SI Vault
William Leggett
December 14, 1959
The greatest show on ice is a spectacular combination of bruising force and deft, almost delicate, grace
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December 14, 1959

The Violent Skills Of Ice Hockey

The greatest show on ice is a spectacular combination of bruising force and deft, almost delicate, grace

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Goalie gels assistance from defenseman who rides attacking player away from net.

Sweep from behind is trick that goalie must be alert for. Maurice Richard made his 600th goal by swinging around net, tucking the puck between goalie and post.

Constant strain of goal tending is a familiar story to Montreal's Jacques Plante, the league's outstanding goalie for the past four years. "I have to watch the puck every second of the game," he says. "And I have to worry about my defensemen. When there is a breakthrough they are under my command. I tell them what to do—go left, go right—and then I have the responsibility for what happens. Here (below) I am watching an attack around the back of the net. I press my left leg against the post to make sure there is no space that will let a rebound through when the shooter shoots the inevitable backhand. My weight is on my right leg, and my stick—I am very good with my stick—defends my front and right side. I slide straight across the goal always."

Lone shooter drives in on net. Goalie must not anticipate but wait shooter's move.

Continually moving, Plante takes lateral back-and-forth course to protect the net.


There is a definite purpose for nearly every movement on a hockey rink, and the only reason this is not always apparent to the observer is that in any game which relies as much as hockey does on the speed of its participants there is always confusion and even, upon occasion, what appears to be absolute chaos. But in the environment of action—the 10 skaters racing back and forth, banging into each other, whacking the puck; the two goalies flinging themselves up and down in their frantic efforts to protect their nets—in this region of instantaneous reflex, the movements of all the players make sense. There is a precise method in all the madness, but a precision so fine that the slightest slip or error upsets the scheme. A stick check that slows a puck-carrying forward muddies the offensive pattern; a feint by another puck-carrying forward inveigles a defenseman into moving a foot too far a second too soon. The wild skills of this race horse chess game reach their climax at the goal: the puck goes in, or the puck doesn't. Here, on these two pages, are four examples of precise play at the goalmouth: three times the attacking team achieves its purpose; once the defenders do. Note how each move fits into a clear pattern. Study the frozen, timeless action captured by the artist, and learn a little more about the subtleties camouflaged by the violence.

Adroit defenseman (above right) herds the puck carrier off to the side, away from the goal. The other defenseman is busy shunting another attacker away from the easy-shot area near the net. Both the defensemen are making the goalie's job easier by cutting down the shooting chances of the offense (see diagram). The farther to one side or the other that a defender can force a puck carrier, the smaller is the shooter's angle of attack and the less chance there is for a successful shot at the goal. Often, too, the shooter is forced into a wild shot or pass that can be intercepted.

Pass pattern used by the Canadiens takes advantage of the fact that the defense is one man short because of a penalty. Montreal's Bob Turner (11), who could attempt a long shot (upper diagram) through the defensemen, instead passes (lower diagram) to Henri Richard (left, partially obscured), thus drawing the attention of the defensemen toward Richard. Henri feints, then passes the puck to Marcel Bonin (18) in front of the goal, who shoots toward the unguarded part of the net. Dickie Moore (12) is in position to pounce on a rebound if Bonin's shot is blocked.

Screen shot is shown as it was so perfectly executed by the Montreal Canadiens in a Stanley Cup playoff game against the Toronto Maple Leafs last spring. In drawing A the Canadiens' Ralph Backstrom (6) leaves a well-timed drop pass for Ab McDonald (15), who is moving in from the side. Already the Toronto defenseman has gone to one knee in front of the cage (B), and the second defense-man, skating in from the right, is far behind the play and too late to stop it. Backstrom stays in the line of vision of Goalie Johnny Bower, who is thus screened from seeing the puck. McDonald fires his shot (c) to Bower's left side, where half the net was unprotected.

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