This page will look at the main elements of a wrist shot. The purpose of breaking something down into its constituent elements is to better understand the composition of the whole and to predict how it will act. In the kitchen, if a chef uses the proper ingredients (pepper, salt, etc.) and applies the proper conditions (temp, time etc.), he knows what to expect. There are ingredients of and conditions for a wrist shot, and if the goalie knows them, he can know what to expect. And if a shooter changes something - if he drags the puck, the goalie can notice it and adjust his position.

To be a good goalie, you must be able to read plays and players. All goalies do it to some degree, because after seeing thousands of shots, patterns begin to register subconsciously. However, to operate at a higher level, you need a conscious understanding of what is going on out there. We will see that knowing how a player shoots will help you understand when and where he shoots.

Issue 1 will list the ingredients of a wrist shot, and Issue 2 will look at the conditions (proper wing, wrong foot etc.) This will get us started on a method for reading many plays. In my years of goaltending, I haven't seen anything as extensive as what I am trying, so I don't consider these pages to be the final word on the subject, and I expect to revise and add to them in time. Also, these two pages will serve as a base for much of what follows on this site. Other shots (slap shots, backhands) will use this information, and whole plays will require them for a proper explanation.

For lack of better terms, I called the elements of a wrist shot: LEG PUSH, BODY ROTATION, ARM PUSH, AND WRIST FLICK.

 

Whatever the activity, leg movement is essentially a weight transfer from one leg to the other and back again. Below, I used images of a baseball pitcher because it best demonstrates the idea of transferring weight from one leg to the other.

Frame 1: The legs start together.
Frame 2+3: The left leg lifts and the right leg takes all the weight.
Frame 4-6:
The right leg pushes off as hard as possible. The faster the weight transfer, the faster the pitch.
Frame 7: The left foot lands far ahead of the right foot. How far the moving foot travels, or the extension of the move can indicate how powerful the move is. Top level athletes combine a wide extension with a very strong push for powerful moves. You can always tell a pro athlete by the size of his legs.
Frame 8:
The weight is being transferred onto the left leg as the rest of the body is coordinating the power transfer to the ball.

On the ice, the weight transfer doesn't involve such an obvious lifting of the leg. Try imagining the shooter beginning his leg push -Frame 1- at a point similar to Frame 6 of the baseball sequence. The shooter's right leg is bent and loaded with weight, then he pushes off with it, ending with most of his weight on the front foot. It's not as obvious, but it's a weight transfer from one foot to the other, like any other leg move.

Frame 1: Weight is loaded onto the back leg. No need to lift one foot to load weight on the other - a subtle lean will do it.
Frame 2: The back leg bends. This is how the leg 'cocks' to be able to unload the weight. You can't unload much weight from a straight leg.
Frame 3: You can tell that the weight is going forward by the bending of the stick.
Frame 4: As the weight is transferred forward, you reach a point of maximum power where the puck should be released, near here.
Frame 5:
The weight transfer to the front leg is almost complete and the move is decelerating.

Above is another look at how the legs push on a wrist shot. At this point, there's no need to get too involved with this motion, because I won't be focusing on leg movement all that much on these two pages.

 

To demonstrate body rotation (or 'torso twist') it's easiest to use baseball. We'll look at arm movement soon, but let's just watch the body rotation.

Frame 1: The batter's chest is facing to the left of the frame. His feet are together and they'll move the same way we looked at above.
Frame 2: He's shifting his weight onto his back foot.
Frame 3:
The front foot has planted for the weight transfer, and now the body is starting to rotate.
Frame 4: His chest is coming around.
Frame 5-8: He's still rotating. He was a little bit behind the ball, but still managed to hit it out.
Frame 9:
His upper body has stopped rotating and the swing is complete.

Above, the shooter's chest is facing the net, and when he finishes the shot, he has rotated to his left. A right shot rotates to the left, a left shot rotates to the right. Let's return to baseball, where the direction that a player rotates to hit the ball is an important strategic element.

Because of rotational power, a right batter (left image above) will hit the ball hardest to his left, roughly between the red lines (the gradients I show are rough estimates to convey the idea, not exact representations). Hitting it to this side of the field is called 'pulling the ball'. He's weakest hitting the ball to his opposite field (the yellow part) because he can't get as much rotational power on the ball. At the yellow part, he's just beginning his swing, but at the red part, the swing is rotating with good momentum - that is the sweet spot. All of this is reversed when it's a left batter (right image above). This is all well-known in baseball, and strategies always take it into account.

