October 12, 2011
Kessel's snapshot really lethal
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
TRENTON, ONT. - Mark Reimer could not believe what he had seen.
Or, in this case, didn’t see.
Sitting in the west end of the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, Mark, brother of Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer, had the perfect vantage point behind the Ottawa Senators net in the first period.
If the hometown Leafs were going to score in the opening 20 minutes, Mark Reimer would have a clear view of each and every goal.
At least that’s what he thought.
Of course, he didn’t factor in Phil Kessel’s lethal snapshot.
With less than two minutes remaining in the period, Joffrey Lupul crossed the Senators blue line before delivering a perfect cross ice feed to Kessel, who skated to the face off circle.
From there, it all happened so fast. Kessel cocked his wrists. In a split second, the net bulged behind Sens goalie Craig Anderson.
The horn blared. The crowd cheered.
And, through it all, Mark Reimer was left astonished.
“(Mark) told me afterward that Phil snapped that thing in so fast, he never saw it enter the net,” James Reimer said with a chuckle. “He said it was incredible.”
Former major league umpire Ron Luciano once admitted that Nolan Ryan often delivered a fast ball that had so much velocity, he never saw it hit the catcher’s glove. As the story goes, Luciano allegedly once called one of Ryan’s pitches a ball because “it sounded high.”
That’s how opposing goalies must feel at times when Kessel snaps off one of his patented lasers.
If they hear the horn go off, he must have scored.
If they hear a thud off their equipment, the clink of a goal post or the thump of puck hitting boards, they know he didn’t.
In the end, they have to rely on their hearing. After all, it’s not like they can see the puck coming in.
James Reimer knows the feeling. He faces Kessel in practice every day.
“All great players have something that sets them apart,” the Maple Leafs goalie said. “With Phil, it’s his release. There is no wind up. It’s just so quick.
“Every time there are shooting drills, when it comes to Phil, I’ll keep telling myself ‘Be ready, be ready.’ I know that the snapshot is coming. And yet, in the flow of play, just when you think you are prepared, he’s snapping one by you.”
For his part, Kessel cannot remember the exact moment when he developed his quick release other than it came during his childhood years in Madison, Wisc.
The athletic Kessel household was competitive, to say the least. His parents had been prominent in college sports. His father, Phil Sr., was a quarterback while his mother, Kathy, ran track. His brother Blake is now with the Philadelphia Flyers and his sister, Amanda, plays hockey in the U.S. development program.
The three kids often played hockey on frozen Lake Mendota, not far from the family home. There, Phil often would show off his natural speed, much to the chagrin of his siblings.
There were challenges issued, wagers made, all within the family. He showed no mercy on his brother and sister.
And vice versa.
All the while, his trademark snapshot was being forged in the confines of the house, not outside in the icy Wisconsin winters.
“I would shoot a lot of pucks every day at the nets in the basement,” Kessel said. “Just keep shooting and shooting and shooting. The net was always around the house.
“I can’t tell you what the secret is. I can’t tell you if it’s things like (balance or weight shift). It’s just something I’ve pretty much been able to do.”
In past years Kessel often has found himself among the league leaders in shots. Much like former Leaf Sergei Berezin, opponents are actually surprised when he makes a pass in the offensive zone, figuring Kessel’s mantra is “Shoot first and ask questions later.”
That may have been true in previous years. But, as one NHL scout noted on Saturday, Kessel has adopted a tweak to his game that makes him even more dangerous in the offensive zone.
“He seems to have learned not to telegraph his shot as much,” the scout said. “In the past, you knew it was coming. That allowed the goalies to at least prepare and set, even if they can’t see the shot come in.
“Now he’s added the element of surprise. He’ll lean as if he’s cutting across the middle, then snap one just when he appears off balance.”
Former Maple Leafs captain Wendel Clark understands how devastating such a shot can be. Clark was the master of the snapshot himself, as witnessed by his famous game-tying goal against Kelly Hrudey in the final minute of Game 6 during the 1993 Leafs-Los Angeles Kings semifinal.
“It’s not how hard you shoot but how quick you get it off,” Clark said. “You saw that from (Kessel) on Saturday. The defence and goalie don’t know if he’s going to bring it back for a deke so they are squared up. That’s when you catch them by off-guard with the shot.
“He’s very effective at that.”
Effective enough to hit the 40-goal plateau this season, a mark coach Ron Wilson claims Kessel is capable of reaching?
“It’s a nice number, sure,” Kessel said. “You can always improve. But if I score just 10 or 20 goals and we make the playoffs, that’s more important.
“I think I score a lot off the rush.”
Senators goalies Anderson and Alex Auld can attest to that.
After beating Anderson twice in the first 40 minutes on Saturday, it was Auld’s turn to be burned by a Kessel snapper in the third. With the Leafs clinging on to a 5-4 lead with just 2:19 remaining in regulation, Kessel completed his hat trick when he entered the Ottawa zone and flicked those lethal wrists again for the eventual game-winner in Toronto’s 6-5 victory.
We’re not sure poor Auld ever saw it go in.
Mark Reimer knows the feeling.
BOSSY HAD WORLD'S BEST SNAPSHOT
With apologies to Phil Kessel, no one had a better snap shot than Hall of Famer Mike Bossy.
The former Islanders star may not have enjoyed the benefits of the modern-day composite sticks that fire off shots with incredible torque. But even using the old wood variety, Bossy’s quick hands and release produced 50-plus goals in each of his first nine NHL seasons.
“I realized when I came into the league that there were guys that were bigger and faster than me, so I needed to find my own way to succeed,” Bossy said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The snapshot helped do that.
“The whole basis of the snapshot is to get the puck away in a way so the goalie won’t expect it. The quick release is better than a big windup. Fast and unexpected — that’s the key.”
Asked how many goals he would have scored using modern-day sticks, Bossy replied: “They weren’t around in my day so it’s useless to think about.”
Bossy admits he hasn’t witnessed one of Kessel’s trademark snapshot goals.
“Every time I’ve seen him, he’s struggled,” Bossy admitted.
Obviously he wasn’t watching Kessel’s three-goal performance against the Senators on Saturday night.