September 13, 2013

The Break Away

I am not a definitive voice on goaltending instruction. I may not even be a good representation of an over-the-hill, beer league goalie. But for those of you not schooled in the dark arts of goaltending (and by that I mean stupid enough to spend your ice time having pucks whipped at you) you may have wondered what's going through the mind of a goaltender as a breakaway unfolds.

0.0 seconds

I'm standing, relaxed at the top of my crease watching the play in the far end. I try and see who's on the ice both for my team and theirs and pick out the stronger ones on the opposing team and the weaker on mine. I'm also watching how the puck possession battle is going and if by some rare occurrence my team might have a good opportunity to score. I'm doing all this as a kind of threat assessment exercise.

There's any number of events that lead to a break away but one of the most common on my teams is a bad pinch by my defense. Sometimes its a pure blue line pinch in an attempt to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Other times its a loose puck near center ice where the puck squeezes by my team mate and onto the stick of the enemy. In any case, my threat meter pegs at the top and my mind shifts gears immediately.

0.5 seconds

I've already concluded that none of my players will reach the puck carrier in time to avoid the breakaway and I've started my prep. Glide out from the crease towards the blue line. Squaring up to the path of the inbound player. Check my pad alignment with a tap from each hand.

1.0 seconds

I've reached the furthest point away from my net now and I'm making small adjustments to try and keep my angle square between the net and the player. I'm crouching down now. Getting low to the ice and trying to setup a stable inverted 'V' with my pads.

1.5 seconds

I can't hear anything. All sound disappears. I don't hear my breath or some Hollywood slow motion heartbeat. I'm simply not aware of any sound. My peripheral vision will pick up if any of my players are catching up and causing a change in the puck carrier's vector toward the net. I'm trying to gauge how fast he is. I try and note which hand he shoots.

2.0 seconds

The enemy is approaching to my left and he's reached my blue line. I feel my eyes are really wide and trying to focus. I'm not aware of anything except the shooter now. I'd call it a "Zen" state but in reality I can feel the anxiety. Short bursts of conscience thoughts go off like fireworks; "Challenge him!" "Don't fail" "Don't bite on the first move" but these are coming and going in a blur as no time has passed. I've started to retreat now. Beginning an unconscious task of trying to match his forward momentum with mine.

3.0 seconds

He's committed to his approach now. He's going to come in on my left. I'm squaring up. Little pushes with my skate. Again and again. Staying low. Check my glove hand. Is it high and out front? Feel my leg position. Am I balanced and butterfly ready?

The Deadzone

Sometimes the next moment passes so quickly, everything I am about to do happens by instinct- right or wrong. A save - or not - occurs so quickly and through such a heavy fog that I seem to awaken from a sleep to the feel of the puck hitting me or hearing the shooter cheer.

On nights when I'm playing my best, time seems to slow down to a crawl. I see his stick. I see the puck on his stick. He's on his forehand. "Is he shooting?" I'm moving back. He's running out of time. "Is he shooting?" My glove is high. The puck is moving off his blade. He's moving to his backhand. My feet are moving.

I think he's moving to his backhand. I can feel my weight shifting to my outside leg- loading up for the push. "Don't commit!" He doesn't shoot. He begins to cut across towards the middle. I've started shifting the other way now and the puck is on his backhand.

I push and drop into my slide. "He's too fast!" "You didn't match his speed" I can feel the cold of the ice and he flashes across in front of me. All the emergency signals in my mind and body fire at once as I push my right leg behind me while I'm going prone to the ice. I'm stretched out fully prone on the ice now and I wait. Can he lift his backhand over my pad?

Will I feel the puck hitting me or hear the shooter cheer?


Of course, every scenario is different and the variables endless. I often feel overmatched by the speed of the rushing player and am equally often embarrassed by biting on an early move. I try to stick to the basics; Challenge, Square Angles, Match Momentum.

I can tell you that the whole experience is one of isolation, thrill, exuberance and defeat. On any given night and on any given break away.