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

“Small Things”

Small Things - Jeff Ulmer
Notre Dame Hounds SJHL 1994-1995 | EHC Lustenau ALPS Hockey League 2017-2018

“Small Things”

Growing up in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, a small Canadian village of only a few hundred people (at most), there weren’t many off-season jobs to be had in the summer months after a hockey season. After hockey season, it was baseball season, with anticipation of football season around the corner. Wilcox was a town where every kid played every sport because the numbers meant you had to, as well as playing for neighbouring towns to fill out their numbers too.

In my early teens, my Dad was able to convince the long-time librarian at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Jimmy Williams, to let my younger brother Jason and I spend a few weeks repairing books that would be used the following school year by the students.

Jimmy showed us how we could bring the old books back to life. We would cut the frayed edges with scissors, use some tape and then form a small point on the four corners of each book to spruce them up for another school year. We’d snip any loose strands on the spine and repair any snags or bent pages as best we could and then help to file them in alphabetical order and to which genre they belonged.

Jimmy took meticulous care of his books and would spend each year making sure each book was accounted for and no students were what he termed “packrats”, keeping books in their dorm rooms longer than their terms of rental. Always eccentric, Jimmy was the town’s jumbo pumpkin and tomato grower, picking weeds and dandelions from his garden and lawn by hand. As a bachelor in a tiny town, Jimmy’s house was always circled by us growing up as a “double back” spot to try to snag a second full-size chocolate bar that he offered to all of the kids at Hallowe’en.

Other than weeks of summer hockey schools at both Notre Dame and at my alma mater at which I played College hockey, the University of North Dakota, with a short stint in working construction in Grand Forks one summer, that has been the extent of my non-hockey offseason jobs.

Professional hockey players don’t generally have the typical four seasons of a year. There is the season and then the off-season. In professional contracts it usually states that you are unable to play other competitive sports and then still be covered by insurance, so for most it’s now a one (contact) sport life. Sure, golf and fishing and other sports are popular with hockey players, but there aren’t any dual sport athletes in professional hockey.

The hockey season is spent going through a tough training camp in which your physical shape is measured and tested and then 50-80 games, with hundreds of practices, meetings and workouts. Throw in nervous anticipation for each game, a lack of sleep due to travel or a high heart rate during games until 10-11 pm and time away from family and friends for what can be up to 8-9 months of a year. In most cases, unless a championship is won, there is disappointment in defeat, the handshakes and hugs as teammates part ways and a flight or drive home to relax, reflect and then ramp it up again in the second season for a hockey player, the off-season.

A player’s off-season can be a chance to add strength or lose weight, as over the course of a long season the body changes from what it would have looked like during training camp. Players also have the chance to work with a skills coach or on their own to refine their game and improve individual skills. Most importantly, players get a chance to see family and friends and relax away from the rink. Part of an off-season is giving the hockey muscles (groins, hip flexors, etc) time to heal and rest, while also giving your mind a break from all of the inevitable concerns and ups and downs of a season. Playing golf, fishing, barbecues with family, travel with a wife or girlfriend as well as just not thinking about hockey is vital to being able to play a long time in hockey without burning out.

As a believer in playing several sports as a kid without specializing in just hockey, I think it is extremely important to turn off the “hockey mind” and enjoy life (while still staying in shape) for at least a month or two after the season. It may not work for everyone, but I believe that is the main reason that I have played pro hockey for nearly 20 years and still enjoy it.

Athol Murray College Of Notre Dame’s beloved librarian Jimmy Williams passed away in June of 2015. He devoted the last 58 years of his life to serving the students at Notre Dame. He had also spent 15+ years bringing weekly roses to a girl that I attended high school in Notre Dame with after an unfortunate accident put her in the hospital, where she will remain. A selfless man, Jimmy always stressed doing the “small things” and I believe that can relate to all walks of life.

So, as I come up on the ending of season 19 and the uncertainty of whether it will end with a championship or a bitter defeat, I know what the off-season will bring. I will work on “small things” that I can do to improve my own game. Like he taught us to do with his beloved books, I will seek to repair my frayed edges and start fresh for year 20. Thanks Jimmy.

 

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.

Hockey; Our Beautiful Game.

Hockey; Our Beautiful Game.

“The Beautiful Game”… Football, for those outside of North America. We have renamed it soccer. And I suppose in a way it is beautiful. Green grass, a shiny ball, players racing back and forth on the pitch. But now freeze that pitch, throw some razors on the hardest shoes you can find, give those players a weapon and allow them to hit each other with their bodies and that weapon while chasing a frozen piece of rubber disc around on the frozen pitch. Shoot that disc past a mask-wearing player with hard pillows on his legs and big oven mitts for gloves? I’d say in a way that that’s even more beautiful.

Canadians live and breathe hockey; it’s in our blood. It is far and away our most popular sport and you can even find hockey on Canadian currency (back of the 5-dollar bill). Americans have closed the talent gap considerably that once existed at one time between the two countries and are now considered nearly on par with the Canadians. The Russians, Swedes and Finns are known as Olympic contenders and other European countries are gaining on the powerhouses as well. Passion, pride, cohesiveness between teammates, trust, honesty, integrity…. they are all words spoken in describing hockey. But one word is synonymous with the sport of hockey; competition.

