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Reimer’s Head Trajectory Use Featured On HNIC

Reimer’s Head Trajectory Use Featured On HNIC

During this weekend’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, former NHLer Kelly Hrudey dedicated a segment during intermission to Lyle Mast’s head trajectory technique.

Shouting out InGoal Magazine and Jason Kevin Woodley in the process, he specifically focused on how Toronto’s James Reimer has used it to fuel his impressive start to the season.

Here’s the segment in its entirety:

As we’ve noted on this site before, Reimer isn’t the first goaltender to have incorporated head trajectory into their game with success. Mast has worked with Carolina’s Eddie Lack, Anaheim’s Frederik Andersen, and Winnipeg prospect Eric Comrie, just to name a few.

The biggest name, however, was 2015 Vezina finalist Devan Dubnyk.

If you’ve seen Reimer play this year, you’ll notice he looks similar (albeit slightly smaller) to Dubnyk while he was on his incredible run last season. The examples on the HNIC broadcast are showed some aspects of the technique in action,  but focused mostly on tracking shots off the release, which has since led many to once again proclaim it is nothing more than “keeping your eye on the puck” or “visual attachment.”

The truth is, Hrudey was thinking along those same lines when he first approached Woodley looking for more information for the Hockey Night segment, which was spurned on by Reimer talking about it several times as a key part of his turnaround. (But not the only part: Look at changes in things like how Reimer is better managing his depth it’s clear new Leafs goalie coach Steve Briere is a big part of this run too).

Woodley, who is not teaching head trajectory, despite what the HNIC segment implies, has done video with OR Sports in exchange for learning more about it, and got permission to walk Hrudey through the science and physiology behind it. It didn’t take long for Hrudey to realize there’s a lot more to it. How a goalie moves their head impacts all movements, from skating to save execution to recoveries.

It has been identified by those using it as a key mechanism for patience, and while it is something almost all NHL goalies already did when they are playing well it hasn’t previously been isolated as a key part of that success, or taught as something that can help trigger the return of that good play.

So let’s take a look at Dubnyk’s game for more examples.

Back when he was with the Edmonton Oilers, he was a long, lanky goalie with a lot of upside. Although playing behind a porous defence in Edmonton, he was consistently taking himself out of plays, and forcing himself to reach to make saves. That’s a major issue for any goalie, but especially a goalie of his size.

Here are a few examples:

DubnykBad1

DubnykBad2

Sure, his defence could have done more to help him out on those chances, but that wasn’t the only problem.

In the first example, he is completely off balance. He’s more worried about where to put his foot on the post than actually stopping the puck, or reading the play with a shooter at the top of the crease. As a result, his arms and legs move in all different directions. He flails and reaches at the puck as it heads into the net.

In the second example, we see a goaltender with lazy, disengaged hands. He is unable to get his stick on the puck, and he kicks the rebound directly at the other shooter waiting at the side of the net. Instead of being in position to push across, he, once again, flails and reaches for the puck. Sensing a theme here?

After learning head trajectory, he figured out how to rid himself of a lot of these problems. Years of research have been dedicated to the technique, and I’m not personally able to explain how to teach it, but there are definite signs that point to when goalies are “on it” and when they are “off.”

Head trajectory is not only about stopping pucks. It controls the way you track the puck and move from the time the other team picks it up to the time the puck is in your glove. That is the biggest difference goalies find when they are learning it. It’s more about setting yourself up to A) Track the puck properly and efficiently, and B) Be balanced and ready for any additional chances that may follow.

Simple enough, right?

Let’s take a look at a few examples of Devan Dubnyk when he was at his best last season, during the run that sent the Minnesota Wild to the playoffs:

DubnykGood1

DubnykGood2

He doesn’t even look like the same goalie, right?

Both examples are very similar. A player is receiving a pass from the other side of the ice, to Dubnyk’s blocker side. He is able to read the play correctly, and get himself into a position to make the save in almost no time at all. In the second example, he reads the play so incredibly well, his blocker is no more than a foot away from the puck as it is released. That makes it almost impossible for the shooter to get the puck elevated high enough to score when they are in tight. He has virtually eliminated all of the delays in his movements, and does not have to compensate by reaching – which would open up holes.

Dubnyk has come “off the puck” a bit more early this season, but is working to get back “on it” and Reimer has seemingly picked up where he left off.

While it’s frustrating for some coaches and goalies to continue to hear about this technique without specifics, it really is a lot simpler than some make it out to be. It’s not as simple as “just look at the puck,” which in a lot of cases can actually lead to goalies pulling out of its way. In fact some of the examples since posted to social media downplaying it as something already widely taught are actually footage of goalies doing the opposite. The reality is many of the fundamentals of goaltending, from a simple t-push to a butterfly recovery push, are currently taught with built-in delays tied to how the head moves.

The more intricate details are best explained through video, and every goalie comes with a different set of issues that need to be worked out in order to integrate it into their game.

Woodley’s previous interview with Stephen Valiquette sums it all up quite nicely:

The beauty of Head Trajectory is its simplicity. It’s really is just how you move your head to stay down on pucks while tracking plays and shots, rather than looking left or right or up over the shoulder and pulling off the puck. As simple as it sounds, the applications, like the 13 years of research that went into it, are more comprehensive.

“It’s the way we move our head to track the puck all the time,” said Valiquette, “And really it’s a foundation that touches all parts of how we play the position. It’s that valuable. Working with goalies on this, if they can understand it and apply it, it’s the biggest game changer we are going to see in goaltending, maybe ever. Maybe this is bigger than the butterfly. It will revolutionize and evolve goaltending.”

Hopefully the clips shown on HNIC, and the examples of how Devan Dubnyk has used it to revolutionize his game can give you a better understanding of what to look for and help to see exactly how groundbreaking it is.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer, broadcaster, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario as the voice of the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks for CISL 650. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade. He is currently an instructor for Pro4 Sports, and is the goaltending consultant for the BCHL's Surrey Eagles.

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