Sakic's wrist shot the scourge of NHL goalies
Quick, hard, accurate and impossible to track -- Joe Sakic's unmatched wrist shot forced many a goalie to turn around and go fishing for the puck somewhere deep inside the net.
"Yeah, he was pretty sick," former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes said. "Just YouTube him and watch."
Sakic officially will be enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 12 largely because of his effective and, quite frankly, impossibly good wrist shot that helped him score 625 career regular-season goals and 84 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Opponents were left in awe of it on most nights, almost as if they never saw it coming -- because a lot of times they didn't.
"There are some guys that had tremendous wrist shots and have tremendous wrist shots, but nobody could shoot it as hard and as accurate with the quick release he had at full speed other than him," Hall of Fame center Steve Yzerman told NHL.com. "Defensemen could take away angles, but he got it away so quick that he could go low stick on a goaltender or pick the corner with ease. It was just too hard."
If you listen to Sakic, he swears up and down that he didn't realize how important the wrist shot was to his repertoire until people started talking about it and, essentially, telling him how good it was.
The shot wasn't anything he practiced as a boy with his father in the basement. It wasn't the one weapon he thought would get him to the NHL as a kid from British Columbia.
"I think it was just a natural thing -- that's the way I shot," Sakic said. "So there was nothing that I really thought about too much. I would just go down the wing and that's really just how I shot the puck."
Make no mistake, though -- the former Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Avalanche captain worked on his craft over and over and over again in a strive for perfection.
Instead of practicing technique -- it was, as Sakic says, his natural way of shooting anyway -- he worked on getting his wrist shot off as quickly as possible and from as many angles as possible.
He did this before and after almost every practice for the duration of his career.
"I would have an assistant coach or someone pass me the puck and I didn't worry about anything else except for getting it away as quick as I could," Sakic said. "I didn't even care if I hit the net -- to me it was all about how quick I could get it off and how hard it was. Technique? I didn't even think about it."
The result of all the practice was a wrist shot that he could get off without changing stride, without hesitating for even the slightest moment. The result was, in essence, perfection that was the worst nightmare for most defensemen and goaltenders.
"The trickiest and probably the most lethal [wrist shot] because he hit it in stride and you never knew when it was going to come off his stick," Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who coached Sakic in Colorado, told NHL.com. "That was a great asset. When he got inside the blue line off the rush he would trick the goalies. He definitely had a great snap to it, worked on it, trained it."
Quenneville said even in today's NHL, with shot-blocking at a premium, Sakic would have no trouble at all getting off his wrist shot.
"He could use the defenseman as the screen and get it through skates and sticks," Quenneville said. "There is a lot more shot blocking in today's game, but Joe would still find a way to pull it to get it through."
Weekes, who faced Sakic enough to vividly remember the shot, is amazed that Sakic was able to "sling it" even before composite sticks became all the rage.
"The crazy thing about his shot is you couldn't read the release with it -- you just could not read the release on it," Weekes said. "Maybe after practicing with him you could pick up his tendency, but being an opposing player you just couldn't tell. He didn't telegraph where it was going and it was such a quick, violent release that you couldn't get a beat on it."
Tony Granato, who played with and coached Sakic, compared the effectiveness of Sakic's wrist shot to that of Brett Hull's slap shot.
"Obviously he saw something that most shooters don't see as far as where the goalie was vulnerable and could pick his spots, but it was his release," Granato, now an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, told NHL.com. "The puck would be on his stick and then right off. He would come down the wing, skate in stride and then all of a sudden it would be in the back of the net. Goalies would think he wasn't in a shooting position, but that was his trademark. I mean, how many quick wristers did he score on? Not many on a slap shot and probably not many on a backhand.
"The only other goal scorer like that is Brett Hull, but he had a big blast. Joe's goals, it seemed like 90 percent were off that one shot."
Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley, another of Sakic's former coaches in Colorado, went one step further by saying Sakic's wrist shot was better than anybody's slap shot because it was like a dart screaming toward a goalie from an almost impossible angle.
"That wrist shot was deadly," Hartley said. "Quick, accurate, no chance for the goalie."
"Some guys don't think [the wrist shot] is a glamorous shot, but they don't understand that from a goalie's perspective, outside of the backhand, the wrister is the toughest one to stop," Weekes said. "But there weren't many guys that could shoot it like him. It was very, very unique.
"I think you just tip your hat to him and say, 'Hey man, this guy is unbelievable.'"
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Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer