Scott Bjugstad scored 43 goals in one NHL season for the North Stars, played in the 1984 Olympics for Team USA and now runs a successful hockey shooting school in Minnesota.
In other words, when Bjugstad is offering up advice about how to shoot the puck better and where to shoot the puck more often, you should probably listen.
Consider this a lesson from Bjugstad, the uncle of rising star Nick Bjugstad of the Florida Panthers, who shared some of those tips with us recently:
Use Your Strength
Bjugstad, who puts his pupils through shooting drills on synthetic ice, says one of the primary goals of the repetitions are to get players to “pull” the puck instead of pushing it.
“If you’re pushing the puck, you’re not using your weight or strength,” he says. “You have to be able to pull the puck – with the side of your body. If you’re not pulling it, you’re not going to shoot it right.”
For wrist shots, Bjugstad actually teaches a method much different than what he learned.
“I was taught to shoot it off the heel of the stick,” he says. “But now players shoot it off the toe. The blades flexes and it acts almost like a diving board. You get more jump on your stick that way.”
Bjugstad credits former NHL sniper Jari Kurri – who scored 601 career goals – with being among the first to show him the way when it comes to using the toe of the stick on wrist shots.
As for slap shots, it’s much of the same: “You have to flex the toe of the stick first,” Bjugstad says. “They make these sticks now that respond really well to the tip of the blade.”
Sticks Are Key
Speaking of sticks, finding one that is the right fit is important.
“The new sticks have made it really easy to shoot – and also hard,” Bjugstad says. “If a player gets the wrong stick they can’t shoot with them.”
Finding the right fit is a challenge. Bjugstad fits his players with the correct stick size while he’s watching them shoot. In stores, though, confusion can set in. Different stick manufacturers have different “lie numbers,” Bjugstad says, referring to a number that corresponds to how upright a stick is. Much of it comes down to feel.
“The back four or five inches of the blade should be on the ice when it’s flat on your hip,” Bjugstad says. “The heel of the stick has to be flat on the ice in a natural position.”
And don’t be afraid to use plenty of curve on your blade, he says.
“I think the biggest (mistake) is using a really slight curve on a stick,” Bjugstad says. “If they’re curved right, they actually can force you to get the hands in the right position. There are a lot of positive things about using a curved blade.”
You can get by with inferior equipment, but as with anything you get what you pay for.
“I relate it to golf clubs,” Bjugstad says. “You can get by with an old one, but if you use a new one and mis-hit it, you can still hit it farther.”
There are plenty of keys to having the puck go where you want it to go after you release a shot, but chief among them is puck stability, Bjugstad says.
“The less the puck moves on the blade, the more accuracy you’re going to have,” he says. “The puck moves half an inch on Zach Parise’s blade. Because of that, the puck will go wherever he wants it to go.”
Picking Your Target
Once you’ve built up strength, worked on technique and found the right equipment, you still have to do one more thing: get the puck past the goalie. So where are the best places to actually shoot the puck?
It all depends, Bjugstad says, but there are some tricks.
“I think there are areas that the goalies have to move in a certain way to get down to the puck,” he says. “They have to go down to a V (shape), and you can go over their stick side pad. There is a triangle there between the stick side paddle, the pad and the post.”
The five-hole, of course, is a prime spot because a goalie moving side to side has to open up and expose the middle. Depending on how the goalie angles his stick, there will be holes to exploit. But …
“There are really no secrets,” Bjugstad concludes – even though he just gave you a bunch of them.
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”
Athletes and coaches across all levels and varieties of sports talk about the importance of communication, and breakdowns in communication are often offered up as excuses for why a team is struggling.
You might not think about communication much in the context of adult recreational hockey, but it can be just as important in that realm as it is at the highest levels of hockey.
Josh Clark plays on two adult hockey teams in the Twin Ponds league in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He’s the team captain for the Buzzards and an alternate captain for the Firebirds, meaning he has plenty of experience with the finer points of communication.
We tapped into his experiences to shed some light on the importance of communication in adult hockey leagues.
On-Ice Communication Between Teammates
This is perhaps the most fundamental level of communication, and anyone who has played hockey – or any team sport, really – knows that, in the flow of a game, talking is critical.
“Hockey is a team sport. It isn’t bowling,” Clark says. “It’s crucial that your teammates let you know what is going on around them. You can only see so much at any given moment and you need to be as aware of your surroundings as possible to make a good decision, even when you don’t have the puck.”
Call for the puck when you’re open. “Drop! Cycle! Boards!” Let your teammates know if they have pressure or room to skate. Yell when you’re coming off for a change. There should be lots of talk on the ice.
Clark plays goalie. He can count a number of different ways in which he communicates with teammates – and that doesn’t just mean with words.
“I’m constantly talking to my defenders both verbally and non-verbally,” Clark says. “From raising my arm on an icing call, to slapping my stick on the ice to signal that a penalty is over, calling out screens, letting guys know that they have attackers bearing down on them and they need to make a play on a puck as soon as they get to it, and letting guys know there is an attacker creeping on the back post, communication is absolutely critical between teammates on the ice.”
Encourage on-ice chatter from your teammates. You’ll often find the team that’s talking the most – and loudest – is playing better.
Communication with On-Ice Officials
As someone in a leadership position on multiple teams, Clark often finds himself talking to referees for explanations about calls. There is a right way and a wrong way to communicate with officials, he says.
”Well, everyone knows ‘that guy’ in the league – the guy that is always yelling at the refs and screaming about every single call,” Clark says. “Don’t be him.”
He says he had a coach in junior high who made players address referees calmly and by using the word, “sir.” That mentality has carried over to his adult hockey days.
“I know that refs and goalies have a different relationship than (refs) do with players, but I’ve ingrained this into how I play and I’m on a first name basis with at least half the refs in my adult league,” Clark says. “If there is an issue with a call, it’s best to politely ask the ref why he made the call that he did.”
Also, knowing when to pick your battles is important.
“Don’t dig your hole any deeper,” Clark says. “Refs are human, too, and if you develop a good or bad relationship with them, you will have appropriate consequences.”
Off-Ice Communication Within the League
There’s no one perfect way to communicate things like league meetings, schedules and fees. Whatever works for a team or league is fine – as long as everyone is on the same page.
“I run my A team and we have a group text message where game times and locations, as well as when league fees are due and things like that are disseminated,” Clark says. “The other team I play for has a Facebook page, and the schedule is posted on there. Guys let the captain know if they are playing or not.”
Clark says he prefers either of those two methods to e-mail because he says he has found that “not everybody checks their e-mail every day.”
Almost as important as knowing when to communicate, though, is not bombarding players with too much information.
“Usually sending out messages once a week about upcoming games is good,” Clark says. “The team I run that does the group message doesn’t really hang out after games, so that’s how info is dispersed.”
That said, a lot of the best off-ice communication – as many adult hockey players know – comes after the game in a less-than-formal setting.
“The other team I play for is definitely a ‘beer league’ team,” Clark says. “We hang out after nearly every game and talk about roster moves and subs a