Since hockey players use rotational power, they are subject to the same laws. It isn't as obvious as in baseball, but shooters do 'pull' the puck, and they are weaker firing it to their 'opposite field'. Unfortunately for goalies, it's not as easy to read direction from a shooter as it is to read it from a baseball hitter. And good shooters can also easily overcome the weaknesses of going 'opposite field'. And many times, all of a shooter's sweet spot is on the net, like to the left, so reading direction becomes quite difficult.

A shooter can release the puck from anywhere around him in a broad semi-circle, but his sweet spot occupies only a portion of it.

Still, there are subtle differences that shooters exhibit when going from one side to the other, and throughout this site I'll be exploring them. Just to get our terms straight, I'll be referring to the 'pull' side or the 'strong' side of a shooter versus his 'opposite' side or his 'weak' side. Above, the shooter is a right shot; the names switch for a left shot. I'm not going to use the term 'weak side' all that much because we'll see that it is anything but.

Left is a shot of the hitter making contact. Ignoring the fact that you can see the ball taking off, can you tell the direction the ball is going? Of course you can - the ball went to right field. Body rotation shows you something, the hand and bat position shows you a lot.

 
 

This is getting ahead of things, but on the Flash piece below, test yourself and see if you can read the body language to tell where the puck went. Each image is near the release point of the puck. Some will be obvious, others not so much, but the point is you can read a players body language to determine direction, and if you train yourself, you can do it on the ice - not for all shots, but for enough to matter.

 
 

 

   

 

Now, let's take a look at how the arms work on a wrist shot, and I'm simply going to call it 'Arm Push'. You have two arms, there is a double motion at work. First, let's look at the lower arm in the strip above. From frames 1-5, you can see that it simply extends straight out to provide push to the puck. Not very complicated. Now, look at the upper arm, his right arm. First it extends out to provide push, just like the lower arm, and then at frame 3, it starts to pull back in. That pulling motion gives an extra snap to the shot. Again, both hands push out, and then the top hand pulls in - a double motion that can be very powerful.

However, not all wrist shots use this full motion. Sometimes, they won't push out as far, so you don't get as much power pulling back either.

I'm using this strip again. The shooter's left hand doesn't go very far forward before it starts pulling in. However, the right hand comes right around, almost past his left knee. Compare it with the other strip above where, in frame 5, the shooter's left hand doesn't come around to the opposite knee quite so much. Which shot is more powerful? I think the hands probably deliver equal power, but in the lower strip, there's a lot more body rotation.

So what difference did the change in the hands do? In the top strip, the shooter went to his opposite side, in the lower one, he pulled the puck.


Here's me in my backyard. If you want, pick up a stick and try this. I recommend it because not everything I write is clear, and doing something always cements it in your brain.

I'm shooting to my opposite side. Note where my arms are, particularly my left one. Both hands are out. Notice where the stick


And here are some real shooters doing the same thing.

A shooter's hands don't always go out like this to shoot opposite side, but, if the hands go out, he will go opposite side, because once the hands are out, it is very awkward to pull the puck so the shot will be weak. If you have a stick near you, try extending your arms and then try to pull the shot. Since the lower arm is fully extended, it can't extend any more to pull the shot.

 

 

To the left, I'm pulling the puck, and notice how the left hand moves out only a bit, then pulls back in tight to the body so that the stick can pivot around

 

and again, some real shooters using those teeny little sticks.

Remember that shooters have a number of ways to shoot the puck, so the arms aren't always going to follow the pattern I covered here, but we have to start somewhere, and I think these are the basics for understanding more complex movements.

So, what good is all of this to goalies. Again, my standard caveat is that if you try to follow players arms, you'll never see the puck, but with a lot of practice, this information can help you read forwards - not always, but sometimes.

The lower arm does point out where the shot is going, but it's not of much use to goalies, because by the time the lower arm is pointing out where the shot is going, the stick and the puck are doing the same. However, it follows that if the lower arm cannot point the stick to a certain area, then the shooter isn't likely to fire the puck there. Of a little more use is the other arm, the one at the butt end of the stick. When that arm extends out, you can be almost sure that the player is going opposite side.

 

Understanding how the wrists work on a wrist shot is not going to help a goalie read a shooter's wrists to know where the puck is going (at least I don't think it will!). However, we are looking at wrist shots after all, and this part is kind of interesting, and it may come in handy when we need to understand why shooters can't lift the puck in some situations (i.e.: wraparounds).

The first thing we should do is look at the basic motion of the wrists.

In the image above, the left shot is me flicking my wrist forward Pose A, the middle shot I'm not doing anything - Pose B, and the right shot I'm flicking the wrist back - Pose C.

When I flick the stick forwards, my top hand rolls inward, making a motion much like a forehand swing in tennis, and my bottom hand rolls backwards, making a movement like a backhand swing in tennis.

