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The Bright-Landry Center at Harvard University’s athletic complex is cold. Cold in the way that leaves people thinking they can shed their winter coats, and cold in the way it makes them shrug back into them in the middle of the first period.
For those unable to withstand the chill, zippers are pulled up all the way to cheeks and chins, and for those who can deal with the frigid temperature, just a jersey will suffice.
The arena’s not full, but it’s crowded. And it’s about to get loud.
The Boston University men’s hockey team had been trailing all night but was seconds away from taking its first lead of the game with just under two minutes to go.
By the left corner boards, senior wing Ahti Oksanen turned his back toward a pressing member of the Harvard squad, shielding the puck with his body as he fell to one knee in order to maintain possession. Staving off the opposing defense, he backhanded the disc along the left-hand boards to sophomore defenseman Brandon Hickey, who was stationed at the point.
Hickey, pausing for a brief moment, wired a shot on net and forced Harvard netminder Merrick Madsen to see past big-bodied freshman forward Jordan Greenway, who was screening down low, to make a save.
The puck kicked out to the end boards, prompting Greenway to shove off his defender in pursuit. Crimson defenseman Desmond Bergin got there first, but the 6-foot-5 winger came soon after, knocking his opponent off the puck and leaving it unattended to behind the net.
Or at least it was before senior assistant captain Matt Lane came cruising by to pick it up and see Oksanen hovering in the right circle, virtually uncovered. As the puck traveled behind the cage, Madsen mimicked its movement through the crease, hugging the right post while Lane shoveled a pass to Oksanen.
He caught it, released it and Madsen dropped to his pads to protect the bottom of the net. By the time the goalie was square to Oksanen, the puck was already over his right shoulder.
6-5 BU, 1:49 remaining.
That shot, and the other 171 Oksanen took throughout the regular season, has a backstory. It’s one that entails heading to Agganis Arena in the morning to shoot pucks with BU assistant coach Scott Young.
Oksanen and Lane are two frequenters of Young’s before-noon sessions, and that’s pretty normal. It’s mostly the forwards looking to improve their shot, but the former NHLer will go out on the ice with anyone who’s up for it.
“Guys are texting me all the time the night before, saying ‘Hey, Coach, I’ve got class at 11. Can you go out at 10? Coach, I got class,’ you know,” Young said.
Lane is someone in whom Young said he has seen significant improvement. He’s had a good shot, Young said, but the fact that he’s out there taking “hundreds of shots during the week” is naturally going to make that shot better, and he’s got 14 goals this season to show for it.
Some of his progression has to do with the mental aspect of his game. When you practice your shot for hours on end, you’re thinking about scoring and you’re dying to get the puck and shoot it, Young said.
“All these things you may be thinking about, and it’s like, ‘Whoa, I got to think about scoring goals,’” Young said. “So doing all this shooting also helps in that aspect, that you’re thinking about scoring. The more shots you take, you’re thinking about getting the puck to the net in game, and I think that’s helped him a lot.”
Oksanen’s also always had a great shot, Young said, but because he constantly works on it, it’s become even better. The winger did last year, and this season, Young said he’s out with him all the time, building on his already strong fundamentals.
“He loves shooting the puck,” Young said of Oksanen, reinforcing what everyone who’s watched a BU game this year knows to be true.
In the mornings, the senior duo will typically work on catching passes on their backhands, taking quick shots, elevating the puck into the upper part of the net, releasing it quickly, taking one-timers, shooting from uncomfortable positions and shooting in stride.
Basically, it’s the “kind of stuff that carries over to the game,” Lane said.
It’s a lot of shooting from different angles in different situations that guys find themselves in during a game, and the use of “a lot” here is no accident.
“I think I’m passing about 500 pucks a morning,” Young said.
His basic routine for any given player goes as follows: A big pile of pucks sits on the ice, as it would for those about to practice shooting. From that pile, Young will feed a player about 40 pucks on one side as they work on two different shooting motions and then 40 on the other side doing the same. Next it’s 20 from one side — one-timers, quick shots — and then 20 of those from the other side.
