The ability to consistently finish from in close is what separates average offensive players from great ones. Being so close to the goal with the ball in your stick requires a lot of concentration and pinpoint accuracy from the shooter. Stick protection and deception are crucial elements to finishing from in close. Let’s take a look at different techniques you will need, and ways to finish effectively.
Stick Protection -
The first and most important aspect of finishing around the cage is protecting your stick. You will not even get close to the goal if you can’t keep the ball safe in your pocket on your way to the promise land. When the ball is in your stick around the goal, remember to have a good, strong grip on the stick, and keep it parallel to your body as much as possible. Try to maintain as little space as possible between your body and the stick, keeping it tight the whole time you have the ball.
As soon as you are in a position on the field where shooting or passing is viable, you should be cradling with two hands on the stick so that you’re able to pass or shoot exactly at the right moment. Even a half-second delay can make the difference in your team scoring a goal or turning the ball over. If you’re being guarded by a defender, you’ll want to make sure that your body is between the defender and your stick.
Once you’ve finally gotten to that spot right in front of the cage and you’re ready to shoot, there are a few things to remember about protecting the stick. First, you’ll want to have the head of your stick in the box area, right next to your helmet. If a defender is able to get a check on you with the stick here, there’s a decent chance that it will draw a penalty, as his stick is likely to hit your helmet. Secondly, be sure to keep your elbows wide, to give yourself that extra little bit of space between you and whatever defensive players may be around.
Assuming you have time, being able to fake a goalie quickly and efficiently is the best way to score around the cage. You only need about a second to be able to throw a fake and then stick the ball in the net. You shouldn’t ever have to throw more than one fake; otherwise you might get too fancy and end up costing your team. Going with more than one fake could also give the defense too much time to recover and prevent you from getting a shot.
The reason for throwing fakes is to get the goalie moving and free up space in the net for the shooter to finish. Always shoot to the opposite side to which you’ve most recently faked. If you fake high, you’ll want to shoot low, and vice versa. When you fake high, the goalie will bring his hands up high in anticipation of the high shot. This will open up the bottom of the cage for you to finish. Be sure to keep the head of your stick close to the box while faking. Use your shoulders, chin and hands to quickly and effectively fake out the goalie.
Keys to faking:
- Keep the head of your stick in the box the whole time you are faking.
- Use your hands, shoulders and head to fake the goalie.
- Finish in the open space created by throwing fakes.
Footwork and Body Position -
Proper footwork and body position will allow you to finish with accuracy. First and foremost, you’ll want your hips and shoulders facing the goal as you release the ball to ensure maximum accuracy on your shot. Stepping towards the goal with your front foot is not as important as with the in-close shots, but you will want to keep your toes pointed toward the goal when releasing the ball. A step to either side of the goalie can aid you in creating more space to one side of the net or the other for an easier shot.
Practice Makes Perfect -
In order to feel confident finishing around the goal, you’ll need to have precise accuracy and know that you’re going to put the ball right where you want it. An easy way to get that confidence is through wall hitting. When you’re practicing alone against the wall, look for a spot that stands out a little bit and aim for that spot every time you throw the ball. This spot should be around eye level, and you should pick a new spot once you’re hitting on a consistent basis.
Practice hitting the wall with both hands equally, since the inability to play with your off-hand can severely hinder your on-field effectiveness. Opposing defenses can quickly adjust to a player with only one strong hand. Repetition will improve your accuracy. Your muscles need to develop the memory they need to shoot the ball exactly where you want it. Take that iPod out to the wall and throw on some tunes that get you fired up. Spend about a half hour per day hitting the wall. You will be amazed how quickly your skills improve.
Game Situations -
There are a few different ways you can get opportunities to finish around the cage. The most common one is catching a feed on the crease and quickly getting rid of the ball for a shot.
Generally, you’ll get open in this spot when a driving teammate draws a slide from the crease defender. The other time you may find yourself open on the crease is while cutting. Never stop moving your feet on the cut or your scoring chance will disappear. The most important thing to remember when catching a feed on the crease is to follow the sliding defender into the area he vacated, and move your feet to the ball. Standing still and waiting for the ball allows other defenders to come right to you and prevent you from scoring. Moving to the ball ensures that you’ll be ready to shoot when you catch the pass, since your lower body will already have some momentum and fluidity, making you ready to turn your eyes, hips and shoulders to the goal and release the ball.
When receiving the pass, try to relax your body a little bit and have soft hands. A good way to do this is to exhale as the ball is in the air en route to your stick. This will relax your muscles that may have tensed up due to nervousness or “hearing footsteps.”
Once you’ve caught the pass, take the time to find the cage with your eyes and turn your hips to the goal. At the high school level or lower, you’ll generally have a second or two where you are all alone with the ball before any defender can make it to you. Utilize this time by being calm, finding the cage and picking the open spot on the goal before you start your shooting motion. Don’t rush yourself.
Lots of young players try to quick stick or rip as hard and soon as they can when they catch the ball around the cage. Take your time and concentrate on being accurate with your shot. From inside five yards, the goalie barely has time to find the ball coming out of your stick, making accuracy the most important part of your shot. It’s important to understand that on plays in front of the goal, you might get hit, and you might get hit hard. Just remember, though, that you won’t feel a thing if that ball finds its way into the goal and your teammates run over to congratulate you.