Slap shots are the most powerful of the many styles of shots used by hockey players. Huskies women’s hockey defenceman and fifth-year sociology student Hanna McGillivray gave me a crash course on the perfect slap shot.
I met McGillivray on the ice at Rutherford Arena after a hockey practice. I was wearing borrowed skates, gloves and a helmet and I warned her that I was a complete rookie. Luckily, McGillivray was a patient teacher.
“First things first, you want to make sure you’re in good hockey position, so legs apart and knees bent — then you’re in a good position to be able to move anywhere,” McGillivray said.
We set up a few metres in front of the net, and McGillivray positioned me facing the puck in front of me with it midway between my feet. She explained how to hold my stick with my hands around shoulder width apart — left on top, right farther down for a right-handed shooter like myself — then widen my grip when I bent down to take the shot.
“When you hit the puck, you want it to hit the middle of your stick. The main thing is your backswing. Take your stick all the way back and start with your weight on your back foot. As you swing through, your weight transfers on to your front foot. That’s where you get the power,” McGillivray said. “Then follow through with your stick to the net.”
Sounded straightforward enough to me, so I got ready for my first attempt. McGillivray reminded me to keep my eye on the puck, similar to hitting a golf ball, and I took a swing.
The result was anti-climactic — I completely missed the puck. The second and third attempts, however, felt more comfortable and I managed to get the puck into the back of the net. It was more work than I thought. The amount of power I was able to get from my transfer of weight was feeble compared to the example shot McGillivray fired off.
McGillivray then explained that as a defender, she usually shoots from the blue line on the far right during the game, so to get the authentic experience we headed farther from the net. She demonstrated a rapid-fire drill, shooting four pucks lined up in front of her, one after the other. This is a drill the team employs, among others, to keep improving, during their weekly skill practices.
My results from the blue line were much less successful, resulting in only one puck making it into the net. McGillivray explained that while slap shots are the most powerful shot in a player’s arsenal, they are also the least accurate. In a game scenario, you only have a split-second glance up to aim where your stick will follow through before focusing on hitting the puck.
McGillivray is a hockey veteran with the Huskies, currently in her fifth and final season with the team. She helped soothe my embarrassing slap shot attempts with a story from her rookie year.
“There was a late whistle and they had to change who was on the ice. I had to quickly jump over the boards and I caught my foot and fell in front of everyone,” she said.
I came out of the session with a new appreciation for the athleticism behind a powerful slap shot — balance, coordination, core strength and split-second judgement. My shot improved with every attempt though, so clearly the key is practice, practice, practice to get that slap shot up to Huskie standards.