(Yeah, I heard about the Weber-Subban trade, but this is still a great photo.)
The two most common questions I get from less-experienced Hockey Players are:
- How do I Hockey Stop?
- How do I take a Slap Shot?
Today, I’ll briefly tackle the second question. One can debate the merits of the Slap Shot itself within the context of the modern game, but I’ll write under the assumption that you want to develop a decent Slap Shot just to have another arrow in your quiver.
First, let me tell a quick background story:
My favorite player growing up was Jaromir Jagr, and to this day I don’t think I’ve seen him uncork more than five Slap Shots in his lengthy career. Jagr is proof you don’t really need a Slapper to excel in the sport.
Here are a lot of Jagr’s career highlights. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a clip of him blowing a clapper past a goalie. If you type “Jaromir Jagr Slapshot” into Google, you get returns like this:
What a player. Lots of pics of “Jagr epic flow” and “Jagr mullet”, nary a pic of Jaromir Jagr taking a full Slap Shot.
Anyway, I idolized Jagr growing up and thus felt no need to develop a Slap Shot. He certainly proved you could succeed in the sport without a big Slapper. But during one practice my freshman year of College, my coach insisted that I take a Slap Shot around the boards from just outside the Red Line.
I remember this moment like it was yesterday. Here’s the edited version of how things went:
Coach D: “FARRELL, TAKE A F__KIN’ SLAPSHOT AROUND THE BOARDS!”
Jack: (Does European escape move, scores goal)
COACH D: “FARRELL, YOU F__K, DUMP THE F__KIN’ PUCK!”
Jack: (takes a hit, makes pass to cutting teammate, teammates scores)
Coach: (incoherent screaming, stick swinging) “F__KIN’ F__K F__K FARRELL F__K!!”
Jack: (Does Peter Forsberg-style QB/area pass to open teammate. Teammate scores.)
Coach D: “F__K! FARRELL, WHY WON’T YOU F__KIN’ TAKE A F__KIN’ SLAP SHOT LIKE I F__KIN’ ASKED???”
Coach D and I proceeded to have a brief, profanity-laced discussion about why I felt (and continue to feel) that dumping the puck is akin to a football player tossing the ball to the other team, while Coach D screamed at me hysterically about my unwillingness to cover the points or return his phone calls (don’t ask).
Anyway, my college coach insisted that I develop a Slap Shot, or he wasn’t going to play me. So I worked to develop a Slap Shot.
My Slap Shot has gotten respectable over the years, though I still only use it once in a blue moon during games. As I wrote at the top of the article, we can debate the Full Slap Shot’s usefulness within the context of today’s game, but Adult Leaguers and amateur coaches everywhere seem fascinated with mastering it.
Before I get into it, I’m going to repeat the philosophy of the skills coach I had growing up:
The Slap Shot is the lowest-percentage shot a player can take most of the time. Unless it’s through a screen, Goaltenders often have plenty of time to square up to the shooter, and even with some pace on the puck, it’s an easy save for them. I don’t remember the exact statistic, but I think a player is about six times more likely to score on a backhand than a Slap Shot. And as a player moves up in the competitive ranks, there are less opportunities for most players to use Full Slap Shots within the context of a game. Between the speed of the game and the willingness of today’s players to block shots, there just isn’t much time or space anymore, even at the lower levels of the game.
So please keep that in mind as you read this article. The Slap Shot can be an effective offensive tool, but one that should be used sparingly.
Because I built my shot from scratch later in life, I’ve got a good memory of how I did it. Here are some things you should consider as you look to develop a Slap Shot:
- Adequate Starting Strength
I am a huge proponent of Strength Training as a tool to improve athletic performance. All of the other tips below are useless if you don’t have adequate strength/power relative to the puck.
I’ve worked with a number of 115 lb. players who barely generate enough force to lift the puck on a Wrist Shot, let alone a shot as dynamic as a Full Slap Shot. All of the technique in the world doesn’t matter if the player lacks adequate Relative Strength.
The Slap Shot is largely technical, but it’s also a dynamic athletic movement. The athlete needs to be able to generate some power. It’s silly to work on a Full Slap Shot if you lack the strength to put any pace on a Wrist Shot or Snap Shot.
The use of training tools like weighted pucks will help, but if you really care about adding a Slap Shot to your arsenal, you probably need to get stronger overall. Strength Training, in combination with a diet that supports it, is the most direct and effective way to gain strength.
