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James Patrick and his backwards-skating slap shot

Monday 3/4/24

You notice these various stylistic habits of players, and they stick with you. For instance: James Patrick was a defenseman with the New York Rangers in the 1980s who would also sometimes skate up on the wing. He was a good player--a very minor star at most, but he had some skill. He was even on the 1987 Canada Cup for team Canada, and made important contributions.

He had this habit of taking a slap shot while skating backwards. I've never seen anyone do that as often or as well as he did. He'd get a pass in the offensive zone back to the point, and he'd skate backwards along the blue line, until a lane opened up--or he saw there wasn't a pass he wanted to make--and he'd take the slap shot.

This isn't a common skill. Guys can do it, of course, but it came naturally for James Patrick. I remember seeing him doing that so many times. It was cool.

Other than that, he was sort of a poor man's Phil Housley--another defenseman who also would skate up on the wing. Patrick was better than Housley defensively, but Housley was such a gifted offensive player. You could argue--I'm not saying I would, but you could--that Housley was the best power play defenseman in NHL history.

The thing about the backwards-skating slap shot is timing. obviously the puck has to move with you, but it's not on your stick for that interval between when the motion of the shot starts and through to the stick and puck making contact. It's a tricky move. You're going at a certain speed, the puck has to be going at a certain speed, and you have to make contact with it at just the right point--not too close to your body, not too far away.

I used to wonder how Housley became so adroit at this move. Had he practiced it a lot? Was it just a natural affinity he had? The key is to be able to keep moving backwards as you take the shot, but sort of open yourself up into it. That is. you don't want to have to dig in your back blade and come to a full-stop before you make contact with the puck. The power goes out of the shot then--it's just this awkward, choppy affair.


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