And that’s all before Young gets into player-specific regiments with guys.
One of the biggest things Young stresses is receiving the puck and getting it into a shooting position. In order to do that, you have to catch the pass and have it set in the right spot. The quicker you get it off, Young said, the more you’re going to surprise the goalie and have a better chance of beating him.
To work on that, Young will give the forwards passes on their backhands that they have to get to their forehands, and then forehand to backhand elevated into the top of the net. Essentially, it’s any kind of shot in an odd area that they might get a puck in during a game.
It also might mean filming guys as they shoot to show them what they’re doing right and wrong from the technical side of things.
At the end of January, Young and BU head coach David Quinn had a couple players out on the ice to work on their one-timers, which typically require the most attention and work. One of them, Player A, had a tendency to have his rear shoulder go out like a door instead of up, back instead of up and down.
“I stopped him. I said, ‘Listen, when you’re shooting, you should be coming up and down,’” Quinn said. “It’s almost like the knob of your stick should be facing the ice. What he’s doing is [coming from outside], and you lose balance.”
Player B, on the other hand, was a pro at coming down on it, so much so that he ended up on his knee on the follow-through. He comes through it, Quinn said.
“If you do this, you’ve got balance,” he added, referencing Player B. “If you do this, you’re off balance, and that’s what his [Player A’s] problem is.”
For Lane and Oksanen, it’s about the repetition, about doing the same thing so many times that they feel comfortable doing it in a game.
“You want to take as many shots as possible and try to get it to the same spot every time,” Oksanen said. “And the more you do, the more likely you’re going to do it in a game too, because you’re only going to get one shot in a game, one chance, so you have to be able to make the best out of it.”
“If you keep doing the same thing, you keep working on these things and you take 100 shots, 150 shots, it becomes muscle memory,” Young said. “And then when you get it in a game, you’re not thinking about it. You’re just doing it.”
Over the course of the regular season, BU fired an unofficial total of 2,193 shot attempts, according to shot charts provided to the media during each game. Sixty-three of those attempts were taken by A.J. Greer, who departed for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League halfway through the season, and are therefore not included in the data ultimately presented here. Without his tries and due to human error in recording attempts during a game, 2,120 bids remain.
Of those 2,120, 1,394 have come from 14 forwards and 726 have come from eight defensemen. In the heat maps included, you will be able to see where each player on the team shoots from most or what part of the ice they favor most. For sample size purposes, charts have been made solely for players with at least 25 attempts, but those with at least 50 provide a more comprehensive overview.
The shot charts from each regular season game were drawn as individual events on the charts and then I plotted them into an Excel spreadsheet, noting the location on the ice from where they were shot, who shot it and whether that attempt resulted in a shot on goal, a goal, a blocked shot or a miss. Because there were inconsistencies at various rinks in terms of indicating whether an attempt was on the power play or at even strength, all situations, even strength or not, are included. Then, the numbers were programmed into JMP, a statistical software program, and were stratified into basic statistical analyses (means, distributions, frequencies) in order to create the heat maps provided. I then conducted t-tests to compare the means between sample sizes to determine whether certain differences were statistically significant.
Also included in the charts are breakdown stats for each player: goals, shots on goal, shooting percentage, total shot attempts, shot attempts per game, shot attempts per shot on goal, overall shot efficiency and top shot location.
Attempts per game is meant to measure how much offense a specific player generates over the course of the game, while attempts per shot gauges how accurate or efficient a player is.
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While time on ice data for players is not publicly available for college hockey, there is a discernible discrepancy between top-six forwards’ shot attempts and bottom-six forwards’ shot attempts. The first two lines will see the ice more than those on the third and fourth lines, and their attempts reflect it.
The top six forwards include O’Regan, Oksanen, Greenway, Lane, freshman Ryan Cloonan, and freshman Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. The bottom six consist of senior Mike Moran, freshman Bobo Carpenter, sophomore Chase Phelps, junior Robbie Baillargeon, junior Tommy Kelley, freshman Oskar Andrén and sophomore Nikolas Olsson.