I beat this point into the ground in the Manual and elsewhere, but Relative Strength is the biggest competitive advantage an athlete can give her or himself. This goes in tandem with an anabolic, muscle-building diet. If you need help getting started with either, you’re welcome to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ability to Skate
Improving your skating will improve all other aspects of your game, including shooting. Everything gets easier as you learn to skate better. You don’t “leak” as much energy throughout your kinetic chain, and this leads to more efficiency and ultimately more power. Aside from improving your raw strength, improving your skating is probably the most effective, rapid way to improve your Slap Shot.
- Ability to Flex Stick
Alex Ovechkin, 240-lb. bear of a man, uses some ridiculously-low Stick Flex (around 80 Flex) to blast pucks past goaltenders. He also goes through 4-6 sticks or more per game like clockwork, an advantage not shared by the average adult league player.
Ovi brought a ton of attention to the role of Stick Flex within the context of Slap Shooting. He absolutely maximizes Shot Power by combining his burly physique with a disproportionately-light Stick Flex. But you could give Ovi a 120 Flex stick, and his Slap Shot would still be world-class.
As for you, the Stick Flex needs to be light enough that you can flex it easily. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to flex a stick 1″ with almost no effort. As far as equipment factors go, insuring you can adequately flex your hockey stick is probably top priority in developing a Slap Shot.
Now, it’s also possible for a Stick Flex to be too light, and thus hinder a player’s Slap Shot. Stronger players will raise their ceiling for Shot Power by going up in Stick Flex, especially on Slap Shots. I go into Stick Flex in exhaustive detail in the Reboot Hockey Off-Ice Training Manual.
When most people visualize the Backswing, they picture the huge 12-to-6 wind-up (thanks to InGoal Magazine):
My “little” brother is 6’3 and has a tremendous, God-given Slap Shot. He takes the big wind-up and pulls the stick blade right behind his ear. I think this might help taller players, like 6’4 Shea Weber, to get their arms fully extended
I’m 6’1 and use a half-moon wind-up:
But again, my Slap Shot looks pretty good at Stick-and-Puck, yet I very rarely get to use it during games. Even in Beer League, there’s rarely the necessary time and space to unload a Full Slapper, and even if there is, there’s probably a better play to be made than trying to blow it past the goalie.
I think Kris Letang has a really great shot, because his wind-up is so compact. He can get his shot off in the blink of an eye:
Letang uses more of a Snap-Slap Shot, and it’s obviously very effective. And let’s all take a moment to appreciate Sid Crosby.
Very loose rule of thumb could be that taller players might prefer a longer wind-up because it allows them to get their arms extended. But this will be very trial-and-error from player-to-player. Do some experimentation and don’t place too much emphasis on the backswing itself.
- Placement of Puck Relative to Feet
I’ll use the terms Mechanical Advantage and Disadvantage liberally throughout this article.
Most players find the best success striking the puck just inside the front foot. Don’t pull out the measuring tape, but when I take a Slap Shot the puck is usually right between my legs, which are a bit wider than shoulder-width apart.
In terms of the coronal plane (back-to-front), you want to keep the puck in your “Wheelhouse“. If the puck is too close to your skates or too far from your body, you put yourself at a leverage disadvantage. There’s a sweet spot about 8-12” in front of your body where you will strike the puck most cleanly, which a lot of Hockey Players, including my boy Wade Redden, refer to as the “Wheelhouse”:
Notice Wade likes to load up and rip the puck from a bit further back (just inside his back foot). Again thinking in terms of mechanical advantage, this is going to force the player to put more of her or his weight behind the puck, perhaps at the expense of some accuracy.
Call it the “slingshot” principle: the further back you pull the band on the slingshot, the further and faster can potentially fling an object. But in doing so, you’re apt to lose precision. I’ve noticed really good players are able to get their weight back and behind the puck. Sid Crosby and Brett Hull, two of the absolute best, often get so much leverage behind their shots that they drop to one knee:
And since it’s here, let’s take two technique points from this tremendous pic of Brett Hull:
- His stick is all the way across his body outside of his hip, which he’s able to accomplish because his stick isn’t overly long. I beat this point into the ground in the Manual.
- His eyes are up, and he’s staring a hole through whichever early-2000s NHL goaltender he’s about to blow the puck past.
Following the puck with your eyes is a more-advanced piece of the puzzle, but it doesn’t hurt to practice good habits from the start. Also, make sure your stick is short enough that you can freely move your arms across your body.
