One Shot

Shot

For most players, the season is now over and it’s time to relax, unwind and think of what you want to improve on for next season. Depending on the level that you play, there are countless things to work on for a hockey player in the off-season. Usually there are 5-10 memories of chances missed or instances where a player wishes that they had been able to change something that they did. It’s much to late to change what has happened last season but preparing yourself to be successful for chances that you will have next season is now more important.

First, rest is important. Make sure that before you start in on your hockey training you have given your body and the hockey muscles (hips, groins, knees, shoulders) significant time to heal from the wear and tear of a long season. Spend time with family and friends away from the rink and the gym. Continuous training for hockey can be detrimental to not only your body, but it can also wear you down mentally. A few weeks or a month without hockey and training on your mind will make you more excited for your return to the gym and ultimately to the ice.

I remember being in my early teens and walking through the rink in my hometown of Wilcox, Saskatchewan during a week of the Notre Dame Summer Hockey School. I walked out to the ice surface to a see Wendel Clark, Maple Leafs legend and Notre Dame alumni, shoot pucks from the slot into an open net. He had about 15-20 pucks and I can’t tell you if he hit his target with every shot but I was amazed at the sound of the puck off the crossbar, posts and even glass while he fired one snapshot after another. I had never seen the wrist strength or power to make a sound like that. I had always been the kid that couldn’t wait to take a big slap shot (still am), but from that point on I knew I needed to work to gain a heavy snapshot.

Rarely in hockey do you have time to let loose with a big slap shot and seldom do you have a one on one opportunity on a goaltender with time to take a shot without a defender trying to block it. It’s possible 80%+ of NHLers have a great shot and 50% of players on each team will have what their own goalies will consider a “bomb”. However, we only know of the actual true snipers because they are the players that are able to showcase their shot with the ability to release it before a defender can block it and the confidence to get into a shooting area and fire the puck.

While I also teach skills training in hockey, I want to give a few tips for those players that either can’t afford to hire a skills coach or live somewhere that ice isn’t available in the off-season. The drill is easy to do at home with just a hockey stick and ball and focuses on possibly a player’s most important skill; shooting release. In today’s hockey, defending teams are taught (and rightly so) to always have sticks in the shooting lane and to use their body to block the puck from reaching the goalie. This drill will help to give you a better chance of getting a shot off before the defender is able to get a stick in the lane. It will also help you to understand where you are best releasing the puck from, giving you your optimal chance to generate a quality shot on goal.

Possibly the most important tip for players of all ages is to recognize your own ideal release point when shooting. Sounds technical, yes, but it’s actually quite simple as most players have a common release point. There is a certain point where you like to, and should, take a wrist/snapshot from. Take one of your sticks that you used from the season and cut it down about the height of your skate blades (you can put an extension in it and re-tape it after if you only have one). Now take a tennis ball or anything that is heavy enough to feel like a puck and find a wall (preferably outside) that you can shoot off of. Take shots with your feet at different points, hands in different positions, pulling the puck towards you with the toe of the stick, and practice shooting with your weight on each foot. If you are a right-handed shooter, you will most likely see that you shoot the hardest with your weight on the right foot and puck close to your right foot (same applies for lefties, with their left foot). By bringing the ball closer to you with the toe of your stick towards your foot before snapping it against the wall you are not only creating momentum, you are also changing the shooting angle that the goalie must adjust to.

Use the different bounces of the ball back to you to practice accepting a bad pass and getting the ball to the ideal point of release for you. Also practice starting with the ball on your backhand and bringing the ball to your release point as quickly as possible to fire it. Do the same starting from behind you and further away from your body. In a game, rarely do you receive the perfect pass and have time to cradle the puck and take your time to hit your spot. One thing to keep in mind while doing this drill off the ice is that during a hockey game, when cruising around the offensive zone as your team has possession, try to be on the balls of your feet (slightly leaning forward) and anticipating the puck coming to you at all times. By practicing getting a puck or ball from wherever you receive it to your release point quickly and being in shooting position, it will only help you to shoot harder. If you have someone to pass to you, even better. Have them alternate where they pass you the ball. Have them bounce one, put one on your backhand, in your feet, etc. If you are able to be on the ice? Even better. But the drill is beneficial both ways.

Watch Auston Matthews take a wrist shot. How does he not get his shot blocked as often as others? He knows the point that he needs to get to on the ice for his shot to be a scoring chance and he uses the space leading up to his shooting area to hide the fact that he is shooting. He does a great job of changing the angle on his release point to both give him an edge on the opposing goalie and keep his release point out of the defenceman’s stick range. It is extremely hard to do at full speed but very important to work on as a young player. He often uses a wide stickhandle to draw a defenceman’s stick out before he pulls the puck close to his foot to snap it off. Matthews has coaches breaking down the video of every shot he takes and sufficient ice-time to practice this skill as much as he chooses but he still puts in the work to hone his craft and the results show in his shooting.

While shooting against a wall, imagine a defender trying to disrupt your release with his stick or get his legs in the way of your shot. The longer you take to release the puck, the easier it is for the defensemen and goalie to block your shot as well. Practice a short pull, where you bring the puck only about one foot to release it and then try a few feet, which is about how long a radius of the average release would be. By cutting your release radius from 2 feet to one foot of space while doing a quicker weight-shift, you will get more shots off and shoot harder. Like Matthews, if you can learn to bait a defenceman with slow stickhandling and fire a snapshot within a tight radius, you will earn more scoring chances.

Both defensemen and forwards can practice this, as a defensemen has to get shots through from the blue line with forwards trying to block the shot and the goalie searching for the puck through traffic. By being able to release the puck quicker without as much of a stick pull, it leaves more chance to get a shot on net. It is even beneficial for D-men trying to fire a stretch breakout pass to forwards up ice. Changing the angle and deception can throw off a forechecking forward and give a D-man a passing lane when he thought there may have not been one.