Competition. For everything. It’s not a sport for everyone. If you’re waiting for your turn, then prepare to wait forever. If you want the puck and you want to score, you need to compete to get it, compete to keep it and compete some more to score.

Of the 4 major sports in North America, only hockey is the sport that doesn’t give each team equal chance at possession. There is no bottom of the ninth, kickoff return or inbounds to give your team the ball (puck). It’s a 60 minute battle for possession and competition to see who can not only win the puck but keep it long enough to make a scoring play.

Football may have more body contact for the 10 seconds or so of each play, but no game is played at the speed of hockey with the constant motion of the athlete for an extended amount of time (shift length) that hockey has. Baseball players have their turn at bat and in the field need to be ready for the ball to be hit to them, while a pitcher’s heart rate will be high with the stress, movement and effort of pitching, but hockey has 12 bodies in constant motion for an entire shift, which could be up to 50 seconds. Basketball comes the closest to constant physical exertion, but there is no real body contact allowed, thus having players exert less energy. (If you don’t agree then try skating after taking a big hit that stops all of your momentum).

In hockey, the greatest players in the game sit on the bench and don’t handle the puck for the majority of the game. Your body needs a 2 minute rest after 50 seconds of maximum effort. Thus, the best forwards in the world will top out at 22-23 minutes of 60 and defencemen 26-28 of 60. As a result, hockey is a team sport in which you must draw on all of the players to contribute. It’s why at the end of the game, all players feel as if they’ve contributed and you rarely hear a hockey interviewee substitute “I” for “we”. In football, baseball and basketball, the star players handle the ball the entire game and each get a fair shot. An at-bat, 4 downs and a possession arrow in basketball all give the players their chance at creating offence. In hockey? Get it yourself. Earn it.

Football coaches must design several plays and relay them through the quarterback or middle linebacker’s helmet radio to call each play. Baseball players have their individual chances at the plate, having been guided by a hitting coach or, if in the field, a fielding coach. They have time to check the signs from the third base coach and check him for when to take an extra base or score a run as well. Basketball coaches have the ability to draw plays to get their player a good look for a shot and can relay the code of the play as the starting 5 head up the court. Hockey? No time. Coaches have taught the players some technique or systems in practice but once the game starts it is up to the players to produce. Teaching is over and the coaches rarely ever get a chance to correct systems or individual mistakes during the game, with the exception of the 2 intermissions. A coach turns into a motivator, intimidator or a cheerleader once the puck is dropped.

The best hockey coaches, as can be the case in the other sports, are the coaches that can deal with negative results and get players to remain positive and focused through inevitable miscues. A hockey bench is a small and confined place. It’s like sitting on a large couch with 15 sweaty friends while your dad and his 2 friends stand behind you. There is nowhere to hide, and believe me, you can feel it when the coach is staring bullets at you from behind your back. You can sense frustration, positivity, pride and nervousness from the coaches and there is nothing better in any sport than having a positive coach that believes in his group.

So, next time you are at a hockey game or even watching a game on TV, look for the demeanour of the coach, the flows of the line changes, the maximum effort of the participants, the post-shift exhaustion of the players and really how little the top players are even on the ice. You’ll see a team of 20 players, backed by coaches that, after 60 minutes (and sometimes more), are exhausted. Win or lose, they will huddle by their goaltender and look at each other to congratulate each other on an honest effort. There is nothing better than playing hockey and being given not only a chance to play, but to compete together as a team and try to win.

Enjoy the season.

Thanks for reading.

~Jeff Ulmer

jeffulmer44@gmail.com

NHL Roster Construction: West vs East in 2017/2018 and Who Will Win?

2017 Stanley Cup Finals

 

-The “salary cap era”… No longer can a team like the Red Wings of the early 2000s load up on All Stars to fill every position, be heavy Stanley Cup favourites and run the table to win the Stanley Cup. Imagine a team that can only give a rising star Pavel Datsyuk just over 13 minutes per game because Yzerman, Shanahan, Hull, Fedorov, Robitaille and Larionov are better options…! It now takes a group of smart scouts, managers and coaches to build a winning lineup to fit under the salary cap, without the added luxury of having a generous owner (such as the late Mike Ilitch) willing to pay for an All Star lineup at nearly any cost.

 

How is it possible to build a dynasty-style lineup? Research, development, luck and the right people involved. Accumulate assets through the draft or free agency, hire the right people to develop them and set them on the correct path, then time it correctly whereby your veterans are in their prime when the high-flying rookies debut. Then, fit those hefty veteran contracts in with the entry level rookies. A good coaching staff will then find the balance of playing time and chemistry with the players in which they are given. But continue to churn out a winning lineup year after year over a span of 82 games??? Tough to do. You can see how teams such as the Detroit Red Wings of the current era finally have to consider their own inevitable rebuild.

