Goalie's 'Quiet Eye' key for big saves: study

So you want to be the next Terry Sawchuk, Patrick Roy or Kim St. Pierre? Well, according to a new study, to be a top goaltender it's as simple as keeping your eye on the puck.

So you want to be the next Terry Sawchuk, Patrick Roy or Kim St. Pierre? Well, according to a new study,to be a top goaltender it'sas simple as keeping your eye on the puck.

Researchers at the University of Calgary's Faculty of Kinesiology may have found the secret to highlight-reel goaltending with their comprehensive, on-ice hockey study on where elite goalies focus their eyes to make those dynamic blocker, glove and pad saves.

In a study to be published in the medical journal Human Movement Science, graduate student Derek Panchuk and professor Joan Vickers, who discovered the "Quiet Eye" phenomenon, found that the best goaltenders rest their gaze directly on the puck and the shooter's stick almost a full second before the shot is released.

When they do that, they make the save over 75 per cent of the time.

"Looking at the puck seems fairly obvious," Panchuk said, "until you look at the eye movements of novice goaltenders, who scatter their gaze all over the place and have a much lower save percentage than the elite goalies."

Critical eye movement

Vickers first discovered the Quiet Eye in golf, where she once worked with the PGA, and has since adapted it to her research with other sports.

She describes the Quiet Eye as a critical moment that occurs in every sport — the moment where the eyes must receive and the brain must process the last piece of visual information before you perform the final critical movement such as putting, or in the case of this study, making a save.

In order to accurately track eye movements and gaze duration in a sport, Vickers's lab used wireless headgear that has cameras recording the movements of the eyes of an athlete, as well as what they're looking at.

The Vision in Action system, which was invented by Vickers's neuromuscular lab, allows researchers to precisely record an athlete's eye movements, body movements and objects (like a puck) to within 16.67 milliseconds.

"I think this research is exciting because it's new information that can be immediately incorporated into a goalie's game with the proper training," Vickers said.

"Our previous experience tells us that if athletes incorporate what we've learned in Quiet Eye studies, they can improve in their sport — even if they are already at an elite level."

Mind over matter

Panchuk's study shows that the distance of the shot doesn't seem to matter, as long as goalies concentrate their gaze on the puck and stick in the critical second before a shot is released.Shooters took unobstructed shots on goaltenders from short distances, essentially using the NHL's shootout procedure for deciding tied games.

Panchuk says while technique and fitness are important, goaltenders should also train their brains.

"Goalies often focus on physical things like improving technique but they overlook the decision making — the cognitive side of things," Panchuk said.

"I think this study shows that you also need to focus on your decision making and your thinking processes. Having optimal focus is just as important as being in optimal physical shape."

In the future, Panchuk plans on studying a netminder's reaction to wrist shots and slap shots as well.