I imagine most of you reading this have already heard the tragic story of 16-year old Kyle Fundytus who died after taking a slapshot to the throat when attempting to block a shot. As expected, our reactionary world instantly starting debating if players are sufficiently protected or if blocking shots is worth the risk. I’m not going to attempt to tackle if players are protected enough (they are) or if blocking shots is worth the risk (it is). However, as a self-proclaimed rec league shot blocking expert, I’ll attempt to instruct you how to block shots as safely as possible.
Disclaimer: I’m not a hockey coach, and I’m not a medical expert. I’m just someone that has been blocking shots for years and I know what’s worked for me, what has not worked, and what has scared the crap out of me. Anyone that wants to chime in and tell me I’m wrong (haha, funny) or give further tips, feel free to comment.
Choose the Right Technique
There’s a few popular and obvious shot blocking techniques that one will see around hockey. Choosing the right technique for the right situation is imperative to keeping yourself safe and still standing tall for your team.
You’re doing it wrong.
That’s Matt Greene showing you how NOT to lay out flat to block a shot. A prerequisite to shot blocking safely is having enough awareness to know where you are on the ice and where the shooting lane is. The key here is to have your legs be the part of your body that’s entering the shooting lane instead of your face (talking to you, Matt) or your beer gut. Your legs are pretty well protected from top to bottom and most of the way around the back of your legs. Those of you who have blocked shots with the front of your shin pads can attest that you don’t even feel it. Also, you’ll want to get flat on your stomach, as opposed to propped up on your side. Obviously, this will protect the nether regions. I also seem to instinctively turn my head away from the shot, but I’m unsure that would be better for you to take a slapshot to the head. Just don’t put your head in the shooting lane, ok? I also bring my arms up by my head to add an extra layer of protection to my brain container and neck.
Now when should you use this technique? You have to be pretty close to the shooter, I’d say within 5-7 feet. Any further away and you’ll be at risk of a wild shot still heading towards your ugly mug or your vital organs. Also, you should use this technique when you’re approaching the shooter from the side or on an angle. If you’re directly in front of the shooter or further than 5-7 feet from him, use the other techniques below.
Pros: Since you’re nice and close to the shooter, if you get down in time, odds are the shot will not get over you. Your legs are the most protected part of your body. Still gives the goalie an opportunity to see the shot (albeit, a moment later) if it gets by you.
Cons: Long recovery time to get back to your feet, especially as an out of shape bender. Leaves your midsection exposed.
Randy Jones (#8) blocking like a boss.
In the picture above, Jones is showing a good example of the “legs together, stand straight up” technique. (Catchy name, I know.) The method here is pretty simple: legs together, stand straight up, drop your hands to cover your junk and hope you stop the puck. Only thing you can really screw up here is pulling a flamingo (lifting one leg up). If you pull that garbage, you’re not only cutting your effective blocking area nearly in half, but you’re still screening your goalie pretty good too.
This is a great move to pull if you find yourself caught in the shooting lane but you’re not on top of the shooter. There’s an obvious risk of a shot getting away from a player and getting up high on you, especially in rec league, but it’s a small risk in my opinion. The toughest part of this move is that you WILL screen your goalie and make his life more difficult. So you better be damn sure that you’re going to either block the shot or make the shooter take another look or you might get that awesome goalie death stare.
This is also a great move if you’re on the penalty kill and playing up on the point. You should already be in the shooting lane to begin with, and if you get lucky, a blocked shot can squirt out into the neutral zone with their point guys looking at your net while you blaze into the neutral zone for a shortie breakaway.
Pros: Forces the shooter to either try to shoot around you or go to their second option. Relatively safe for you. Zero recovery time from the blocking position.
Cons: Your junk, chest & face are all in the shooting lane. You screen your goalie and force him to work harder.
Tebowing for Blocks
Jeff Schultz (#55) demonstrating the only time you should use this method.
The drop to one knee has been gaining popularity despite it’s absolute danger in my opinion. Take a look at that picture above. Now imagine Schultz doing this in front of a slapshot from the point and take a look at what parts of his body are exposed. The inside of his thigh, of which there is no padding covering it. The inside of his arm, which has at least a little bit of protection, but not much. Most critically, his face is at least a foot and a half closer to the ice than if he was standing up and it is right in the shooting lane.
Ian Laperriere can tell you all about blocking shots with your grill.
The thing about the knee drop block is that it seems to be an instinctive move. Despite personally disliking the move, I’ve done it on several occassions. Thankfully I’ve never gotten a mouth full of vulcanized rubber and teeth, but I still know the potential damage.
As Schultz showed in the picture above, the knee drop should be used more to cut off passing lanes instead of shooting lanes. If you’re covering a guy that’s got a horrible shooting angle, this move is pretty safe, but if you’re closing in on a guy on the point ready to unleash a howitzer, stay standing instead.
Pros: Takes away a lot of ice level space, forcing elevation of the puck. Quick recovery time from the blocking position.
Cons: The soft parts of your body greatly dislike this move.
Having the Right Attitude
Brass ones on ol’ Sopes, lemme tell ya.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, the attitude with which you go to block shots. You can’t half ass it and you can’t second guess yourself. It’s almost like listening to a power forward talking about when they drop that inside shoulder on a defenseman to drive hard to the net. You can’t wait, you have to make that snap decision and run with it. If you hedge on your choice or second guess yourself, the opportunity will either pass you by, or you’ll make a poor decision and put yourself in a dangerous spot. In your mind, you have to be prepared to make that decision. I can guarantee you that Sopel wasn’t second guessing himself when he stood in front of tens of Shea Weber bombs in our 2009-2010 series against the Predators in the playoffs.
Nike would be proud of my feelings on how to go out and shot block: JUST DO IT.