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Coach Cunniff Talks Shooting: Part 2

We are back with Coach David Cunniff’s insights on shooting. If you missed Part 1 of the conversation, view it: here.

Once mechanics have been ironed out it is time to make the practice more variable.  The next, most important skill to develop in shooting is the ability to handle passes from your teammates.  

Step one 

Handle passes from straight on. Passes should come directly from the side of the net to the forehand of the stick.  This is the starting point for skill development. From here, passes start to get further and further away from the middle of the ice toward the corners and toward the hashmarks along the wall to accommodate for receiving passes across the body and from different angles on the same side.  This gets the player comfortable accepting passes from various angles on the ice. At this point the practice is still very deliberate on the release mechanics. He is simply changing the way the player is receiving the puck and getting it into a position to release. We want to constantly reinforce mechanics built in the earlier stages of skill acquisition.  Once the ability to handle a variety of passes has been expanded this is the point where he likes his players to start getting a lot of reps in and drive home proper habits.  

This approach to shot development is just elite coaching on any level.  Great teachers and coaches realize that skills need to be broken down into their basic elements.  I like the use of the term “chunking” here.  


The brain and nervous system are really good at chunking small skills in the development of larger skills.  This is displayed in the most basic human movements like walking. When we are born, we spend 9 months to a year learning how to walk by developing the skills to roll over onto our stomach, push up onto our hands and knees, crawl over to some furniture, and start pulling up onto our feet so that we can develop the balance required to start walking.  

This is chunking at its finest.  Learning and practicing small things on a daily basis is the key to developing world class talent in anything.

Developing top talent in the realm of shooting hinges on these simple skills.  These skills need to be adapted into larger and more complicated skills. These are the clubs in your bag as coach refers to.  

Now we are deep down the rabbit hole of “basic” shooting skills.  It would not seem as if there is an absolute clear progression on where to go once you have mastered the catch and release phase of training, but we did discuss in detail a few of the various shot styles that happen during a game and ways to develop those skills in a practice setting.  Once the fundamental skills are automatic the goal is to continue to add variability. This variability will happen naturally with team practice, games, and skills camps. It is important that the foundation for good habits be laid during the deliberate practice sessions either on or off the ice.

Quick Release

A quick release generally is an agreed upon talent that defines a good shooter in the game of hockey.  Training this skill leads us to the crowd-pleasing slap shot or one-timer. One of the key details leading up to a good slap shot or one-timer is to have a good position of the stick blade in space.  A common mistake is to roll the wrist on the wind up and loose the 90-degree relationship to the ice that was developed in the earlier shooting skills sessions. By changing the position of the stick blade in space you must then re-correct that position before contacting the puck.  Like in golf or tennis, this extra movement leads to reduced accuracy and a loss of power.  

Cunniff prefers to teach keeping an open face on the stick blade so that it is easier and more effective to come down onto the puck and make full contact with the stick blade.  Conquering the mechanics is always step one and then adding a bunch of reps to the newly found technique is the natural progression.  

When learning how to hold your stick during a slap shot, Cunniff suggests letting the arms hang in a relaxed position to the side of the body. This will give you a good starting point as to how far apart hands should be when shooting.  Maintaining a deep knee bend through the windup and follow through will help maintain the athletic posture required to develop power through the legs. Very few shots will have as much lower body transfer from the legs into the stick than the classic slap shot or one-timer.  

This is a time in training where the rebound boards come in very handy.  We are simply just trying to increase the volume of shots taken with ideal mechanics.  There is no need to get to fancy at this point as the message to his players is to always start slow and, in all cases, focus on getting the puck on net.  

Developing accuracy is essential and is best accomplished by driving the hands toward the net and trying to aim the heel of the stick in the direction you want the puck to travel. 

Handle less than perfect passes

The next phase in developing this shot is learning to handle less than perfect passes.  Start by throwing bad passes directly into the shooting wheelhouse. Bad passes can be wobbly, slow, fast or anything else that might require some adjustment.  After bad passes in good shooting positions have been practiced it is valuable to start putting good passes that are outside of the naturally comfortable shooting zone.  Starting to throw passes toward the front foot and further is generally a good place to start as this is a very common adjustment that will need to be made in the game. This requires new coordination between the hips and the shoulders.  At times you will see a player drop to one knee to make contact with a puck during shooting. These adjustments are quick and require a great deal of mobility and coordination. The same is true as we progress to throwing good passes toward the back foot and expand the shooting comfort in this direction.  The ultimate goal is to EXPAND THE WHEELHOUSE. 

Start slow and focus and keep practicing the small things on a daily basis. We’ll be back with the conclusion on Cunniff’s shooting insight.

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