Looking Off the Puck and Reading the Play
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 !!