Local optometrist sharpens hockey eyes

Kenmore, NY – Hockey players sharpen their skates to improve their performance on the ice, but some NHL players also sharpen their vision with the help of an optometrist right here in Kenmore.

WBFO's Sharon Osorio brings us the story.

It's a bit surprising to hear broadcasters talking about an optometrist during the NHL playoffs. Yet during a post-season game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dr. Mark Gordon from Kenmore becomes a topic of discussion. Dr. Gordon has worked with Tampa Bay's goaltender -- and former Sabre -- Dwayne Roloson, for more than a decade.

And the 41-year-old player known as Roli the Goalie, who is living in southwestern Ontario, just signed another one-year, $3 million with Tampa Bay.

"If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be playing -- that's for sure -- right now, so I give him a lot of credit for what he's been able to do," says Roloson about Gordon.

Dr. Gordon is a board-certified developmental optometrist whose typical patients are children whose eyes have trouble working together. He also works with patients who've had brain injuries that affect their vision. And then there are the athletes, including the professionals. Gordon cannot reveal the rest of the half-dozen NHL players he's worked with because of patient confidentiality, but he does say most of them are goalies. And this spring, Roloson revealed his work with Gordon to a reporter who wanted to know how Roli keeps his edge.

"I've been with him 12, 13 years, working with him," says Roloson. "We've tried to keep it quiet because we were going to write a book about it and bring it out later once I retired, but I keep on - because of a lot of his eye stuff that we're doing - I've been able to keep playing. So I think now, I think it's great for him to be able to get some recognition and knowledge for the success that I've had."

This comes as a relief of sorts to Dr. Gordon, whose work to improve the vision and the paychecks of NHL -- and a couple of NFL -- players has been successful, yet silent.

"If you're doing well as an athlete, and you find the goose that laid the golden egg, if you find your Holy Grail, if you find the thing that gives you the winning edge, you might not want to share that with your competition," says Gordon. "And that's what we see going on in offices like mine who do a lot of work with athletes, especially at such a high level."

Roloson says he performs the vision-improving activities, or his workout -- as he calls it -- two or three times a week at home in the off-season, and about once a week during the busy hockey season.

"When I first started going to him I would lose pucks in traffic when people were standing in front of me," recalls Roloson. "Now with working with him and learning to strengthen my eyes, I've been able to follow pucks all the way through, pick them up through screens and deflections, been able to actually slow the shots down. The shots look like they come a lot slower than they used to because of what he's done with my eyes."

"As a goalie, it's not only seeing the puck, it's knowing where that puck will be in the next moment," says Gordon. "It's knowing where that puck will be as it travels through the traffic in front of the net. It's knowing where your teammates are. It's knowing where the opponents are. It's knowing where every aspect of the chaos in front of the net will be, not at that moment, but where it will be a moment or two later."

One of Roloson's exercises that he's willing to reveal is what's called Brock string jumps. The object is to quickly change your eyes' focus onto beads strung at different distances on an outstretched rope.

And just like the children Gordon treats to improve their everyday skills, these athletes are seeing benefits off the ice, too.

"One of the goalies that I worked with, he said, 'I notice that when I'm reading, my reading speed seems to have increased,'" says Gordon. "So we pulled out his chart and we looked at the eye movements from before we started working to when we finished working, and his eye movement speeds doubled. He was getting so much more information. So his reading speed doubled and his salary doubled, and he's playing hockey at such a high level, so it was a win-win situation for him right across the board."

And for Roli the Goalie, it's at least one more year of playing at the highest level of hockey in the world.