 

Weigh the competition. Look around the league. What do they have that we can compete with? What’s our window? Can we win this year? Next year? Where will our veterans be salary-wise when it is time to sign our rookies to their long term contracts? Will our veterans take more money for less term, allowing us to prepare for the young players’ paydays? Will we lose our young guys before they will sign an extension when eligible? How can we sign a key piece that will fit with our plans through free agency? All valid questions that have to be answered by those running the organization that you cheer for. If you saw your favourite team stand pat or even shoot for the moon and take a run at the top free agents on July 1st, you can bet they met for hours on end internally to come up with the decisions to offer and sign players or not to. There are still a few key pieces on the board, and we will see where each team is when training camps begin.

 

-How do the conferences differ?

When I look at the western conference, I see the top teams built to contend for the next 3-4 years with similar strengths. A few top forwards, a dependable goaltender and a very strong defence that is young (ish) and controllable (under contract for the next few seasons without the risk of losing them to free agency). Nashville and Anaheim met in the western conference final and they were very alike. Young, hungry forwards that carried the pace of play, sprinkled with skilled veterans and led by at least 4-5 dependable, all around defencemen. Their defencemen were able to jump into the rush, but also play fast and physical in making a first pass in their own zone and clear opponents from the front of the net. Roman Josi of the Predators and Cam Fowler of the Ducks will only get better as their surrounding casts get deeper and they will both move up into the top tier of defencemen as they play meaningful games deep in the playoffs. Both Rinne and Gibson are also big goalies that will stop a first shot behind those defencemen. So, if your team is in the west can they compete with those teams this season? Chicago may need a small rebuild on the fly (while dealing with a contract like Seabrook’s) to stay fast enough and a team like Dallas has been smart to add a dependable goalie and a few defencemen (as well as Radulov) to jump into the competition for the playoffs. They may need a few more pieces to be called a Stanley Cup contender, however. St. Louis and Minnesota will be threats but may not be as strong or deep as the others. San Jose and LA lost some pieces but will be in the conversation and Edmonton and Calgary will both compete as long as McDavid is healthy and Mike Smith can backstop a solid D-corps (perhaps this season’s Nashville) in Calgary. The way the west is built, the team that stays healthy and can get into the playoffs without any key injuries will have a good shot to represent the conference. It would not be surprising to see one of the defensive stalwarts like Nashville, Anaheim or Calgary standing at the end, unless McDavid, Kane, or Tarasenko can lead their teams to win a playoff round or two against those defensive corps. Tough to do.

 

In the East I see less focus put on building from the defensive side, although possibly two of the top three or four defencemen in the NHL are in the conference (Karlsson and Hedman). Also, although there are several top goalies in the conference, such as Price, Bobrovsky, Murray and Holtby, I would say that offence rules in the east. From Sidney and Malkin to Ovechkin, Mathews, Stamkos, Eichel, Barkov, Tavares and Giroux, it is an offensive conference. Where the west has teams with 3 or 4 of the top 30-40 defencemen, it seems there aren’t any eastern conference teams with more than 1 or 2. There are the studs like Karlsson, Hedman, Weber, Letang, Werenski, McDonaugh and possibly Gardiner or Ristolainen soon, but there isn’t a second guy in those defensive corps that are right on their heels. Possibly Morgan Reilly is the closest, but there are no defensive juggernauts like in the west. Washington chose not to offer the big contracts to Shattenkirk and Alzner, as well as Justin Williams so I see Pittsburgh (if Letang is healthy) and Toronto (great Marleau addition), who added to their depth, as favourites. Teams like the Rangers, Lightning and Bruins may become contenders once again and Montreal will be in the thick of things with a healthy Carey Price. Columbus and Ottawa will need to repeat overachieving seasons which will be difficult (but possible) to do and the other teams appear that they may need to battle to make the playoffs.

 

Bold(ish) Prediction?

Who will be standing at the end and meet in the 2018 Stanley Cup finals? Perhaps it will be the western team that can score on their powerplays, given the strength of their defensive corps. Or the eastern team (like this year’s Senators) that can stick to a strong defensive system to counter the offensive teams in the east. We will see. All 31 teams will begin with a clean slate and the optimism that they have a chance to win.

 

I will predict a repeat of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, but with the Predators edging the Penguins to bring the Stanley Cup to “Smashville”. Calgary and Toronto will narrowly miss reaching the finals, once again energizing the “Red Mile” in Calgary and “Maple leaf Square” in Toronto. But, as we well know, anything can and will happen. Let’s simply hope 2017/2018 is as exciting as 2016/2017 was for all hockey fans.

 

Enjoy the off-season.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

~Jeff Ulmer

jeffulmer44@gmail.com

 

 

2017 NHL FREE AGENCY PREDICTIONS

NHL Free Agency

Free agency day! It’s like Christmas for hockey fans…Will your team sign the big stud free agent or will he stay where he is for the “hometown discount?” Does his wife like it where he is? Kids in school? What about his workout buddy, has he sold him on how good it is where he plays? Isn’t his agent tight with the guys in Toronto? The Rangers have money to spend…Montreal has holes…everyone needs a Shattenkirk-type defenceman! A lot of questions, to be sure, and nobody knows the answer to any of them…so shouldn’t we just wait and see how it all plays out? Nah, let’s guess and see how right (or wrong) we are…here are my best guesses.

