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Head Trajectory Part Of Dubnyk Bounce Back

Head Trajectory Part Of Dubnyk Bounce Back

Author’s note: A shorter version of this story ran at this week and there was a level of frustration expressed by some about the lack of fine details and explanations. It’s understandable, but please also understand this was not an instructional article. It was informational after Dubnyk revealed ties between a change he made and a new method of puck tracking we were already aware of after other goalies had success with it. There is also an element of intellectual property that is not ours to give away, just as NHL team executives are quoted in articles about using advanced statistics, but never specifically how. It will come out in time here at InGoal Magazine. In the meantime, the core essentials are presented here in this story.

Devan Dubnyk spent a week learning head trajectory this summer. (Photo by Clint Trahan/InGoal Magazine)

Devan Dubnyk spent a week learning head trajectory this summer. (Photo by Clint Trahan/InGoal Magazine)

Stephen Valiquette was having dinner with Devan Dubnyk just before the start of the season, but the focus wasn’t on the food. In fact, Valiquette was no longer even sitting at the table.

The former NHL goalie was down on his knees in a full butterfly with a dry erase board in his hands, trying to demonstrate to Dubnyk a new puck-tracking philosophy called Head Trajectory.

“Got on my knees and spent half the night down on the carpet at the restaurant,” Valiquette said with a laugh of that late-summer night at Andy O’Brien’s star-laden NHL fitness camp in Vail, Colorado.

When it comes to Head Trajectory, however, Valiquette doesn’t joke around.

“I believe head trajectory and the mechanics of how we track with our head to allow our body to move the way we need it to move as a goalie is as revolutionary as my first experience transitioning from skate saves to butterfly,” Valiquette said. “Actually this is bigger.”

Valiquette learned it from its developer, Lyle Mast, who founded OR (Optimum Reaction) Sports, and consults with goalies and coaches at all levels, including as the goalie coach of the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League. And Valiquette thinks that Head Trajectory, which in its most basic form is about how to specifically move your head rather than your eyes to track down on a puck, is a game changer for goaltending.

“I believe head trajectory and the mechanics of how we track with our head to allow our body to move the way we need it to move as a goalie is as revolutionary as my first experience transitioning from skate saves to butterfly,” Valiquette said. “Actually this is bigger.”

As an early adopter of the butterfly who was once fired from a goalie school for teaching it, Valiquette knows better than most how bold that statement is. But talking to Dubnyk about Head Trajectory and the role it has played in him turning around his career and saving the Minnesota Wild’s season, you sensed a similar excitement.

Dubnyk was also quick to point out the role Arizona Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke played in his turnaround after finishing last year out of the NHL and taking a 75-percent pay cut to sign in the desert as a free agent. In addition to helping him manage his depth better by using his ability to beat all lateral passes on his skates as a guideline, Dubnyk said Burke played a crucial role in rebuilding his confidence.

“The reason Burkie is such a great coach is he never told me at any time where to play,” Dubnyk said. “It was never ‘I want you here.’ All we talked about from the start of the year was he wanted me to beat the pass on my feet and be set. All the time: Beat it and be set. … Right from the get go he just put so much confidence in me. There’s no words, it’s not like he pumps your tires every day, it’s just the unspoken, you know he’s got your back, you know he believes in you and you know he’ll go to bat for you. It lets you go out there and relax and play.”

Dubnyk also talked about his annual summer visit to work with Eli Wilson and spent a week at the NET 360 goalie mentor camp in Kelowna, which included coaches like David Marcoux, now with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Sean Murray, to work with strength and conditioning coach Adam Francilla, who he plans to keep training with in the summers. And Dubnyk went out of way to stress the key role that former Edmonton Oilers goalie coach Frederic Chabot played in his development before being fired midway through this season.

“Everything I have as a base to my game technically has basically been Freddy,” Dubnyk said. “From the time that I came into the League, if you look at me then to now, it’s so much different. Everything that I have is from Freddy and working with him for five years.”

If there was one thing that changed this summer, however, it was after meeting Valiquette in Vail.

“It’s all to do with your head. It’s like closing on pucks,” said Dubnyk, who is 11-2-1 with a .936 save percentage since being traded to the Wild. “You discover you have to move a whole lot less than you used to feel you need to. It’s such small movements forward and just closing off the angle of the puck and when you start to realize that and you realize how big you are when you put yourself in the right position – and that’s a big part of it – you start to feel comfortable and then you can be patient on your feet. You can sit there and let plays happen in front of you and not be going down early, and everything kind of comes with it once you realize how big you are.”

Dubnyk is just scratching the surface of Head Trajectory but he understands saves are just one part of it.

The concept of how to move your head to stay on the puck applies to every part of goaltending, from how a goalie moves around the ice following the play, to how they recover and move after a save.

