by Tony on 11/01/08 at 03:59 PM ET
From the New York Times’ Lynn Zinser:
By LYNN ZINSER
Published: November 1, 2008
They flopped. They wobbled. They looked different, and not just because they blocked pucks with their faces. For years, hockey goalies were an oddball assortment of body shapes and playing styles. Today, goalies are among the sport’s most fit and skilled players. Witness the Pittsburgh Penguin’s Marc-André Fleury. Drafted No. 1 overall in 2003, Fleury, 23, became a star last season, leading his team to the Stanley Cup Final (his 1.97 goals-against average was second-best in the playoffs). Here’s what makes the man behind the mask.
1. THE FRAME
Fleury may be the quintessential modern goalie. At 6-foot-2, he has long legs and enough flexibility to almost execute a complete split, allowing him to stretch across the 6-foot-wide goal mouth. His height helps him protect the top corners of the goal, and his wingspan covers the width of the net. There’s just not a lot of empty space around him. “He covers his angles well,” says the Penguins’ star center, Sidney Crosby. “He’s a tall, lanky guy and takes up a lot of the net.”
2. QUICK DRAW
The team’s goalie coach, Gilles Meloche, who played 18 seasons in the N.H.L., says Fleury is exceptional at reacting to pucks that change direction quickly, and to passes in front of the net. “He’s one of the quickest goalies I’ve worked with,” Meloche says. According to Alain Haché, the author of “The Physics of Hockey,” the reaction time of good goalies the time it takes to move to stop a shot will be 0.12 to 0.15 seconds, compared with 0.2 seconds for an average person. Legs react more slowly than arms, Haché adds, and Fleury is known for his quick legs. “You don’t always see positional goalies that are that fast as well,” Crosby says. “It’s a good combination.”
3. A SHORT MEMORY
The goal crease can be a lonely place after a glaring mistake. But Fleury has the mental toughness to quickly forget bad performances, helping him eliminate doubt and maintain confidence. “All the other guys in that locker room are watching how you handle it,” says Darren Pang, a former N.H.L. goalie and now a TV analyst. “Marc-André has developed the ability to not let two bad games become three bad weeks.” Fleury and Meloche review video after each game, addressing his mistakes but also reinforcing what he did well.
4. SEEING THE FUTURE
Meloche says experience teaches goalies what to anticipate, and Fleury is now at the point “where the game is slowing down for him.” Joan Vickers, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Calgary, refers to this as “quiet eye”: maintaining concentration in the face of onrushing players and 100-mile-an-hour slap shots. Vickers’s research, conducted on goalies outfitted with electronic eye trackers, showed that the best ones are quicker to focus on the shooter’s stick. “They see the information they need to see earlier,” Vickers says. “I say great goalies predict the future.” Fleury began doing eye exercises this summer, focusing on one spot and then another, and following moving items. “Everything goes through the eyes,” he says.
5. LEARNING CURVE
Fleury thinks he has become a better goalie by tempering his quick reactions with patience. “I was always too aggressive,” he says. Oddly enough, he benefited from injuring his ankle last year: his rehab focused on balance, so he wouldn’t aggravate the injury. In one drill, he stood on a pillow and made a particular quick movement, which trained his muscles to keep him steady. Says the team’s trainer, Chris Stewart: “It’s all about body awareness.”[?][?][?] LYNN ZINSER
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