1. Kevin Shattenkirk
-Every team does covet a Shattenkirk-type. But not every team can afford a free agent powerplay quarterback that is looking to cash in on a max term contract. Yes, he didn’t play his best in the playoffs, but if you’re looking for a guy to take the keys and drive the powerplay bus, Washington already has a particular Russian shooter that needs his shot attempts…and Ovechkin is probably the better choice taking most of the shots anyways, to be honest. With strong defencemen over in the West, I think he stays out east and cashes in.
Best Guess? 
 
New York Rangers (7y/6.5 per)
2. Alexander Radulov
 
-A 30 year old that hasn’t had the 80 game grind that most 30 year olds have had…but he has played for Team Russia quite a bit, making his seasons just as long. However, the hunger and “want” that he plays with is noticeably different than his first stint in the NHL. Now with a family, he seems like he “gets it” now. I could see a team giving him 5-6 years, and he will be in high demand. I could also see him waiting a few hours to see who comes in with a 6-7 year offer (while Montreal waits) before ultimately making his decision.
Best Guess?
 
-Montreal Canadiens (5y/6m per)
3. Joe Thornton
 
-Quietly, “Jumbo” hits free agency, after being one of the top assist men in the NHL seemingly forever. Every team could use him, but it will be a team with some cap space that can give him and his family a multi-year deal that will land him. I’m assuming he’d love to stay in San Jose if it can work for both parties, but this being his first crack at being wooed by several teams, let’s assume his family is ok with a drastic move. Would he like to join Shattenkirk in the “Big Apple” and play with his old Davos teammate Rick Nash? What about LA? I would like to say the Rangers but if they land “Shattdeuces” I think they would look at a cheaper option.
Best Guess?
 
-San Jose Sharks (2y/4.5m per)
4. Patrick Marleau
 
-Let’s stay with the “old Sharks” theme. Marleau has been a Shark forever. Wouldn’t he just stay? Couldn’t they have just found a way to keep him on the old “hometown discount?” I’d have to think that there is a reason he’s going to free agency…but his kids and wife must want to stay in San Jose, no? So many questions. For fun, let’s say they are fine with a big move, as maybe a move closer to his home province in Saskatchewan is what he is after…the Flames could use a speedy veteran to pair with those youngsters.
Best Guess?
 
-Calgary Flames (2y/3.75m per)
5. Karl Alzner
 
-Another guy who has waited a while to be wooed by some other suitors. It sounds like Washington will move on, and Alzner has quietly become a steady, dependable D-man to play some big minutes against opposing teams’ top lines. He hasn’t missed a regular season game for years and he won’t be as expensive as a Shattenkirk. Every team would be smart to check in, but only a few may want to spend big money on a non-powerplay guy. He’d be perfect for the Leafs but they won’t want to dip into their “Mathews/Marner/Nylander fund” two years from now…Ottawa would work but he may choose another spot. Buffalo may offer more than he may take but I will take a stab at him wanting to try a Canadian city. We’ll see.
Best Guess?
 
-Montreal Canadiens (5y/5m per)
6. Martin Hanzal
 
-Size, skill and plays centre. Again, every team would want him. Few will be wanting to go for a 4 year commitment or longer but I think he will get that. I imagine that he loved the desert and would return there but may be looking away from the rebuild after getting a taste of the playoffs again with the Wild. It seems like everyone knows his name and that he is good, but a lot of fans haven’t seen enough of him to say…let’s say he wants a taste of a different western market and a shot at winning now…and there is one team that looked extremely thin at centre when their #1 centre was lost for the playoffs. Johansen could use some help down the middle….
Best Guess?
 
-Nashville Predators (4y/4.25m per)
7. Justin Williams
 
-Sorry, had to make #7 Mr. Game 7….he’d be perfect in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Pittsburgh or back in Washington. He is such a smart player that you can’t go wrong having him on the ice in big situations, hence the big goals. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind winning with the group that they have assembled in Washington and he looks like a perfect complement for Kuznetsov with the Capitals. Will he want a change of scenery? Will the Capitals spend the money they won’t give Shattenkirk or Alzner and keep Williams while they have Ovie and Backstrom nearing the twilight of their prime? I just think he has the perfect fit there.
Best Guess?
 
-Washington Capitals (2y/3.75m per)
8. Michael Del Zotto
 
-This one just seems like the perfect situation to snag a guy that needs a reclamation project. I’m sure Rangers fans will be quick to point out the “Del Zaster” he can be in his own end but he can skate and may just need a fresh start with a team that can give him some 2nd unit PP time and play him with a “stay at home” defenceman that can cover for him. He can shoot, skate and will have some suitors…I think he is a left-handed version of Justin Schultz, and things have turned out well for him and the Penguins on that reclamation project…
Best Guess?
 