BU’s top-six tier of players each average approximately 4.99 attempts per game (without Oksanen’s 9.56 per factored in, they still average 4.07) and 2.90 shots on goal, while the bottom-six tier gets about two attempts off per contest and 1.16 on net.
Similarly, the forwards have more attempts per game than the defensemen do, firing 41 per contest compared to the defense’s 21.35. With a defensemen’s primary job lying outside of the offensive zone, the difference here is plausible.
In terms of BU’s efficiency, the forwards’ average attempts per shot on goal is roughly 1.74, while Terrier defensemen take about 2.31 tries to hit the net. The difference in means for both sample sizes is statistically significant, as defensemen typically shoot from farther away than forwards and have more bodies between them and the cage.
The blue liners most often shoot from the left and right points, while forwards get down lower. Because of this, BU’s D-corps hit the net about 43.7 percent of the time when shooting the puck, whereas the forwards get on target 57.8 percent of the time.
BU’s defensemen also have about 31.1 percent of their attempts blocked, compared to the forwards who have 18.9 percent prevented from getting on net. The defensemen also miss 25.5 percent of the time, whereas forwards miss 23.3 percent.
That last difference between missing averages is actually not statistically significant, meaning that, proportionally, the defensemen aren’t shooting wide of the net any more than the forwards are. They’re just hitting it less often.
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To see this in action, you can look at senior assistant captain Danny O’Regan, who is arguably the team’s most efficient shooter. The percentage of his shots that find the net (119 of 173 total, or 68.2 percent) is higher than any other forward on the team, which can be partially attributed to the fact that most of his shot attempts are taken in low slot, right by the net. He’s also just a really good shooter.
But even someone such as senior captain Matt Grzelcyk, one of the Terriers’ most economic-shooting defensemen on the team, still only hits the net 46.4 percent of the time.
The highest percentage of BU’s goals are scored from the low slot (42 of 113), and the majority come from what’s commonly referred to as the “home plate area,” which consists of the low slot, slot, right slot and left slot. For the Terriers, 75 of their goals have been tallied in that zone.
Attempts taken in the low slot also result in shots on goal 81.7 percent of the time for BU, more than any other location. And as a whole, taking a shot in the home plate area, on average, has had a 69.08 percent chance of getting on target for the Terriers. Simply put, shots are considered more dangerous in the home plate area.
“Obviously, it’s harder for the goalie if you shoot 10 feet away from him instead of shooting 30 feet away from him,” Oksanen said. “The goalie has way less time to react.”
Lane added that the tighter you are to the net, the more in the crease you are and the more in the goalie’s face you are.
“That’s just how goals are created,” he said. “That’s just more where it happens.”
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Forwards and scoring goals
“If you get five shots off in a game, doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s actually a good game if you can get five shots off. Now, you only get five shots, how many of them are quality? Maybe a couple, maybe two? Well, you’ve got to put one of them in.” – Scott Young
For the most part, you’re shooting to score.
As the front line in ice hockey, forwards are tasked with, well, scoring goals. They’re entrusted with trying to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net, and the first step is actually hitting it.
Getting a puck on target, while it may seem simple, is a task rife with potential complications, especially with a wall of bodies in front of you. Shots can be blocked by the bodies impeding their path to net, or they can just miss the cage completely. Because of that, the way a forward, or any player in general, gets a shot through can require split-second modifications to account for each situation he’s presented with.
“If it’s like a one-on-one situation and the D’s trying to come with me, I normally try to use him as a screen and shoot, for example, between his legs so the goalie can’t see really good where I’m shooting,” Oksanen said. “But then if I’m all alone with the goalie, I really just try to focus on where I want to shoot and where I want to score.”
The ideal is to have a clear shooting lane toward the goal, but it doesn’t always open up. Defensemen can move with a player, sticks can get in passing or shooting lanes or there might just not be enough space. Players can take measures to free that space up, for example, by coming hard down the wing or getting ready prior to catching a pass.