Also, if you are looking to get more on your shot over the summer, consider these few exercise tips to help. Legs generate your power on the weight shift, so be sure to work hamstrings into your workouts. If you stand up and do a quick shooting motion where you have shifted from one side to the other, you can feel the hamstring in your dominant leg engage as you shoot. Be sure to add a few hamstring exercises (deadlifts, Swiss Ball hamstring curl) to build the strength for the season. With the amount of squats, etc that hockey players do, it is important to also build the backside of your shooting base, your legs. Also important is to throw in something to strengthens wrists and forearms. When you are finished with your summer workout, take the heaviest dumbbells that you can safely walk at least 20 yards with and do just that. Move them around as you walk in a circle for a few sets of 30 seconds….believe me, you will feel it the next day (especially when you are driving) and your shooting will improve. It will improve your grip strength and help with your quick release. No access to a gym? Lay down and put your heels on a couch cushion on a non-carpeted floor. Lift your butt up, and pull the cushion with your heels to yourself and back for 3 sets of 15 reps. Get a few heavy items in a couple of bags and walk in circles around your living room after your shooting drill is over.

Lastly, every player’s best chance of scoring as many goals as they want the next season is to play every game. Rest up and then train hard and smart. If this small drill helps you get one more heavy shot on net from a scoring area every second game, you and your team will benefit. I hope it helps.

Thanks for reading.

Jeff Ulmer

jeffulmer44@gmail.com

For The Coaches

For The Coaches

So far (in my 19 years of professional hockey) I have had 30 different head coaches. Some were good, some were bad. Some I couldn’t understand (Russia or Finland), and some I wish that I hadn’t been able to…A lot of good ideas, some bad ideas and several different motivational techniques. Some have given me tips for on and off the ice that have stayed with me throughout my career and I have done my best to pass them on. I’ve seen huddles, body checking, handshakes and prayer before leaving the dressing room to hit the ice. I can’t definitively say that one worked better than the other and it is up to each coach as to what he or she feels will get the most out of their team.

Coaching isn’t just systemic strategy and motivating the 20 players that are looking at you for guidance. It’s managing 20 personalities, styles and different levels of talent into a collective group that believes in what you are teaching them. Every player has his or her role and you are filling a vital role as well. You have to alter your style of coaching from day to day and not coach that day based on what happened at home prior or at the rink yesterday. A team is like a puzzle. How will you fit the 20 pieces together to make it whole?

I’ve had coaches that couldn’t design their own practice to save their life, but had the 20 players ready to skate through a wall for them. Others were the smartest in every room that they walked into, yet couldn’t bring the players together and actually seemed to enjoy belittling players. What works for some won’t work for others, and no coach can have the same systems or style year after year and not get stale. Listen to your players and sense their body language and focus in practice and games. You will be able to sense if they need a wake up call or if you should ease up on them a touch.

Most of your teaching will be done in the dressing room and during practice times. However, practice time is best used when the coach is not talking, so have a clear practice plan and use the allotted ice time for improving your players. Make corrections before or after practice so that you can be sure that the player is focused on you and can fully understand without being distracted. During games, you won’t have time to teach, as it is important to always be in control of the bench, line changes and controlling the flow and mood of your bench.

A coach in 2017/2018 has unlimited tools at his or her disposal. An NHL coach, for example, is able to watch an iPad video replay that tells him immediately which of his players made the mistake leading to a goal. He has an assistant coach wired to a coach in the press box telling him whether or not to review a goal that may have been off-side. He is able to teach systems in practice and then rely on a skills coach to develop his players while the nutritionist, masseuse and strength coach get the player ready for competition.

However, that may also make it harder. There can be a lot of conflicting voices in a player’s ear. He sees his highlights on YouTube, his personal skills coach from the summer may be telling him to try the moves they worked on in July, his agent is pushing him to shoot more to reach that number of goals to cash in on the next contract and he is fully aware of his Corsi or Fenwick data, thanks to hockey analytical Twitter.

A coach has the unenviable job of taking each player and massaging his ego just to the point where he won’t think of it during the game. Get him to mute the outside noise and only hear his teammates and coaches. Not easy, but vital. Hockey itself is too fast to worry about what your skating coach has told you to do with your hips, for example, when a 230 pound defenceman has you lined up for a big hit 5 feet from the boards.

So, as a coach, what can you do to be successful in modern hockey? I think systems are important. But tailor your systems for the team that you have. A team’s effort and willingness to work hard will have more value than the best systems. Most reading this will be in minor hockey or a lower level of amateur hockey. Keep it simple, keep the passes short and don’t be too technical. I’ve seen 9 year olds trying the NHL powerplay drop-pass breakout…I’m not saying it isn’t fun for the kids to try new things, but I doubt a 9 year old PK system is so tough to beat that you need the drop pass to disrupt the timing of the penalty killers. But, I’ve been wrong before…

If they are young kids, teach them positioning but give them freedom to be creative. Watching 6-7 year old defencemen stand on the blue line so that they are in a “safe” position is teaching them to be hesitant. Teach young wingers to not post in a stationary position in their own zone and stare at the passer. Rather, have them get used to taking a look up ice to see where their opponent is while they begin moving up ice with some speed. Centres at all levels can learn routes to have themselves facing up ice when they receive the puck, rather than heading straight towards the passing winger. Systems at a young age should always be by far secondary. Teaching young players fundamentals and repetitions of practicing them at game speed will be most important.

I have come up with a simple acronym that can apply to coaches at all levels;

C.O.A.C.H.

Clear– Everyone knows what is expected of them. They are aware of their role and what each player must do for the team to be successful. There are no questions as to what his/her responsibility is in every aspect of the game.

Optimistic– Have faith in your team. They need a leader and you are the one they are looking for. Gave up a goal? It will happen. Move on. Things will get better. Losing streak? Things could be worse, you are all still getting the chance to play (or coach) hockey. Get through it together.

Adaptive– See something that isn’t working? No chemistry in your lines or pairings tonight? Change it now. Injuries? They happen too. Roll with it. Prove to your team that the team is bigger than any one individual. They won’t quit on you.

Current– Times change. So should your systems. Players are faster nowadays, so why slow your own team down? Also, players have changed. Be aware of how you speak to players, and be cognizant of your body language on the bench and in the dressing room.

Human– Your players will make mistakes. How will you react? Will you apologize if it is you that was at fault? How well do you know your team? Speak with your players and find out things about them away from the rink. They will appreciate it. Hockey, in the end, is a game.

Lastly, be the reason that the 8 year old winger on your team wants to continue playing hockey. Be the reason that a 4th line player thinks that he is just as important to the team as the top scorer. And be the coach that can make an average team great.

Good luck this season.

Thanks for reading.

Jeff Ulmer

jeffulmer44@gmail.com

Liked “FOR THE COACHES”? Check out FOR THE ROOKIES.