-Pittsburgh Penguins (2y/3m per)
9. Thomas Vanek
 
-He can score. And he’s relatively cheap. Put him on a good line and have him stay around the net on the powerplays…he will nab his 10th 20 goal year. There are a lot of top centres around the NHL that would like to have a smart winger to play with and who isn’t afraid to score from the “dirty areas”. I think a lot of teams check in on him and he goes with his best chance to play on a good powerplay unit…he’d look good playing with the top lefties that they can run out there for the Oilers…
Best Guess?
 
-Edmonton Oilers (2y/2.75m per)
10. Michael Stone
 
-Right handed defenceman…big, can skate and he’s only 27. The only problem is that he made 4 million last year, which may be about as much as most teams will want to spend, and he is bound to create a bidding war after Shattenkirk and Alzner are off of the board. He’d do well to wait for a few hours and let the big dogs make their choices before he makes his, but he will still get a nice contract. Buffalo seems like they are waiting to spend some money on a younger top 4, and Ottawa would like to have him join Karlsson and Ceci as right shooting D-men, I’m sure. The Oilers could do worse as well…
Best Guess?
 
-Ottawa Senators (4y/4.25m per)
Speed Round
 
Several key pieces remain…let’s take a shot.
Sam Gagner (CLB), Andrei Markov (MTL), Radim Vrbata (ARI), Ryan Miller (BUF), Brian Elliott (PHI), Dmitry Kulikov (DET), Shane Doan (EDM), Dan Girardi (TOR), Nail Yakupov (ARI), Jarome Iginla (BOS), Drew Stafford (PHI), Mike Fisher (NSH), Nick Bonino (TOR), Chris Kunitz (PIT), Antti Niemi (PHI), Jonathan Bernier (NYI), Jaromir Jagr (FLA), Scott Hartnell (TOR), Johnny Oduya (VAN), Patrick Sharp (CHI), Benoit Pouliot (MTL), Brian Gionta (NJD), Ales Hemsky (DAL), Ron Hainsey (PIT).
 
Thanks for reading…feel free to leave your predictions or comments. Let’s see how it all shakes out.
Jeff Ulmer

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

Teammates (3)

KHL Hockey Jeff Ulmer

18 years (so far). Hundreds of former teammates. All different personalities. Some are funny, some are serious. Some are quirky, others are as straight as an arrow. Some have left a permanent impression on me. I will feature a few ex-teammates in a short package of stories of past experiences that I hope will help others to see the different personalities and characters that I, and most certainly others, have come across through the game of hockey. Throughout the game of hockey, there are some people that once having met them, you will not forget them. There will be a few from North America and a few from playing overseas. This is the third instalment. Enjoy. 

 

Alexander “Sasha” Vyukhin

“Russia. Really?” White Russia, to be exact. Belarus’s (literally translated to white Russia) capital city of Minsk would be the next stop in my hockey travels. I had played a few seasons in Germany’s DEL and had a chance to make some big rubles. So I told my agent “Let’s do it. I can always go back to Germany if I hate it.”

I didn’t love it. Our coach, with whom I had chatted about my future role on the team, was fired before training camp began. It was the first year of the new Kontinental Hockey League, and Minsk was buying and selling players (and coaches, apparently) in a desperate attempt to win some games. That would prove to be difficult, as the talent level in the KHL was extremely high, and competing with big money clubs on a lower budget is very tough. But, every season brings optimism and high aspirations, so off we went…

At a pre-season tournament in Cherepovets, our Dynamo Minsk team would meet up with the host team, Severstal. We had played well and had scored a few unconventional goals. It seemed that the little stand-up style goalie could make some highlight reel saves but would then let in a goal right along the ice due to his style. I’m not sure of the score, whether we had won or lost, but the fans were treated to a shoot-out either way. 5 skaters per team would shoot, and give the host fans a little bit of bonus hockey to watch. I was one of the 5 shooters that would shoot against Cherepovets. So, I gathered my thoughts, took a few hard strides and went in on my attempt. A second into that attempt, as I was hitting the blue line, out charged the little goalie! In a crazy attempt to surprise me, he had come charging out of the crease to catch me with a wild poke-check. I calmly deked to the backhand and slid the puck into the open net as he went sliding past the top of the circles. Skating back to the bench I recall looking at him and thinking “Who in the hell is this guy?”

He was Alexander “Sasha” Vyukhin. A legend in the Russian Super League, naturally he would be a starting goalie for a KHL team when the new league was formed. I would not see him much the rest of that year, as after just 13 games in Minsk I collected a buyout and was playing in Switzerland by November. I would go back to Germany the next season to rejoin my former team, the Frankfurt Lions for the 2009/2010. 

Rarely do things go perfectly in hockey but that year seemed to go well for me. I led the DEL in scoring that season, and then parlayed that into a multi-year deal so that my girlfriend (now wife) Robyn and I could finally unpack. As July came and we began to get ready to fly to Frankfurt, I received a phone call that Frankfurt had gone bankrupt. There had been rumours to that effect but none of us thought that it was a serious concern. Now I had no current team and certainly no multi-year deal in the European hub that we had grown to love. So…where to next then???