That space can also be generated by a forward’s two linemates winning battles. It comes from puck movement and beating opponents off walls. That’s key, Quinn added.
“Pass and skate, don’t pass and look,” he said. “Guys move a puck and they stand up and they watch. You got to pass and beat people back to the middle of the rink. That’s where you can create some space.”
And physicality plays a role here too. For 50-50 pucks, Quinn said, you’ve got to make sure the opponent doesn’t come away with it. By knocking them off balance, a “split second of created space” can develop for the player to take advantage of.
Once that player gains the puck, protecting it is something the team harps on. The Terriers have “the green light” to do what they want in the attacking zone, Lane said, so long as they’re possessing the puck and not turning it over.
That strategy of puck protection also differs from player to player. For opposing forwards like Oksanen and Greenway, Lane noted, “They’re using their body and sticking their a– out, using their size to protect the puck.” Lane and O’Regan, on the other hand, end up relying more on their quickness and “spinning guys.”
“Just basically simplifying it by working to get open so you can get yourself a clear lane to shoot,” Lane said.
It’s important, and not always the easiest thing to do.
“Yeah, and I know Lane agrees with me on that one, that I need to learn how to not force the shot every time,” Oksanen admitted. “Sometimes I shoot way too much, so it’s just finding the right position and being able to get a clear shot to the net.”
Most of the time, you’re shooting to score. Then again, there are times where you’re not.
In that case, a player might want to shoot for pads to create a rebound or look for a teammate’s stick, “like a shot-pass type deal,” Lane said, so they can get a tip on it. If you can create a good opportunity for a guy in front of the net when you don’t have one, that works just as well.
One of the things BU stresses in those kinds of situations is shooting for the far pad. If a player is coming down the goalie’s right side and doesn’t have a play, an option that player has is to shoot at the netminder’s far pad because it’s tough to control and might pop out as a rebound for someone else.
“If a guy’s going to the net and a guy’s in between us, you don’t have to pass it to him to get it to him,” Quinn said. “You can create a rebound for him.”
Also integral to getting a puck on goal is a player’s release, which factors into generating that path to net as well. When in tight, you have to be able to release it quickly, whereas if you’re coming in near the boards, “sometimes you have a lot more time to take a slap shot or really load your wrist shot,” Oksanen said.
Improving release comes from repetition and remembering not to stickhandle, which the Terriers get plenty of practice in during morning sessions with Young.
“You have to catch and release it as quick as you can,” he said.
Another way to eliminate stickhandling prior to shooting for players is having them shoot in stride off their front foot and just having them do it over and over. Some players do it naturally, Young said, and others don’t, and it’s very uncomfortable for them. It’s a habit thing, he said, and “it’s really hard to break that habit.”
Young added that this style also gives you a better chance of beating the opposing goaltender, and Quinn pointed out, “If you collect the puck and keep it on your forehand, the goalie never knows when you’re going to shoot it.”
“The goalie still thinks you’re skating,” Young said. “He’s not seeing you set up for your shot, and the quicker you can get it off … the more you’re going to surprise him a little bit. And goalies are so good these days that you actually have to trick goalies. You have to get it off faster than they think.”
Having the puck in shooting position is something Oksanen has preferred since he was young precisely for that reason too.
“Some people like to have the puck in front of them,” he said. “But since I was little, I was taught that you can’t shoot if you have the puck in front of you, so I always try to keep it in the shooting position, so I can either pass or shoot whenever I can.”
And shooting, like the rest of hockey, is a game of inches. Young, who buried 342 goals during his NHL career, stressed that aiming at the middle of the net is best: “If you shoot at the middle of the net and you miss the middle of the net, it’s going to hit a corner.”
When a player’s in tighter, he has more of an opportunity to pick a corner, Quinn said, but in general, if you’re shooting for the middle of the net, “it gives you a lot more leeway to be inaccurate.”