For the Rookies

Jeff Ulmer NYR

For the Rookies

Everyone is watching you. Most coaches, GMs and even a few of your older teammates will know whether you have a future in hockey or not during the first few times that they see you on the ice. And in some cases, just by having a conversation with you. Can you prove them right or wrong? Sure. But that’s up to you.

Some players are stars from their first few seasons of playing hockey as kids and translate that into solid careers. Others are so used to having easy success that they can’t take some adversity and may be out of hockey after a year or two of playing professionally. I’ve played alongside both.

Some are late bloomers that decide that they want to take hockey seriously and do whatever they can to make a living out of the sport. They may have been cut from several teams but simply won’t take no for an answer. Meeting adversity head on may have given them the strength to translate failures into new opportunities and learn what it takes to be a professional hockey player. I’ve seen plenty of these as well.

Whether you play your 4-5 years of junior or your 4 years of college hockey, you will end up in the same place as several other players. On a hockey team, or trying out for a hockey team, and then it is entirely up to you. Talent will earn you a shot at being a professional hockey player but it is the passion that you show in wanting to improve that will keep you in hockey.

Set your path. You will be given an opportunity to showcase yourself in different situations at first. If you are successful, then congratulations. If not, you may not be written off yet. Most organizations will give you a few years to establish yourself as a player. And if they see you as a player that doesn’t fit in their organization? Then another team may give you the chance that you need.

Most players fail to make a team at some point. Very few are blue chip prospects, World Junior stars and then full-time NHLers for 15-20 years. Yet, every NHL team has to carry 20-22 players on their roster, with several prospects ready to be called up. Also, as I can attest to, there are plenty of opportunities in Europe to make a successful living in hockey.

Over the beginning of your career you may be immediately projected as a “powerplay guy”, “checker”, “grinder” or even “defensive D-man”. Coaches, scouts and others are not always right, however. Being a grinder isn’t sexy but if you have some offensive skills and are willing to play a “200 foot game”, any coach will find a spot for you. So do what you can to learn to do both.

Use your strengths to help you get to a certain level of hockey but improve your weaknesses to stay there or move higher. If you know your shot is weak but you can skate like the wind, then keep skating but work on your shot. A “powerplay guy” can become a very effective penalty killer and a “defensive D-man” can learn to be more offensive. Watch the veterans, learn some tendencies and try your best to grow as a player and a teammate.

The people that make decisions for a hockey team are not looking to see whether you can score a fancy goal on a shootout attempt, although that may help. They are looking to see how you react when your teammate didn’t pass to you on a 2 on 1 chance or whether you will give a defenceman on your team a pat on the shin pads after he was beaten for a goal, telling him to forget about it and that he will “get him next time“. They will read your effort in practice, whether you skate until the end of a drill or stop in front of the net after a shot attempt.

Are you a good teammate? Being angry if you don’t record a point when your team wins or showing your frustration if you get called off of the ice are a few examples of poor teammates. A reputation for having characteristics like that will stay with you for your career. You will learn that doing your part to help your team win games is the most important and that personal statistics will soon become forgotten by others. Your teammates will notice if you don’t backcheck, intentionally move out of the way instead of blocking a shot or seem jealous of a teammate having success. However, they will remember how you invited everyone when you went for lunch after practice, consoled a teammate in a slump or maybe even helped some of the equipment workers carry some bags in from the bus after a long trip.

Learn the names of the people that work for the team, whether they are volunteer equipment people or working in the office for your team and remember them. Ask veterans for advice, as they were rookies at one point as well, and if they tell you something that you really don’t believe is right, thank them anyways. Respect for your organization, coaching staff and teammates is important. You, however, are also important and a key member of the organization. Know that in your mind but don’t act like it. Your attitude will contribute to your value within the organization.

If a coach tells you something that you don’t believe is right, don’t argue. Acknowledge it and don’t give him another reason to doubt you. Most coaches can live with mistakes if an honest effort is put in. So don’t worry about making a mistake. We all do, and you will. Learn from them and trust that you will learn over time, because you will do that also.

Just as most players do, I have failed at several points in my career. I still fail myself or my team occasionally. Am I scared to fail? Hell no. I wasn’t drafted. I wasn’t handed an NHL contract after graduating from College. I had to prove myself in my first year of pro hockey that I deserved to be given a chance. And by doing that, I was given another chance, and then another. I know that I have earned those chances and I want the puck in tough situations. If I fail, I will want it again next game. In my nearly 1,000 career games I’m almost positive that I have just as many failures as successes, I just have learned to take them as a lesson and clear my mind for the next shift. At first, that wasn’t as easy to do.

“You have an NHL-calibre shot and you skate well. Most teams already have their top 6-8 forwards set for the next few years though. If you would play like more of a pest, I think you could be a regular in the NHL.” I heard that from a coach in the AHL during my second pro season. I played that way in the AHL for a while but then went to Europe and had scoring success. I came back to the AHL the next season and scored more so I did less of the “pest” stuff. That was my best, albeit last, season in North America. Maybe he was right. Maybe not. But who knows? There were several opportunities waiting in Europe nonetheless and I have no regrets.

As an older player (30) coming off of a high scoring year in Germany’s DEL and then a stint in the Russian KHL, I made my way to the top Swedish league (now the SHL) in Modo. We had several big-named players. Niklas Sundstrom, Mattias Timander, young stud Mats Zuccarrello and even Peter Forsberg for a stretch, as he was attempting a comeback. All of those players were tremendously talented hockey players and great people. However, we also had a young defenceman that was a top prospect. I had come to the team in early December and had played well in my first few games, scoring a hat trick in my second game and showcasing a big slapshot that would put me on the point on the powerplay. The referee would call a penalty and on I would go, giving the young prospect a tap on the shin pads as he skated off, to watch and learn from the bench as the veterans played the powerplay. Not once did he complain that some 30-year old Canadian was getting minutes on the powerplay (that he or someone else could have been playing) in Sweden. He partnered with Timander and would continually ask him questions and emulate what he saw from watching the older players. I would sit next to him on a few bus trips and chat with the prospect about his family or life in Sweden and came away impressed with his maturity for a 17 year old kid. He still remains to this day one of the best skaters that I have played with and I am not surprised with the success that he has had in the NHL. Victor Hedman (the prospect) learned from some of the best leaders in Swedish hockey, grew up in a humble and hard working town (Örnsköldsvik) and never once showed entitlement or bitterness at losing ice time to veterans, despite his popularity and potential. He has turned into arguably one of the top 5 defencemen in the World, and his attitude is a big reason why.

