It was a light day practice wise as the optional skate drew only a handful of players to the MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence.
Only Luca Caputi, Christian Hanson, Wayne Primeau, Garnet Exelby and Jeff Finger made the optional practice.
The small group of players made it cozy enough to incorporate drills that seemed to be better designed for goaltenders, while one particular was an effective lesson for any hockey player regardless of age.
Stopping in front of the net.
Practice started with a 2-on-2 drill beginning from the corner, passing to Rob Zettler standing at the opposite blueline and curling back for a shot on goal through the cut out of a goaltender.
Goalies, Jonas Gustavsson and J.S. Giguere both practiced alone with Francois Allaire, working on squaring to a shooter from the one post, to the top of the crease, to the other post.
The following skater drills focused on stop/starts and quick transition, but was brief.
Goaltenders were mixed into the skater group and players warmed them up with shooting drills, getting a pass from the corner out front, and shooting on goal.
Skating/shooting drills followed. Beginning from the left wing blueline players skated in and shot from the slot, curled, picked up a puck along the boards and took another quick one from the side. The drill was repeated from the right side of the blueline.
The next drill is the important one. Starting from the corner, a forward makes a pass to the defenseman on the point, and curls behind the net, emerging from the other side and stopping right to the side of the goaltender, very suddenly, and plant. The defenseman took a slap pass to the player who tipped it in front. Great drill for keeping a goaltender focused on this type of play, but more importantly, it forces the mindset to plant in front of the net. Too many players make flybys in this area, right at the top of the crease off to the side to their own detriment as this is prime real estate for scoring. With the Leafs still being a young team, this is a particularly good idea to get into their heads early – and often. Let’s see if it evolves into game situations.
For goaltenders, the above drill gets them set on the ice in the butterfly stance they were practicing earlier.
Shooting drills began from the blueline skating in from the wing, to center, to the other wing and shooting from about the faceoff dot distance.
Next drill involved three pucks. One in the slot, and two placed directly inside the faceoff circles. Skater would move in take the center puck, shoot, curl back, take the puck in the first circle and shoot, and then curl to the other circle and repeat. Hanson was very good at this drill, with his long reach and short wind up.
As the practice died down, J.S. Giguere did some stretching while the Monster worked on shooting pucks from behind the goal, backhand and forehand. (he still needs work … )
Notes: Curious to see Caputi stumbling a bit in the drill as he slipped in a tight turn. Skating is still not up to par, with a summer ahead to work on his overall stride and balance. His edgework, stop/starts and directional shifts in small tight spaces is polished. I attributed that to his ball hockey days, playing for Midnight Express, a top tier ball hockey team in the greater Toronto area and he agreed somewhat. The game without ice forces players to keep their feet moving, or else their out of the play. There’s more on this to come.
Someone had asked about access to the Leafs practice. Anyone can attend and watch from the glass encasing the rink. Access today was granted for fans, but normally would not.