When I flick the stick backwards, it’s the reverse.  My top hand rolls backwards, making a motion much like a backhand swing in tennis, and my bottom hand rolls forward, making a movement like a forehand swing in tennis. A wrist shot requires all of these motions. To understand this section, I really recommend that you pick up a stick and try it. I could shoot video of all of this, but you'll understand it best if you just do it.

Here's Mike Awksi, a very good player who I have played against quite a bit. He's an excellent shooter; he played for U of T last year and is playing for Ryerson this year.

First, we'll look at what the stick does. From frames 1-6, the stick is flipped forward (pose A), but in the very brief period between frames 7-9, the stick flips back (pose C), and then from frames 9-11, the stick flips forward again to pose A. That's a lot of stick motion packed into a very brief space of time, and if the stick is flipping twice, that means the wrists flip twice as well, and that's exactly what happens.

The stick starts behind the player with the top wrist folded in, like it has just finished a forehand shot in tennis, and the bottom wrist is folded back, like it has just finished a backhand shot in tennis (Pose A). As the arms pull forward, the wrists roll into a Pose B, then a bit more roll back into Pose C, and then a violent snap forward into Pose A.

 

If you really want to be sure about this, you'll have to pick up a stick and go through the motions slowly, because any video I have shot of the wrists snapping back and then forward is too blurry. It happens very quickly. It might help if you do understand it, because snapshots and slap shots use this wrist motion as well. Here's a Flash piece to click through.


 

Right, notice how in frame 1, the shooter has lifted the heel of his stick to cock the wrists a little more.


 

And one more. I've noticed on a number of these clips, that the really good shooters often let the puck slip ahead of the stick a bit. It could be an accident, but I'm not so sure. Perhaps they can add more power to the shot this way by getting a slap shot effect when the stick makes contact with the puck again.

 

Direction of the puck

When the wrists flick, the stick flips to the pull side. This means that the shooter will fire the puck to the pull side unless he does one of several things.

 

First, he can rotate his body to orient to where he wants to shoot. Left, as he is lined up, the shooter will pull the puck to the right side of the net unless he changes a few things, which are very easy to do. He can rotate his body, or just his upper body to face more to the left side of the net.

Second, he can shorten up on his release, like a baseball player shortens up on his swing to go opposite field - here, instead of releasing the puck at X, he can release it at Y, a point in the shooting motion where the stick has not flipped over as much (i.e.: frame 1 or 2 above).

 

 

Third, he can change his arm position so that when the stick flips, it flips to more to the opposite side. Right, in frame A, I'm holding the stick in a position much like shooter #12 above, and when the stick flips, it will flip in the direction of the blue arrow. In frame B1, I've moved my top hand out, note the red line, and this changes how the stick will flip. When it flips, it will flip in the direction of the arrow in B2. This is a common technique of going opposite side, and you will see a ton of it.

 

Right, the top hand on both the shooters has moved out to get a better angle on the far side. I have already covered this on the 'Arm Push' section, but did not mention how the blade acted.

Finally, to really complicate things, shooters often use a combination of the 3 techniques above: rotating the body, shortening up on the release, and moving the hands out. There's not much we can do about that; they want to fool us, and that's all we have to work with. However, as small as these clues can be, they can be useful, and sometimes you will spot them.

 


 

As we all remember from when we were kids, lifting the puck is not a simple matter. It took a while to learn that complex snapping of the wrists in order to achieve even a modest lifty. Here's the wrist snap I showed in the section above.

Right, the stick snaps through Pose A,B,C as I mentioned above, but the sock (yup, a rolled up pair of socks) just scoots across the floor very unimpressively. That's the kind of wrist motion we first learn as kids, it supplies power, but no lift. Why. First of all, the stick is sitting straight up and down, there is no angle to it.

 

Below, I'm angling the stick back, and voila, a modest lifty. Notice how the stick pivots on the heel, so lift occurs at the end of the stick, where it launches the socks like a catapult. To the right, I'm adding in some lifting of the arms so the stick leaves the floor. Either way, the stick has to angle back.



 

If the black arrow hits the ball, the ball will follow through in that direction, and if the green arrow hits underneath the ball, it will lift the ball in that direction. All very obvious, but is that going to work on a puck? If you’re going to lift something, you have to get under it first, and the stick has to angle back to do that. This can be very interesting to goalies because of the way a shooter's arms move.

 

 

Imagine that each frame is a release point of the puck. In frame 1, his arms are back so his stick is angled back, making it easy to release a low shot, but difficult to get off a high shot. It's the same thing in frames 2,3,4. In frames 5 + 6, the arms are forward so the stick is angled back, allowing him to lift the puck, but making a low shot unlikely. So is it as simple as that? - if a player releases the puck behind him, it will be low, and if he releases it in front of him, it will go up. Yes, but there are some exceptions.