So be prepared to work hard, laugh a lot, gain friendships and ask questions. I’m finishing up my 18th year of hockey in an up and down career that has taken me through 13 countries and I learn something new each and every day. If you can deal with failure now and again but keep grinding to see your successes realized, then you might just have a future in hockey.
Good luck.


Jeff Ulmer

Hockey DB – Jeff Ulmer

Elite Prospects – Jeff Ulmer

JU

jeffulmer44@gmail.com

10 (More) Tips From Hockey’s Most Traveled Player.

JU

10 (More) Tips From Hockey’s Most Traveled Player.

Having played in every top league in the World and having been coached by over 30 professional coaches along the way, taking personal experiences and conversations with some bright minds in hockey, I’ve decided to write down some good tips for coaches (and players) to help with how hockey has evolved and where it is headed. By keeping some of these tips in mind it will help you as a coach/player to break some old habits and have you/your players think quicker/smarter in important situations. By no means is it a Hockey Bible, but as the years go by and the game has seemed to slow down in my mind, these are some things that have helped me along the way and I hope they can help others.

As I have played my career as a forward, I will have mostly tips for centremen/wingers (especially these 10) but include a few that may benefit defencemen as well. Here is the second instalment of my 10 Tips. 

 

1. Drive The Net:

“Go hard to the net!” Every coach preaches it, and hammers it home. As well they should. The goalie feels the pressure of a forward accelerating towards the net and by accelerating to the crease, it makes it difficult on a defenceman skating backwards to contain you. He has to watch the puck carrier while trying to take away your stick (and body), all while not getting in his goalie’s way or blocking the goalie’s vision of the puck. Tough to do. A good thought to have in your head as you drive to the net is “hard to it, slow through it.” You want to get there quickly but spend as much time in a scoring position as possible. Arrive early and stop? If the puck arrives at that exact time and on your tape? Congrats. 1-0. If not, don’t make yourself an easy target to contain. Subtle movements are best; shift your leg position, push off of the defender, shift your weight on the other foot …anything to keep in slight movement. If you see that you will arrive much too early, either before your teammate will fire the puck to the net or have a chance to pass to you, use the edge of your skate blade to slow your speed, creating some drag to help you slow down your speed (and mind) in order to have a chance to get your stick on the puck or arrive in front of the goalie at the time when he must face the shot. By slowing your speed before you reach the level at the bottom of the circles, you are also less likely to cost your team a goaltender interference penalty or non-goal. By staying in slight constant movement around the opposing net, you won’t have to backcheck from a complete stop with a defender doing his best to keep you there longer while his teammates are off to the races. It’s 2017…everyone has to backcheck and the game moves fast. If you’re stopped, the defenceman also can (and will) beat you up the ice.

 

2. Front of Net Play:

Goalies are big. They practice being able to face shots coming at them through traffic. Defensemen are smart (mostly). They will meet the forward before he is able to make his way in front of their goalie and attempt to clear the area so that the goalie can face an easy shot without traffic. Hopefully you have timed it right and have made it to the front of the net, in front of the goalie, when the shot comes. If you feel like you are standing in front of the net and there should be a stick on you or at least a good-sized crosscheck on its way, it’s probably that the defenceman is waiting until the shot comes before he gives you a shot in the lower back or tomahawks your stick so that you can’t redirect it. A good way to confuse a D-man is to take your bottom hand off of your stick as you jockey for position with him in front of the net. It’s easier to balance yourself and take a few crosschecks, and you can use a wide base as leverage rather than the old-school theory of using your stick in a “tripod” stance. Don’t hold him, but use that arm/outstretched elbow to separate him from you before the shot comes. As the shot comes, get your hand back on your stick and try to tip the puck. This enables you to have a free stick at the most important time, rather than the defenceman either lifting or slapping your stick at the moment the puck is coming. Once it has gone by you (or you tipped it), spin off one way or the other to look for the rebound. A good bet is to spin short-side, as chances are the goalie will want to direct the puck to the closest corner. Also, the defenceman in front of the net will likely want to keep his stick closer to the middle of the ice when the shot comes so that he can clear a rebound to help his goaltender.

 

3. Powerplay:

When a Hall of Famer talks, you listen. Getting the chance to play on the powerplay with a guy like Mark Messier, albeit for a cup of coffee (more like an espresso) was fun. That thought (and undoubtedly more) was probably going through my head as I camped out on the half-wall and surveyed who to pass to. Upon getting back to the bench, He said “never stop moving your feet on the powerplay. If you aren’t moving, you’re making it easy on the penalty killers.” It stuck with me. Shift the box. If you have the puck, you need to be either moving away from your teammate to give him more time when he gets it from you, or you should be creating a better shot opportunity for yourself. Constant movement is very important, but be careful not to look directly at your teammate and then skate towards him before you pass it. He’ll appreciate the extra second he gets with the puck if you are able to shift the box away from him. Any type of deception before you make your play on the power play will result in taking advantage of your man-advantage. Standing still is a good way to kill the penalty for the opposing team, and get an earful as a rookie from a legend. I never did end up scoring a powerplay goal in the NHL, but the advice has served me well in all of my other stops. Thanks “Mess”!

 

4. Goal-Line Stuff Play:

You may only get one chance every few games to come from the corner, along the goal line, and try for the “stuff play” or a deke skating directly across the goal line. Again here, you want to make your play to the net as fast as possible, but then spend as much time in the scoring area as possible. You’ll need good protection on your hands and wrists as you can bet at least one good-sized tomahawk across your hands or stick is coming as well. Unless you see a gaping hole on the short-side and are confident that you won’t need a second chance, the best play to make is to shoot soft on the far pad for your own rebound. A goalie will have a difficult time controlling the rebound of a soft shot from that close and you will be able to judge where the puck will bounce off his pad much easier. Also the defenceman won’t know that you aren’t going to deke, making you the only person in the arena looking for the soft puck rebound off of the pad. Be wary of the goalie’s stick being on the ice as he tries to block you from gaining the ice in front of him by going “paddle-down“, meaning a small hop as you fire the puck softly on the far pad may be needed so you don’t fall on your face. You may get a few whacks at the puck, and by shooting at the far pad rather than the close pad, your rebound will stay in the slot (unless you have scored or he has controlled the rebound) so that your approaching linemates may also get a chance at it. Players like Ryan Smyth made a career out of being able to get 2-3 whacks at their own rebounds and cash in “ugly goals” around the net. It takes skill and a willingness to take a slash or three while you are there, but a goal is a goal. Increase your odds.

