Left-Hand or Right-Hand: The How & Why of Shooting

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Left-Hand or Right-Hand shooting
Photo by Lynda Sanchez

Shooting left or right is more than mere preference. It encompasses a complex array of factors—statistical trends and influences and more.

By David Franco

When you step onto the ice, stick in hand, ready to face the opposition, whether you are a left- or right-handed shot might not be your first thought. However, the choice between left and right shooting is more significant than you might think. This choice influences gameplay, strategy, as well as which position you elect to play on the team. 

This article examines the nuances of shooting left or right in hockey, examining statistical trends, the impact of handedness, the effectiveness of each shooting direction, as well as its strategic positioning on the ice.

The Statistics: Left-Hand vs. Right-Hand Players

Interestingly, the distribution between left- and right-shooting players varies significantly between rec and pro hockey. Some statistics indicate a curious trend: the proportion of left-shooting players is often higher in professional leagues compared to recreational play. Studies of population trends have shown that in Western countries, an estimated 90 percent of individuals are right-handed (with 10 to 15 percent being left-handed). This begs the question that hockey fans have often asked: Why are so many NHL players left-hand shooters?

Indeed, it has widely been reported that almost two-thirds of NHL players shoot left-handed. The common belief is that many of them are right-handed but shoot left-handed because their dominant hand lies on top of the stick. Simply put, the top hand is responsible for the mechanics of stick handling, shooting and passing.

This disparity not only prompts discussions among coaches, players and enthusiasts, but also influences betting strategies and predictions. Bettors often examine player props, including shooting preferences, to gauge potential performance in games, all of which can have implications for NHL betting odds.

Moreover, the correlation between birth year and shooting direction suggests that external factors—including even the era of a player’s upbringing—can influence their shooting preference.

How a player shoots can add an intriguing layer to hockey analytics, suggesting that the choice between left and right shooting is shaped by a mix of personal preference, physical inclination, and historical trends.

Left or Right and Its Impact on Shooting

Conventional wisdom might suggest that a player’s dominant hand dictates their shooting direction. However, the reality on the ice often defies this expectation. Many players choose to shoot opposite to their dominant hand, leveraging the increased control and finesse afforded by having their stronger hand on the top of the stick for stickhandling and passing. This technique allows for movements that are more precise and can enhance a player’s ability to maneuver the puck.

The decision between left and right shooting, therefore, is not straightforwardly determined by whether one is left- or right-handed. Instead, players often make this choice based on comfort, control and the strategic advantages they perceive in their shooting stance.

The Effectiveness of Shooting Direction

Is there a definitive answer to which way of shooting is more effective? The debate is ongoing, with arguments on both sides. Some contend that left-shooting players have a slight edge in certain positions, such as on the left wing, where their shooting angle opens up more naturally towards the goal. Conversely, right-shooting players might find advantages in other scenarios, particularly when playing on the right side or when a quick forehand shot is necessary.

The effectiveness of a particular shooting direction also depends on the goalie’s style and weaknesses, team strategy and the specific context of the game. Coaches and players often analyze these factors when deciding on lineups and play styles, indicating that the “best” shooting direction is highly situational.

Strategic Positions for Left- and Right-Hand Shooters

Positioning on the ice is crucial for maximizing the potential of left- and right-hand shooters. Generally, left-hand shooters playing on the right wing (and vice versa) can benefit from better angles for shots on goal and more natural lanes for passing. This alignment, known as playing the “off-wing,”  is a strategy that involves positioning a player on the opposite side of their shooting hand. It can also facilitate easier puck reception and allow for quicker transitions from defense to offense.

This approach offers both advantages and disadvantages. Playing the off-wing comes with its challenges, such as increased difficulty in defending against opposing players and managing the puck along the boards. These factors must be carefully weighed when deciding on the most effective positioning for their left- and right-hand shooters.

(For a more in-depth look at playing the off-wing, including tips and strategies, see Left or Right: Should You Play the Off Wing?)

Conclusion

The decision to shoot left or right is more than mere preference. It encompasses a complex array of factors, including statistical trends, the influence of handedness, strategic effectiveness and positional play. Regardless of your level of play, understanding these nuances can enhance your game and inform your choices on the ice.

As the sport continues to evolve, so too will the strategies and preferences surrounding left and right shooting. But one thing remains clear: the importance of this choice in shaping the dynamics of hockey gameplay.

Whether you shoot left or right, the key is to understand the how and why behind your choice. By looking at the statistics, recognizing the impact of handedness, assessing the effectiveness of each shooting direction and strategically positioning yourself on the ice, you can unlock new levels of performance and enjoyment in the game.

David Franco is a frequent contributor to CrossIceHockey.com. He is a sports fan and dedicated writer who has been analyzing teams, players and plays in order to provide the most accurate opinions around the sports universe.

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