The on-coming block attempt
Easily the most difficult shot to attempt to block involves the attacker moving with speed in the open-ice.
That’s because your decision regarding “when” – meaning the timing involved – has to be as accurate as possible or the shooter may end up flying past you and in on your netminder for a GRADE A opportunity.
The first rule-of-thumb in this particular situation is attempt to force your opponent wide by poking at the puck with your stick. So, the idea here is two fold: To “unsettle” your check as well as force him/her towards the boards, thus decreasing their scoring angle.
Once you have successfully forced your opponent wide, the next objective is to “time” your slide at the puck effectively and efficiently. You need to make certain that you slide in the direction that the opposing player is heading. To help insure that you meet this critical objective, the proper technique involves dropping your outside leg first, meaning the one furthest from your opponent. This will allow your other leg to easily stack on top of it. It is very important to note that the actual direction of your slide should be at a backwards angle toward your opponent’s stick blade, thus cutting off any chance for a quick change of direction or pass.
Don’t forget there will be times when you are forced to block the shot by simply dropping to your knees and facing the shooter. This style of block should only be attempted within very close range of the shooter so as not to allow the puck to gain significant velocity and power because, of course, you must be aware that you will be absorbing its full power.
Handling odd-man rushes
A defensive player facing a two-on-one or three-on-two situation should be focused on blocking either the pass or shot at all times. In these type scenarios, it becomes crucial to be cognizant where the balance of the attackers may be positioned as well, mainly because the timing of your block and its route need to be predicated upon those factors also.
To help ensure that your opponent will not simply fake the shot and pass to a teammate, you should follow the identical blocking rule that I outlined above. But this time you must keep an outstretched arm between the shooter and his/her teammate(s). This will allow you to clog/block an attempted pass with your arm, placing far more pressure on the shooter to actually fire off a shot.
To perform this technique effectively, there are two general rules to follow:
• You should be in uncomfortably “close” proximity to the shooter.
• You must ensure that your arm is flat on the ice by keeping your head tilted and on your shoulder. Positioning your arm “flat” to the surface eliminates the chance for the puck to slide cleanly underneath your outstretched body.
The ideal way to become confident at blocking shots is to approach practicing and perfecting techniques in a progressive manner. In other words, consider beginning to learn the proper form without having any pucks involved. Then, move on to practicing all blocks in the various scenarios without risk of injury by using tennis balls. As always, diligent practice can and will lead to perfection. And, remember, there can be no greater psychological lift for your team than a well-timed block that leads to an odd-man rush and ultimately ... a goal.
Paul T. Lubanski is a lead instructor for USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program in Michigan. He is also the State of Michigan Coach-in-Chief for USA InLine Hockey. He is available for private individual or group coaching and/or player performance enhancement sessions as well as for motivational speaking presentations through his affiliation with the Farmington Hills (MI) Association.