Jake Oettinger didn’t hesitate when he was asked what he does to get his eyes warmed up and ready to see and stop pucks in the NHL. He reached back to his locker stall to grab a bag with a picture of a giant eyeball that has well-muscled arms flexing on either side.

It’s the logo of True Focus Vision, a Minnesota company run by visual performance specialist Josh Tucker, who has worked with 30 NHL goalies and 12 NHL teams during the past 18 years.

Inside the bag are a variety of balls -- some that bounce hard, others soft; some with numbers on them, others with odd shapes sticking out to create unpredictable bounces -- and a couple different types of goggles, including strobe glasses. Some goalies who use the system keep their gear in a hard travel case, which also contains a computer tablet with eye-training programs.

“I’ve got all the goodies in here,” said Oettinger, the Dallas Stars’ No. 1 goalie, who was at a gym near his offseason home in Minnesota late last summer when he met Tucker. “All the hand-eye work keeps you sharp and keeps your brain guessing, and that’s a good thing. I didn't get to do the full program this summer like I wanted to, but next summer I'm going to do the full program with Josh.”

It’s probably not a surprise to hear that many NHL goalies spend a lot of time working to improve their vision given how fast and often the puck moves, how many players they look past to find it, and the obvious importance of being able to see it to stop it.

Former NHL goalie Braden Holtby once said the eyes are the “biggest muscle as a goalie” and was famous for the elaborate pregame routine he used to make sure they were properly warmed up before he went on the ice.

Goalies like Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets have become known for visual warmups captured on camera that often include the player sitting on the bench and quickly shifting his focal point from one spot in the rink to another, which, up close, can look like he is trying to keep his eyes on a bug flying quickly around his head.

Some NHL goalies hit the ice without doing anything special to warm up their eyes.

“I'm more of a just-go-out-and-play guy,” said Jonathan Quick, a 17-season NHL veteran now with the New York Rangers. “I think it's more if you are mentally sharp, then your eyes will track the puck. But I could be wrong, right? I know a lot of guys are doing it differently.”

Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko has the same approach as Quick, but playing partner Casey DeSmith is one of many NHL goalies who relies on staples like juggling or bouncing balls off the wall to get their eyes and hands warmed up and ready to play.

“I juggle against the wall and have since junior hockey,” DeSmith said. “Obviously in the NHL we have the luxury of having a 15- to 20-minute warmup, so you get to see a lot of pucks before a game anyway, but I want to go on the ice with my eyes already feeling good.”


Increasingly, though, a lot of goalies are taking things further when it comes to their eyes.

The full program Oettinger mentioned doing next summer with Tucker is extensive. It starts with an assessment of core visual skills that includes videotaping the eyeball as a goalie tries to follow a moving object to see if the eyes move smoothly or jump, if the eyes work together, and how well they diverge and converge, which is crucial to tracking a puck coming at you.

Depending on those results, they move on to what Tucker calls vision therapy to correct any imbalances and improve how the eyes perform, specific to the demands of the position. From there, it’s about maintaining the goalie’s visual strength, including getting ready to play.

“It's no different than our body,” said Tucker, who was a goalie growing up. “Even if you're a pro-level athlete, you still have to do some prep work to be able to go out and play.”

That includes a long list of ball drills and juggling, though Tucker stresses the importance of not letting either become too easy. To counter that, his goalies add balls with numbers on them to their juggling and call out the number they see when that ball passes in front of their vision, or they use a reaction ball when juggling off a wall to create some unpredictable bounces.

“There's a disconnect between doing very easy things and playing a very hard position,” he said.

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Tucker’s pro kit also includes a tablet and glasses with one red lens and one blue lens, which ensures each eye can only see a certain color on the screen, allowing them to challenge and measure different visual skills and reaction times using drills on the tablet.

Vizual Edge also offers tablet-based eye-training programs and has worked with more than 40 NHL goalies the past several years. Their Edge Trainer program currently is being used by 15 goalies in the League, including Cam Talbot of the Los Angeles Kings, Cayden Primeau of the Montreal Canadiens and Joseph Woll of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"It's mostly an offseason training platform for me, especially when I am taking time off the ice," Woll said. "I feel like it helps train my focus as well as specific eye skills. A lot of time I don't think of my eyes as a muscle that can be trained and worked out, but it allows me to spend time training an aspect of goaltending that's often overlooked and undertrained."

Most goalies use it for vision training, but some use it on game days too.

“It’s a controlled way to prepare the visual system,” Tucker said.

Minnesota Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury prefers a more dramatic and dynamic warmup for his eyes. Fleury uses Senaptec strobe goggles, which flash between clear and restricted vision to force him to process visual stimuli more efficiently, to get ready on game day.

Lately, more NHL goalies are working with a new product called Trac Optics goggles from OR Sports. They can be worn under the mask and are designed to cut off the peripheral and lower vision, forcing goalies to use central vision and get into a better posture with the head that also improves rotation in their movements.

The Carolina Hurricanes gave a set of goggles to every goalie in their organization. Washington Capitals goalies Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren have used them in practices, and Eric Comrie of the Buffalo Sabres skated in the Trac Optics goggles during his offseason training and now wears them around the house during the season too.

Calgary Flames depth goalie Oscar Dansk started using them as part of his warmup for games, as well as during practice and goalie-specific skates once a week, before starting the season in the American Hockey League on a 5-0-1 run that included a .941 save percentage.

“They help in forcing good visual habits into my game,” Dansk said. “I use them quite a bit right now because I’m trying to make it into a habit. But on games where we don’t have a morning skate, I think they’re particularly useful because you don’t get that time in the morning to warm up your eyes in practice.”