 

5. Stick-Handling:

One of the very basic principles of hockey is learning to stickhandle effectively. The ability to stickhandle quickly while moving slowly gives you much more time. It is a skill than can be practiced with a puck on the ice or even a ball on the ground. How does Patrick Kane always seem to have so much time when he comes down the right wing (his off-wing) on a 2 on 1? He’s naturally great at timing his shot or pass to match the speed of the oncoming backchecker or the lunge of the defender, but moreso it’s the quick hands and small little leg lifts he does while he is slowing his speed (watch his shoot-out highlights and you will see it there as well). The defender and goalie are unable to read what he is about to do because of the speed of his hands and misdirection with his feet. “Is he shooting?” The leg lifts give the indication of a shot on the way, but most times it’s just to get the defenceman to lunge his stick in the shot lane so that he can pass. If the defenceman doesn’t bite on the subtle leg lifts then he’s that much closer to shoot to score or lay it off of the far pad for Artemi Panarin to knock home the rebound. The ability to slowly get closer to the net with quick stickhandling allows a teammate to turn into a shooting position or for you to survey the best place to shoot and “freeze” the goalie. You are able to take a longer look when deciding whether it’s best to shoot to score, pass it to a teammate or shoot for a rebound, while also allowing your trailing forwards a chance to catch up into the play. Practice it to become dangerous.

 

6. Offence From Defensive Zone Routes:

Connor McDavid is a rare species. I won’t say that he could get more scoring chances from beginning his shift in the defensive zone or off-side dots in his own end than he would in the offensive zone, but it’s not a crazy stretch. Any more room to maneuver is better for McDavid, increasing his odds against the defenders. The way that he is able to change gears and separate himself from defenders is unmatched and a huge advantage. His ability to win a face-off or knock a turned-over puck back to his defenceman and pick up speed while his D-men exchange the puck and look to pass to him is what makes him so special. His quick pivot upon his turn means that once he gets a pass from a defender with speed, none of his wingers can keep up to him, but by him backing up the opposing defencemen with his speed, he is able to stop and turn at any point (preferably the hash-mark level in the offensive zone). The point at which a defenceman stops to re-gap gives him a second or two to look and make a play to his approaching wingers. If a defenceman decides to step up on him and not let him gain the blue line, a soft chip to himself works the same, as the defender would be forced to take an interference penalty if McDavid has timed his “self-dump” early enough. Everyone has to skate as hard as they can just to attempt to stay in the same zone as him already, and when he stops up, the defensive team has to turn and identify their man in coverage. Any hesitation and it’s an offensive scoring chance. Playing centre gives you the ability to not have to contend with the boards while making your pivot to pick up speed, but wingers can help themselves by starting a rush lower in the defensive zone. If you are playing up high near the opposing defenceman when the puck turns over, chances are you will not be able to pick up a lot of speed to beat that defensemen to the net or be first on the puck should a dump-in occur. If you can learn to stay in the shooting lane while covering your opposing defenceman, but begin your route lower in the zone, this will give you the opportunity to create more speed and separation. Not having to start from a complete stop, but rather always keeping a subtle movement and then digging into the ice hard to begin your acceleration once the puck goes the other way will give you the extra “jump” to join a rush. Having the wingers cross in the neutral zone can also work to pick up some speed, but this may bring defenders closer to your centre, or teammate, that has the puck, creating confusion and unwanted traffic as he looks to make a decision with the puck.

 

7. The Shot-Pass:

Hockey has changed. We now see teams creating plays to get the puck on net that we haven’t seen in the past. Due to most players being more than willing to block a slapshot, teams are having to think of ways to get the puck to the net through as many as 6 or 7 bodies in or around the shot lane. Most teams now have a designated “bumper-area” player on the powerplay that will stand in the slot (creating a high screen as well) to be a release-valve for his teammates. His job is to be the eyes of each player should they have to face the boards to fish out a puck and once he gets a pass from them, to relay it to one of the other quadrants to his teammate, or shoot it himself if he has enough space. An even bigger job for this player is now to be a “shot-pass” option. By placing his stick just outside of the shot lane, he creates a target for his teammates to shoot at, with the intention of him redirecting the shot on goal. The slight amount of speed that a “high-tip” takes off of a shot disrupts the goalie’s timing as well. With a big wind-up or one-timer the goalie is set up to take a 90-100 mph shot. When the defencemen or half-wall forward actually shoots it at his “high-tip-option’s” stick for a shot-pass the goalie now has to deal with a 60-70 mph changeup. Just by the “bumper” area or net-front forward placing his stick on the ice outside of the shot lane, this now puts that thought in the mind of the goalie and defending team, giving the powerplay, or even-strength team in the offensive zone, another option. If you find yourself as the player in this spot on the powerplay, you want to be higher rather than lower (at or above the hash-marks) in order to be between the defencemen and forwards killing the penalty and try to have your stick blade almost in line with the far post, depending on which way you shoot (it may mean presenting the backhand of your stick blade). For an example, watch the Flyers’ powerplay and see the benefit of having both Brayden Schenn in the high slot and Wayne Simmonds around the net. Simmonds has a knack for freeing up his stick while also possessing a strong frame to play in front of the goalie and battle a defenceman in front of the net ,while Schenn is able to let Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere or Jakub Voracek see his stick blade in the high slot and aim for it. A shot-pass of off Schenn’s stick comes at the goalie slightly slower, giving Simmonds and the off-side player (Voracek or Giroux depending on who made the initial shot) a chance to get to the net in time for the rebound. A very beneficial new powerplay, or even-strength strategy. It takes practice but it is very effective and tough to defend.

