NHL Pettersson Chara hardest shot story no bug

In the blink of an eye, Martin Frk reared back and fired, the yellow numerals popping up seconds later.


His eyes widened as he took it in, lifted his arms, and skated toward where the rest of the American Hockey League All-Stars waited to celebrate him with hugs and amazement. All around them, the crowd at the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic at Toyota Arena in Ontario, California, gave Frk a standing ovation.

Frk had known he could shoot hard. He had known he had a chance to win.

This? He never expected.

“There were times when I was practicing with the guys, the older guys, and I saw I had a harder shot than everyone,” said Frk, who played 124 games for three NHL teams and now plays for Rapperswil-Jona Lakers of Switzerland's National League. “So you start realizing when you get older. Then I was able to try it at the All-Star Game and we could actually finally measure how fast it was. It was a very special moment.”

With that 109.2 mph shot, Frk bettered Zdeno Chara’s hardest-ever NHL Hardest Shot, recorded at the 2012 NHL All-Star Game, when the 6-foot-9 Boston Bruins captain blasted the puck 108.8 mph into the open net.

It’s an intricate dance, the slap shot, a marvel of energy transfer that’s impacted by size, strength and stick, by that second the blade hits the ice on its way to the puck, a dance that can produce a cannon of a shot, oohs and aahs from a crowd, and a bewildered -- and sometimes embarrassed -- goalie.

“The trick in hitting the puck with great speed boils down to the ability of the player to convert as much potential energy as they can into the kinetic energy of the puck,” wrote Dr. Arun Bansil, University Distinguished Professor of Physics at Northeastern University in Boston, in an email.

Those physics -- and those fireworks -- will be on display Friday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto when 12 of the best players in the NHL gather for the NHL All-Star Skills presented by DraftKings Sportsbook (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS), as the lucky few take on the Rogers NHL Hardest Shot, vying to put their names up with some of the biggest bombers in the game of hockey.

Chara records 108.8 mph shot to notch 2012 Hardest Shot win

It’s a shot that has raised the star power of players like Al MacInnis, Al Iafrate, Shea Weber, Chara and more. And though the Hardest Shot hasn’t recently been dominated by one player, as it was for long stretches -- MacInnis won seven times from 1990-03 and four straight from 1997-00, Chara five straight from 2007-12 and Weber three straight from 2015-17 -- the next great slap shot artist might just be around the corner.

* * * *

When you slow it all down, the contact between the stick and the puck in a slap shot is so very brief, a tiny moment that produces a huge transfer of power. The player approaches the puck, winds up their body and fires, the stick hitting the ice on its way to the puck.

It is often compared to a golf swing, but that’s not quite an exact comparison.

“There’s a difference here. Because if you look at golf, all you have is a direct impact between the head of the club and the ball,” said Alain Haché, physics professor at the University of Moncton and author of “The Physics of Hockey.”

“But for the slap shot itself, it’s a bit more complicated because if you see a slow-motion video, you’ll see that it’s not a direct hit on the puck,” Haché said. “They will bend the stick by hitting the ice first.”

In golf, the math is simple. The ball, hit by the club, can never leave with more than twice the speed of the club. So if a hockey player were to mimic that, to hit the puck directly in a slapshot, Haché estimated the puck would never go beyond 70 or 80 mph.

But that’s not what happens.

With a slap shot, the blade hits the ice first, about a foot before the puck. That allows the momentum of the player, who is rotating at that moment, to be transferred to the stick in the form of potential energy. When it then contacts the puck, the stick is bent, and that energy is whipped back as kinetic energy imparted to the puck.

“The magic of the slap shot involved deploying another source of potential energy -- the potential energy store in a bent stick,” Bansil wrote. “The player cleverly hits the ice just before hitting the puck in such a way that the stick is bent momentarily and gains additional speed as the stick snaps back, allowing the player to shoot the puck at even greater speed.

“To achieve the fastest speeds, great skill is required in coordinating transfers of various sources of energy to the puck for maximum effect.”

That third factor revs everything up, allowing for those blazing triple-digit records.

“The limit now is not twice the speed, the limit now is the energy that the player carries,” Haché said. “In principle, all that energy could be transferred to the puck. The physical limit now is the energy. And energy has two components, it has the speed, you need velocity, and you need mass. That’s the two things that play [in].

“So, heavier, better. Stronger, better. Faster, also better.”

It would be easy to think that hitting the ice is counterproductive, that it would slow the shot. But that’s not the case: In between the player and the puck, there is a spring, in the form of the stick.

“If you hit the ice first, it’s the same as if you were to hit a wall, the player would hit a wall and it would compress the spring until almost the player is stopped,” Haché said. “Then, when the spring is compressed, you would put it in contact with the puck and then the spring would push on the puck and propel it. That’s what happening. So you’re not losing energy, necessarily, you’re just transferring speed into spring compression, which is later used to propel the puck.”

