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Unmasked

Racing provides inside lane to goaltending success for Anderson

Passion for motor sports allows Senators goalie to incorporate lessons from track into his game

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- On the surface, it might be hard to understand how Ottawa Senators No.1 goalie Craig Anderson's two biggest sporting passions could possibly be related.

When Anderson is in the Senators crease, he is relatively still compared to the players and pucks flying around and at him at speeds up to 100 mph. When he gets behind the wheel of a race car on a track, he's the one moving at speeds well beyond that.

The ability to slow down fast-moving objects in each sport is similar though.

"The mental acuity as far as staying focused and picking up on cues," said Anderson, explaining the link. "It's managing the balance of a car and that's where you have to slow everything down, where mentally your vision has to look far enough ahead so you can see where you want to go."

Just as the best goaltenders often are the ones who see the next play before it happens.

 

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"As a goalie, you are not moving, everything is coming at you and it's about looking ahead, seeing the options," Anderson said. "When I play goaltender, it's always seeing what's the next play, what's their [shooting] percentage; are they more of a shooting guy, are they more of a passing guy, are they in a situation where their shot is taken away and they have to pass, are they in a situation where the pass is taken away? That's the kinds of things you look for as a goalie."

Mike McKenna, the No. 3 goalie for the Dallas Stars, spent the summers of his youth at the tracks where his father raced open-wheel cars professionally. He still has a strong love for motor sports. The biggest similarity for McKenna is finding an edge through equipment, adjusting his gear the way his father used to tinker with his race cars to find an extra bit of speed. He also can see how the ability to slow everything down while driving a race car could benefit a goaltender.

"I think that can translate," McKenna said. "You have so many decisions to make in a short time frame. It's much like racing in traffic. Spatial awareness is the best way to describe the skill set. You have to be aware of all your surroundings in racing. It's the same with goaltending. Can't over-focus on the puck. Can't over-focus on the track in front, have to look ahead."

Video: Andy goes for a Rip in Vegas

Video courtesy of Sens TV

Anderson, 36, reads the plays in front of him as well as any goalie.

He broke into the NHL in 2002-03, at a time when the technical aspects and biomechanics of the position were starting to be broken down and taught in the most minute details. The art of goaltending was becoming more science, but Anderson remains an artist.

Whether picking out his line in a race car or anticipating a pass on the ice, reads set Anderson apart.

"The chaos of racing and the foresight and ability to read a turn, it's more predictable in racing obviously, but the way [Anderson] talks about it is kind of like listening to him talk about breakaways in ways I have never even thought about," Ottawa backup Mike Condon said. "Andy grew up in that age where it was reading hands, reading eyes and that's the purest form of goaltending."

Not that Anderson is stuck in his ways.

With the help of Senators goaltending coach Pierre Groulx, he's modernized his post-integration tactics on sharp-angled plays and attacks from below the goal line. Much like the strides he's made while taking lessons as a driver, it's all about progressions.

"You just can't go 110 percent right off the bat," Anderson said.

Video: OTT@VAN: Anderson denies Baertschi on breakaway in OT

That work, and patience, has paid off on the ice. His .920 save percentage during the past five seasons is tied for sixth among NHL goalies who have played more than 200 games

Listening to Anderson talk about racing, about how fast-twitch athletes struggle to adjust to the slower, precise adjustments of motor sports, about managing the balance of a car and how quick turns upset the chassis, the dangers of driving in your mirrors, or how much easier it is for a trailing car to find lines and in-turns behind a good driver, his passion shines through.

"It might be more [than hockey]," Anderson said when asked if he wasn't stopping rubber for a living whether he would be burning rubber as a pro driver. "Probably like to be, yeah."

Like McKenna, racing is in Anderson's blood. Anderson's father, Richard, raced Corvettes, founded Motorsport Ministries and was on the board of directors of the National Corvette Museum, explaining why Anderson's masks always include a Corvette logo or reference.

Anderson's current mask and equipment also feature a new A41 logo, a nod to his jersey number and A41 Motorsports, which partnered with TWOth Autosport at Calabogie Motorsport Park, located outside Ottawa, to enter a Porsche in the GT2 racing series that runs across North America.

"The last year, I've been out there pretty much every off day, whether it's working on cars or on the track with some coaching and just learning more," Anderson said. "The goal is in five to seven years maybe running 24 Hours of Daytona, whether as a driver, owner or a team."

In the meantime, Anderson will keep enjoying the mutual benefits while stopping pucks.

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