At the 12U level, players are starting to experiment with hockey’s most dramatic way of sending a puck toward the opponent’s net – the slap shot.
But Rick Bennett, like most other high-level hockey coaches, wants to remind kids to keep working on the wrist shot.
“You don’t see very many slap shots nowadays – I think those are overrated,” said Bennett, head coach of the Union College men’s ice hockey team, which won the NCAA Division I national championship in 2014. “It’s more of a flashy thing than anything else, but as far as production, I’m not sure how productive it actually is. It just puts more emphasis on a wrist shot. It’s not necessarily how hard it is, it’s how quickly you’re going to get it off.”
Bennett says the opposition only gets better as players grow and progress, which means less time and space for getting a shot on goal. A wrist shot, not a big windup slap shot, will allow players to capitalize on more scoring chances.
“In today’s game, people are teaching stick-on-puck defensively and getting in the shot lanes,” Bennett said. “You’ve just got to get the puck through to the net; that’s just as important as a hard wrist shot.”
Bennett, like most coaches at the NCAA level or higher, emphasizes simply getting shots through the maze of sticks and bodies.
“In college, at our school specifically, we work on a lot of four-net types of drills at the end of practice, so they’re getting a lot of conditioning, along with getting different types of shots off – toe drag around things, give-and-go, take one step and release – we have the orange pucks, the heavy pucks, just trying to get them off as fast as possible. And another important factor is that you have to hit the net to score.”
‘Hands Off Your Hips’
As far as the actual execution of a wrist shot, Bennett is looking for players who have quick hands – and hands that are away from their body.
“I picked this up from a pretty good hockey guy, his name is Paul Vincent and he’s a skill coach with the Florida Panthers now,” said Bennett. “One thing he always stresses and taught me is that you want your hands off your hips. What that means basically is, that your hands are out in front of you. When you’re receiving the pass, you can actually get that pass and then basically your hands are already out in front of you so you can release it (in a single motion), as well.”
He isn’t necessarily worried about a player’s weight transfer, either.
“I think weight transfer takes time, which allows other teams to get stick on puck, so you’re not allowed to get your shot off, or for someone to get in your shot lane,” he added. “So I think it’s more of your arm strength, it’s all in your wrists and how quickly you can get that puck off. I stress that it’s not always the hardest shot, it’s the one that gets through.”
Expand Your Arsenal
A wrist shot isn’t the only shot a player should have in his arsenal, of course. When Bennett was asked what other shot types he wants players to work on, he didn’t hesitate.
“A backhand,” Bennett said. “It’s another underrated play. I just watched a guy last night that was in our program and now he’s playing for the Montreal Canadiens, Dan Carr. He scored again last night, on a backhand. Sidney Crosby’s probably one of the best. They worked on it. Paul Kariya was a great example. I just think that it’s not used enough because today’s player, at least in the college level, they don’t have enough confidence in it. It does throw a goalie off, but you’ve got to be able to get it off. So if I’m asked, I say backhand.”
The bench boss of the 2014 Frozen Four champs also emphasizes the importance of players practicing the simple parts of the game. He said that he’s noticed from his own team that young hockey players always need to work on catching a pass and getting rid of it in a hurry.
“Just from watching our college guys, you want to see kids walk before they run,” Bennett said. “What I mean is, you want to catch the pass first, and then release it. In today’s game, we want to get it and get it away as quickly as possible, but you really need to focus on catching it, picking your head up and knowing where you’re shooting it. It’s kind of a simple answer, but I think that if you don’t catch it, you’re not going to be able to release it, so slow down just enough to do it right.”