(written by Tony Odierna)
The art of shotblocking is a critical but greatly misunderstood skill that should be properly employed by ALL players throughout the game. Shotblocking or the threat of it:1) saves goals that might be scored into open nets 2) allows for greater coverage of the slot because players can meet their distant responsibilities by sliding 3) leads to goals for the defensive team by suddenly directing the puck toward the opposite end and catching the opposition flatfooted 4) causes some opponents to delay their shooting for fear of having the shot blocked, thus increasing the chance for defensive coverage to approach the puckcarrier and others more closely in order to stifle the offense and 5) serves as an important eraser for teammates’ mistakes.
I stress mainly two types of shotblocking - the double knee drop and the sliding block - although any maneuver which results in a blocked shot is satisfactory. I believe that the mistaken notion that shotblocking will always cause injuries and the fact that many coaches do not understand its subtleties and, therefore, are uncomfortable with teaching this skill are two major reasons why shotblocking is not emphasized more than it is.
At times, there will definitely be negatives associated with shotblocking, as with many other facets of the game. For example, a player attempting to block a shot might: 1) fail and serve as a screen on a shot that the goalie otherwise would save 2) be injured while blocking a shot or 3) be faked to the ice and have the puckcarrier skate past him for an improved chance to score. However, none of these possible occurrences is a justifiable reason for not employing shotblocking. Would a coach instruct his players to avoid bodychecking or to avoid standing directly in front of the net when his defenseman is trying to score from the point simply because, at times, these situations have resulted in injuries or other negatives?
Simply diving or throwing oneself on all occasions toward all shots will cause far more harm than good. Shotblocking must be done at the proper time and in the proper manner - not anytime, anyhow, and anyplace. For example, there is certainly no need for a defensive player confronted with a 1 on 1 situation to attempt to block a shot taken from the blueline. It has been my experience that the greatest difficulty for a shotblocker is confronting a fast-skating, good stick-handling player who can employ body moves, disguise his shot, and snap it quickly.
In the double knee drop, a defender should drop to the ice or drop to and slide on the ice toward the shooter’s stick with both knees together so that there is a greatly reduced chance that the puck, when released, will travel between his legs. The stick should be held in the hand that normally grips the top of the stick, and the arm without the stick should be held against the body so that there is no space for the puck to go under the shoulder. The palm of the hand on this arm should face away from the shooter because the palm is on the unprotected side of the glove, and the fingers could be injured if hit by a shot. The head should face forward, with the neck tucked in and, if all of the above are done, there should be little chance of injury to the player attempting to block the shot and a maximum chance for success.
Ideally, the defender should attempt to block the shot anywhere from approximately two through four yards in front of the shooter. If the defender is closer than this, the potential shooter might fake the shot, and the defender could be too close to adjust by the time this attacker moves around him. If the defender is farther away, the shot might rise over his body, which could be serving as a screen; and the shot, traveling at a faster rate of speed, would probably be more apt to injure the defender if it hit him in a vulnerable area.
The potential shotblocker must be certain not to jump into the attempt to block the shot because this will lessen his stability and delay his contact with the ice so that the puck might pass under him. Jumping into an attempted block is as bad as a runner in baseball trying to “beat out” an infield ground ball by taking a final long-jump step at first base. It seems to be the natural thing to do, but it usually results in failure. The potential shotblocker must be in control of his speed and movements as he prepares to block the shot because the faster any defender (not only a shotblocker) moves toward any attacker, the more vulnerable the defender is to being “faked out.”
If a shotblocker is forced to move toward a shooter faster than he would like to do, the former can best prepare himself (as all shotblockers should do at all times) by being ready to swing his stick in a wide arc at the puck if the attacker attempts to move around him. Even if these manuevers are unsuccessful in separating the attacker from the puck, the attacker will have to move very widely around the defender, and this will give the rotating defense enough time to adjust in order to meet his threat. Some players will always be easy to fool as they attempt to block a shot because they just do not have the anticipation or “sixth sense” to judge this shooter vs. shotblocker confrontation properly. Shotblocking skills can be taught and refined, but truly great shotblockers are born, not made.
The double knee drop is used primarily by shotblockers moving in a direct line toward the shooter’s stick. It must be understood that the shotblocker is supposed to move directly toward the stick of the shooter because this is where the puck is coming from - not the shooter’s body. In the double knee drop, the blade of the shooter’s stick, the shotblocker’s body, and the center of the net should be in a straight line - unless the potential shotblocker and goalie have agreed that each of them will cover a certain portion of the goal.
I choose to stress the double knee drop rather than the single knee drop because the former provides only a minimal opening between the legs and does provide maximum body width for shotblocking. I should prefer to sacrifice the quicker ability of a player using the single knee drop to get up from the ice rather than to create openings or more room for the shooter. Besides, a player using the double knee drop is more apt to block a shot and can adjust quickly enough to fakes, if he has to do so, by lunging or diving at the puck and fully extending the arm holding the stick so that the puckcarrier is then forced to skate nearer the boards, thus worsening the shooting angle and granting time for other defenders to counteract him
The sliding block is used when the defender is not between the shooter and the net, as in the employment of the double knee drop block, but rather outside a straight line connecting the shooter and his target. Therefore, the potential shotblocker must slide into the path which the puck must travel from the shooter’s stick to the net. This is done by tucking in the neck and thrusting both legs outward in a line nearly perpendicular to the path the puck must travel.
The shotblocker should be on his side facing the shooter, with one leg on top of another, thus building a wall through which the puck cannot travel. The high or near arm, with the palm of the hand facing the net, should be placed on top of the body for added height, and the other arm should be placed on the ice parallel to the path the intended shot is supposed to travel. (Beware of any opening between the armpit and the ice). This bottom arm will block any pass that might be made across the ice by the puckcarrier if he notices that his shot could be stopped by the defender. Also, if the puckcarrier retains the puck and attempts to move around the defender, the former will have to make a wide arc, thus probably worsening his shooting angle and also giving other defenders more time to meet his threat.
The sliding block should ideally be timed so that the area around the shotblocker’s knees is in front of the puck when it is shot. This will give some leeway in case the shotblocker slides early or late. Also, the shotblocker using the sliding block should aim to slide to a position from only one through three yards away from the shooter. Otherwise, the shot might rise above the shotblocker’s extended body.
One should understand that a good shotblocker should be able to slide to both the right and the left so that sometimes the stick is in the hand of the arm on top of the body and, at other times, the stick is in the hand of the arm extended along the ice. The latter is easier. If a shot cannot be blocked in the classic fashion, any method will suffice, although other ways lead to increased errors and injuries.