If the stick hits too late, too close to the puck? Not enough time to compress the spring. Hit the ice too early? The stick might un-bend by the time it hits the puck and the energy is lost.

Which means that exactly where the stick touches the ice is crucial, and that spot might be different for everyone, based on height and stick length.

“You’ve just got to find that sweet spot where you get maximum speed,” Haché said.

It’s a transfer that Haché understands all too well.

He’s a beer-league goalie.

* * * *

It’s possible that a player could find a way to model the exact perfect moment to hit the puck, the spot on the ice that would transfer the maximum amount of energy into their stick and then into the puck. But that’s not what the average 10-year-old is doing.

That kid is shooting. Shooting and shooting and shooting. Shooting some more.

Asked how many slap shots he’s fired over his career, Chara can’t even hazard a guess.

“I have no idea,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands, I’m sure.”

He would shoot in the back of his house, in his driveway, in his basement. It was how he found his own sweet spot, like thousands and thousands of kids before him.

“You’ve just got to shoot pucks,” he said. “The muscle that you’re using for the shot are only developed when you shoot the pucks. So you’ve just got to spend time shooting pucks, I was shooting pucks, 300, 400 pucks a day, at one point. Just wrist shots, backhand shots, slap shots, one-timer shots. I was just shooting and shooting and shooting. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.”

Al MacInnis wins 1998 Hardest Shot with 100.4 mph blast

For MacInnis, it was a sheet of plywood on the side of his dad’s barn, as he fired the bounty of pucks he had collected over the glass -- or rather, chicken wire -- at the rink that his father managed.

“You needed things to do during the summer,” MacInnis said. “I would fire pucks all summer long. It was just something we did as a pastime. Obviously, we always had a dream that someday we might play in the NHL, but never thought that would ever come through.

“I did it all the time. You’d get bored being at the beach or bored riding the bikes so long and I would just shoot pucks. That’s where I started to develop the shot.”

It would be that rare one, one out of every 20 or 25 or so, that would ring off the stick and would take him aback.

That, he would think, was hard.

“But when you think back, you realize that there’s a lot more that goes into it, but you don’t think of it at the time,” MacInnis said. “Transferring your weight is a big part of it. Core strength is a huge part of it. The stick itself, for me, the shaft would have to be the right flex.”

* * * *

The stick. Ah, the stick.

MacInnis was devoted to the wooden stick. Chara believed that once he transitioned to composite, that made all the difference. Chara used a 155-flex stick that could boggle the mind with its stiffness. Frk uses a 70 flex.

There is no one path to a slap shot.

“The key elements that must work together involve the ability of the player to manipulate their arms, wrist, legs, feet, and the body weight, along with the extent to which the stick is bent and its timing before it hits the puck,” Bansil wrote. “More a given stick is bent, the faster the speed with which it will snap back. Greater the flex number of the stick, larger the potential energy it can store for a given amount of bending.

“Synchronizing of all these elements obviously requires great skill, much like a conductor in a symphony orchestra.”

Which is why each slap shot might just be a little bit different.

“My sticks, because they flex so much, I try to lean with my body into it,” Frk said. “That gives me more power behind because then the stick will do the job because the flex is obviously so low. So hopefully the stick doesn’t break when I’m taking the shot. If it doesn’t break, then yeah I can definitely produce a lot of power because I’m able to lean on my full body.”

Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson, meanwhile, uses 87 regularly, but has gone as high as 102.

“I know when I’ve gotten stronger in recent years, I had to go up in flex because I want my stick to be fast,” Pettersson said. “I don’t want it to be like a long flex up, like a whip. I want to the whip to be fast, like very quick, responsive. Stiffer.”

For Chara, the stick made all the difference. It was when Chara came from his native Slovakia to the Western Hockey League in 1996-97, back in MacInnis’s heyday, that the gangly 19-year-old, still playing with a wooden stick, still working on his wrist shots, found his stride. And his stick.

“We went from wood sticks to composite sticks,” Chara said. “I think that’s when goalies saw the puck the first time it was coming out of their nets when I was shooting slap shots. It was crazy. It was a huge breakthrough.

“For me, having that wood stick was heavy. I could never get it stiff enough, a wood stick, it was always kind of wimpy and heavy and once I got the composite, the weight and also the stiffness, oh my gosh, I was scoring from almost red lines.

“The puck was just invisible for [goalies]. … They were playing the puck like it was just in front of them and it was already in the net.”

MacInnis found the opposite.

“When composite sticks first came out, I tried them, but I absolutely didn’t like them at all,” he said. “I found with my shot the torque from the wooden blade gave it that extra zip, that extra few miles an hour, because there was torque and movement in the blade and it came from both the blade and the shaft.

“If you take a composite stick today, it all comes from the shaft. Those blades, you cannot move those blades. They’re like concrete.”