Despite only being introduced to it for a week in the summer, Dubnyk can already feel the difference in his pre- and post-save movements when he does it correctly and when he reverts to old habits. Asked about pulling his head off the puck on rebound goal after a 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, Dubnyk not only immediately recognized what he did wrong in his recovery, but that it actually started with lifting his head off the initial shot.

“I have a pretty good grasp of it,” Dubnyk said. “He showed me video in Vail of times I did it and he’s like ‘you do this stuff without knowing it.’ I’m getting a better grasp of when I do it and when I don’t.”

Dubnyk plans to follow through with Mast this summer.

He’s not alone. Dustin Schwartz, who was hired by the Oilers mid season, has been a big part of OR Sports since the beginning and on the ground floor developing Head Trajectory. Mast has also worked on its development since 2008 with Los Angeles Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford, who uses a core portion of it with the Kings goaltenders.

Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings have been working with Head Trajectory for years. (Photo by Scott Slingsby/InGoal Magazine)

Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings have been working with Head Trajectory for years. (Photo by Scott Slingsby/InGoal Magazine)

Jonathan Quick used a baseball analogy when describing Head Trajectory.

“I played baseball growing up and when you are playing the infield, fielding ground balls and you pick up a little on a ground ball that’s when it goes between your legs,” he said. “Sometimes you get crazy hops and stuff and it’s almost like when you are not afraid to take one in the face or jaw, when you are down on it, you are on it. You might take it up high but you are still there to pick it up after.”

Like other goalies, Quick did it before learning it. But learning it allowed him to realize when he wasn’t “on it.”

“When you are doing it well you don’t really notice it. When you are not doing it you don’t really notice it. But when you are playing well and seeing the puck well it’s because you are doing it,” Quick said. “It’s a weird theory to wrap your head around it, but absolutely it makes sense. It almost seems too simple when it’s put into words, like ‘it can’t be just that, it has to be more.’ You almost don’t believe it but it really is that simple.”

Valiquette echoed those sentiments. He discovered it while scouting for the New York Islanders, when a lot of the junior goalies he liked kept leading back to Mast and OR Sports. Valiquette had already recognized the importance of tracking and how the head moves by playing with Henrik Lundqvist, who does a lot of it naturally. But it wasn’t until spending a week on the ice with Mast in Tri City that he understood its depth.

“It brought everything I’d ever learned about goaltending and took it up 10 levels,” Valiquette said. “It’s how you look at the puck. You have to look at the puck with your head and not just your eyes.”

“…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.”

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.”

Lyle and Valiquette

Lyle Mast (left) and Stephen Valiquette after one of their first sessions together in Tri City.

Another bold statement, but for Valiquette Head Trajectory changed how he saw his 14-year career.

“It gave me closure on my career. I now know why I was bad when I was bad and why I was good when I was good.”

Turns out that difference was all about how he moved his head.

Like Valiquette, Lundqvist, Dubnyk and so many others that reach the top level, it is something almost all NHL goalies already do when they are playing well. But not many recognize that the way they move their head is a trigger to that good play, and because of that they can’t always fix things right away when they struggle.

“100 percent,” Valiquette said. “After my first week learning it, I was like (expletive), if I only knew I had to look at it better. That’s it. In the easiest form it’s like your body does exactly what you need it to do if you have your head positioned properly. That’s it. Period.”

Valiquette knows there will be some doubters. He went through the same thing with the butterfly two decades ago. As a 17-year-old he was still teaching skate saves at a goalie school in Toronto in the early 1990s when good friend and fellow former NHL goalie Zac Bierk convinced him a trip to Montreal to learn the butterfly from Montreal Canadiens goaltending coach Francois Allaire. After three days staying with Allaire, Valiquette returned to Toronto and began teaching some of the butterfly technique he had learned.

“I got fired,” he said. “It wasn’t ready to be accepted yet.”

Valiquette and Mast know there will some who think they already teach Head Trajectory. There are definitely elements of proper head tracking already at play as part of all good technical coaching, but like Valiquette and Dubnyk and other NHL goalies that have struggled to recognize how the way they move their head affects all other elements of their game, Head Trajectory runs a lot deeper than that. Working with Mast for even an hour and the evidence became irrefutable: How a goalie moves his head to track the puck supersedes the other elements.

“Quality sight and the ability to move can compensate for poor technical,” Mast said, “But good technical can not compensate for poor sight and the inability to move. Assessing and enhancing these abilities are a direct function of how the goalie tracks the puck and tendency he has to do it properly and improperly.”

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.


