ALBANY >> With the ice just barely melted off the skates of high school ice hockey players, nearly 100 players laced them up again at the Albany County Hockey Facility Wednesday evening.
For the second consecutive year, former and current Section II high school coaches established the Section II wrap-around teams to help local high school players hone their skills with an eye on skating once again for their respective high schools.
“(Queensbury coach) Dean Williams and I had a conversation right around this time when there it seemed a couple new (midget) teams had cropped up and we felt that it watering things down for the entire hockey season,” former Shenendehowa ice hockey coach Juan de la Rocha said. “To try to attract the players that are currently playing high school hockey that wanted a little bit more we talked about the idea of a wrap (around the high school season) team or a couple of them.
“I sent out an e-mail to all the league coaches, Coach (Steve) Hudak was still at Shaker and the moment he called me and said ‘I can’t believe you just sent that. You took the words right out of my mouth.
The wrap teams will compete in a 20-plus game season beginning in September and compete towards and conclude in the final week of October. Those players then will look to re-join their high school teams for the traditional NYSPSHAA season from November through March with the wrap season culminating in a state tournament for eligible teams in early March.
De la Rocha said that last year’s... (article continues)-
Scott Bjugstad scored 43 goals in one NHL season for the North Stars, played in the 1984 Olympics for Team USA and now runs a successful hockey shooting school in Minnesota.
In other words, when Bjugstad is offering up advice about how to shoot the puck better and where to shoot the puck more often, you should probably listen.
Consider this a lesson from Bjugstad, the uncle of rising star Nick Bjugstad of the Florida Panthers, who shared some of those tips with us recently:
Use Your Strength
Bjugstad, who puts his pupils through shooting drills on synthetic ice, says one of the primary goals of the repetitions are to get players to “pull” the puck instead of pushing it.
“If you’re pushing the puck, you’re not using your weight or strength,” he says. “You have to be able to pull the puck – with the side of your body. If you’re not pulling it, you’re not going to shoot it right.”
For wrist shots, Bjugstad actually teaches a method much different than what he learned.
“I was taught to shoot it off the heel of the stick,” he says. “But now players shoot it off the toe. The blades flexes and it acts almost like a diving board. You get more jump on your stick that way.”
Bjugstad credits former NHL sniper Jari Kurri – who scored 601 career goals – with being among the first to show him the way when it comes to using the toe of the stick on wrist shots.
As for slap shots, it’s much of the same: “You have to flex the toe of the stick first,” Bjugstad says. “They make these sticks now that respond really well to the tip of the blade.”
Sticks Are Key
Speaking of sticks, finding one that is the right fit is important.
“The new sticks have made it really easy to shoot – and also hard,” Bjugstad says. “If a player gets the wrong stick they can’t shoot with them.”
Finding the right fit is a challenge. Bjugstad fits his players with the correct stick size while he’s watching them shoot. In stores, though, confusion can set in. Different stick manufacturers have different “lie numbers,” Bjugstad says, referring to a number that corresponds to how upright a stick is. Much of it comes down to feel.
“The back four or five inches of the blade should be on the ice when it’s flat on your hip,” Bjugstad says. “The heel of the stick has to be flat on the ice in a natural position.”
And don’t be afraid to use plenty of curve on your blade, he says.
“I think the biggest (mistake) is using a really slight curve on a stick,” Bjugstad says. “If they’re curved right, they actually can force you to get the hands in the right position. There are a lot of positive things about using a curved blade.”
You can get by with inferior equipment, but as with anything you get what you pay for.
“I relate it to golf clubs,” Bjugstad says. “You can get by with an old one, but if you use a new one and mis-hit it, you can still hit it farther.”
There are plenty of keys to having the puck go where you want it to go after you release a shot, but chief among them is puck stability, Bjugstad says.
“The less the puck moves on the blade, the more accuracy you’re going to have,” he says. “The puck moves half an inch on Zach Parise’s blade. Because of that, the puck will go wherever he wants it to go.”
Picking Your Target
Once you’ve built up strength, worked on technique and found the right equipment, you still have to do one more thing: get the puck past the goalie. So where are the best places to actually shoot the puck?
It all depends, Bjugstad says, but there are some tricks.
“I think there are areas that the goalies have to move in a certain way to get down to the puck,” he says. “They have to go down to a V (shape), and you can go over their stick side pad. There is a triangle there between the stick side paddle, the pad and the post.”
The five-hole, of course, is a prime spot because a goalie moving side to side has to open up and expose the middle. Depending on how the goalie angles his stick, there will be holes to exploit. But …
“There are really no secrets,” Bjugstad concludes – even though he just gave you a bunch of them.