Hello Siberia!  Specifically, Novokuznetsk, again in Russia’s KHL. I had played alongside defenceman Nick Angell in Frankfurt and he had signed with Novokuznetsk a few weeks prior. When Frankfurt folded, he had put in a good word for me with his team. So off I went, chasing those Russian rubles again. 

Upon arrival (Calgary-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Moscow, Moscow-Novokuznetsk), I really didn’t know which day it was anymore. Between the hours in the air and a long layover in Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport (sweating bullets with the locals while pushing 4 bags) I was physically spent. Most of the players on the hockey team were housed in the same cement apartment building, where we would file down to hop on the team bus to head for practice. Customary morning handshakes and “Dobre utrem” (good morning) were in order for each teammate and coach before loading the bus. A few teammates didn’t live in the same building though, and we would meet them at the arena. 

I didn’t recognize his name or even the face of the little goalie that had played in Cherepovets as I shook his hand, but as soon as we hit the ice for our first skate, I was happy to see Alexander Vyukhin, my new teammate. His playing style and demeanour had no rivals. I would catch myself just watching his weird style in practice, and how it somehow actually worked. In a new era of big, butterfly-style goalies, he was the opposite. If you thought you had him with a shot that would go under the crossbar on a normal goalie, there he was, laughing as he had guessed right and caught your attempt while he remained standing. I games he would save dump-ins with his angled skate blade, not with his goalie stick, deflecting them into the corner of the rink, to the roar of the crowd. All with a smirk on his face. 

We were in Omsk to play a pre-season tournament, where Sasha had played for 10 seasons. Avangard Omsk had a much better team than we did, with Jaromir Jagr and Roman Cervenka as two huge examples of why. Omsk had a nice new building with a large “Jumbotron” high above the ice. Sasha would make a save and then play to the crowd, watching himself on the Jumbotron’s replay, raising his stick or spinning around to get them going. Always the showman. 

Between periods throughout the season, he was the player with the towel around his neck and the beet-red face. He would put his skate guards on or waddle on his pads to a secluded spot, most of the time to the shower or a stall in the bathroom, for a cigarette. Sure, not really a huge deal in the days of Guy Lafleur, but in 2010/2011, smoking in or around the dressing room was not a regular occurrence. 

Our team, Metallurg Novokuznetsk, was named after the huge metal refinery plant in the city. The refinery would leave our white window sills black from the polluted air and leave a slight sulphur-like smell in the air. However, Sasha would be jogging outside and look over at the imports (Nick Angell, Mark Bomersback, Vaclav Nedorost and myself) and in heavily broken English say “Mmmm…breathe it in…tastes like money!”, as he chuckled away….

Once again, I would take the money and make a move back to Europe. Our last-placed team would begin to sell off some players and thus , after just 24 games I packed my bags and went west. Off to Sweden I went, for my second stint there, where I would finish up the season with Linköping in the Swedish Elite League. Vyukhin would also move, to Yaroslavl, to finish up the season with Lokomotiv, and then sign on for one more year with them. 

It was back to Germany yet again for me, this time to Düsseldorf in the DEL, for the next season. Far removed from Russia and happy to be out of Siberia, albeit having met some great people and teammates, I was on the ice for practice when some chilling news came in that I would never forget.

On September 7, 2011, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was travelling to Minsk for its first game of the season when their aircraft would crash shortly after takeoff. 44 of the 45 passengers, including Alexander “Sasha” Vyukhin and all of his teammates, coaches and the team staff would ultimately perish in the disaster. 

There are no words to describe the loss that Sasha’s wife and 3 children have had to deal with. 37 other hockey families also lost a son, husband, father or sibling that tragic day, with 7 of the 8 crew members also passing away. It was truly one of the biggest disasters in the history of sports. 

Alexander Vyukhin was a unique person that loved life. Hockey was a game to him, as it should be to all that play the sport. He was unorthodox, quirky and most of all, unique. He was a special talent, able to play an acrobatic style in the modern age of hockey, with a smile on his face. He would never get the chance to play that one final season (his 19th pro season in Russia) before moving back to Omsk with his young family. At 38, Sasha and his teammates would not get the chance to continue (or begin) their careers in Minsk that day in 2011. 

From the few short months in playing with Alexander Vyukhin, I have learned  to take advantage of the chance to play hockey, to enjoy the good (and bad) days at the rink and to not take for granted the opportunity to play the game that I love. Also, I have learned to be thankful to the loved ones that have sacrificed to allow me to play hockey. Because of them, I have had the pleasure to meet players like Alexander “Sasha” Vyukhin. Lastly, for the members of Lokomotiv that lost their lives that day, I have and will continue to treat hockey, and life, as a gift. 

~Thanks for reading. I will post another article on an ex-teammate in the future. All the best in and outside of hockey.