Like Oksanen mentioned, if a forward is presented with a situation in which he’s all alone with a goalie, he wants to aim and know where he’s shooting.
“Aim small, miss small,” Lane offered, unless you’re shooting to create a better opportunity for someone else. “But for the most part, shoot to score.”
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Defensemen and creating chances
“If a lane happens to pop open, obviously you’ve got to try to take your opportunity when it’s there. But I think most of the time, you’re just trying to get it through and see what happens.” – Matt Grzelcyk
As senior captain Matt Grzelcyk said, if the opportunity presents itself, a defenseman has to try and take it. But that’s not always the most advantageous scenario.
If there’s traffic in front and the goalie can’t necessarily see, you might be shooting to score.
“I’ve been pretty lucky where Greenway and Ahti are pretty big guys that when they stand in front of the goalie, it’s tough to see around them,” junior defenseman Doyle Somerby said.
A lot of the time, though, a defenseman is trying to beat the first defender in front of him. If the shot gets blocked, it can go back the other way for a breakaway or even to just start the other team’s breakout. That’s why, Somerby said, it’s crucial for defensemen to not force their shots.
“Whether it’s kind of getting a little bit wide or shooting off net or just throwing it weird angles, patience is kind of key when you’re on the blue line because you don’t want to rush something and hit a shin pad and it goes the other way,” he said.
And that lane arises from moving your feet. Somerby noted that it depends which way you’re moving, but the objective is ultimately the same.
“Just pulling it maybe an inch to the left or an inch to the right’s going to get it through a different way,” he said. “If it does nick something and it still gets through, that’s fine because it’s going to take a weird bounce that no one expected it to.”
If a blue liner is dealing with a situation in which there isn’t necessarily someone coming out to block his shot, Somerby said he tries to keep it as low as he can to try and pick a bottom corner. That’s mainly to appease the forwards.
“When you have a shot that’s high, a lot of forwards don’t like to stand in front of the net as much,” he said, smiling.
But usually, with so many players “selling out to block shots,” Young said, guys have to operate in reaction to that and work with that traffic in front. A goalie’s tendencies might affect the way defensemen approach shots as well.
“Goalies tend to try and look over one of their shoulders or around them, so I’ll always shoot to the opposite side of where his head is,” Somerby said. “But if there’s a defenseman coming out at me, it’s just high or low. It doesn’t really matter, but I’m still taking a look at where his head is and trying to place it on the other side.”
Having the defense involved in generating chances is something the Terriers constantly ask their blue liners to do, Quinn said. They like to have them engaged in any initial rushes.
For example, if a forward is carrying the puck up ice and another one goes to net while the third one hovers, adding a defenseman to the equation gives the puck carrier three options instead of two.
“It’s just kind of taking two steps in onto the blue line and catching and shooting with your head up,” Somerby said. “Just mimicking being that last guy jumping in.”
Adding defensemen to offensive opportunities, like Quinn said, opens up options. Instead of just relying on 12 guys to score goals, there are another six or so behind them who can contribute as well.
That lends credence toward eager defensemen, but Grzelcyk and Somerby didn’t begin their BU careers as particularly prolific goal-scorers.
Grzelcyk, a perennial top-four option on the blue line, led Terrier defensemen in points during his freshman campaign with 23, but just three went for goals. During his sophomore bid, which was abbreviated due to season-ending shoulder surgery, he managed another three markers and tacked on eight assists for 11 points in 19 games.
Right before he sustained that shoulder injury was when he started working with the coaches to improve his shot, going into Agganis in the mornings before class to do so.
Following his surgery, he said he felt stronger and could get more power behind the puck on his shots, and it’s showed. Grzelcyk has hit the 10-goal mark in each of his last two seasons.
Somerby’s story is akin to Grzelcyk’s in that he’s worked a lot on his shot, but the similarities end right about there. While Grzelcyk paced the D-corps in points as a rookie, Somerby paced the whole team in penalty minutes with 49. He also registered just one goal and three assists in his freshman year.