* * * *

Chara is 6-foot-9, 250 pounds. Weber is 6-4, 230 pounds. Pettersson is 6-2, 176 pounds.

So, sure, size matters. But it’s not everything.

“They’re usually tall, pretty muscular. Usually it’s a defenseman,” Haché said. “But then you’ll see other, smaller players who can shoot very fast. They have very good technique.”

In 2023, Pettersson took the Hardest Shot crown, recording a 103.2 mph bomb, matching the 103.2 mph shot that won Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman the crown the year prior.

Pettersson had started to drill down on his slap shot after he was selected at No. 5 by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2017 NHL Draft. He spent the next season with Vaxjo in the Swedish Hockey League, and it was there that he dialed in on his shot.

“It’s all about timing,” Pettersson said. “I never had the big muscles, so it’s all about rotation speed, moving your body weight. If you think about it like a golf swing, you want to get your momentum in and just let the club following through. That’s what I want to do. I want to clear the hips and get the stick as fast as possible, as hard as possible at the contact point.”

And it’s that technique that has allowed him to defy his size, to measure up to those who outweigh him by 50 or 60 pounds.

“The basic physics is you have a rotating body, which is the player, and it collides with a stationary puck,” Haché said. “There’s basic physics there. So, math helps. If you have a bigger object colliding with a small object, the bigger the object, the faster the small object will go. You can’t avoid that.”

But here’s the caveat: The faster the moving object goes, the faster the collision will be.

“That’s where the body strength and mass help,” he continued. “So you may have somebody who is bigger but not as fast, doesn’t have the muscle mass to accelerate to the speed that you would want to. He’s not going to shoot as hard.”

Pettersson wins 2023 Hardest Shot with 103.2 mph blast

One of the hardest things to get past, for a shorter player, is the stick length. Chara used a 67-inch stick. That could then bend more than average. With the smaller stick, it’s harder to get the same amount of energy into it.

But not impossible.

“It's getting force through the puck,” Pettersson said. “It's the sweeping of the whip, that's when you need to be your strongest or fastest. So, I think about the strong bottom hand. I hit like, 7-8 inches before the puck to get the stick loading the flex and when it hits the puck, it's like a catapult.”

* * * *

Though the Hardest Shot competition offers a pure slap shot opportunity, the empty ice, the direct line to the unoccupied net, that’s not exactly what’s happening in NHL games. The players are faster, the action is sped up, the chances for slap shots are fewer and farther between.

Especially for a good, old-fashioned, booming shot, the ones that could inspire fear in even the most skilled goaltenders.

The hardest shot in the NHL this season, according to NHL EDGE stats, is 102.59, which came from New Jersey Devils defenseman Colin Miller on Jan. 20.

“It’s changed, it’s definitely changed,” Bruins defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “I think it’s becoming less and less, especially with the way goalies play now. I think when they see a slap shot they’re smart enough to get out and cut off the angle. On the power play, it’s still a very lethal weapon and you need it.

“But, yeah, you don’t get that much time to get your slap shot off anymore. Especially as a defenseman, maybe a half-slapper, it’s a tool you can utilize when you get a pass from low to high and you need to get your shot off quickly. But it’s definitely not where it used to be where having a 105 mile-an-hour slap shot is a great tool to have in your repertoire."

Unless, of course, you have a chance to win the Skills Competition, with $1 million on the line.

And, of course, the pride of having the hardest shot in the NHL.

“I love it on the resume, but I don’t know if it’s fair to say hardest shot in the NHL when I only battled against five people last year,” Pettersson said, modestly. “I know there’s a lot of D-men in the League that haven’t been in the All-Star who … rip it, so obviously I’ll take the title, but I wouldn’t say it’s fully fair.”

That doesn’t mean he won’t work at it, won’t try to retain his title, try to increase the speed that earned him the crown.

And though 108.8 remains the record in the NHL, and 109.2 in the AHL -- and 110.3 mph by Denis Kulyash at the 2011 Kontinental Hockey League All-Star Game -- Chara believes that those numbers are only going to continue to go up.

“I know that later on, in which I didn’t make it to the All-Star Game, I was able to shoot close to 110 miles per hour,” Chara said. “I was never able to have it officially clocked because once the format changed to 3-on-3, I didn’t make the All-Star Game.

“I wish I would be there, maybe toward the end of my career, with everything I was using, better sticks and all that. But that’s OK too.”

Eventually, he knows, someone else will reign. Someone else will beat him and beat Frk, raising the bar yet again.

“I think somebody’s going to break 110,” Chara said. “It’s just a matter of time. … Eventually somebody’s going to break it to 110 because [of] the innovation and progress that’s being made on the technical side of it and the players being better, stronger, faster.

“It’s just nature that records have been set 20, 30 years ago are being broken. Everything, it’s meant to be broken.”

NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti and independent correspondent Kevin Woodley contributed to this report