In hockey, the opponent can’t score if they can’t get a shot on goal. So why wouldn’t you learn the techniques for nullifying shots and disrupting momentum-building passes—that is, the methods and techniques of blocking shots?
Every offensive set forces a countering defensive strategy, and one straightforward defensive approach involves putting your body between the puck and its target. We’re not talking about sacrificing your health and well-being (or your teeth)—not necessarily, anyway. You can learn to manage your play to create situations in which your shot blocking is an elegant and effective defensive tactic.
How to Block a Shot
Shot blocking is a matter of awareness on the ice—knowing where you are in relation to the goal you’re defending—and reading your opponent’s options, so you can force them into a decision that favors your side. In this sense, think of hockey defense as a judo move: Using force, balance, and power, you direct your opponent to make a decision that favors your team. You want to force them into taking a shot you can easily obstruct—and then quickly transition to the counter attack.
Let’s think back to high school science class: Remember the definition of power? Mass times force (or velocity) equals power. (Mass x Force (Velocity) = Power.) The mass or weight of a hockey puck is a constant, so you want to interrupt the force or velocity of the shot, rendering it powerless—and in so doing, maybe trigger a fast break for your team.
In field sports such as lacrosse and soccer (two cousins to hockey) this is called developing field presence—you learn to read the options of your opponent and to narrow or eliminate certain ones of them, such as passing laterally or, more of a concern, passing or shooting toward the goal. You want to force the other team to feel they have an opening to pass or shoot on goal—and that’s when you surprise them by blocking the shot. When your teammates are aware of this strategy, they’ll be ready to receive the rebound or a pass from you or a teammate. Then it’s off to the red-light races as your side attacks the opponent’s goal.
Hockey Shot-Blocking Skills
Stance is everything when you’re blocking a hockey shot or pass. That’s a mental challenge, too. Though a projectile is coming your way, at like 50 or 100 mph, you want to stand your ground, square to the offensive player. Don’t turn around, because you don’t have padding on your back and you won’t see the play unfold! In hockey, your pads instead protect the front of your body for precisely this purpose—for blocking shots (and absorbing impacts from opponents and the boards).
Stay on your skates and be alert for a fake, when an offense player tries to juke you by faking the shot and skating around you. You present more surface area and make a better obstacle when you face an offensive player, square. Turn sideways, and you become a traffic pylon and the offense can go around you. Also, make sure to line up with the puck on the player’s stick and not with the player, so you remain in their shooting lane.
Off-Ice Training to Improve Shot Blocking
Proper preparation off the ice prevents poor performance, right? So let’s practice what we can do on the ice to keep an opponent from shooting or denying an opponent’s option of passing to an open teammate.
One helpful drill is to work with a player who has the puck, skating forward and dropping to one or both knees to stifle the passing or shooting lane. This is more effective than sliding into the opponent on your back or butt, which effectively takes you out of the play. Dropping to a knee means you can pop back up to gather the puck on the rebound.
Keep your hands down between your legs (pad side out) so the puck can’t go through them in a soccer-style “nutmeg” or what’s called the “five-hole” when describing the space between the goalie’s leg pads. You should be a stick’s length from your opponent—closer than that means you can be juked.
Some teams will use a tennis ball or a weighted down hollow ball (maybe a wiffle ball?) to simulate a puck, because a puck hurts. You’re working on your shot-blocking technique here, and you don’t want to get beaten up by a puck hitting you repeatedly. (Let’s be real—the puck does hurt when you block it. But it’s part of the game—and sometimes “no pain, no gain” does apply to what we do.)
In this practice session, you’re also getting mentally adjusted to facing the shot, and not flinching or turning your back. That’s important to be effective. If you do try the slide method, go feet-first with the front of your body facing the opponent so your padding absorbs the puck’s impact.
Try to time your block based on when the opponent comes forward with the stick to strike the puck—don’t allow him to fake the shot and then skate around you. If you’re standing (and in most cases, you really should be) keep your stick straight up in front of your body so the shaft and handle protect the center of your body and neck.
Get Angry—Block Shots!
The National Hockey League (NHL) has recognized the skill that goes into blocking shots, and began keeping shot-blocking stats for players with the 1997-98 season. In the 2018-2019 season, defenseman and captain Andy Greene of the New Jersey Devils was the league-leading shot blocker, with 208 blocks tallied, 21 more than second-place blocker Niklas Hjalmarsson, a defenseman with the Arizona Coyotes. It’s clearly possible for an elite player to average two or three blocked shots per game.
As the official NHL shot-blocking stats suggest, shot blocking is a vital defensive skill, particularly when you’re killing a power-play penalty. When done right and done well, it’s satisfying to quash the opponent’s attack. Even better will be the times when blocking a shot creates transition and your team threatens or actually scores. Breakaways happen often following blocked shots—and breakaways often lead to man-up advantages and goals. Block on!