  1. Goalie123

    I am severely confused, so in Quick’s description head trajectory is simply not flinching on shots? Like maintaining and aggressive lean forward with your head and neck to avoid any pull back from the puck. By the way, this could be a huge innovation but still pretty big stretch to call this the biggest innovation ever (by Valiquette), if Quick’s been doing this for years I question the giant impact it has on his game. Last time Quick was truly dominant was 11-12 (or 12-13 playoffs) and he’s on a good defensive team, Scrivens and Jones tore it up when they had a chance to play in LA when Quick was hurt. Plus, Dubnyk performed decent in Arizona and is playing well on a hot defensive first team. He’s playing well but it has a lot to do with the situation he’s in right now.

  2. Dan

    would love to read some in depth technical analysis of this technique

    • salman


    • Cam


  3. Mike

    I’m also a little irked by Valiquette’s claim that it’s the biggest goaltending innovation ever. Goalie123’s comment sums it up perfectly. That said, I’d really like to learn more about what this technique entails. From what Dubnyk said in the NHL Network interview, the primarily goal seems to be to stay square to shooters and be positionally sound: “You can make yourself bigger in the net. You really don’t have to move much to close off the angles.” Obviously that sounds great, but I’d love to know how it’s accomplished.

    • Ben

      Mike, that’s basically what it sounds like, staying square and keeping yourself positionally sound. Especially when taking into consideration Quick’s baseball analogy. It’s probably a bit more elaborate, in that it also sounds like with Dubnyk’s case a key component might also be managing one’s movement efficiently (i.e. cutting out bad habits) and controlling how you move your head/body to keep square with the play and where you position yourself in relation to the crease. I’m making such claims without looking at any of Dubnyk’s tapes from last season (or even earlier from this season), but from looking at the clip here on the page showing some of his play with the Wild it seems like he’s minimizing his movement while saying in a ready position in case he needs to make any last-second adjustments or any other moves with his arms/body/legs (covering rebounds, repositioning to address a loose puck in front of the net, etc.): that is, he doesn’t seem to flail around much. So I’m sure that the training a regimen of exercises that stress making certain types of basic, fundamental moves in relation to where the puck is on the ice. So as far as ‘making oneself bigger in net’ it kind of comes back to the idea that if you play further out of the net you can effectively cut off more high-percentage angles and thus cover more space in front of the net, thus giving whoever has the puck a chance to beat you, but making them go for that low-percentage shot. Of course, where/how you move as play closes in on the crease probably plays a factor then too.

      True, Quick hasn’t been as dominant in a few seasons (but he’s been plagued by injuries, and then played in the Olympics last year) and Dubnyk is also playing extremely well thanks in part to the support he’s getting from the Wild… although let’s not just write off his effort put forth while with the woeful Coyotes: he does own just under half of their 20 wins, and his GAA was a full half-goal better than Smith (along with a save % .020 better than Smith), nevermind his GAA in Minnesota is a whole goal better than either Kuemper or Backstrom (so far, with a save % that’s roughly .030 better than Kuemper or Backstrom). Granted Dubnyk has a smaller sample size in both settings and his numbers might eventually even out, and granted that I’m just comparing a handful of stat categories.

      In any case, I’d also be interested in knowing more about how the technique is accomplished, as well as any other statistical comparisons between goalies that use Head Trajectory compared to those that don’t. In the final analysis, I don’t think it’s going to be something that all of a sudden makes a mediocre goalie into an elite, but it certainly sounds like it can help give any goalie more of a competitive advantage, if only by being made more aware of how they move and position their body in relation to the puck. And since it sounds like it involves very fundamental ideas on positioning and movement, it could quickly become part of the standard method of teaching young players the basics of how to play goal (as well as helping many pros improve their game).

  4. xCey10

    Jep that’s what I’m thinking too. I have actually no idea what you really have to do and what is the difference with just tracking the puck with your eyes or do you have to move your head towards the puck? How can you really train it and what kind of exercises do you have to do? I’m freaking out as a goaltender 😀

  5. Mike

    Come on! Possibly the biggest innovation since the butterfly? First off, the butterfly is a technique. This head thing is simply putting yourself in the best possible position to make a save. It is where the head should be if the goalie is in position. It is an effect, not a cause. Good goalies already do it naturally. Its like saying a golfers needs to finish their shot, in balance, with their body weight on their front foot. It already happens naturally when a good swing is made. How about that? “the foot technique”…revolutionary! Was this article printed on April 1st? Naturally a goalie is going to gain confidence if they are in position. So if anything, this is a new innovative way to teach position to a goalie. And come on…if you’re going to write an article that builds something up comparably to the second coming of Christ. Explain the bloody thing. And there lies the problem. It’s not a new technique in goaltending that can be described. Its a method of instruction.

