To watch Sami Salo
walk through the Canucks dressing room without his equipment is like meeting the mild-mannered Clark Kent before he leaps out of a phone booth as the invincible Superman.
At 6 foot 3 and 215 pounds, the self-effacing Salo strolls through the room with both hands in the pockets of inconspicuous garb. All that's missing are a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and a copy of the Daily Planet under his arm.
But when duty calls on the Canucks blueline - Salo strips his unassuming attitude and steps into his alter ego as one of the hardest shooting players in the NHL. At the Super-Skills competition in October, Salo tilted the radar gun at 100 MPH.
"It's tough to say when I developed my shot," says Salo. "I've always been a guy who tries to shoot the puck a lot but nobody really made a big deal about it until I made it to the NHL. I wish I had some words of wisdom for what makes a powerful shot, but I guess it just comes down to technique."
To possess a superhero slapshot, Ted Rhodes, a Professor at the School of Human Kinetics at the University of British Columbia says it takes a combination of physics and sheer power.
"The slap shot is a very complicated and complex action," says Rhodes. "At best it is a multi-factorial movement, combining rotational forces with strength and timing. The key is to generate maximal torque with the blade of the stick and strike the puck cleanly with maximum force."
Here's how he makes it happen.
Salo has an extremely strong core. Like a spring, he coils his hips, trunk and shoulders in ascending degrees to essentially wind his body up till his stick is at roughly a 90 degree angle at the top of his backswing. The tighter the coil, the more power is released on the downswing.
Salo possesses tremendous co-ordination - likely due to an abundance of fast-twitch glycolytic fibers in his muscles. As he unwinds, he's able to release his hips, torso, and shoulders at precisely the right moments to maximize the ferocity of his stored power.
The key is to generate blade speed through the hitting zone by contacting the ice 4-6 inches behind the puck - this is where the bow in the stick is created. "Most people just try hitting straight onto the puck," explains Salo. "But you've got to hit the ice first to load the stick and generate torque and whip. Some players use sticks with a lot of flex, but I prefer one with a lot of stiffness to shoot the puck hard."
The torque on the stick is best maintained if the blade moves along the ice and makes contact with the puck at the heel - this is the spot where the stick's energy is most efficiently transferred to the puck. As Salo follows through, he rotates the shaft to maintain the energy and increase acceleration. "Timing is certainly a key component," says Rhodes. "But as you can see, it's really a combination of the ultimate in Newtonian physics and the power generated by fast contractile muscle fibers."
Salo uses resistance training in the weight room to develop the speed of the muscle fibers throughout his upper body and intensive stretching routines to maintain the elasticity of his ligaments. "Sami has to be very strong and flexible to be able to generate such dynamic forces in such a controlled manner," says Rhodes. One of Salo's most effective exercises is to stand with feet shoulder width apart and quickly twist his torso while holding a weight loaded cable in front of his body.