Jeff Ulmer

Hockey DB – Jeff Ulmer

Elite Prospects – Jeff Ulmer

JU


jeffulmer44@gmail.com

Teammates (2)

Hersey Bears

18 years (so far). Hundreds of former teammates. All different personalities. Some are funny, some are serious. Some are quirky, others are as straight as an arrow. Some have left a permanent impression on me. I will feature a few ex-teammates in a short package of stories of past experiences that I hope will help others to see the different personalities and characters that I, and most certainly others, have come across through the game of hockey. Throughout the game of hockey, there are some people that once having met them, you will not forget them. There will be a few from North America and a few from playing overseas. This is the first instalment. Enjoy. 


Dennis Bonvie & Brian McGrattan

I was on the golf course, not surprisingly, when a call from my agent came. “The Rangers just included you in a trade. You’ve been traded to the Ottawa Senators.” So off I went, from Grand Forks, North Dakota, where I had been training at my alma mater (UND) with other pros and college players, to Kanata, Ontario. Training Camp had a completely different feel that year, however, as I watched with the rest of the Senators and “Senator-hopefuls” on the testing day of our camp (Tuesday, September 11, 2001),  as the World Trade Center towers fell in an act of terrorism. Hockey was suddenly secondary to what was going on in real life, in the city that I had lived in the past season. Speaking to some ex-teammates in New York, they had felt the ground shake as the Towers fell. Scary stuff. Life, and hockey, did eventually go on and after a few exhibition games with the Senators, I was shipped to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL for the season. We would eventually lose in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs despite a 95 point regular season.

After re-signing with the Senators for one more year, I again was shipped out midway through camp. This time to Binghamton, New York, as the Sens would switch affiliates. Our team was stocked full of prospects. Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly and Ray Emery were some examples of players that would go on to have success in the NHL. I was lucky enough to chip in the first goal in the B-Sens’ history, over Rick DiPietro’s glove, in our first game of the season. A backhand saucer pass that hit me right on the tape, from another future long-time NHLer, Brian McGrattan.

Quiet, huge, and usually with his hair spiked in some way, McGrattan was instantly a hit in the dressing room. He was the big kid with the serious look on his face that, as soon as he heard something funny, could not stop laughing. Dubbed the “big human” by veteran defenceman Steve Bancroft, he had a habit of looking at himself in the plexiglass on the ice during warmup to sneak a glance at his hair or how he looked in his jersey, a fact that I still ride him about today. He quickly made a name for himself in the AHL though, taking on all challengers and besting opposing veteran heavyweights in fights, while also chipping in a few goals. We were a few weeks into our season when McGrattan and the “baby Sens” would get a reinforcement from Ottawa, taking our team toughness to a whole new level.

Dennis Bonvie had signed with The Senators prior to the season and made the team out of training camp. He had shown what he was capable of in Ottawa, sticking up for teammates and playing physical, but a full roster up top meant that he would join us in Binghamton. An absolute fan-favourite wherever he had been prior, Dennis was an immediate presence in our locker room. He had a natural “Maritimer-wit” (from Frankville, Nova Scotia) that, despite the obvious intimidation in looking at his career penalty minute totals or glancing at his permanently swollen knuckles, could make any teammate feel like “one of the guys“. Looking over at a nervous teammate tightening his skates before a game he’d shout, “Relax dude, you’re as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs…”. Off he’d go onto the ice for warmup, shoulder pads consisting of shoulder caps tied to suspenders (that’s it) , no helmet (he’d wear an old-style Gretzky Jofa helmet for practices and a regular one once the games began) and stretch at the red line facing the other team, daring one of the opponents to come over for a chat. Sitting on the bench beside him during a game was always an entertaining spot. An opposing player would skate by and Dennis would yell loud enough for the bench to hear…”Jeez boys, get a load of this guy, starting centre on the All-Ugly team! He’s got a face like a horse eating thistles….”, to which our whole bench would crack up laughing. He would wheel through the dressing room, hiking his boxer shorts up to his ribs, giving the guys his “1950’s boxer” pose while picking out something about you or your wardrobe that may have been a bit off. To me, for example, it was “Jeez Ulms, watch that fake leather jacket doesn’t crack, it’s cold outside man.” After his arrival, he joined McGrattan and I on the right wing, forming what he dubbed the “Helicopter Line”, yelling out “Lucky you Ulmsy, you’ve got no wings!”

On the ice, playing between two of the toughest guys in the league definitely adds some swagger to your game. But it was on the bench, again, that we had some of the biggest laughs. On a night where we were able to play in Ottawa for a neutral-site game against the Leafs’ farm-team, the St.John’s Maple Leafs, McGrattan had came out on fire, chipping in two goals for us pretty early, while Bonvie had had an early scrap with Doug Doell, one of several tough guys on their team. Because the “baby Leafs” were trailing (and the “brass” was watching) they had started to get more physical, taking some runs at some of our players. As we were about to go onto the ice for our next shift, Dennis yells to Brian, “All right Gratts, we better go settle this down eh bud?”, to which Gratts replies as he jumps the boards, “It’s all you tonight Bonsai, I’ve got a good game going…”, giggling like a schoolgirl as he hit the ice…

