A study by the University of Calgary's Kinesiology department has used a high-tech computer program to discover how elite goaltenders focus on the puck and what separates them from those who are less successful.
"When a goaltender successfully made a save they started their final fixation right on the area of stick contact (on the puck) slightly earlier than when they were scored on," said study co-author Derek Panchuk.
"What we have seen from the study is goaltenders have to pick up early information. They only have 140 milliseconds on these close shots to make a save."
In essence, a good goaltender pretty much sees the puck from the moment the shot is made and can almost instantaneously decide what the reaction is. So when you hear a TV announcer or coach say someone sees the puck very well, that's what they're talking about.
Panchuk and his colleague Joan Vickers have called the very early final fixation or tracking of the puck 'the quiet eye'. During the study the netminder was fitted with a set of clear goggles with a tiny infrared camera that follows eye movement. The data allows the researchers to see frame-by-frame where the goalies eyes are focusing.
It may be possible to train a goaltender to improve his or her quiet eye co-ordination.
"If they're aware of what they're doing in these final moments before the puck is coming in they can train that - they can improve that," said Panchuk.
The study used information from basketball and cricket said Vickers and could be applied to any sport where eye and hand co-ordination is critical.
"When a goaltender's having a really good game they're going to read that shooter coming in and move their gaze really fast," she said. "When they have a good night they're going to have a long duration quiet eye exactly where we found it in this study."
Netminder Amanda Tapp, who plays for Calgary's Oval Extreme, has taken part in the study. She said the technology could prove valuable but didn't provide any real surprises.
"It just confirms what I believe I've been doing all along and it's certainly providing information about what I'm doing right and potentially what I'm doing wrong as well," she said.
For Panchuk, the study has him looking at the game a lot differently after watching how goaltenders handle tough shots.
"I have a new appreciation for goaltenders. I just thought they were weird before," he chuckled.
"Who'd want to stand in front of a puck but at the end of the day they're doing stuff which is in effect superhuman."