You see it countless times every night on TV – a goaltender making a glove save.
But it is really as easy as it looks? And just how important is hand-eye coordination to a goaltender?
“It is probably the biggest thing a goaltender learns,” says Corey Hirsch, Hockey Canada’s goaltending consultant. “If you don’t have good hand-eye, you’re not going to stop very many pucks.”
According to Hirsch, developing hand-eye coordination should be one of the first things done when a child decides he or she wants to be a goaltender, and the drills to do it, both on and off the ice, are very simple.
“All you need is a coach and a pile of pucks,” the former NHLer and Canadian Olympian says. “Have him set up and throw soft shots at your glove side. That way you can follow the puck and watch it into your glove. The shots can’t be too hard, or else you can’t follow the puck.
“As for off the ice, just use a tennis ball. Bounce it off the wall, bounce it off the floor, anything like that will work. Any game that involves catching and watching a ball come off something is great.”
For goaltenders Steve Mason of the OHL’s London Knights, the 2006-07 Ontario Hockey League Goaltender of the Year, and Jeff Bosch of the WHL’s Regina Pats, hand-eye coordination is something they are always working on, and is something essential to their success.
“It is extremely important,” Mason says. “The shots are moving pretty quick and you need to be able to read the puck the second it comes off the stick, so you have time to make your move.”
“It’s huge,” Bosch adds. “Whether it’s catching pucks or deflecting them into the corner, it (hand-eye coordination) is definitely one of the biggest skills you need to be a successful goaltender.”
Both goaltenders have pre-game drills they use to help them sharpen their hand-eye coordination and say that for a young goaltender starting out, the drills would a great way to learn.
The drills for both include nothing more than a ball, or two, and a partner.
“I have two racquetballs, and me and my goalie coach (Dave Rook) toss them back and forth to each other, standing about 10 feet apart,” Mason says. “Tossing one while trying to catch another really helps my focus, and helps my hand-eye. We do it stationary, and then moving laterally to mimic the side-to-side movements of a goaltender.”
“I have a tennis ball, and sometimes I throw it to myself, bouncing it off the wall, or with the other goaltender,” Bosch says. “It’s not much, but I find that it helps in a game situation.”
When it comes to the offseason both Mason and Bosch keep up their work, whether it is on the softball diamond, at the golf course, playing ball hockey, or specialized games with a trainer.
“We (my trainer and I) play a game called Reflexball,” Bosch says. “It is a misshapen ball, so you never know which direction that ball is going to go in. We stand at opposite ends of a gym and hit the ball with paddles. It’s something a little different, but it helps.”
The best advice that either goaltender, along with Hirsch, can give a young goaltender is to keep at it, that good hand-eye coordination will come with practice and make them a better goaltender.