 

8. 3rd Man High:

Always keep your 3rd man high? It depends. I’ve seen teams place a forward as far as up in-between the two defencemen to confuse the other team, or the coach was possibly just that concerned about his forwards’ ability to backcheck. You want to be a safety valve for sure, but low enough that you can be an outlet to pass to and so that your shot is a scoring chance should it come to you. Two versus two with the opposing centre likely playing between you and the puck isn’t great odds to create an offensive zone scoring chance. The high forward in the offensive zone can be as low as possible with the thought that he has to be able to beat or at least match the speed of the forward he has covering him to a loose puck. Any change in clear possession should see him back out to at least above the hash marks, nearing the top of the circles. Just under the hash-marks should be a high enough point to stay as a 3rd man high, as the defenceman are hopefully staggered (not on the exact same level) and also moving slightly. As a high forward, the play is in front of you. You should be able to swoop in and out, keeping some speed and making the player defending you move and remain occupied so that he can’t just leave you and help his defencemen gang up on your teammates. The high forward also has to be able to keep enough speed to cover for a pinching defenceman. If you see a puck being moved up the wall and your D-man makes his way in, you’re now moving to react to a puck that may be chipped behind him, so keeping some speed is important. A system in which I like to go by with linemates is that when carrying the puck up the wall on a cycle, once the puck carrier gets to the top of the hashmarks, he is now the high forward. He can expect that his linemate, who was initially the high man, will be moving to the far post, so that if he doesn’t have a direct shot on the net, he can rim the puck around behind the net and then continue into the slot as the high forward. This creates offence, constant movement and a stern warning for the puck carrier along the wall to “make sure this puck either gets to the net, to my defenceman for a shot, or it ends up behind the net with enough speed to be a firm pass off of the far post. Don’t turn it over…I’m now our high forward.”  If all 3 forwards are on the same page in a cycle formation it can cause mayhem for opponents. If your top forward is hesitant, you will lose out on a chance to keep possession. You may not score each time, but tiring out defenders that have to chase you for a few long shifts in their own zone takes its toll over 60 minutes of a hockey game.

 

9. High Flip Pass:

Being a winger isn’t all that difficult. Stay on your side, for the most part, chip it in and chip it out (while trying to keep possession). Getting a well-timed breakout pass from either the defenceman or the centre is a bonus and it’s always nice to be able to come into the offensive zone wide and converge on the net for a scoring chance. There are also some points to the job that aren’t glamorous. Getting that half-speed rimmed pass from your defenceman and knowing that there is an opposing defenceman licking his chops to pinch down the wall and hit you, or getting a slow, wobbly pass somewhere in the vicinity of your stick and looking up to find everyone out of the zone already… This last one, however, is the perfect chance to use a flip pass. Unless you think you can still make a hard pass that won’t be a “suicide pass” for your linemates, a high flip is an effective choice. Imagine playing volleyball and going up for a spike. Now take away the net and put skates, sticks and pads on the players and they are allowed to hit you when you jump up to spike the ball. Still going up for the spike? Most defencemen will continue to back off and let the high flip fall unless it is right into their glove, rather than risk taking the hit or missing the puck completely. Even worse for the defenders is when the puck hits the ice, as who knows where it will bounce. Instead of putting your linemates at risk of looking for a pass that’s coming from directly behind them, you may cause them to lose speed, sure, but now any odd bounce can lead to an odd-man rush and it has given you a chance to catch up. Not a bad idea. Use the toe of your stick and flip it high so that it lands around the centre ice dot or just beyond, hopefully avoiding a hanging scoreboard. No need to risk a 2 minute minor for delay of game. Also, try your best to miss your opponent’s teeth….I’ve definitely seen that happen a few times.

 

10. Practice Habits:

Try your hardest, bear down on every pass, 110% effort 100% of the time, etc. We’ve all heard those habits (and have read the motivational posters) to live/play by. “You play how you practice.” Also true. So when your coach tells you “We’re starting with the horseshoe drill” and it’s possibly the ten-thousandth time that you’ve skated 200 feet to catch one pass and then another 200 to take one shot, work on something constructive on your own as well during the drill. Practice taking a peak over your shoulder before you receive the pass, hoping that you may mimic that in a game and it buys you an extra second of hesitation or saves you from a sprained shoulder courtesy of the oncoming defenceman. If you’re doing a 2 on 1 drill in practice and you are the puck carrier, work on “fast hands”, shooting off of the far pad for an easy rebound for your teammate, or work on getting as close to the middle of the ice when you take your shot, to improve your angle. If you are driving to the net in a drill, see if you can keep your speed but spend an extra second or two around the net before taking off to get back in line, getting into the habits of spending as much time in the scoring zone as possible while not coming to a complete stop. If the drill calls for a long pass, try making it a tight saucer pass a few times rather than along the ice each time, as you will need to alter the trajectory of your passes in every game. Finally, talk with your linemates and help teammates by being their eyes out there when they may not have a chance to glance up to read the play. I love getting a “heads up” or “you’ve got time” pointer from a linemate or even someone on the bench and rarely do I come home after a game without feeling as if I sang at a concert, as I can’t help but stand on the bench and try to help give a teammate an extra second on the ice. This starts in practice, and teammates and coaches notice the players that are vocal, trying to help each other out. Use the ice-time that’s allotted for your team for practice. Most coaches (if they are smart) will end a practice 10 minutes or so before the zamboni is due to come on, leaving you with a chance to work on some skills. If you’re exhausted when practice ends? Find the energy to shoot a few pucks when you feel worn out or pass a few to someone that wants to shoot some pucks. It’s always a bonus to know where your teammate’s favourite position between his feet to receive a one-timer pass is, as all are slightly different. Chances are the biggest goal you ever score will be late in the game when your mind is telling you you’re exhausted. Trick it into knowing that you always have a little bit left in the tank.

 

~Thanks for reading. All the best in and outside of hockey.

Jeff Ulmer

Hockey DB – Jeff Ulmer

Elite Prospects – Jeff Ulmer

JU


jeffulmer44@gmail.com

10 Tips From Hockey’s Most Traveled Player.

JU Hockey

10 Tips From Hockey’s Most Traveled Player. 

Having played in every top league in the World and having been coached by over 30 professional coaches along the way, taking personal experiences and conversations with some bright minds in hockey, I’ve decided to write down some good tips for coaches (and players) to help with how hockey has evolved and where it is headed. By keeping some of these tips in mind it will help you as a coach/player to break some old habits and have you/your players think quicker/smarter in important situations. By no means is it a Hockey Bible, but as the years go by and the game slows down a bit in my mind, these are some things that have helped me along the way and I hope they can help others.

As I have played my career as a forward, I will have mostly tips for centremen/wingers but include a few for defensemen as well. Here is the first instalment of my 10 Tips.

