from the water bottle – then watching the droplets fall down. The small drops of water are difficult to focus intently on, so it requires the goaltender to get back into “the zone.”
That’s the theory, at least.
Hart is another goaltender that does it. Both Holtby and Hart are students of Stevenson’s, so is this something that he teaches?
“To be honest, when I was younger, I just copied it,” Hart said with a smirk.
As it turns out, he’s just a really big Braden Holtby fan, and also wears the number 70 as a tribute. Judging by the statistics that both goaltenders have been putting up, more young goalies may want to start emulating what they do!
“With a guy like Holtby, it really shows that if you put in the work, the success will follow,” Hart went on to say about his idol.
On top of eye training and mental conditioning, Hart also partially credits his overall success to working with Silvertips goaltending coach Shane Clifford, and Edmonton Oilers goaltending coach Dustin Schwartz.
While Clifford flies in roughly once a month from Pittsburgh to spend time with him, Schwartz is much closer to his home town. They work together primarily in the off-season, but also get together to chat about his game on a routine basis.
When he’s not with the Oilers, Schwartz has worked with Lyle Mast at OR Sports. Hart loves to learn about the Head Trajectory technique that OR Sports has developed. The combination of that, plus his eye-training exercises allows him to track down on the puck more frequently, essentially allowing him to play bigger than his frame would suggest.
Another benefit that he noted was the ability to stay on his feet longer, and react later when he is tracking the puck well. He believes that tracking the puck more efficiently has allowed him to become a very patient goaltender.
“One thing they really stress is not overreaching for saves when you don’t have to. Reaching just creates a delay in your recovery.”
Statements like that will surely draw comparisons to Winnipeg Jets’ prospect Eric Comrie, who has a similar build, similar skill set, and has retained his status as one of the best up-and-coming goaltenders in hockey. Comrie was drafted 59th overall in 2013, and has been putting up some incredible numbers in his first full pro season in the AHL.
While Hart would love to follow a similar path, he isn’t about to get ahead of himself. The WHL season is still his focus. When it finishes, then it becomes a waiting game to see which NHL team grabs his rights.