TAMPA, Fla. – Phil Esposito used to stay out on the ice with Bobby Orr.
He had Orr shoot at him until he had tipped four of 10 shots. That number went up to seven or eight, but Esposito never got to 100 before Orr had enough of it.
As inexact as that sounds, it’s largely how Yanni Gourde practices tips now. He stands in front of the net and has someone shoot at him, often Braydon Coburn.
There’s an art to a good tipped shot. Assistant coach Todd Richards calls it a craft. Either way, there’s more to it than just holding your stick out and getting lucky when the puck hits it and lands in the net.
“There’s a lot of things that go into it,” Richards said. “Some of these guys are great at that craft, at tipping a puck. You see a lot of guys after practice spend a lot of time out there working on that skill. It’s not an easy skill. It creates a lot.”
Why is the tip so important? It changes the pucks direction. If a goalie can see a puck coming at him, he has a high probability of stopping. So, what if that puck changes direction just before reaching the net? It becomes a lot harder to stop.
Tip, redirect and deflect are pretty much interchangeable. For the sake of clarity, let’s call a tip when a player intentionally puts his stick on a puck in the air to change its direction (as opposed to on the ice or when the puck unintentionally hits a player).
Not only is the tipper changing where the puck comes from, he may also be screening the goalie, so he can no longer see the shooter or the actual tip.
There’s a reason you often need a replay to see the tip.
“It’s certainly one of the highest scoring plays, when it’s executed properly,” goalie coach Frantz Jean said.
So what does it take to properly execute a deflection into the net?
For one, a well-placed shot in the first place. Sometimes, a random shot is tipped, but often, the shooter is setting up the tipper. All of that practice shooting at Gourde comes into play here for Coburn.
“Different guys set their tips a little differently,” he said. “Guys like Gordy, since he’s a smaller guy he’s not going to plant himself in front, so he does a lot of moving tips. By putting it around his body, it puts it in a good area for him to tip it.”
Then comes the tipper’s part. He has to get the three-inch blade (or sometimes the one-inch shaft) of his stick on the one-inch puck, which might be coming at him around 90 miles an hour.
It can be compared to baseball, but there are more variables.
“There’s a lot more motion in front of you, there’s traffic, maybe you lose sight of the puck for a second,” Richards said. “You’re being pushed. You might have someone on your back pushing you, someone might be spinning you.”
And like baseball, a hard, fast shot (fastball) is easier to find than a wobbly, floater (knuckleball).
With all of that to contend with, is it safer just to let the original shot stand?
“Sometimes that’s the case, where it hits the wrong part of the blade and instead of going one way, it goes the other way and misses the net,” said Anthony Cirelli, who deflected a puck into the net in the Feb. 25 game against the L.A. Kings. “But, it’s so hard to know and goalies are so good so anytime you can get a piece of it, and try to change its direction, it fools the goalie.”
Gourde did say there are some shots he won’t tip, like a Steven Stamkos one-timer from the outside. Cirelli evaluates where he is, where the defenseman is and where the goalie is to decide between a screen and a tip.
“Since I’ve been pro, I’ve been working a lot on tips,” Gourde said. “A lot of goals are scored around the net, so whenever you find yourself there and there’s a shot from the point. If you can get a stick on that, it obviously improves the chance it goes in.”