Fresh off a four-goal weekend at Bemidji State, Gophers forward Grace Zumwinkle is the No. 1 goal scorer in Division I women’s hockey. The senior captain and former Ms. Hockey moved into 10th all-time in program history in goals scored for the Maroon and Gold.
So what’s her secret? Is there something goal scorers like her see that other players don’t?
“I would say it’s instinct,” said Zumwinkle, who played her youth hockey in Minnetonka before starring at Breck. “But I think the more you play and the more you shoot pucks on goalies, you become more aware of what’s open on goalies and how to get them to bait and move them into an opportunity to succeed.”
Shot Quality & Quantity
One of the biggest things Zumwinkle tries to emphasize with her game these days is getting as many pucks on net as possible. That’s something she said she’s learned while working with Scott Bjugstad, a former Gopher who spent nine seasons in the NHL and had a 43-goal season with the Minnesota North Stars.
Zumwinkle took a career-high 200 shots on goal last year as a junior, more than 50 shots higher than the 146 she had the previous season. Yet while it’s a mission for Zumwinkle to get more shots on net, it’s about quality chances, too.
“I know if I want to put pucks in the back of the net, I need to be generating grade-A shots on net,” she said.
Sizing Up the Competition
There are plenty of decisions to make when it comes time for a sniper like Zumwinkle to take the shot on goal. Ultimately, she has to choose where she wants to aim on net based on the style of the goaltender. Part depends on the goalie’s size. If it’s a taller goalie, she may aim for the corners or try to get the goalie to move laterally to get them out of position.
Before the puck can get to the net, though, Zumwinkle is scoping the defense to make sure no defenders are able to stop the puck from getting to the goalie.
“This past summer I spent more time reading defense and being more in tune of what they’re doing,” she said. “In our league, there are a lot of defenders that will just try to block the shot outright. You have to get them to move or get them going side to side and that will open up a shooting lane. Otherwise, if you just head straight down and try to shoot, they’re most likely going to block it or it’s going to be an easy save for the goalie.”
Get Comfortably Uncomfortable
Zumwinkle started to realize during her high school days at Breck that she had a knack for scoring goals. While she honed her overall game, an emphasis on scoring continued to be a focus.
For younger kids wanting to sharpen their skills as a goal scorer, Zumwinkle suggests plenty of shooting practice – but doing so in ways that replicate the type of chances you would get in a game.
“Not just shooting 50 pucks a day but shooting in unusual positions, like maybe off one foot or moving, not just setting up 50 pucks and going, ‘Boom, boom, boom.’ Because in a game, that’s pretty unrealistic,” she said. “You might get one or two a game, if that. So just continuing to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
Watching elite goal scorers doesn’t hurt, either. Zumwinkle cites Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews – all of whom have had 40-goal seasons in the NHL – as a few of her favorite goal scorers.
She specifically appreciates how those three can generate offense from “impractical situations.”
As Zumwinkle’s career has evolved, she’s done different things to turn herself into an even better goal scorer. Perhaps that’s the key to becoming a sniper: never stop evolving your game.
“When I was a freshman, I’d say I usually tried to overpower people, which in hindsight looking back, if goalies can see the puck they’re most likely going to save it,” she said. “So I think trying to add in some more deception and hesitation is something I try to focus on and I’ve gotten better with time.”