A good wrist shot allows a hockey player to hit any part of the goal with power and accuracy, which translates to more goals. But many players develop bad shooting mechanics early in their careers, and these problems can follow them for years, according to David A. Jensen, who owns and operates DAJ Hockey, New England’s premier hockey skills training company.
“What makes an elite player,” Jensen argues, “are solid fundamentals and a lot of practice.” A former Olympian and NHL player, he should know, and he credits his father for really driving home the importance of good fundamentals when Jensen was just starting out on skates. He takes a similar approach in his hockey clinics around the Northeast.
Here are Jensen’s top three fundamentals of a good hockey wrist shot:
1. Good Hockey Stance
The basic starting point for almost all hockey skills—from shooting to skating to checking—is a good hockey position or hockey stance. In a proper hockey stance, your skates are about shoulder-width apart, your knees are bent, your core muscles are engaged, your are hands up and in front of you, and your head is up. This position provides balance, strength, and the ability to focus power in one direction. The value of a good hockey stance is immeasurable, and every player should work on perfecting the position.
For the wrist shot, the good hockey stance is key because you need to maintain balance, engage your core muscles, and drive off your legs to achieve a powerful shot. If you are standing too upright or you’re off-balance, you won’t be able to focus the energy of the shot toward goal.
2. Proper Weight Transfer
Although it’s called a “wrist” shot, the true power of the shot comes from the lower body, not the arms or wrists. According to Jensen, a lot of younger players try to use their upper body to “muscle” the puck forward, but the result is usually quite weak. (We’ll address the roles of the hands and wrists in a later post.) Instead, you want to use all those bigger muscles in your legs and core to drive your body, and the puck, toward the target.
Begin with the puck a couple feet behind your back skate, with the puck cupped by your stick blade. Jensen calls this position “locked and loaded.” (If you start with the puck too far forward, you end up with what he refers to as “half a wrist shot.”) As you start to move the puck toward the goal, engage your core muscles and drive off your back leg, transferring your weight from your back leg to your front leg—the same way a baseball hitter does during the swing. At the start of the shot, your nose should be above your back knee, and you should finish with your nose above your front knee.
This sounds easier than it is at first, and it takes some time to get the balance just right during the weight transfer. That’s why the proper hockey stance is so important: It gives you a well-balanced starting point to build on. As you become more comfortable with this weight transfer, you’ll see the power of your wrist shot increase.
3. A Focused Follow-Through
It doesn’t do much good to have a powerful shot if you can’t hit the target, so it’s also vital that your release point and follow-through help you deliver the puck with accuracy. Jensen argues that players often don’t finish their shots properly, which makes it harder to hit the target. There are two keys to a proper follow-through—one based on evolution and one based on technique.
It sounds so simple that it should go without saying, but you should look straight at the spot you’re shooting for. We humans have evolved complex systems that combine muscle memory and the magic of binocular vision. The same adaptations that helped a Neanderthal hit a deer with a spear can help you pick out the top corner of the goal with the puck. The eyes tell the projectile where to go, and muscle memory makes that happen. One way to ensure you’re focused on accuracy is to finish the shooting motion with your nose pointed at the target.
This method works only if the actual shooting motion lines up with your gaze. Jensen tells his students to make sure the blade of the stick is pointing to the target at the end of the follow-through, as well. If your eyes and the stick blade are in sync, the puck will travel to the intended spot on goal.
Break Bad Habits by Polishing the Three Wrist Shot Fundamentals
Jensen says, “Young players are often obsessed with lifting the puck when they shoot, so they lean back—keeping their weight on their rear leg and ‘falling off the shot.’ The result is a weak, fluttering attempt.” Or a poor follow-through at the end of the shot causes the puck to miss the mark. Breaking these bad habits can be difficult. Only by focusing on the proper fundamentals and doing many hours of repetition, he argues, can these young players begin to improve. Those hours of repetition will translate to muscle memory of the correct shooting mechanics. Jensen often suggests that players practice the proper stance and shooting motion in front of a mirror—so they can see how their bodies are moving—before they start working with a puck.
By focusing on Jensen’s three fundamental aspects of the wrist shot, you will create a base you can build on throughout your career. To take wrist shots from different positions, you’ll need to adjust your hands and body positions, but the importance of a proper hockey stance, good weight transfer, and a focused follow-through will never diminish. Master these skills, and you’ll be on your way to constant improvement as a player.