Credit || John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

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

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