Scoring goals may seem like it comes naturally to some players, but the top goal scorers at nearly every level and league spend a significant amount of time practicing their shot.
“A lot of times, kids just take a pile of pucks and it’s all forehand shots,” said Lance Pitlick, who grew up in New Hope, captained the Gophers and played 393 NHL games. “I want to show kids how quickly that off-ice work can increase their skill acquisition.
“It’s 100 percent transferable.”
Get It to the Spot
When players are first starting out, they will probably need to shoot in a stationary setting to get used to firing the puck. But as they grow more comfortable, they need to add subtle variances to the standard, stand-in-place shooting they might be doing in the garage.
The first thing a player should work on is consistently getting the puck into his or her shooting spot. If you’re just starting out, try going from the dribble into a wrist shot. As players develop, they can go from the more advanced stickhandling techniques into shooting.
“The key to developing an accurate shot is being able to get the puck to your shooting spot on a consistent basis, no matter if it’s from the dribble, after you cupped the puck or used the toe of the blade to get it there.”
Most of the time, players shoot pucks from the same distance in their driveway, garage or backyard. However, in a game situation it’s rare that players will get picture perfect pucks in the slot with time to shoot. Many times, the best scoring chances come from being aggressive.
“I tell players to think of yourself as a great white shark,” Pitlick said. “And the great white is only thinking of one thing: attacking.”
Pitlick said players should work on getting shots off quickly in close to the net, as if they were driving for a rebound or pass, because that is how many scoring opportunities are created.
Additionally, many players will make a crucial mistake by taking too much time from in tight.
“It’s mainly about not stopping the puck,” Pitlick said.
Most players receiving a puck or loading a shot in front of the body will take it back to the side of their body on their forehand, which stops the puck. And then they’ll take the shot.
“It takes time and as you get older, you can’t shoot that way,” Pitlick said. “So, when you receive the pass in front of the body, you don’t pull it away from the net. You either go lateral or forward and slide the puck into your shooting spot. If you’re a righthander on your forehand, you step with your right foot towards the net and before the puck stops moving your foot hits the ground while your stick pops the puck up [for a shot on goal].”
Rock the Backhand
A lot of time, players will neglect the side of the blade without the big curve.
“We have two sides to the stick blade, the forehand and backhand,” Pitlick said. “Unfortunately, most players are half of a hockey player, because they don’t practice an equal amount of time developing the backhand like they do the forehand.”
However, it might not always be the players fault, as they might be hearing to keep the puck off the backhand from a coach.
“It drives me crazy when coaches tell players not to use the backhand during games, ‘Keep it off the backhand. No backhand passes,’” Pitlick said. “I get it, as a defenseman, I’m not going to throw a no-look backhand pass up the middle of the ice. But if you’re really good at the backhand, it’s a really useful tool and gives players more scoring opportunities.”
Change the Angles
Players should also challenge themselves by shooting in as many areas around the net as possible. Changing angles presents more realistic scenarios and game-like situations. Goaltenders may also be less prepared for shots at certain angles, and even if they don’t go in, they can create rebounds for yourself and your teammates.
“Try to watch highlights and see where players are scoring goals,” Pitlick said. “They’re behind the net, they’re off to the side, they’re using not only the wrist shot and snap shot, but they’re batting pucks out of the air, using between the legs, the lacrosse shot or the Michigan.”
If a player has a limited amount of space to shoot in their garage or driveway, they can move the net sideways or at different angles to get a variety of shooting areas.
“I’ll turn the net sideways and have them centered where they have to step out for a goal line shot,” Pitlick said.
Players should be encouraged to try new things and work on new and different shooting skills during the summer away from the rink.
“The biggest hurdle is not doing anything,” Pitlick said. “If you’re just going to shoot at practices and games, you are not going to excel.”