We were in Hershey to play the Bears around mid-season, probably in the Sunday afternoon game of the dreaded “3 in 3” where we would play 3 games in 3 nights and then bus back to Bingo (Binghamton) after the game. McGrattan got into it with Hershey’s D-man Jeff Paul sometime early during the game and they dropped the gloves. Gratts caught one one the button, something that very rarely happened, and he hit the ice. After his five minutes was up and he hopped back onto the bench, he looked over and said “Jeeeeeeeasus, did you see that boys?”, as he giggled away and got ready to hit the ice again. Truly a big kid in every sense. Our Bingo Sens team would eventually lose out in the semi finals of the Calder Cup playoffs to a stacked Hamilton Bulldogs team and we would part ways after the season. Most of us into our SUVs to make the trip back home,  but McGrattan, all 6’4″ and 235 pounds of him, folded himself into his Dad’s minivan for the trip up north, driven also by his Dad, back to Hamilton (a fact that we still ride him about to this day).

The next season I would spend in Finland, my first season in Europe. After a good year (still toeing the line between prospect and suspect), I would sign back with the Colorado Avalanche on a two-way contract. Sadly, the lockout would mean that there would not be an NHL to work my way towards that season, and I would spend all 80 games in Hershey, playing again in the AHL, against a league stacked full of locked-out NHLers. I was happy to see a familiar face on my team, however, in Dennis Bonvie.

We wouldn’t be linemates that season, but we would spend a fair bit of time together. Dennis would have us over for dinner with his wife Kelly often, treating me and my other roommates at the time (Cody McCormick, Jeff Finger and Chris Bala) to some good food, always some wine and lots of laughs. We would be roommates on the road occasionally as well, and it was a common occurrence for me to have to pry the remote control out of his big paws if I wanted to change the channel, as he snored away on his side of the hotel room, sound asleep from showing us his favourite restaurants in each stop on the road. In Hershey (as had been the case in Wilkes-Barre in the Penguins farm team, as well as most others he played for) he could have run for mayor. During one day of golf at a nice course in the area (probably free as well), him and I had made our approach shots and for some reason decided to wait by the green while Chris Bala made his approach shot. After hearing “Fore!!!!” and turning our backs, the shot one-hopped and hit Dennis square in the hand. He was fine, but I had to nearly leave the course laughing, as there was no safer place for him to get hit, with the scar tissue built up in those hands. I said “Jeez, anywhere else and that might have hurt eh Bonsai?”. 4493 penalty minutes in the AHL (as well as 311 in his 92 NHL games), including a then-record 522 pims in one season, will undoubtedly do that to your hands…

80 games would go by quickly, as they always do in a hockey season. Dennis would periodically check his phone after the game and shake his head….”F’ing Gratts, another 15 pims (penalty minutes) tonight…”. McGrattan, back in Binghamton for the lockout, was tearing through the AHL and sending us text messages throughout the year….”I’m going to beat Dennis’s record.” 522 is a lot of penalty minutes. A lot of fights, some misconducts, game misconducts and the odd suspension. Even Dennis and Brian would fight each other that year, with each getting a few good punches in and, in a memorable moment for both, Brian (the protégé) nibbled on Dennis’s ear-lobe after a fight and said, “Thanks Dennis. I love you man.”

He would, in fact, break Dennis’s record that year. And Dennis would call him after to congratulate him. 551 is the new record in the American Hockey League. That record is forever safe, I believe, as is Dennis’s lead atop the all-time American Hockey League’s penalty minute list.  Hockey has changed too much for those records to ever be broken. McGrattan says “If I had never played with Bonvie I’m not sure I would have made it as a fighter in the NHL (He would play 317 games and tally 609 NHL penalty minutes)… He taught me that if you win or lose, you always go back, answer the bell. The basics in how to fight like a big man that he showed me have stuck with me for my career. I owe him thanks, and will always look up to him.” Bonvie responded, “For him to say that I was such a positive influence is truly gratifying. He worked hard to reach his goal of playing in the NHL. It was my responsibility as a veteran player to help him to see what it took to reach the NHL. Others did the same for me in showing what it would take to reach the NHL also. I am very proud of Brian, both as a hockey player and as a person.”

Gone are the days of a team having two heavyweights or even enforcers (most now have none) and gone are the days of fighting being a big part of hockey. The day may have also passed, where a veteran would take a rookie to lunch and break down what it would take for the rookie to make a living out of being an enforcer in hockey, like he is/was, and for the rookie to take that knowledge, build his own through experience, and later be known as arguably the toughest player in the NHL. Some say fighting will always be a part of hockey, while others say it slows the game down or causes long-term injuries. I’m not going to defend either side. Rather, I’m simply happy to have been given the chance to play with two of the all-time great enforcers (and people) and centre the “Helicopter Line” (far from it) for a while. They have taught me sacrifice, camaraderie and especially humour. I’m happy to say that we are still friends and do our best, despite young and growing families, to stay in touch. There may come a point in the future when fighting won’t have a place in the game of hockey, but I sincerely hope that the future of hockey includes character individuals like Dennis Bonvie and Brian McGrattan.

~Thanks for reading. I will post another article on an ex-teammate 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

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