We can probably all admit that regardless of what level you play at – minor hockey, professional, men’s league – ripping a puck past the goalie and into the back of the net is a pretty nice feeling. After all, everyone likes scoring goals.
But why do some players seem to have the ability to turn the puck into a Mach 3 missile while others look just average when it leaves their stick? And more importantly, can you learn how to improve your shot power?
The short answer.
The ability to shoot the puck harder is a trainable skill, provided you are willing to invest time and effort into improving your off-ice attributes and on-ice skills. But like all skills, it won’t happen without intentional effort.
Today’s article will look at shot mechanics, what physical attributes are necessary for generating power, and how to best train your shot.
Before we go further, it’s important to mention that technology – stick height and flex – and technique are essential factors in developing shot power.
We won’t spend any time on those topics today but having an appropriately sized stick with the correct flex for your body weight and strength level is vital. A good article on HockeyMonkey discusses what to look for in a stick flex if you are interested. You can find it here.
When practicing your shot, you must be laser-focused on your technique. Shooting 200 pucks per day with no specific focus is not as efficient as 100 pucks with particular attention to every detail. So don’t just put in reps for the sake of putting in reps, be intentional!
In the words of the iconic Vince Lombardi, ‘Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.’
NHL Goal Scoring
Knowing what to practice can be confusing, and that’s why we like utilizing data to help guide our training.
Where better to look than the NHL?
Scoring in the NHL is a difficult task, and as a young player, or men’s league old-timer, it’s interesting to see what works at the pro level to replicate in your games.
During the 2018/2019 season, the NHL saw 7577 goals scored, and the team over at gaimday.com did a great job breaking down the statistics and wrote about them in this blog post.
“Of those goals, 51.8% were scored off the wrist shot, while the snapshot (2nd most) and the backhand (3rd most), accounted for 15.2% and 9.7% respectively.” The slap shot comes in 4th with 9.6% of the scoring.
Wrist Shot – 51.8%
Snapshot – 15.2%
Backhand – 9.7%
Slap Shot – 9.6%
Those are the statistics for the four shots in hockey: wrist shot, snapshot, slap shot, backhand. (The remaining goals were scored in scrum-like situations where a specific shot style is difficult to gauge.)
Each shot has its unique characteristics. They require specific practice, but training can develop and improve the overarching principles that all four shot styles share.
GR Tip: It’s also worth noting which shots have the greatest return on investment related to scoring potential. As a hockey player interested in practice, it can help you determine where to focus. Of course, there are position-specific requirements – forward vs. defenseman – worth considering. Ie. As a defenseman, you can anticipate having more time to wind up and take a slap shot in games than a forward.
Although all the above information is valuable, it’s not the focus of today’s article, on to the good stuff.
So, what will improve your shot?
Is it that basement wrist roller made from a skate lace and a cut-off stick?
Now, this isn’t going to be a popular answer but…No. Very little evidence suggests the difference in your hockey shot is grip strength.
That doesn’t mean grip strength isn’t necessary, far from it. We’re huge advocates of grip strength training for hockey, but it’s not worth primary focus as it relates to your shot.
(Grip work likely won’t hurt your shot, but soreness can affect your feel of the puck so focus on it in the off-season, as opposed to during the year.)
The first aspect we’re going to discuss for shot improvement is mobility. This might sound like an odd place to begin, but improving your functional range of motion has real benefit. If your body cannot comfortably move into the required positions, it will be unable to activate the proper muscles and generate force.
All four hockey shots require you to move the puck – or your body – back further into your stance, then reverse the movement creating rapid and forceful rotation through the hips and core that is transferred to the stick and eventually the puck.
We won’t dive into the hockey physics weeds but provided you have the necessary strength to stabilize your body, the extra rotation will help you create more power at the point of impact/release.
There is a cut-off point in which more rotation is no longer helpful for your shot. No different from a golf swing, you’re looking to find the sweet spot that maximizes speed and power.
When we look at what areas of the body should receive the most emphasis for shot mobility, it is without a doubt the hips and thoracic spine (upper back).
In our modern era, we often spend a significant number of hours seated in front of a screen for school, work, or entertainment. This further contributes to a lack of motion through the hips and thoracic spine. Even if you are not interested in increasing your shot, the drills below are worth incorporating as they have significant benefits to hockey and life in general.
Increased range of motion through those two areas will reduce the strain on your lumbar spine (lower back). This is especially important if you’re an older player looking to enjoy the game – or life – for the next 50 years.
These are two of our favourite shot mobility drills. Start to incorporate these drills into your daily warm-up routine, both before skating and training.
90/90 Bow & Arrow
Sidelying T-Spine Windmill
As valuable as mobility drills are, we need to reinforce them through core training to achieve maximum benefit. Otherwise, the range will not ‘stick,’ and you will be unable to express power in that position.
As a hockey player, you’re probably well aware of the importance of core training, but not all core training is created equal.
When thinking about shot training, we want to select core training drills that reinforce the need for centerline control – your body doesn’t shift all over the place – and strength through the end ranges of rotation.
We’ve included two of our favourites below, but there are several excellent options that you could choose.
Side Plank With Top Arm Adduction
Half Kneeling Cable Chop
We decided not to discuss strength-specific shot drills for a couple of reasons. First, the strength exercises we utilize to help a player improve their shot are the same drills that help improve stride length and speed, injury resilience, and the ability to win battles along the boards. Secondly, the list, although not infinite, is pretty lengthy. However, we regularly include strength drills on our social media. So you can head over there is get some ideas if you like.
As Western sports – especially hockey – take a more extreme ‘sport-specific’ approach, we’ve found ourselves spending more time on general strength attributes. We have seen the results over the last couple off-seasons. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can pick any exercise for any number of reps and get a benefit. But, not every workout has to be done on a sideboard with a stick in your hands. Or, even worse, skates on a tire.
GR Tip: Spend more time in the off-season away from the rink cross-training in other sports. Improving your overall athleticism will significantly help your on-ice performance.
The last aspect of improving your shot for hockey players that we’ll touch on today is the need for power-focused drills, specifically rotational power.
Power is represented in the sports science field by the amount of work accomplished over time. This is important because work has no time component associated with it—a quick example to illustrate.
Imagine two people climbing a mountain. One is a rock climber on the cliff face, the other, a hiker on a trail. It takes the climber a painstaking amount of time to move a few meters up the face while the hiker accomplishes the same work in seconds. Both completed the same amount of work, but the hiker in a fraction of the time. Naturally, this means that the hiker has a much higher power rating.
How does this relate to your shot?
Well, it means that if you want to increase your power, you need to move your body, or in this case the medicine balls we’re going to use, quickly. A common mistake with hockey players is training power slowly because they picked too heavy a load.
A hockey puck only weighs 6 oz – 170 grams – so grinding through a slow set of Landmine Press likely won’t have the power upside you’re looking for, although it can be valuable for strength gains.
Instead, we want to use lightweight, high-speed movements, and there are no better exercises options for improving rotational power than the medicine ball.
MB Lateral Scoop Toss
MB Step Behind Lateral Scoop Toss
Keep the ball light. We work with NHL players who only use 6-10 lb balls, and they move them fast. There are dozens of medicine ball progressions, but we suggest that you start with these basics and improve your speed of release.
We hope you found today’s article helpful. Be sure to stack these off-ice training tips with intentional shooting practice, high-quality nutrition, and proper recovery. Being a modern hockey player is all about living like a good pro, and taking care of all the off-ice aspects will be your edge over the competition.