1. Face-offs:

Rarely does a linesman or referee drop the puck correctly. For the most part as a centre, you can eliminate the half of the face-off furthest from the referee. Concentrate on your footing being strong, your bottom hand low and strong and getting the jump on your opponent. Watch the bottom of the referee’s hand (instead of the puck) and time your swipe from there. His wrist will twitch as he rises it in the dropping motion. Almost all centres are stronger on their backhand, including myself, so I try to win both sides on my backhand. (A tip passed on from Adam Oates at one point that I had heard and stuck with me). On your forehand side you may need to ask the linesman (politely) to move his foot, if he can, so your foot closest to him has enough leverage to support your weight on the drop.

2. Board-Play: 

As a winger, or a centre playing behind the net in the defensive/offensive zone, or even a defenceman trying to shield the puck from a forechecking forward, it is important to be far enough from the boards that you can still turn either way. Obviously you have to be aware of who is coming to hit you or take the puck from you, but creating space between yourself and the boards allows you to protect the puck more efficiently. A good example is when a defenceman rims the puck behind the opposing net to a forward. Catching the puck with one hand while using your other arm to ward off the defenceman while staying off of the wall enables you to gain an extra second to look where teammates or opponents are and decide your play. Sidney Crosby is the best example of this. Being slightly bow-legged and being able to turn his skates almost 90 degrees while remaining at nearly full speed and low to the ice also makes him almost impossible (unfair) to defend. Stick length (forwards usually will have slightly shorter sticks) enables forwards to do this more effectively as they are able to stickhandle in front of themselves facing the boards, or protect the puck with their stick not reaching outside of the width of their leg-span. (A stick-length tip that Theo Fleury mentioned to me that has stuck with me for 17 years). One definite exception to the stick-length rule is Mats Zuccarello. I had the chance to play with him in Sweden and still have no idea how he is able to control his stick so well with it being taller than he is…Having a wide base will obviously make you more difficult to knock off the puck, so as the puck is coming around the wall, or upon receiving a pass, create a wide base to make yourself difficult to push off of the puck. If you are against the boards with your feet close together, you are an easy target. On the same team that had Zuccarello (and Victor Hedman) in Sweden, playing 3 on 3 against Peter Forsberg (he joined us in a comeback attempt for a month or so) made me appreciate having a lower base (Forsberg was built like a bull) and made me cut a bit off of the length off of my stick. He helped with advice to use as short of a stick that I could still shoot as hard with, and anything he said I was eager to try. Truly a great guy and an unbelievable talent. Even on one foot in his comeback attempt.

3. Odd-Man Rushes:

As a forward, my eyes light up on a 2 on 1 or even sometimes on a clear 3 on 2. A defenceman that stays just outside the line of the post (slightly farther away from the puck carrier) and doesn’t allow a pass while sliding with his stick extended once he is at the hash-marks has played the 2 on 1 rush effectively. He has eliminated “beware of the back-door pass” from the goalie’s mind and allowed him to focus solely on the shooter. However, most odd-man rushes aren’t from a stopped position as they are in practice and most defenceman aren’t Nicklas Lidstrom. The puck carrier should be wary of the defenceman’s stick and time their pass or shot with the point at which he knows the defenceman will make his lunge for the puck. Being able to get as close to the middle of the ice as possible is a huge factor. This brings “backhand deke” into the goalie’s head as well as improving the odds to score on a shot without the pass. Most younger players will not match their speed with the backchecker (very important so as not to make it easy for the defenceman) and will skate themselves into a corner to just get a shot on goal. “Get to the middle” is a good thought to have on a 2 on 1, and if that brings the defenceman’s stick to you earlier, then make an early pass. Most goalies won’t be perfectly set to face the shooter on a hard, early pass.

4. Puck Receiving:

How you receive a pass, unless it’s into an open net without a defender nearby, will be the difference between getting a quality shot away or having it blocked. On an odd-man rush it is beneficial to be on your shooting foot (my right foot as I am a right-shooter) when you receive the pass. This is more-so for players not playing their off-wings. By receiving a puck while your weight is on your shooting foot eliminates the split-second of having to shift your weight to get enough velocity on the shot to score. If on a rush on your off-wing, the ability to one-time the puck is even better. Timing your turn into a one-timer position by noting the speed of the backchecker is crucial. Hockey in 2017 is so fast and players switch sides so much now, so learning a quick release from both sides is important. It used to be that wingers would prefer to play their off-wing side because they wanted the one-timer upon zone entry, but in my experience it is easier defensively on your strong-side wing and 50% of the time I cross the ice in the neutral zone anyways. Being prepared to receive a pass and get it away as fast as possible on the right foot is something that no coaches teach, but shot timing is as important as shot location.

5. One-Timing:

Goalie equipment is huge. Goalies are big and athletic. To score on a slapshot from anywhere outside the top of the circles without a teammate standing in front of the goalie is tough to do. The ability to one-time a pass gives the shooter an edge by getting the shot off sooner and harder. Using a stiffer stick (most forwards use about an 85 flex while defenceman are generally a bit stiffer, up to 110 on a standard Easton stick) helps with a one-timer’s velocity, but one-timing with a wristshot is done easier with a whippier flex. It’s personal preference and a player just has to experiment. A good thought for a shooter is to “get through quickly”, meaning make your weight transfer early and have your weight on the front side even before you shoot. This increases leverage and allows you to get the most velocity. I like to favour the toe of my blade rather than the heel upon contact and (as in golf with the grass) hit the ice first, before the puck. The ability to shoot while looking at the target is tough to do, so if you have a mental snapshot of where the players were in front of the net as the pass came, you may want to shoot for a teammate’s stick blade or aim for the goalie’s pad at the side where your teammates were to create a rebound opportunity for them. If on the powerplay, or from a spot that you are trying to score, I like to judge where I will shoot with the speed of the pass. If it is a hard pass I will shoot short-side and if it is a softer pass I will shoot back to the side that the pass came from. This comes from experience in knowing that most goalies are able to track a softer pass much easier, and when playing at a high level they are able to guess where players will tend to shoot. If I am closer to the net and trying to score, then it’s just picking a corner and letting it rip. “Get through early” and hope it hits the water bottle up in the air that was resting in the top shelf…

