Elements of a shootout: How forwards attack with game on the line

_Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series about how Illinois hockey players approach the shootout, one of the most pressure-packed situations in sports._

The stadium goes dead silent. The ice has been cleared to just two players, an attacker and a goalie.

The mental lead-up is excruciating, as both players rack their memories for tendencies from the past 65 minutes of action. One referee blows his whistle, and it begins.

The shootout in hockey throws out all team concepts and strategy and puts the fate of the game in a one-on-one joust between players.

“Absolutely, it’s kind of nerve-wracking,” junior forward Eddie Quagliata said. “Especially when they score first and you have to answer back. Or when they miss, and the game is on your stick.”

The Illinois hockey team had its first taste of a shootout in the first regular-season game of the season Friday against “Michigan State”:https://www.dailyillini.com/article/2012/09/illini-hockey-wins-one-loses-one-to-start-out-fabbrini-era. Despite netting four goals in regulation, the Illini could muster just one goal in five rounds of the shootout, dropping the game 5-4.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini said he is confident when a game reaches a shootout because he likes his combination of attacking forwards and stout goalie Nick Clarke.

“Confidencewise, I feel pretty good about shootouts,” Fabbrini said. “We’re definitely going to have a chance to win in every shootout, which is all you can ask for. We’ve got three or four guys that should be able to put home goals on breakaways.”

From the attacker’s perspective, the mindset is a little different compared with a breakaway during regulation.

Although nothing changes with the players, the environment becomes a hindrance for shooters preparing to have their chance at the win. Unlike between periods, the ice is not cleaned before or after overtime. Twenty-five minutes of wear on the ice limits the options given to a shooter.

“It is a factor, but I’m not going to make excuses,” said junior forward Austin Bostock, who missed his opportunity against the Spartans. “There was a lot of snow out there, and coach made it a point to let us know there would be a lot out there.”

The “snow” creates an uneven ice surface, making it very difficult to keep the puck flat, which is paramount in dekes and fakes. The inability to bust fancy moves like the NHL’s Patrick Kane or

Evgeni Malkin, however, may not be such a bad thing.

Back in his playing days, Fabbrini said he would just pick a spot and shoot to it, rather than tempt fate with the environment.

“It never really bothered me,” the first-year head coach said. “I was always more of a shooter in those situations anyway, rather than trying to make a move.”

And it shows, as Fabbrini was 2-for-2 in shootout opportunities during the undefeated 2007-08 season for Illinois.

Just one shooter gets his chance at a time, but the rest of the team is picking up valuable information about the goaltender, in addition to seeing how he reacted during the four periods of play.

Quagliata said factors such as the netminder’s size and his style of play affects which move he will use.

“I’ve got two or three different moves I’m thinking about,” he said. “If it’s a bigger goalie, I’m probably going to deke him, but if it’s a smaller guy, I’ll probably just shoot on him. … You have to pick your move depending on the goalie’s style.”

“I’ve got a couple moves in my arsenal,” Bostock said. “You kind of have something in mind, but if you need to make a last-minute adjustment, you can, before you get to the net.”

Though a shootout is not common, the Illini put in a healthy amount of “practice”:https://www.dailyillini.com/article/2012/09/illinois-hockey-coming-together-after-1st-practice in such situations.

Every practice on Thursdays ends with a shootout scenario, as well as other drills and scrimmages that can provide experience for breakaways.

But no practice can fully simulate the magnitude of staring down the goaltender at the most important moment of the game.

“Pressure is what you make of it,” Fabbrini said. “Some guys shrink away from it, other guys embrace it.”

Though their coach believes in them, based on Friday’s performance, the Illini need to embrace the moment in order to pull out close wins.

_Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @steve_bourbon._