Why head shots are bad for more than just the goalie
I’ve written in the past on the topic of goalies getting hit in the head, so perhaps this post might seem like belabouring the subject. At the same time, I feel there persists within hockey culture a number of erroneous notions about why and when the goalie should or shouldn’t be hit in the head by a puck. Hopefully this article might serve to solicit some input from other goalies and-or goalie coaches, with the main goal being protecting goalies, especially younger ones, from needless injury.
This fall the goalie school I work with (Passion Gardien de But in Quebec City) was asked by one of the local minor associations to come in to help with their pre-season conditioning camps. Partway through one of these practices I kind of ripped into the group of players (Bantam I believe) for the number of shots that were hitting the goalies up high or sailing over the net and into the glass. If the bottom line is to win hockey games, then maybe a bit of what I said to them made sense. Here’s a summary:
1) if every second shot goes over the net and hits the glass, then those are pucks that can’t go in the net to count as goals.
2) pucks that hit the glass generally do not rebound back in front and so generate nothing offensively.
3) a goalie who is reasonably capable will easily catch high shots or deflect them over the net, boards or into the corners with his blocker, thus ending the scoring chance.
4) practicing big wind-up slap shots in the high-percentage scoring area between the ringuette line (tops of the circles) and the hash marks is just plain useless. In a real game one rarely has a chance to take that much time in this congested zone before the puck is easily pokechecked or the shot deflected into the stands.
5) players need to remember that with each successive rebound and recovery, a goalie risks getting out of position more and more, so they should think of scoring on the second shot and not only the first. A second shot is much more likely if one shoots lower, off the pads, rather than into the goalie’s glove or chest protector.
I am not sure if my sales pitch convinced this particular group of players, but if it were my own team I would hammer this theme every practice, not just for the goalies’ sake, but because it actually might help the team win some games. Goalies in minor hockey get hit in the head so often that it is largely considered a non-event. Tonight my son was at a tryout at the Pee-Wee AA level, and there were players once again shooting the puck as hard as they could, head high (at that level some of the shots are as hard as the ones in many adult leagues), from the tops of the circles or even the hash marks. I am not talking about during the game. I am talking about during the damned warmup. Predictably, there was not even a hint of a comment from any coach present that rifling the puck off your goalie’s head in the warmup is not the smartest way to ensure game success.
It’s not a question about being a wimp. In my opinion it’s a question about safety or sheer stupidity; self-control or being out of control. Getting hit during game action is one thing; practices are another. Goalies face about 10 times the number of shots in an average practice than in a game, so the chance of injury, to the head or otherwise, increases by a proportional amount. I have seen a number of NHL warmups and can attest to the generally accepted notion that one does not shoot at the goalie’s head. There have been enough reports about goalies tearing a strip off the irresponsible head-hunter in a practice or warm-up to know it’s probably as close to law as an unwritten rule can be. Why does a guy liike Sheldon Souray or Zdeno Chara get paid millions? Among other things, it is because he can shoot it hard on goal, at ice level or barely above, where it is most dangerous for a deflection. Try to imagine for a minute a single goalie who would stand in net during a practice with Chara unloading his howitzer at the crossbar on every shot for a solid hour.
Last week I played in my own garage league game, where during the warmup a player fired a slap shot that hit me flush in the chin. I wasn’t injured, but the impact was enough to rip the chin cup and mounting screw right out of the fibreglass where the cage mounts to the chin area of the mask. At least the guy came over and apologized. In four years of watching my son play I don’t think I have ever seen a minor league player do that, whether it be during a game or practice. Call it respect, or lack thereof.
In any case, if I end up helping coach my son’s team this year, I will push as hard as I can for the head coach to give consequences like push-ups or skating lines for continually shooting too high in practice. Maybe one player or one team at a time this unfortunate fixture of hockey culture can be changed.
p.s.- Warwick masks has the rather amazing video on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Igdyp-Glxfk), where a puck is shown hitting a mask, a canteloupe and a waterrmelon at 100 mph. It is incredible to see how much a supposedly stiff mask flexes, with impact waves fluttering down the sides of the shell after impact. As for the puck hitting the fruits, well, you can imagine the explosive consequences…
p.s.s.- a bit of research reveals that the Life Magazine photo of Sawchuk was a bit of a fake: a makeup artist apparently retouched previous scars on the goalie’s face to show what he would have looked like had all his injuries been incurred at the same time. (seehttp://www.life.com/image/50542947)