6. Shrink The Zone: 

Playing in North America versus playing on a European or Olympic-sized ice surface is a huge difference. In the NHL, players can step off of the half-wall on the powerplay, take two strides and create a scoring opportunity. In Europe, due to the extra width of the ice surface, that is an easy save for the goalie, a whistle and probably a line change. Not ideal when on the powerplay. By playing mostly defence on a powerplay, I have been able to see a huge difference also in a shot from the blue line versus a shot from closer to the top of the circles. In North America a shot from the blue line with a few bodies sprinkled around the net can create a scoring chance or a direct goal. In European hockey, the player either has to one-time a pass or do his best to shrink the zone and shoot from closer in. Rarely goals are scored from above the face-off dots, along the boards. It’s just too far from the net. Those positions are for defenceman to give the forwards a passing outlet or for a defenceman to look for a “shot-pass”, meaning shooting with the intention of a forward redirecting the puck to the net. On the powerplay, it is crucial for a shooter at the top of the zone to get as close to the middle (or at least in line with the face-off dot at which side he is on) and inch as close to the top of the circles as possible without being close enough to the penalty killer that his stick will be in the shooting radius. By being closer to the middle, you bring more traffic that the goalie has to deal with. Unless you’re Alex Ovechkin and everyone knows your spot on the other side of the dot and you can score anyway… His curve is built for a one-timer, with the toe helping him get the puck up quickly. Not so much for passing, but with a shot like that, I think the Capitals would rather him shoot. In a conversation with Peter Bondra (at an NHL Alumni event), he mentioned that Ovie just has a knack for one-timing any pass and the Caps’ power play is set up perfectly with the correct-shooting personnel. Their goal is to create a shot within the first 10 seconds and then set up from there. A good idea. Shrinking the zone is not as important in the NHL but for European hockey it is key.

7. Possession Dumps: 

Dump it in!” Coaches (especially North Americans) love to preach it. It got me benched when playing in Russia…but a dump-in for possession is a very effective play. Teaching players to keep the puck away from the opposing goalie, or at least make him skate into a corner to get it (no Trapezoid rule in Europe) is a great way to keep possession. A hard rim on the glass will eventually come to your winger but even better is a cross corner dump to his forehand or a soft dump to a centre, or even yourself, with speed. Watching the Sedin brothers mastery at cycles and even dump-ins is an example. Rarely will they ever have to give up possession, unless it’s after a shot attempt. Always knowing which way your teammates shoot and angling your dump-ins and cycles in the offensive (or defensive) zone to be received on the forehand is a tough but important part of hockey. Daniel and Henrik are obviously very skilled and experienced, but also their calmness with the puck is evident. Being able to retrieve a teammate’s dump-in or even your own dump-in can result in the difference between a few minutes of zone time in your team’s end or the opponent’s. Possibly just as important as a good dump-in is a well-timed dump-in. Knowing when your teammates are about to hit the blue line at full speed and keeping the play onside is important. This comes with experience, but having the inner clock in your head going and knowing when a teammate will arrive at either the blue line or to retrieve your dump-in, as well as the “hockey-moxie” to place a dump on his forehand is important.

8. Scoring Chances:

Hockey has changed. My favourite spots to shoot have had to change with it. Gone are the days of the hard-shooting right-handed winger scoring low on the blocker side from down the wing, like Rick Vaive (a great guy to listen to talk about goal scoring) or Mike Gartner. Butterfly goalies, and athletic butterfly goalies, that study the opposing shooters’ habits have become the norm. To be a goal scorer you have to think like a goalie and alter your shots accordingly. I used to never shoot high on the blocker side. Now, almost half of my shots are probably directed there and I have had success with it. Short-side has become the best place to shoot. Goalie equipment is just too big and the goalie’s legs/pads are too long to hit the far side with regularity. If it’s open I will shoot there, or if I am too far out to score and have a teammate driving the net for a rebound, but generally I am shooting where the goalie is. If he thinks I will shoot there, then I’m not about to make a goalie look brilliant. Most goalies have their weight placed on the short side, against the post. So as he flinches for a shot, he is usually thinking the shooter will shoot for the open side and as he reaches his mammoth equipment over, it has to be absolutely labeled to score a goal. More and more we are seeing the top snipers score on the short-side…check out Patrick Laine’s highlights from this NHL season. For a left-handed example it’s Evgeny Malkin.

9. Change The Angle:

Ever wonder why most players that shoot in a shoot-out are right-handed? Most goalies catch with their left hand, thus giving us right-handers an advantage in the ability to “change the angle” of a goalie to the blocker side. Lefties also can do it effectively and then shoot blocker side but it is just so much easier as a right-handed player. A goalie’s glove-hand will move up faster than his blocker-hand (try it yourself in the air). Changing the shooting angle means pulling the toe of your blade in while in your shooting motion, towards yourself and firing a snapshot. It makes the goalie readjust, as well as a defender’s stick miss your stick in its shooting motion on his attempt to block the shot, giving you a slight advantage, which may be the difference. It is a perfect play on a 1 on 1 on a defender and also on a breakaway or shoot-out attempt. By pulling the toe of your stick in you have given yourself a fraction more to shoot at on the blocker side that the goalie hadn’t factored in. Ovechkin, Laine, James Neal and Mike Cammalleri are a few examples of who does this effectively. Add in a short stick and the ability to shoot from the span between his legs without a defender being able to poke the puck away and you can see why smaller players like Cammalleri score so many goals. Joe Sakic was probably the best at changing the angle and shooting from between his feet with a quick release, before Ovechkin and the others. This shooting motion can easily be taught and is the most effective shot for a quick release that is harder than an ordinary wrist shot.

10. Constant Movement:

When playing on the wing, there is nothing worse than having to cover a mobile defenceman in the defensive zone that never stops moving. You can have the best shot in the league but if you stand on the blue line and stare at the puck, you make it easy on the winger that is covering you. Always being on your edges, giving you the bounce in your step to go either way, and even small movements will allow you to shoot harder, catch a pass on either side of you and jump down into the play or across the blue line. The defenceman that can be mobile and confuse the winger by bringing him up farther to the blue line is giving his forwards more room to create offence lower in the offensive zone as well. Hockey in 2017 sees the short-side winger sink into the slot to help out more on defence. If he does this then have the defenceman be ready to one-time a puck, shrink the zone and even switch sides with his partner. Truly a winger’s nightmare.

~Thanks for reading. I will post another 10 tips to think about in the near future. All the best in and outside of hockey.

Jeff Ulmer

Hockey DB – Jeff Ulmer

Elite Prospects – Jeff Ulmer

JU


jeffulmer44@gmail.com