Home > Game Situations > How To Handle Screens

How To Handle Screens

Photo Credit - April 15, 2008 - Photo by Mike Ridewood/Getty Images North AmericaThe play is entering your zone and the center crashes the net and sets up shop right in front of you. He tries to mirror your every move and stop you from seeing where the puck is. The opposing team starts to cycle the puck around to the point and the defenseman rips a slapshot that whizzes by you before you can even react. You my friend have just been beaten by a Screen, one of the most frustrating ways a goal can be scored on you. There is all this commotion around you, people in your way, how do you defend against this?

I’ll start with the most important aspect of handling a screen and that is getting your eyes on the puck. If you do not have visuals on the puck and you end up stopping it, it is only due to guessing. You took a guess where you think the puck will be and luckily you made the save. The puck will be in the back of the net most of the time if do not see where the shot is coming from. Seeing where the puck is will help you keep your angles and stay square to the puck, which greatly increases your chances of making the save.

In general there are two ways to locate the puck in a screen, over the player(s) screening you or under/through them. I’m a shorter goalie so I use the under/through method. I widen my stance, drop my knees lower and try to look through the legs of the player(s) and around the side of them. This approach makes more sense to me since a player’s legs and skates are not as wide as their waist, torso, and shoulders are. There is a greater chance there will be more open areas to look through towards the bottom section than at the top. However, I have seen taller goaltenders stand up tall and look over the top of players and be just as successful. You have to find what works for you and don’t get locked into only using one of the two methods.

Besides having access to more open areas, taking the under/through approach increases your chances of making the save because you are lower to the ice. The majority of shots taken in a game are low or on the ice, especially during screens. The reason for this is to make it easier for the player screening you to tip and deflect the puck. So, if you are lower to the ice you decrease the amount of time it will take you to drop down and make the save. Be sure to keep your hands forward and active at all times in the few cases where the puck comes in mid-level or higher.

The person screening you is trying to deflect the puck as the shot comes in. Let’s say you get square to the puck and are at the right angle but the puck ricochets off the player screening you’s stick and redirects into the net. What went wrong here? When the puck deflects off the player’s stick it changes its direction and/or height off the ice. The further away from the person that is screening you, the greater the chance is that the puck will reach an angle and/or height to an area of the net you are not covering. To prevent this from happening get yourself as close to the person screening you as possible. By being right behind the player you remove the distance and time the puck has to redirect. When you are this close the puck harmlessly redirects into you.

A smart goaltender is one who is in constant communication with his teammates. You can try to help reduce the screens setup in front of you by letting your defensemen know if they are in your way or if a player on the other team is. Since the game is so fast I suggest using single words to inform your team about what is going on. You could yell out “screen” or “move” and in the case when someone is right in front of you, you can say “slot”. The best thing you can do is sit down with your team before a game and let them know how you want them to handle screens.

There will be times when the opposing team will hear you yell “screen” for example and immediately take the shot. You just broadcasted that you can’t see the puck and that is the best time to fire one at you. If you notice this happening try to come up with a series of code words that only your teammates know. Another tip is to ask your teammates to scream “shot” as soon as an opposing player shoots the puck. There will be times where you cannot get a visual on the puck and hearing that a shot was taken might make all the difference.

Hockey is a contact sport and making some contact with the person screening you is another way you can gain some ground in a screen. There are some legal and illegal ways you can try to get the player out of the crease. Using your glove hand to try to push the player out the way or jamming your blocker into their lower back tend to be the few legal ways to get the player moving. Alternatively, you can land your team in the penalty box or get a retaliation injury by using your stick to slash the player in the back of the ankle or calf, hit the player in the groin area with the tip of the blade, cross-check them using both hands, or use your stick by their skate and push them in their back to trip them.

It might seem at first the easiest way to get rid of a screen. If you move the guy out of the way you can definitely see the puck, right? The answer to that is yes and no. By focusing on pushing the player out of the way you have lost visual contact with the puck putting you most likely off angle and not square to the puck. That is a recipe for disaster. I am not saying to never try to get the player out of the way, I’m just saying to use this method in the appropriate situations. Be aggressive, but be smart at the same time.

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are.” ~ Muhammad Ali

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