I attended a medical seminar and a question that inspired this article. “What is the importance of teamwork in the Emergency Room situation?” (It is a place that many, if not most, hockey players find themselves, at some point in their active playing time).
The young audience made many guesses to that presenter’s question of “What role would teamwork be the most essential?” Their answers were:
- Being a Mom
- Being a Police Officer.
As these answers are both correct, the seminar presenter’s answer was: the traits of a waiter.
Because of their reference to the importance of teamwork, I also thought of the job of the ice hockey goaltender. The goaltender depends on the teamwork in front of (and behind) them, yet has to face an amazing dimension of perceptions & reactions during every minute, every second on the ice in defending their team’s goal net.
The physics of this aspect of ice hockey is truly applicable: Force equals mass times velocity “squared.” That makes a hockey puck (with the dimension of itself being only one inch thick and three inches in diameter) a relatively small size, but truly a force to be reckoned with–especially when it is shot by some folks that can send it at speeds of greater than 100mph, or as slow as 1 mile per hour. (How fast / slow is a “toe drag,” anyway?).
When you see a goaltender suited up for hockey play, the casual observer sees a rather unusual set of equipment. It is designed for the dual purposes of deflection and protection–all with the exception of the goalie’s catching glove. As an early evolution in this greatest of sports, that glove is designed not only for protection, but it is also to cover an area that would at very least get a piece of the flying puck so as to prevent a rebound in front of the net area.
It comes as no surprise that being able to deflect this tiny hard disk in whole or part away from the goal net is no easy accomplishment. A lot of equipment parts add up in overall body weight to over 40 lbs, and even up to 50lbs. The shot (at any speed) on the goal net can result in a rebound, and in many instances, that can result in a goal.
On the other hand, the goaltender’s skating colleagues don’t have it much easier as forwards or defense. They also need to keep their balance as soon as they step onto the ice, and then contend with the opposing players who are seeking to keep the puck from that person’s “possession,” or on their stick, and also from that person’s teammates–and by any means necessary:
Stick checks are in the forms of sweep checks or poke checks, along with hip checks and shoulder checks, etc.
The bad joke here is that “quick check is not only at the supermarket”. The sooner that one player can take the puck from the opposing player or cause a bad pass that can be picked up by one’s teammate, the better the chances of scoring a goal for one’s own team.
A few of the top-scoring stars have learned along their way that within one second of gaining possession of the puck, they must either stickhandle the puck forward or even back toward one’s own goal net to get some more skating area, then pass the puck right away. Or skate it up-rink as fast as possible.
One person I know rather well can move it from goal line-to-goal line in 7 seconds flat.
Recently, I timed that feat from my blue paint, as this teammate carried the puck the length of the ice in full view of the big clock–and even had a shot on goal just as the clock ticked the 7th second of elapsed time. If he had scored, it would’ve been an NHL highlight-reel goal as he sailed past the entire opposing team almost unchecked. Later on, when I told him about this fast time, he almost didn’t believe me! More than likely, he saw himself moving in slower motion, as is what happens when sheer reflexes take over in athletic performance.
If positioned in the better-known ice positions on the ice, players can shoot a slap shot directly on the goal net or a hard pass for a “de-direct” onto the goal. The best players actually angle their shot so that it can be either a corner shot or one eligible for a stick (or body) deflection. Hopefully, for them in either decision, it is where the goaltender isn’t or isn’t quick enough to react to the play (a poke check when possible), and a goal would result for them.
This latter situation is where the opposing goaltender has to be following the puck in its many zig-zagged directions until it is coming toward them at a usually concerted speed–depending on the skill level of the person taking the shot.
As a riddle, ask yourself how many pucks can be stacked up in front of the goalmouth, which is six feet wide by four feet tall?
Most people quick-estimate the answer as a few hundred at most. So when asking, the answer is usually about three or four hundred. That would be true for the flat area covered by a baseball (3″ in diameter), but for the puck, the answer surprises most people.
If you do the math, in inches, the 1″x 3″ puck can be stacked 1152 in number in front of the crease or goalmouth. That’s minus two for each curved joint of the crossbar and posts, where the goalie gets the tiniest of “assistance” in the puck not going in. And even then, it would depend on the outside angle of the shot taken, or often-enough deflected puck.
Adding to the factor of 1152 chances from going straight on in, there are the many variables of speed in forwarding motion, and velocity variables (with a “spin factor” of the puck per se in motion) that can cause it to hop, skip & jump, and also arc or curve when sent aerially toward the net. Or even spin like a top.
I actually own one of the weirdest saves ever, which is half a puck. The person shooting it had quite a bullet, and their unobstructed slap shot from the top of the circle only slightly grazed my glove, and a small fraction of a second after–loudly rang the crossbar. Half of that vulcanized disk deflected up into the insulation of the roof of the PAVILION on Staten Island, the only NHL-sized rink in the NYC Borough of Staten Island–and is still embedded there! The other half bounced out about four feet from the goal line in front of me.
Had someone been videotaping that and posted it on YOUTUBE, it would have over a million hits by now for sure. You had to see it to believe it. The person who shot it skated up to me and asked me if it went in, and I pointed to the half puck still on the ice, resembling about half a pizza! He skated away in disbelief, but I picked it up for a souvenir, which I still have. That was a definite keeper!
Another crazy one was a missed shot that hit the inside of the upper rounded joint of the crossbar and one of the posts, only to land flatly on the goal line the whole six feet over. No goal!
Of course, every goalie has had a post-shot bounce outward, then in off their back, rear end, leg, or skate. So learning how to get out of the way of the trajectory is not something easily learned!
As a third weirdest shot, there have been a few from the bad angle off the mask to the post, then in.
And with about five broken water bottles from the top of the net, “getting roofed” does not refer to someone’s house, nor drug abuse. It means a shot off someone’s stick at an initial speed that the human eye has not mastered to track for hand-eye reaction in an adequate time.
Here is another phenomenon: how fast does a puck have to be shot to be almost completely embedded into “wonderboard”, i.e., the reinforced sheetrock wall product? I witnessed a slap shot from wonder board to the side of the (PAVILION) rink that actually arced over the side plexiglass and became stuck 95 % of the way into such a product. The speed of the puck had to be well over 110 mph, and perhaps could be calculated with the above-mentioned physics formula. The shooter person actually was wearing a hockey jersey with the number 200 on it, and I joked with him that this might have been the speed of his booming slapshot, which–had it not arced just over the glass–might have shattered the plexiglass.
A current issue has become goaltender interference, where even NHL referees arguably need to be looking at the skates of the player as much as they are the puck for the goal line. Arguably, too many goals are being allowed even as the goaltender is being pushed or even tripped by opposing skaters who become color-blind to that blue paint.