The object of the game of hockey is to score goals. It just so happens that scoring goals is also one of the toughest things to do in the sport.
Everyone appreciates a beautiful tic-tac-toe play with pretty passes and a glorious top-shelf finish. But a lot of goals aren’t scored that way. They’re ugly. They’re hard. Goalies are screened. Pucks are tipped and redirected. Players scramble for rebounds and loose pucks.
Minnesota Wild left winger Zach Parise knows a lot about scoring goals. He has more than 300 for his career, many from that tough area in front of the goal. At 5-foot-11, Parise may be somewhat undersized among those big defensemen protecting their goaltender, but he often comes out of the woods celebrating.
Here is some goal-scoring advice from Parise.
First, “you gotta get there,” Parise said about finding your way to the front of the net and making life difficult for opposing goaltenders.
“As you get older, goalies get so much better,” he said. “If they see the puck, it’s tough to score on them. They’re so big, and their pads are so big, it’s tough to beat them. If you look at all the goals in the NHL, they’re all right in front of the net – 10 feet in front of the net, tips, rebounds. You have to be willing to get there, get in front of the net.”
READ: Going to the Net with Andrew Brunette
Tips and deflections for goals aren’t just lucky plays. It takes real skill to redirect a teammate’s shot into the net; skill that the best players in the world work on daily.
“Deflecting takes a lot of practice,” Parise said. “It’s just a lot of working on your hand-eye coordination.”
“It could be something as small as me and my buddies on the ice standing five feet apart from each other and throwing saucer passes and knocking them down. We’d just continually do that after practice, before practice. Then all of a sudden you start to be able to feel yourself doing it in games, and then it becomes fun. It’s just an extra skill.
“It’s all about trying to separate yourself from everybody else. To me it’s just another skill. If you can knock pucks down out of the air, saucer passes, if you can tip point shots, it means more chances for goals, more chances for assists. Touching the puck more you get a better chance of getting points.”
Playing multiple sports such as baseball/softball, lacrosse, tennis, etc. also helps improve hand-eye coordination and overall athleticism.
Reading the Defense
Once you get into the tall trees, there’s some maneuvering that needs to take place. Parise says knowing where the defensemen and other checkers are and creating a little separation from them can be the difference between getting your stick on a puck for a goal and watching a goalie make an easy save.
“I think a lot of it is anticipation,” he said. “There’s a time and place to go stand there, there’s a time and a place to be able to get inside position on your D-man and also a time where you can tip it on a drive-by – as long you know where the guy is who’s checking you. You want to try and get inside him. Once you get between him and the net you can kind of control things. You can stop, and he’s going to have to stop behind you and you still have the whole net.”
That goes for tipping pucks as well for going after rebounds, Parise added.
“You’ve got to hunt down the rebound right away if it doesn’t go in,” he said. “Anticipate. It’s reading where the D-man is and knowing what kind of position he’s got on you and what kind of position you’ve got on him.”
What a lot of this comes down to is hockey sense – and we all know Parise has it. But how can youngsters start to develop these skills and hockey IQ? Small-area games create an environment where young players have to make quick decisions and learn to maneuver/protect the puck and anticipate/read the play.
READ: The Minnesota Wild Practice Plan
Parise has taken some punishment from opposing players by venturing to the net front. It is a high-intensity battle area where attacking players work hard to score and defenders battle to keep pucks away.
So why does Parise keep going back for more?
“It’s rewarding!” he said.
“Even if you don’t get a stick on the puck, you’re taking away the goalie’s eyes and giving your teammates a chance for a rebound.
“But the satisfaction of getting to the front of the net and getting a good tip or a good rebound goal, I think that makes it a little bit easier to go back there.”