By: Reed Gossard
Hockey is a fast sport.
The average NHL player skates over 20 mph. on the thin sheet of ice that serves as a rink. Players like to grow their hair out long, dubbing it “flow” due to to the fact that it will fly, like a stallion’s mane, as they speed past blue and red lines.
Hockey is a violent sport.
Collisions can be heard in the stands as players hurdle like comets towards each other. Even the goalies endure contact, as they forfeit personal well-being to stop a six ounce disk of solid rubber from hitting the back of the net off of a screaming slap-shot.
Hockey is a poetic sport.
The sheer skill required to weave in and out of defending poke-checks and hits can be seen as almost dance-like. After a game, the ice is still scored in several places from where players exhibit fancy footwork on offense and defense.
Hockey, however, can be challenging to understand for the uninitiate. In a game where the most basic motion, skating, is unnatural to the basic actions of daily life, what seems simple can be inherently much more complex than originally thought.
Here to help are the experts, the UAB Blazers. In roundtable fashion, they give their keys to playing the most beautiful sport on ice.
Hockey’s physicality generates an atmosphere of either being the hammer or the nail in game situations. A perfectly timed hit can knock an entire offense off-balance. Dillon Gasparek, on executing a correct hit:
“In a proper body check, your main goal is to separate the player from the puck so your team can gain possession. You should never leave your feet before impact. Lead with your shoulder, and aim for their chest or shoulder, keeping your elbows and hands down (much like a football tackle, without wrapping-up). You never want to hit anyone in the head, or from behind. (Doing) Both of those could cause major injuries.”
There are other means besides just a hit, however, that hockey players employ to inhibit the advancement of the puck while on defense. Dale Gaskins, on performing a routine poke check (when a defenseman uses his stick to try and steal or knock the puck from an offensive player’s possession):
“Executing a good poke check is all about trying to separate the opposing man from the puck without sacrificing your body position. Ideally, the best way to change possession of the puck is to play the man ‘body-to-body and stick-to-stick,’ or simply making contact with the body and stick simultaneously to ensure the puck is knocked loose.”
A poorly executed poke check can leave a single man stranded on defense against a rush of opposing players. Matt Zbell, on facing a two-to-one odd man rush on defense:
“The first thing you do when taking on a two-on-one is to have good gap control. You don’t want to give them enough room to make a play or play it so far up that you let the guy with the puck just go around you.
The second thing is to take the passing lane away from the guy with the puck. This means having an active stick to make it look like there’s not going to be a way for him to get the puck through (like using active hands to take away passing angles in basketball).
The most important thing is communication with your goalie. Hopefully he’ll be screaming at you, telling you what he wants you to do. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’ll be ‘take the pass I’ve got the shooter.’
That’s how I play a two-on-one and most of the time (I have) great success unless the shooter makes a good shot. ”
But not everything in hockey is about stopping a goal. The offense needs to put a few ticks on the scoreboard. Cam Dickinson, on his thought process when attacking on a two-on-one odd man rush, on offense:
“I’m a pass first kind of guy so I look at my teammate and try to hold back, creating a non-linear attack (applying pressure to the defense, like a give-and-go in soccer) to allow him to get a step on the defenseman and make that defender make a choice (between defending the puck or defending my teammate).
Next, I’ll take a look at the goalie and see where he’s sitting in the net. If he’s cheating over (to my teammate) I’ll usually skate a few strides in then rip one by him, but the goalie rarely cheats over.
After, I switch my focus back on my guy and the D. If the defenseman commits to my teammate I have a one-on-zero with the goalie and I’ll just pick a corner (to shoot at). But more times than not the defenseman tries to stay on me while getting into the passing lane.
My favorite thing to do is to try to thread the puck between the D’s skates, between his stick, or over him onto my guys stick. Now all my guy has to do is bat that puck in because the goalie won’t be able to move in time.”
Speaking of, goalies have perhaps the most grueling job on the ice: stopping a small rubber puck from going into a six-by-four feet goal. Once shot upon, there are many times where a goalie must make another stellar save in order to stop a quick rebound shot from going in. Aaron Roe, on saving a rebound shot with the game on the line:
“The key is to keep your eye on the puck for as long as you can. If you can’t see the puck chances are you’re not going to make the save.
Once you’ve made a first save and tracked the rebound, the goal is to get square to the puck. This means that you want your shoulders facing the puck head on. You want to be away from the goal line, challenging the puck, to take away more of the net, and you want to be in your stance with your gloves up and stick on the ice ready to make a save. Simply being in position for a shot gives you a much better chance at stopping a goal.
The last tip for rebounds I have is to never ever give up on a play. I specifically remember giving up a rebound against Auburn and it slid right to one of their forwards. As he shot with a wide open net, I reached out with my blocker (stick) hand in desperation and the player shot it right into my arm. So by just giving one small last effort to make a save we avoided giving up another goal.”
Hockey is beautifully complex; its penchant for ordered chaos and patterned violence make it an incredibly exciting game, albeit one hard to master. The UAB Blazers step onto the ice every game knowing that the best chance they have at winning is if they play with solid fundamentals and maximum effort, a sentiment echoed in all sports, whether they be played on grass, dirt, or ice.
The UAB Blazers will play their next game on October 5th in Athens, GA against the Georgia Bulldogs. Time is to be determined. Check Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for all your latest news and scores.