In a 2010 Stanley Cup Playoff game between the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers, Philadelphia forward Ian Laperriere went down to the ice in an attempt to block Devils defenseman Paul Martin’s shot from the point. The Flyers were up 3-1 late in the game, but the Devils were on the power play and their offense was starting to buzz the net.
Just as Martin released a hard slap-wrister, Laperriere flung his body directly into the line of fire and blocked the shot…with his face. The shot tagged Laperriere above his right eyebrow. More amazing still, is the fact that it was the second time that season that Laperriere had blocked a shot with his face: He had lost several teeth in an earlier incident.
As his teammates and the Flyers medical staff picked Laperriere’s crumbled body off the ice, the typically pugnacious Devils fans gave him a standing ovation because that kind of courage and team first attitude deserved - at the very least - a round of applause. After the game, Laperriere needed 60-70 stitches to close the dent in his forehead. The warning label over the hockey video of Laperriere getting pelted in the face said it all:
“This is not for the faint of heart.”
Shot blocking in the NHL is indeed a place only for the strong and the willing. Blocking slap shots is an unglamorous skill set and one that only makes the highlight reel when blood is spilled. But shot blocking is an action that carries with it a tremendous weight. When a player stands in front of a shot it is the ultimate sacrifice. A perfectly timed shot block –such as Laperriere’s face block – can change the momentum of a play, a shift, a game and even a series. Besides keeping the puck out of the net, a blocked shot can inspire teammates and get fans pumped up. Flashy goals may win a team a few games, but defense wins championships. And every NHL team has a few players that seem to relish the sacred and brutal art of blocking shots.
The Minnesota Wild’s Greg Zanon is one of those masters of rejection. He is one of the best shot blockers in the league and once blocked over 230 shots in a single season. Last season, Zanon broke his ankle blocking a shot. But in typical Zanon fashion, he soldiered on the rest of the year and even blocked his fair share of shots with his broken ankle.
Wild.com recently sat down with Zanon to analyze one remarkable shift he endured last season when he was cruelly peppered with two wicked slap shots. The Los Angeles Kings were on a 5-on-3 power play late in the game.
:45 The puck squirts out to the point. Zanon is positioned at the hash marks of the right faceoff circle and is a sitting duck. And he knows it. He anticipates the shot and instantly settles into his favored shot blocking position: He turns to the side, drops to one knee and covers his face with a glove.
“It all starts with positioning,” Zanon said. “Once he pulls his stick back, I try to make myself look as big as possible. In this position, I am a bigger target to hit [Laughs]. When you go all the way down and stack the pads, you lose mobility. They are on a 5-on-3 and have two extra guys, so I want to stay as mobile as possible. We try to take away the bottom part of the net. A majority of the time, Backstrom can see over us. [I point out the fact that Zanon almost always covers his face with his glove.] I cover my face with my glove because I’ve been hit in the face before and that is not the most fun [laughs harder].
:46 Los Angeles Kings point man Jared Stoll fires a missile of vulcanized rubber straight at Zanon. The puck blasts so hard into Zanon’s hip that he is knocked to the ice.
“Yeah, that shot hurt,” Zanon chuckled.
:47 The puck unfortunately bounces right back to Stoll. He sets up to tee off again. Zanon is still in agony on his belly. When he sees Stoll wind up for a second time, he instinctively does everything in his will power to try and get in the way of the puck. Zanon can’t stand up, so he flops backwards in front of the shot.
“In some cases, there are some shots that I ask myself ‘What was I thinking?’ If this shot hits me, it hits me right in the back of the head. But you don’t think that way when you are out there.” [We watch Zanon comically flop in front of the shot a few more times. He lets out another hearty laugh]. “Even if I didn’t block the shot, I’m in enough of the lane he has to shoot around me. Either he hits me or he has to make a play around me.”
:50 Zanon can barely skate. Wild television announcer Dan Terhaar shouts, “Zanon is hurting!”
:55 The puck squirts out of a scrum on the side boards.
:57 The puck moves back to Stoll.
1:01 Stoll tees up again.
1:03 Zanon stares down another shot. He knows it is coming in hot and settles into position. He turns slightly and lines up all the pads on his side. Over the years, Zanon has modified his pads and added extra plastic and foam to help protect vulnerable parts of his body. Also, Zanon jokingly admits that his awesome beard even, “Cushions a few of the shots.”
Most of all, though, Zanon commits fully to blocking another shot.
“It is definitely a willingness thing. The guys who do it are committed to doing it. You find a lot of guys getting hurt if they are in the lane and not committed to doing it. They lift a foot [this is called ‘The Flamingo’] or turn the wrong way. If you are in there and you are committed you may have a bruise. But that’s the least of your worries. If you lift your foot it could get broken.”
The shot ricochets off his foot. Because of his expert technique and positioning, he doesn’t even feel it.
1:09 Stoll tees off again. Zanon is running on fumes, but is in the shooting lane once again. The shot misses badly.
1:12 Zanon is a rag doll. He can barely stand up. Wild television color man Mike Greenlay screams, “Zanon can’t move!”
1:18 Los Angeles forward Anze Kopitar slides the puck to the net. Zanon sees this and bum rushes the goal mouth.
1:19 Zanon ends up in the goal. The play is whistled dead. Zanon has been out for almost the entire two minute power play. He collapses on the goal line in sheer exhaustion.
1:22 The penalty is over and Zanon heads to the bench to a chorus of applause and congratulations.
“Oh, yeah, the guys were all over the penalty unit. They know how big a part killing a penalty is. It is the same if the power play scores a goal. It is the little things like this that win you games in the long run.”
“Are you partially insane?” I jokingly asked Zanon, as we watched the footage of him flopping backwards in front of a screaming slap shot again.
“My wife might say so [laughs]. You don’t think about it when you are out there. You’re just trying to help the team win. That is one of the assets I bring to the table. I’m willing to do that.”