 

For instance, here's a stance with the stick far behind me where I could easily get a high or a low shot off to my right.

However, as a general rule:

  • If a shooter releases the puck with his arms back, it will be low, because with the arms in that position, it is hard for the wrists to open up the stick and get under the puck.
  • If he releases the puck with the arms out front, it will be high, because with the arms extended, there is not much roll in the wrists to lean the stick forward, or cup the puck, as shooters say.

 

You get more lift and more power at the end of the stick. The length of the blue arrows indicate how far the stick has rotated on the shot. Obviously, the puck gets a longer push at the end of the stick. Also, notice how much higher off the floor the tip of the stick flips to supply lift, kind of like a catapult. A player shooting from the heel of the stick won't get as much wrist rotation on the shot, so there won't be as much lift or power. I think the ideal spot for releasing the puck is roughly the red area in the stick pic to the left.

 

 

You may have noticed on the strip of Mike that he lifted his right leg as he shot. Why? First of all, goalies should know this shot, because it is very, very dangerous - and shooters should know how to fire it, because they won't go far without it. Kovalchuk (far left on the strip) seems to have perfected the shot and the highlight reels are filled with him using it. The only name I've heard this shot called is the 'kick start' and since I cover it quite a bit on the 'Wrist shots' page, I'm only going to give it a brief introduction.

 

First of all, why go up on one leg? Two big advantages are power and reach.

 

Power:
When a player shoots normally, his weight will be divided three ways, on two legs and on the stick. By lifting one leg, that weight can now be divided two ways: on one leg and on the stick, and if you're really good, you can overload the stick, fire the shot, and not fall over. Below, he goes from two legs to one, with a lot of lean on the stick. After the shot, he veers left and the lean is accentuated, proving that a lot of weight was on the stick. Often, the shooter will also give the leg that is lifting a kick back, to add in some push to the shot, therefore the 'kick start'.

 

Reach:
By going onto one leg and leaning your weight onto the stick, the lean gives you more reach to your opposite side. Imagine yourself reaching for something, let's say something across a table, or a jar on the top shelf. To extend your reach, you'll go onto one foot. Below, the shooter extends himself to go far side.

 

 

As a side note, another rare skill is the ability to take a wide stance on two feet and still fire to the opposite side with power. Below is Rick Nash with a wide stance and he went where the blue dot is. The advantage of staying on both feet is that you retain control over where you're going and you don't telegraph as much. Most shooters in this stance will either pull the puck closer to the red dot, or get off a weak shot towards the blue dot.

 

 

Is it possible to tell where the puck is going from its position on the blade? Try shooting at home or on the ice, and you'll quickly see that you can shoot to any side, no matter where the puck sits on the stick - from heel to toe. If that is the only factor you are considering, I don't think it's useful. However, if you are able to spot other clues, then in some cases puck, position on the stick can help you confirm your guess. I have found that when I get really sharp, I can pick up hints here and there, mainly on shots to the opposite side. You'll see why if you try shooting with the puck at the tip of your stick - it's not easy to pull the shot, it's much easier to go opposite side.

 

Learning to read puck position requires a lot of practice and a lot of concentration, but whenever I have worked on it, it has paid off. If you have the luxury of lots of practice time, the best way to learn it is to be alone with a shooter and have him take tons of shots from the slot. The 'Rebound' game is good for this as well. So it is possible, but I'm not so sure whether it is practical. I haven't had consistent practice time in years, and that's what it requires to get it into your game.

 


Stick flex is very important to shooters, because the whipping effect adds a lot of power to the shot. With practice, a good shooter can learn to load a lot of his weight onto the stick for a very hard shot, but at the same time, he has to be able to control the puck, which the whip of the stick can affect. For goalies, while whip makes for a harder shot, it isn't something you can read on the ice. However, I do suggest that you talk to forwards and ask them about their sticks, what they like and why. They won't suspect a thing.

 

If a shooter lifts the puck by getting under the puck, how does a curve improve lift? By making it easier to get under the puck. And since lift happens at the end of the stick, that's where the curves are. Here's a short Flash piece on it.

So there's a look at the elements of a wrist shot. It's a lot of information, and I think it's unrealistic to expect any goalie to retain and process all of it while in the middle of a game. However, it will come in handy when we analyze shots and plays, where I can boil this mass of details down to a more manageable, useful size. In the meantime, try to notice what shooters are doing. A good place to start is the play at the other end of the ice, or on TV, or if you're just watching at a rink. To integrate this information into your game, it can cause a lot of trouble (i.e.: goals galore), so be very careful about how and when you do it. There is a right and a wrong way to change your game, and I'll have to cover that on another page.