- Blade Pattern
I’ve found Blade Pattern has a big bearing on how I shoot. Here’s my rough overview as it pertains to Slap Shots:
On Slap Shots, I have the most success catching the puck up near the toe. If I am using an open or very open Blade Pattern, I have to really turn my hands over on the back swing, or the puck will go sailing.
My experience has been that trying to Slap Shoot through the heel is pretty ineffective. More often than not, the player ends up smacking the puck rather than cradling it, which is the opposite of what you want.
This graphic from Bauer provides a helpful visual:
Notice that the player’s hands are “cocked” on the back swing. The face of the blade is turned downward toward the ice. I do this with all Blade Patterns to generate additional torque, but this is doubly important with Open Blade Patterns (P40, P92, P29, P28, etc.)
The Slap Shot will vary technically a bit from pattern to pattern. If I am using P40 or PP77, I will have to change the angle of my hands so that the massive curve catches the puck properly. If you are using an Open Heel such as P91A, you have the benefit of a large striking area, but you have to be very conscientious about keeping your hands turned over.
I have better shooting success with longer Blade Patterns, because I tend to “rotate” or “spin” the puck on the stick blade to generate additional torque. This is a technique players from the wooden-stick generation will know well. For this reason, shorter patterns such as PM9 don’t work as well for me, but that’s just a personal preference. Spin is discussed at length below.
In short, you need to consider a few things before you go to work on developing a Slap Shot. If you are a defenseman trying to develop a heavy, low point-shot, maybe using a 75 Flex P28 isn’t the best idea. And if you struggle to get your Wrist Shot off the ice consistently, you should probably work on developing that before you move onto the Slap Shot.
Assuming you’ve considered everything mentioned above, here are a few pointers I’ve picked up:
Common Errors and Technical Cues
- “Smacking the Puck:
The main mistake I see amateur players make is that they try to hit the puck like it’s a baseball or golf ball. I think Hockey Shooting has more in common with Archery and Lacrosse than Baseball or Golf.
Here’s a good pic of Chris Pronger uncorking a shot:
Pronger has “caught” the puck, and he’s generating power by pulling with his top (right) hand while he stabilizes with his bottom (left) hand. The pull with the top hand is generating more of the torque than the drive with the bottom hand. The puck is just inside the front foot, and the shaft of the stick is bending right at the middle rather than just above the blade (mid-kick versus low-kick stick). Pronger has skated into his shot to produce power, and he’s transferring his weight from his back to front foot.
Pronger isn’t “smacking” the puck as though he’s teeing off at Augusta. Once Pronger has “caught” the puck on a preferred area of his blade, he’s violently pulling on the top of the stick to flex it, then snapping through with his bottom hand. The Hockey Slap Shot is surprisingly similar to a Low-to-High or underhand Lacrosse Shot, which can be seen here.
Here’s Ovi taking a signature Slapper. It’s happening in the blink of an eye, but he’s wrapping the toe of his stick blade around the puck, cradling it, torquing the stick, and releasing the puck. It only looks like he’s hitting a low hanging fastball. Also notice how his top hand is up and away from his body, pulling on the top half of the stick and not bumping into his hip (another common technical error):
I’ve made this recommendation roughly 2294 times, but get yourself a wooden stick and learn to feel what it’s like to catch-and-release the puck. Composite blades are often so stiff that players never learn to load the blade properly. Speaking of which ..
- Blade Loading
Scott Bjugstad does a better job explaining this than I ever could:
You are loading the blade, meaning flexing it to store it with energy. You can accomplish this a number of different ways, including striking the ice before making contact with the puck or spinning the puck to yourself as described above.
Scott advocates letting the arms hang and letting the stick do all of the work. This is a great recommendation if you’re using a very flexible stick and if your sole focus in hockey is shooting. I generally use a stiffer stick for face-offs, puck control, etc., and I’ve found shooting this way takes a toll on my elbows. Because I use a stiffer stick, I use my hips and core a lot more when shoot. Slap Shots and One-Timers especially are more of a full-body effort. Sid demonstrates here.
One technical cue from Scott that I love is that the arms come back while the body comes forward. This is very advanced, and should be saved until you’ve developed a pretty good shot, but this could add a really nice polish to someone’s shot if done properly.
