April 09, 2018

Big Shot: Al MacInnis

When you think of Al MacInnis you think of his booming slap shot. His overall effective game which ranked him as one of the most complete defenders of any era is totally overlooked by his 100 mile an hour blast from the point that puts the fear of god into goalies and anyone standing in the way.

He developed his shot by spending countless winter (and summer) hours firing a puck against a barn back home in the tiny community of Port Hood, Nova Scotia. Over the years he learned to make his shot doubly effective by keeping the shot low, rarely over a foot off the ice, so that it was perfect for tip-ins and rebounds. But how did he shoot so hard?

MacInnis maximizes his upper body strength by keeping his hands high on the stick and relatively close together compared to other shooters, thus creating a larger arc on the swing. He also has a bit of a golf "wedge" blade on his stick, which gives his shots extra lift. He also uses an extremely long stick, which again creates a large arc.

Perhaps even more amazing than the strength and velocity of his shot was his accuracy. It was pretty rare to see a player block a MacInnis shot of any kind, especially the big slapper. MacInnis knew how to get puck through traffic and on to the net. It was this uncanny skill that he would pass on to many defensive partners, most especially Chris Pronger.

His shot got him into the NHL. He was always known for his shot during his playing days, and will be forever remembered for his awesome blast. But if you look past that shot, you'll notice he was a complete defenseman with an incredible career.

MacInnis was a good skater in terms of lateral movement and agility, but he had average speed. He rarely rushed the puck, instead preferring to make crisp outlet passes. He played a very effective physical game, but was anything but a punishing physical presence. His game based on subtle intelligence, and if not observed closely, it can be taken for granted, even ignored.

At least until he winds up to shoot. Then everyone takes notice.

"It was a shot that gave me the opportunity," admits MacInnis. "I think most players unless you come into the league as a Gretzky or a Lindros or Lemieux or Jagr, there are a lot of us that come in the league where you shine in one area. A lot of guys, it might be their scoring touch. Might be their skating ability. Or it might be their shot. That has been with me my whole career."

And what a career it was. MacInnis, who always preferred the old wooden sticks, spent 13 years as a member of the Calgary Flames, leading the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 1989 and capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts.

MacInnis won the MVP award by recording at least one point in the final 17 games, a playoff record for defensemen. He also became the first defenseman in history to win the playoff scoring race. In doing so, he became the first defenseman Larry Robinson in 1978 to be so honored.

Many believe that MacInnis' devastating slap shot rattled Montreal's Patrick Roy to the point of distraction in the Finals, turning the series in Calgary's favor. Whether true or not, it certainly adds to the legend.

By the time MacInnis was traded to St. Louis in July of 1994, he was Calgary's all-time leader in games played (803), assists (609), and points (822).

"Chopper" had several productive seasons with the St. Louis Blues, seemingly only getting better with age. In 1999, his 18th year in the league, he was named as the league's best blueliner, winning the Norris Trophy for the first time.

MacInnis, now an elder statesman and starting in 2003 the St. Louis team captain, had a tremendous effect on Chris Pronger's career, acting as a mentor and role model. But a two serious injuries to his left eye coupled with a long lay off due to the 2004-05 NHL lock out ended MacInnis' playing career.

Take a look at his career accomplishments. Stanley Cup, Canada Cup, Memorial Cup and an Olympic gold medal highlight his trophy cabinet. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy, Norris Trophy, 10 All Star nods. He is one of only 4 defensemen to surpass 100 points in a season. He scored 340 career goals, 166 of them on the power play. He totaled 1274 points in 1416 NHL games.

But he will always be known for that big slap shot of his.

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