What do hockey goaltenders and scientists have in common?
It sounds like the beginning of a joke. But don’t bother looking for a corny punch line. If you’re stumped, that’s OK. Most people would be…unless you’re Michael Landry.
In the spring of 2016, Landry became goaltending development coordinator for the Pacific Northwest Amateur Hockey Association, a USA Hockey affiliate serving Washington. He’s also a scientist with an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy, and a Ph.D. in particle physics.
Landry, who resides in Richland, Washington, was part of a group of scientists from two observatories who were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics last October. Their discovery of gravitational waves and how gravity circulates around the universe confirmed predictions made 100 years earlier by Albert Einstein on space and time.
When presented with the above riddle, Landry instantly used the team concept as a comparison.
“When I was young, people told me you shouldn’t go into physics, because you’ll work alone, you’re always calculating stuff on your own and you’ll never interact with people,” Landry recalled. “Turns out, it’s complete and utter nonsense. Like many human endeavors, it’s all about teamwork. There’s a huge parallel in the way we work as a team in physics, and the way you work as a team in hockey.”
Landry was a goalie as a boy growing up in Montreal and Calgary, during the era of standup goaltending. His coaches spent very little time teaching him the fundamentals of the position (“I didn’t receive a microsecond of instruction,” he said with a chuckle).
It wasn’t until his son, Xaus (pronounced zow-se), took up the sport, also as a goaltender, that Landry began to take an avid interest in learning as much as he could. He approached the challenge the same way as he would a physics experiment. He researched as much information as he could get his hands on, studying books, DVDs and online materials, including USA Hockey’s website. He enrolled Xaus in private coaching lessons. He even bought new gear for himself and started playing again.
“I play in beer leagues and tournaments, and have a blast with it,” he said, adding with a laugh, “after tearing my groin a few times starting out, I’m now used to it.”
During the course of his research, Landry came in contact with Phil Osaer, USA Hockey’s American Development Model manager for goaltending. Osaer was impressed with Landry’s passion for learning, and his long-term vision for goaltender development throughout the state of Washington.
“He’s been exceptionally professional when we’ve been on the ice together with goalies,” Osaer said. “He’s been engaged, very proficient teaching every aspect of the position. Most of all, he’s very energetic, and that’s something that rubs off on everybody around him.”
In his role as coordinator, Landry travels to other youth hockey associations around PNAHA’s district, conducting on-ice clinics and giving presentations to goaltenders, parents and coaches. His work as a physicist involves long hours, so dividing his time can be a juggling act. This was especially true following the announcement of the Nobel Prize, when he was required to be on hand for ceremonies and other commitments.
“I don’t always get the balance right,” Landry admitted. “But I’m passionate about all of these things. I want to get it right.”
Osaer recognizes time is a precious commodity for all his volunteers. “[Michael] was pretty busy; he was doing some remarkable things,” Osaer said. “He still balanced his time well, so we appreciated his efforts.”
Not surprisingly, Landry takes a scientific approach to his work in developing goaltenders. Aside from being a team player, he believes a successful goalie needs to observe how the game is unfolding in front of him or her, anticipating what will happen next.
“To do that, you have to execute the technical movement, technical skating, the small motions that are controlled by the sharp edges of your blades in order to make saves,” he explained. “That appeals to me. In both physics and hockey, it’s the technical quality of evaluating the world around you and executing the right moves, either to make a save, or to understand the universe around you with the proper experiment.”
Part of USA Hockey’s objective in youth hockey is teaching its players life experiences they can take with them outside the game. Landry offered a couple of tips that can build a player’s personal character on and off the ice.
“Love what you do,” he said. “If you love what you do, work doesn’t feel like work. That’s an important lesson. Another is, to do interesting things takes a lot of tenacity. You can’t expect success right away in any difficult enterprise. You have to be patient, you have to make mistakes along the way, and not expect anything to come quickly. Perseverance pays off.”
Fortunately, you don’t need a Ph.D. in physics to put that advice into practice.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.