  6. Brett

    I wonder how much of this “system” is simply reintroducing some of the old concepts of reading the play.As a coach of older kids, at the non-varsity university level, I get so many great technical netminder who have very little concept of anticipating. They are so focused on their progressions, its as if they are blind to the flow of the game around them. I realize much of this is conjecture since the people behind this are interested in protecting their intellect property; however, reading between the lines, that seems my best guess.
    Personally, I would love to see even more of a “hybrid” style creep into the modern game. While I early on adopted the butterfly (Patrick Roy became my boyhood idol in 1986 when I was an 11 year old goalie), I think too much of a premium is being placed on positioning and technique, to the detriment of natural athleticism and instinct. And that’s not to mention the long-term wear and tear of the butterfly on the joints of the lower body. I don’t think we will ever see the widespread adoption of the two pad stack or the skate save, but that does not mean we need to be training robots who disregard the flow of play around them, as they mechanically follow a set of predetermined steps.
    Just the two cents of an old goalie…

  7. Stefan Persson

    2008 I started to work with a focus on tracking the puck. I Work in Sweden and worked with goalies, Viktor Fasth, Markus Svensson, Daniel Larsson and many more Right now I’m working with Robin Rahm. I Have studied this for many years. The reason for this is that this came to me from the goalies I am a good listener and hear what the goalies say in all the analyzes we do together. I have a lot of movieClip of it.Its fun to reading this now and this strengthens my philosophy. This creates more time for the Goalie and the time gives you good balance. I agree that this is an important key in the goalies game. You are able to see the threat in the same time you tracking the puck .An important part of this is also the patience and rotate . Rotations patience (RO-PA) really is controlled by this. This is so the games becomes consistent, this is a process that lives under all practice (on-ice and off-ice) where the good habits created. Communication with teammates also makes everything easier and will affect your patience. This will make your game look easy. “Do Less Get More”

  8. Littlefield

    Two articles later, I’m still very confused by Head Trajectory.

  9. Chris

    Yes, it all sounds great but not sure why it’s being introduced without any detailed explanation. The people who read In Goal Mag do so in order to become better goalies. To bring up a new technique, herald it as the next big thing, and then not provide in-depth descriptions & breakdowns seems counter to the whole purpose of why the magazine exists – and it short changes the reader.
    Not really buying the intellectual property argument either. If it’s so revolutionary like the butterfly then will it not become common knowledge for everyone to use. Why the big secret? Are these nuke codes or something? Either provide the reader with the “how” to along with the “what & why” or don’t bring it up at all. What you don’t do is just tease them.
    It’s not far off from a local news promo at 6:30 pm saying “Scientists discover these 8 things in your home can kill you in the next 10 minutes. Find out what they are at 11:00”. Oh okay, thanks for nothing!

  10. Rob

    It seems with this economizing movement is the key to success. If you economize your gloves then you have to be in the right spot to accomplish that. if you economize your head movement then you have to be in the right spot. I teach a 10-2 rotation of the head. Straight ahead is noon then rotate to 10 and 2. Really the thing here sounds like you are moving your head less which moves your eye less. That being said it is like looking through a camera-if you shake it while you are shooting video the image will be blurry. If you rotate your head too much your eyes or camera is blurry having thus creating a tough image to pick up. Look at a nascar race when looking from an overhead shot the cars all look slow-when you go to the camera on the wall then are flying by. Was actually with LA Kings goalie coach last week and when talking developing goalies the best advice he gave was reading the play and having a good hockey IQ. Read releases and be aware of what is going on around you and make sure any head movements were quick (no pun intended) and efficient. So many goalies do not follow puck all the way into their body that is the biggest issue-take some slow mo video goalies and you may see my point. Any knowledge that can be applied to the masses is a good thing I guess.

  11. salman

    it kind of reminds me of ed belfour’s exaggerated head tracking in the warmups.
    could not find a video of it anywhere. don cherry to showed it. i<ve always felt it was a much better way to warm up and hate it when guys take slap shots from 10 feet out in warmups.

  12. Ken

    This article provides a little more insight as to what HT is, but we still haven’t seen it in action. A detailed video breakdown would be helpful to demonstrate exactly what it is and how goalies can do it.

  13. Skeptic

    I am very frustrated with the lack of information and detail on this “innovative technique”. It sounds like people just trying to make a profit instead of contributing to the greater goalie community. People are always talking about Canadian Goaltending being behind the rest of the World. Perhaps if our best coaches shared their findings, instead of trying to make a dollar, Canadian goalies would be at the top of the game.

  14. Kevin Adams

    I’m not thrilled that Dubnyk left out Dan Bos (the best physio in the world) with the change around. I know Dubnyk had hip issues and he worked with Bos this summer to fix those. Without hip movement, the head tracking won’t work………if you can’t move you will get lit up in that league.

  15. Pierre

    There’s an article on head positioning in the edition of ingoal mag of july 2012.

  16. Ron Cocking

    I find it interesting that Valiquette and company have taken a fundamental teaching we have used with goalies for a decade – slapped a fancy name on it and called it revolutionary. Check out Rick Wamsley’s session for Hockey Canada – in particular the eyes first pivot. Seems familiar – but this is three years old.