The art of shot blocking: part skill, part insanity

The game of hockey features many split-second decisions that an individual must make in the blink of an eye to help make his team successful. A half-second too soon or too late can lead to an odd-man rush going the other way for the opposition or for an attempted one-time not quite getting everything on it.

However, one split-second decision that may have the highest risk versus reward credentials is shot blocking. Players must choose in a heartbeat whether or not to throw their bodies in harms way for the greater good of the team in order to stop the puck from getting to their own net.

“It takes a special courage to get in front of guys that are shooting pucks and we did a tremendous job with that last year,” said UAA Head Coach Dave Shyiak. “When you have guys that sacrifice themselves and get in shooting lanes to block shots, those are opportunities that aren’t getting to the net.”

Different players have different ways of getting the job done.

Of course, the hope is that players can get their stick in the shooting lane and let it do the work for them. Sometimes, that isn’t enough and players have to hurl their bodies in front of heavy shots from the point.

 

Reckless abandon anyone?

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Some players will drop to one knee and try and use their shin pads or pants to take the brunt of the shot. Others will dive skates or even head first to try and get their body in the path of the puck.

Both techniques can leave the player very exposed in certain areas. Main areas of concern are the ankle, inside thigh, and wrist, which have limited to no padding in those areas.

Last year, Seawolf sophomore Andrew Pickering what would have to be labeled as a unusual but nonetheless unpleasant injury. During a Jan. 21 game in Denver, Pickering was caught with a puck in the ear. The damage was a substantial cut and concussion, which knocked him out for a considerable amount of time late in the season.

Due to the high risk of injuries, ranging from the minor cuts and bruises to the more severe injuries (fractured or shattered bones), coaches often times don’t have players practice their shot blocking in practice.

 

“It’s tough to practice shot blocking because you don’t want guys getting hurt,” Shyiak said. “It’s in video breakdown where we show guys that they could’ve been in shooting lanes or blocked a shot.”

When it’s game time, the players have to take what they learned from these video sessions and try and put it to use without taking themselves out of commission and into the trainers room.

So what is the secret to being effective on the shot block? According to Shyiak, the answer is really quite simple.

“Timing and anticipation,” Shyiak said.

Perhaps the coach left out a few other personality traits that seem necessary for a successful shot blocker: words like demented, fearless, and irrational all seem appropriate.

The boost of a big shot block, especially on the penalty kill, can be a contagious thing for a team and can immediately change the mood on the bench.

“It’s a momentum changer,” Shyiak said. “When guys on the bench see the guys on the bench blocking shots, it certainly lifts their spirits up and brings the team together tighter.”

The stat of shot blocking is one that is not an officially kept in college hockey. Upon Coach Shyiak’s request, UAA Sports Information does keep track of UAA individual shot blocks during their games here at the Sullivan Arena.

Last season, UAA totaled 143 blocked shots in 17 home contests. That averages out to 8.41 shots per contest that never get to the net.

Returning this year are puck magnets such as junior defenseman Scott Warner (43 blocks last season at home), senior blue liners Curtis Leinweber (41) and Brad Gorham (31) and senior forward Jade Portwood (29).

The common bond: all saw substantial time on the penalty kill last year and in close-game situations.

This a big reason that the Seawolves also were the best penalty killing team in the WCHA last season. Their 85.8 kill rate hinged a lot on their effectiveness in blocking shots and went a long way in their late-season surge.

“Special teams are a big part of today’s game and to reach the upper echelon of the league you got to be good there,” Shyiak said. “It’s a big reason why we made a big push at the end of the year last season.”

Sacrificing for the greater good of the team is an unglamorous but essential part of this teams success rate. Make way