He improved dramatically from a defensive standpoint during his sophomore season, providing a steady presence on BU’s third pairing all the way through its postseason run. He added another half dozen assists and got his one goal of the year too — seven points, last among BU’s standard six.
This year, he’s got five goals to his name and eight helpers to go along with them. But still, Somerby is more of a stay-at-home defenseman, even with his improved offensive abilities this season. He said it’s different for him than someone like Grzelcyk, who travels more around the attacking zone to generate chances.
The key to refining his offense, though?
“It kind of sounds cliché-ish, but just shoot pucks, I guess,” Somerby said. “You see a lot of different things go on as far as forwards and defensemen, and different people shoot different ways, and you can’t really model yourself after one person.
“Whenever I see someone with a good shot, whether it’s Ahti or Grizzy or Lane or somebody, I just kind of mimic what they do in practice and shoot from anywhere,” he said. “Whether it’s just taking maybe 20 one-timers from one spot after practice or 20 wrist shots from another, it’s just whenever I can, I shoot.”
Having a good one-timer doesn’t happen without work, though, and the Terriers work on them constantly.
“Just grab a guy, and hopefully he gives you a nice pass, and just wire ‘em,” Grzelcyk said.
For Somerby, it’s more muscle memory now. When he first came to BU, he said he was a little too tight on technique as opposed to just having a free swing and being relaxed when shooting.
“I’ve kind of noticed [that] the more relaxed I’ve been, the harder my shot is, just because your body is a little bit more fluid,” he said. “You get the full range, you get more torque on the stick.”
And when Young works with the defensemen, the focus is on give-and-gos, one-timers from the blue line and how to get open for a one-timer. He wants them to catch it in the spot they’re going to shoot it from and let it go.
“It sounds simple, but when you really emphasize it and make them go through that, you see how many times they miss hit a puck because they’re not used to doing it that way and that quickly,” Young said.
For one-timers specifically, Grzelcyk said there’s plenty of emphasis put on reading off the other guy and being able to shift your body to wherever the puck is. That way, like Young said, there’s minimal time between receiving the puck and firing it.
“We always talk about having your stick cocked in position ready to shoot so if you’re in that position, even if it’s a bad pass, you can still adjust your body and glide into it,” Grzelcyk said.
Like the forwards, the longer it takes for a defenseman to get a shot off, the more likely it is to be blocked. And as defensemen, that likelihood goes up because there are even more people between them and net, so the significance of getting pucks through goes up as well.
“It’s all a game of inches,” Somerby said.
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Goalies and anticipating shots
“You don’t always have your eye on the puck. You have your eye on the puck probably 85, 90 percent of the time. The other time, you’re looking around where other people are, what shot they are, if they’re one-timer or if they’re offhanded. It’s more reading plays than actually making saves, I think, because if you have a feeling a guy’s going to shoot the puck, if he has no threats backdoor or cross-ice, then nine times out of 10, he’s going to shoot it.” – Sean Maguire
Senior netminder Sean Maguire likes his pads snug, tight to his legs and with breaks along the side so they bend. He likes them “squishy,” that way they feel more a part of him than just bricks on his legs.
His glove fits like a baseball glove. It’s tight around the wrist but “really, really, really” loose and very much broken in.
It’s more gear than his teammates wear, and if all that plus his wide stick and blocker were any indication, it’s because he’s not taking shots but stopping them.
There are different kinds of shooters, and two of the more notable ones, Maguire said, are guys with heavy shots and guys with quick shots. The former are ones where “it hits you and you feel it, or the kind of guys [where] the puck just goes through goalies.” The latter are ones that aren’t necessarily the hardest but can change angles on a netminder.
A good shooter is one who doesn’t use a lot of motion when he shoots. There isn’t much, Maguire said, when it comes off his stick.
“I’d say that’s what defines a good shooter,” he added. “A guy that can get the puck off the stick without any indication that he’s going to shoot it.”
