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Looking Off the Puck and Reading the Play

Looking Off the Puck and Reading the Play
Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo checks for potential scoring threat while playing on his blocker side post. (InGoal File photo)

Looking off the puck (LOTP) is a small but critical element to the success of any goaltender’s game. As the phrase implies, the goaltender takes a very brief opportunity to look away from the puck location to see what potential passing and/or shooting options are available to the puck carrier. The issue is not IF the goalie is going to LOTP but when to do it, with what type of frequency and for what duration of time.

The most common location to find a goaltender in when LOTP is with goal-post integration. The puck will be located either in the (A) QUIET ZONES down low or (B) along the half wall which some refer to as PERIMETER ZONES. In these areas of the defensive zone a puck battle frequently occurs involving two or more players. There is no immediate threat of a shot being taken or of a goal being scored. Hence, this is the perfect opportunity to analyze possible tactical options available to your opponent should they emerge with the puck. LOTP simply employs a technique referred to as “Head-on-a swivel”. The goaltender should look high on the strong side (1), to the slot (2), on the weak side (3) and of course to the back door (4) for the presence of an opposing player and the viability of a passing lane.

As the goaltender moves further from the goal-post (and more towards the top of the crease arc) the available options and tactical complexity increases. In such a scenario the goaltender may have to look to the weak side and down low on both sides (e.g. power play). However, as the complexity of the situation increases, the goalie should also rely on other stimuli to help increase his/her chances of success. These stimuli can be auditory, visual and kinesthetic in origin.

Auditory signals which help with anticipation include the sounds of skates moving, tapping the stick on the ice to receive a pass and of course verbal communication between you and your teammates. Visual signals rely on both central and peripheral vision. Central vision is that object on which the pupil is focused which is viewed clearly. Peripheral vision is everything else within your visual field, and although not entirely in focus, is still providing the brain with information about the location of certain players. Kinesthetic signals basically refer to an inner sense or feeling the goaltender may have about the way a play will develop (i.e., anticipation). Remember, ice hockey is a game of situations and these situations repeat themselves again, again and again. With intelligence and enough playing experience the best goaltenders have a sense of what is going to happen before it actually does! The goaltender always has to respect the puck carrier but can frequently LOTP to see how things have changed. This takes less  than a second at a time. Turning your head on a swivel is not even required as the goalie may just to turn his eyes within the mask for a fraction of a second.

What is it that separates the best from the rest? It is not size, mobility, power, speed, agility, or technique – although these are all required. The two main things are a great competitive spirit and play anticipation. Similar to chess, the world’s greatest goaltenders anticipate plays before then have fully evolved. “Looking off the Puck” and the other types of stimuli to which I have made reference can help any goaltender make better tactical reads and therefore more saves. Remember to LOOK OFF THE PUCK !!

About The Author

Tomas Hertz, MD BA

Tomas Hertz has been a contributing author to InGoal Magazine since 2010. He operated  "No Holes, No Goals Goaltending" in Kingston, Ontario for a decade and worked with developing goalies in the G.K.M.H.A. and K.A.M.H.A. He remains active as a timekeeper in the O.M.H.A. - O.W.H.A., the O.J.H.L. (Kingston Voyageurs), and the O.U.A.A. (R.M.C. Palladins). 

7 Comments

  1. Joel Gauthier

    Good article. It’s basic stuff but still good. My only issue is this… Why do we have to settle for seeing Luongo in the pic?… haha

    • Pat Krebs

      lol yea, I think someone like Miller or Lundqvist would have better options for a pic. I think those two are among the best keepers at reading the play.

    • Joe from Chicago

      I really don’t need that David Schwimmer look-a-like wuss ruining my day, ha! Luongo can be a good goalie, if the Casucks are playing well and he’s not in the United Center and lets in a goal. One goal is all the Hawks need, and Vigneault might as well put in Schneids.

      All joking aside, very informative article, which is good because I’m desperate for help in tracking that dang puck!

  2. Paul Ipolito

    Is there an illustration missing? The references to 1,2,3,4 had me looking for a sketch.

    Good article in a series of good articles.

  3. Tomas Hertz,MD, BA

    There is no illustration missing. If readers indicate to me the need for one,in the next few days, I will send one to the cheif editor!

  4. paul szabo

    I echo the comments about this being a great article. For those coaching minor hockey, your explanation of how and when specifically to take your eyes off the puck to read the play is helpful. Too often the coach expects the young goalie to assess the multiple options on a particular play, but does not know how to explain this in a concrete way.

  5. Question 3

    As a beginner goaltender who plays just for fun but is always trying to improve my game, an article like this is awesome. Paul Ipolito is right, some illustrations would be nice.

    How it looks like to me is risk management and really really fast percentage calculations. There are several things that can and cannot happen depending on where the puck is. As a music professional, I’ve been taught to learn with the least amount of important information possible.

    e.g. if chords 1,4 and 5 are important “at the time, memorize: 1,4,5 = important as opposed to 2,3,6,7 is not as important”. I’d probably think of it as “in that play, memorize: plays A,B,C are highly probable, instead of plays D,E,F,G are highly improbable to score.

    The fact that you mentioned the auditory part is great and not a basic thing. Most people don’t mention it when I ask about how to improve my game. I ask all types of awesome goalies and I hear the usual, stay square, always stay up, so on. Actively listening is something I’ve done my whole life and it’s finally going to be used for something other than music and audio design. Listening on the ice extremely well and processing it will give one hell of an advantage.