Let’s Play Hockey photo by Mike Thill
Not all goals have to be pretty. It doesn’t matter how it goes in – it just matters that it went in. Here are some keys to scoring goals of the greasier variety. Remember that these count the same as the pretty ones.
1. Use more tips, redirects and shots for sticks
We spend a lot of time teaching our forwards how to tip and redirect the puck effectively and we spend time teaching our Ds to shoot for open sticks that can redirect a puck all the time. These are very important skills to learn, especially as more and more teams play a tight defensive scheme down low in the zone, where there are essentially five players close together trying to clog up the middle.
We especially stress tipping and redirects early in the season. Unless you have a large number of returning players from last year’s lineup, scoring beautiful tic-tac-toe goals probably won’t happen right out of the gate. What you are more likely to see, and are more likely to rely on to help win you games, are the greasy, grimy garbage goals that get deflected a few times before they find their way into the back of the net.
We also prioritize the importance of these greasy goals all year long. They are typically hard work goals where players find themselves in the right place at the right time. While some may argue that they don’t take as much skill to score, they do require the willingness and desire to pay the price in front of the net in order to put the puck in the back of the net.
We cheer for these ugly ones the same way we do for the pretty ones. And when it comes to playoff time and everyone plays tighter defense than ever, these greasy ones are usually the ones that help you make it through to the next round.
2. Create layers in front of the net
While it is critical to send players to the front of the net to look to screen, tip and deflect pucks, it is important to have a structure in place that allows you to do this more effectively. We talk about creating layers in front of the net. The player closest to the goalie is in the low layer – her primary job is to screen the shot and to open up off the backdoor/front door for quick rebounds in front.
The second player screening should be in the middle layer – which on most rinks is at or slightly above the hash mark. The player in this middle layer is actually much more likely to be the goal scorer for a few reasons. First, a tip from this player is more likely to change the trajectory of the shot dramatically, making it virtually impossible for the goalie to have time to react and save the shot. Second, if this player turns as soon as the puck goes by and faces the goalie with her stick on the ice and in a shooting position, she is in a much better position to pick up rebounds than the player in the low layer.
We always want to have a player in this middle layer when a shot from the point is taken. But we also want a player in this layer when we are attacking from anywhere in the offensive zone as her positioning above the hash marks makes her very hard to defend against. Her positioning opens up space for our other players to attack down low and she is in a prime scoring position if the puck is passed to her or a rebound pops out in her direction.
3. Learn how to finish rebounds (and practice it A LOT)
Scoring off rebounds isn’t rocket science. If you are too close to the goalie and there is a rebound opportunity, it’s going to bounce out in front of you and you’ll have to turn, find the puck and shoot. All those things take time, and time is something you don’t have a lot of when trying to score off a rebound. So get your heels out of the blue ice and be at least a stick length away from the top of the crease. You can still screen the goalie quite effectively from this distance and you’ll have a little bit more time to turn and open space to shoot at when that puck comes off the goalie’s pads.
The next critical piece is that you can’t tip and screen and score effectively with your stick at your waist. Players who are in the net front when a shot is taken should have their stick straight out in front of them and on the ice. This “tripod” positioning allows for you to tip on either side of your body and if you have to turn to find a loose puck, you’ve already got your stick on the ice. I would, however, recommend that once you’ve turned to face the goalie, you need to have your stick ready in the forehand shooting position so that you can get a quick strong shot off quickly instead of two-touching the puck off your backhand.
It drives me crazy to watch players be in a perfect screening/tipping position who forget to turn once they’ve lost sight of the puck. If you turn immediately, and have your stick in a strong shooting position on your forehand side, I guarantee you will score more goals. And they are your coaches’ favorite kind of goals – the easy tap-in or quick shot when the goalie is out of position. Sure, they don’t make the highlight reel, but they go in a lot and they count the same as the pretty ones.
It is crucial to have your toes turned towards the net, your stick pulled back on your forehand side and you’re pushing hard into your bottom hand. You’ll be in a great position to pull the trigger and score some easy goals. Too often, players simply aren’t ready to capitalize on the rebound opportunity.
Teams must do lots of drills where shooters are shooting to create rebounds so that players have the opportunity to practice finishing these pucks. This is great for your goalies too – they will get much better at controlling their rebounds as your players get better at scoring off the poorly controlled ones.
4. Understand how the puck comes off the goalie’s pads
I won’t profess to know too much about how to teach goaltending, but I scored a lot of these “easy” rebound goals in my time by understanding how the puck would come off the goalie’s pads. For example, you need to position your body and stick differently if you are playing a rebound on your forehand side and backhand side. Simply put, if you are on your forehand side, you need to be a little bit higher up from the goal line than you do on your backhand side. This is because the “eyes” of your stick are closer to the net when you’re on your “off” wing, so you should have more of the net to shoot at. You also need your body to be a bit closer to the middle of the net when trying to finish a rebound off your proper wing (righties on the right side) so that the eyes of your stick are in a better position to see the mesh.
You need to do drills where you script where the shooter must shoot – i.e. hit the far pad. Make sure players watch how the puck comes off the pads when these scripted shots are taken so that they can react to the rebounds accordingly.
Teaching these habits and perfecting these skills takes some time. But hopefully working on these concepts over the next few weeks helps your team pot a few more goals going into the playoff run.
To learn more about how to use what you do off the ice to take your game to the next level on the ice, click here. Kim McCullough, MSc, YCS, is an expert in the development of aspiring female hockey players. She is a former NCAA Division I captain and played in the National Women’s Hockey League for six years. She is currently the Director and Founder of Total Female Hockey as well as the head coach of the Toronto-Leaside Junior Wildcats in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League.