And naturally, preparing for those types of shots differs as well. The netminder will assess the situation and adjust by counting bodies, reading plays, seeing what hand a player is and seeing if it’s a dangerous situation or not.
When the puck is up at the point and guys have various options around the zone, Maguire’s in a more relaxed stance. On point blank opportunities, Maguire will try to come out as far as he can without allowing any backdoor options, taking a step out into the white paint beyond his crease. The aim is to be as big as possible and cut down the area an incoming player can shoot at.
Those chances are sometimes the toughest to save, Maguire said, especially ones that are just a straight-on shot, one-on-none.
“Not even a deke,” he said. “More a wrist shot from between the crease and the top of the hash marks. If they have a good shot, and they know where they’re putting it … I think that the hardest thing is just a point blank with a good shooter who has a quick release.”
If there are backdoor options, though, Maguire tends to play a bit deeper and closer to the net. That way, if the puck comes down to someone by the post, the distance he has to travel to get into position isn’t bridged by a sprawl.
Similarly, on 2-on-1s, he’s preparing for the shot and also ensuring that he’s in position to save a backdoor chance if the carrier makes a pass.
“What I’ve been taught and what I’ve been taught here is to always respect the shooter,” he said. “So wherever the puck is, make sure my chest’s on the puck all time.”
In tight, Maguire’s not relying as much on reaction time so much as positioning. While perimeter shots and one-time options call for reaction saves in those close situations, he said, it’s almost humanly impossible to make a save based on reaction time.
“It’s about your positioning and how you get to that spot so you can take up as much area as possible,” he said. “Not hope, but have confidence in your positioning that the puck will hit you, and nine times out of 10, if the puck’s in tight and you’re in a good spot, even if it’s a one-time, backdoor option, it usually tends to hit you somewhere.”
Since a high percentage of goals in hockey are scored low or in the bottom half of the net, Maguire said taking that away already gives a goalie “a way better chance, statistically at least, of making that save.”
Another aspect for Maguire is having his hands extended so he can take the trajectory of the puck away.
“That’s all I can really do in tight, making sure that I’m just battling,” he said. “That’s one of the main things to do in those situations is you just got to battle and usually it just comes to, for me at least, to athleticism, just kind of getting to that spot no matter how you can do it.”
A further crucial component is rebounds, as goalies try to contain them and forwards look to pounce. And since many goals in hockey come off second or third chances, Maguire tries to ensure the other team doesn’t get more than one.
If a puck’s coming to his right side, Maguire wants to try and deflect it with his stick or blocker into the corner and keep the other team from getting a chance to score. He’ll focus on getting pucks to safe spots or, if they come to his glove or chest, on making sure they don’t pop out.
“Usually that’s a play that a lot of good players try to do,” he said. “They try to make sure that the goalie has a hard time. Most of the time, they come down and they shoot the puck not to score but to get a rebound because it’s very hard to recover from a rebound to an open net.”
For stick saves, there’s not much choice regarding whether to play it or hold onto it — “it’s obviously going to the corner.” Whereas if he makes a glove save with no one around, he may opt to play it off to the side. Chest saves, regardless, usually just end up getting held onto to get the whistle to stop play.
Rebound goals are, understandably, the result of having players at the net mouth ready to jump on loose pucks and arise by way of a screen in front. When dealing with traffic by the crease, the first thing Maguire does is figure out who has the puck and what hand he is, because that’s the shoulder he’ll be looking over: “So if he’s a left-handed shooter, I’m looking over the screen’s right shoulder.”
Maguire always wants to make sure he can see the puck, so a lot of movement is involved, he said. That means getting low and getting through every single angle he can within a limited amount of time.
“If they have guys on the perimeter opening up for one-timers and you know you can’t see the puck, at least you know where those guys are,” Maguire said. “And then if you get a glimpse of the puck, you know that guy’s going to shoot it, so the faster the game gets, it’s a lot more knowing where the guys are on the ice because everyone can shoot a puck hard.
“And like I said, really the only thing you can do in that situation is … battle through it.”