- “Slicing” the Puck
Anyone familiar with golf knows what it means to “slice” the ball. It basically means that you strike just a bit behind the ball, and send it sailing laterally to your same side (left side for lefties).
What I see a lot of inexperienced players do is swing at the puck with no regard to their blade face. They will often strike the puck with the lower lip of the blade, which produces almost no power and weakly knocks the puck in a random direction.
Even though it’s very brief on Slap Shots, the player is catching the puck with his stick blade prior to releasing it. It’s the same principle as in golf or lacrosse: the ball or puck is caught on the face or in the pocket, and then it’s whipped toward the target. A lot of amateur players just whack the puck as hard as they can like they’re playing Whack-a-Mole, and it’s very ineffective.
Don’t overthink it, but be mindful of the fact that you’re using your stick blade to grip the puck, whether it’s a Wrist, Snap, or Slap Shot.
- Hand Placement
Notice two things that all of the included pictures of NHL players taking Slap Shot have in common:
- The hands, particularly the top hand, are fairly far in front of and away from the body. A common technical error is that players can “jam” themselves by shooting with the puck too close to their feet. You can also shoot with the puck too far away from your body, and that’s no bueno as well. You basically need to find a sweet spot (Wheelhouse) about 12-24 inches from your torso, and this is only accomplished through practice.
- The lower hand is right around the middle of the shaft, give or take. Players can err too far in either direction, and they put themselves at a mechanical disadvantage if their hands are too close together or if the bottom hand is too near the blade. Again, practice is key, but start with your bottom hand comfortably low, about halfway down the shaft.
(Note: this pic illustrates players using low-kick sticks, which I’ve found fight natural Slap Shot mechanics. This again is discussed thoroughly in the Manual.)
I was pretty skinny in High School, and I played a lot of Inline Hockey. To generate accuracy and power without raw strength, I got into the habit of putting a lot of “spin” on the puck, much in the same way a baseball pitcher puts spin on a throw to tighten up the trajectory and add velocity. This technique has traditionally made my shot very “heavy”, and would likely do the same for yours.
I think learning to “spin” the puck teaches a player how to generate power through the blade, and ultimately the shaft, of the hockey stick. The progression would obviously start with a Wrist Shot, but a player can teach her or himself a number of different shots by learning to effectively spin the puck on the blade.
For Slap Shots, I’ve had the most success “spinning” the puck on a very tight area on the stick blade. I catch the puck near the toe of the stick with a 2-3″ area of the blade, and forcefully apply spin to add energy and torque the stick. All of this happens very quickly.
Carrying over experience from playing baseball, there are two distinct “snaps” in the way I shoot, the same way a pitcher would double-snap his wrist to throw a curveball or slider: loading or cocking the wrists as they make contact with the puck to initiate spin, and snapping down on the stick on the follow-through of the shot.
Watch this clip of Al Iafrate, the Wild Thing, and see if you can spot the two distinct “snaps” I’m referring to:
For younger players, Iafrate was known was his 103 MPH Slap Shot at a time when that wasn’t common (and he did it using a wooden stick, FYI).
And since we’re educating youngsters, here’s an Al MacInnis compilation:
I’ll stow my “wooden sticks are better” tirade, but notice how on the follow-through of Mac’s shot that the blade face is almost facing the ice. This isn’t something you should emphasize, but on the second “snap” the stick blade usually follows-through face down toward the target.
I’m not sure this is how anyone else would teach shooting, but this is how I learned to shoot. I lacked raw power, so I developed spin techniques. Adding spin will definitely give your shots more accuracy, and will help you focus raw power more directly.
Putting It All Together
The Slap Shot, like a baseball or golf swing, can become a technical nightmare if you let it. Don’t get too far into your head thinking about perfecting every technical aspect. Instead, focus on one area that needs the most immediately improvement.
For example, if you aren’t paying any attention where the puck is in relation to your feet, now would be a good time to start. A big part of the problem could be that you’re hitting the striking the puck too far in front of or behind your Wheelhouse, or striking the puck too far from your body. Cleaning up puck placement is a good place to start, as well as insuring that your Stick Flex isn’t a limiting factor.
Once you begin making consistent, solid contact, you can fine-tune and focus on Blade Loading, experimenting with back swing, play around with spin, etc. Just don’t start taking big wind-up one-timers if you can’t make consistent contact. You wouldn’t move to Advanced Physics if you couldn’t divide or multiply, so don’t make the same mistake here. Get good shooting a stationary puck before moving onto one-timers.