Gino Cavallini knows precisely what would have happened if Connor Bedard or Trevor Zegras pulled off or even attempted a lacrosse-style shot in his day.
“They would have started a line brawl,” said Cavallini, who played in the NHL in the 1980s and 1990s.
Cavallini isn’t one of those old-school people shaking his fist at Bedard and Zegras. Cavallini has come around with the times. Now the club director of the Chicago Mission, a top AAA junior hockey program, he’s learned to embrace the evolution and creativity of today’s players. After Bedard and Zegras each recently executed the “Michigan” goal on the same night, Cavallini had players lining up to attempt the same in practice the next day.
“It’s pretty cool,” Cavallini said. “They get it. It’s part of the game. You have to be prepared for it. It’s almost like when (Wayne) Gretzky would bank one from below the goal line off the back of the goalie’s pad or something like that. All of a sudden it’s like, holy s—, nobody thought about that.
“This is the new era. Those finer skills that maybe a handful of players could do 30 years ago, that’s common practice now. Think about a player like Bedard. If he breaks into the league and he can’t do that, you’re wondering why can’t he do it? … That’s how I look at it. The guys coming out of the generation I played in, we laugh at it; somebody would have smacked you back then. Now, if you can’t do it, you’re behind.”
There are some who still deem the lacrosse-style shot as a trick shot or even disrespectful. But for many, including Bedard and Zegras, they’re on a different plane of thought. They’re not even trying to showboat. They’re simply looking to score a goal.
“I think just you’re seeing it more and more, too,” Bedard said after a Chicago Blackhawks’ practice Thursday. “That’s the thing, there’s a lot of plays coming around the net whether it’s low to high or whatever, and I think if there’s room, it’s just a scoring chance. Something you’re trying to do to score a goal, not trying to be extra fancy or anything. It obviously looks different. It’s a different type of play, but in the end, you’re just trying to score a goal.
Skills coach Darryl Belfry calls it a problem-solving play. When he works with his NHL clients, they’re constantly searching for different ways to beat goalies, and that approach has evolved over the years as the players have evolved.
“I think that kids are trying to find different solutions and ways to use their puck skills in different ways,” Belfry said. “Where before, it was almost downplayed. Now it’s like, maybe there’s another way to do things. They do practice puck skills differently. Like, they’re looking to try to get the puck on their stick and do different things with it.
“I think it’s the beginning. I think even the way the ‘Michigan’ goal where it started to where it is now to see how fast a player can move and pick the puck…