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Canucks’ Brock Boeser says he 'sucked' last season

On the Has-Beens podcast, the Vancouver Canucks sniper talked how he learned to shoot the puck, the curve of his stick, and the pressure of the Vancouver market.
Brock Boeser - Darryl Dyck CP
Brock Boeser fires a shot for the Vancouver Canucks against the Minnesota Wild.

After a poor performance last season, Brock Boeser is looking to have a bounceback year. 

But it’s good to have perspective about last season — it wasn’t all that bad. Boeser still had 23 goals and 46 points in 71 games while dealing with heartbreaking events in his personal life off the ice. For Boeser, however, a player who burst into the NHL with a fantastic rookie season, the expectations are a lot higher.

“There’s times I’ve played well and lived up to those expectations and there’s times like last season where I’ve sucked and didn’t live up to expectations,” said Boeser. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform and produce for our team and help our team win. Next season is definitely a season I’m looking forward to.”

That was during an appearance on the Has-Beens Podcast, which is hosted by two of Boeser’s former teammates at the University of North Dakota: defenceman and captain Gage Ausmus and right winger Tyler Olsen. Boeser talked about keeping a positive mindset about last season.

“I learned a lot last year — when you’re not having a good year, you’ve got to find a way to do something for the team if you’re not producing…that’s going to help me a lot this year,” he said. “I still scored 23 goals last year. A lot of people would take 20 goals any day in the NHL.

“So I say 23 goals in a bad year, that’s a big positive for me. That excites me. If I have a good year, I know I can get over 30-35 goals and help our team win a few more games.”

Boeser’s appearance starts at the 41:30 mark of the podcast. It’s fun to hear him and his former teammates chirp each other and share stories from when Boeser was at North Dakota and how he even chose to play at North Dakota in the first place. Evidently, the University of Wisconsin should have recruited his Burnsville, MN high school teammates Tyler Sheehy and Jack Ahcan if they wanted Boeser.

“Any time I was bored, I would go out and shoot pucks.”

At the 52:30 mark, Boeser gets asked about his shot and he goes into detail about how he learned how to shoot the puck.

“It’s a lot of practice,” said Boeser. “Growing up in Burnsville, there’s this place across the parking lot from the arena and it’s called the Training Center. All the Burnsville kids, we grew up there.”

There’s no ice at the Training Center, but there’s plenty of space to practice your skills.

“Most practices, either before or after, you’re going to the Training Center for 30-45 minutes, to stickhandle and shoot,” said Boeser. “That’s kind of where I learned to shoot the puck because we’d live at the Training Center. There was a big area to play roller hockey, so we were always there.”

Boeser also gives a lot of credit to his PeeWee coach, Brandon Steege, who played for the University of Minnesota in the early 90’s — “His shot was unreal” — as well as his dad, Duke Boeser, who hung a painting tarp on the back of his garage and set up a net for Boeser to shoot at.

“Any time I was bored, I would go out and shoot pucks. There was nothing else I’d do — just go out, throw my roller blades on, and just shoot,” said Boeser. “My parents never forced me to do anything either, they never told me to go out and do anything, it just came from within, always wanting a stick in my hand.”

The curve and flex of Boeser’s stick

Boeser also broke down his stick and why he uses his specific curve and flex. 

“People think I’m crazy because I used a P88 curve almost my whole career,” said Boeser. “I was P88 — 90 flex — first year of college and then the summer before second year I tried an 85 flex and I didn’t like it, went back to 90.”

A P88 curve is relatively flat with a mid-curve — it starts to curve in the middle of the blade — and is more typically considered a stickhandler’s curve rather than a shooter’s curve. Most snipers like more of a mid-toe curve — it starts to curve closer to the toe of the stick — with a more open face. The strong “hook” on the toe provides extra speed and accuracy on a wrist shot.

A 90 flex is a relatively stiff stick for a sniper like Boeser, with a lot of players preferring a lower flex. A hockey stick’s flex indicates the pounds of force required to bend the stick, so a 90 flex would require 90 pounds of force. That speaks to Boeser's strength to get as much whip on the puck with a stiffer stick.

Auston Matthews uses an 85 flex on his stick, while some other players who depend on their wrist shots use incredibly flexible, whippy sticks, like Phil Kessel, who uses a 65 flex. Snipers that rely more on slap shots and one-timers tend to have stiffer sticks — Steven Stamkos uses a 95 flex, while Alex Ovechkin’s stick has a 100 flex.

“I was 90 until my third year in the NHL, then I tried 85 again for a bit and didn’t like it, then I changed curves and dropped to 85 flex two summers ago with one lie down,” said Boeser. “I knew what curve I wanted to try and then I tweaked with the lies on the stick.”

The lie on a hockey stick is just like the lie on a golf club — it’s the angle of the blade. A higher number means a more upright blade, which is better for stickhandling, while a lower number has more loft and is typically favoured by shooters. Boeser was looking for something specific in his curve/lie combination.

“When I stickhandle, I like to get the puck to the forehand to where it’s almost on my toe, so I’m always ready to shoot,” said Boeser. “I would try these sticks and I would stickhandle and [the puck] would end up on my heel and I’m like, that ain’t it.”

While Boeser didn’t specify the combination that he landed on, he said he’s used it for the last two years. It just so happens that two years ago, he switched to an “Auston Matthews curve,” according to Iain MacIntyre. That would be the P92, which is a mid-toe curve — more of a sniper’s curve than the P88.

“I’m working on my five-hole game.”

Boeser noted that he’s able to pick all sorts of spots on the net, but struggles to go five-hole.

“I’m working on my five-hole game this summer,” said Boeser. “I think it’s proven that when it’s a lefty goalie that it’s just easier for lefties to score five-hole. It’s the heel of [the goaltender’s] paddle, their stick. I think that’s just proven.”

Keep that in mind coming into the season — if Boeser starts scoring more goals five-hole, it’s because he’s been specifically working on that shot. The temptation for shooters is to always try to go high.

“You guys know — you get a puck in the slot, you want to go bardown. It’s so easy to shoot high,” said Boeser. “But goalies bait you so much to shoot high that sometimes you have to — I love going over the pad. If I can low blocker or low glove, almost every time — I probably shouldn’t say this but — I get a breakaway, I love looking right over the pad, low side.”

“I never had to backcheck.”

At North Dakota, Boeser was on one of the best lines in college hockey with Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz. He said it wouldn’t even be fair to compare playing with those two players in college hockey to any of the players he plays with in the NHL because it was such a different experience.

He does blame the two of them, however, for some of his flaws.

“I never had to backcheck,” said Boeser with a grin. “Cagg would always backcheck or Nicky would casually backcheck and pick guy’s sticks and I would just be hanging out at the blueline, cherry picking. So, I think I got my bad D habits from those two.”

Boeser went straight from playing with Caggiula and Schmaltz to the NHL. He literally signed his contract in the locker room immediately after North Dakota was knocked out of the 2017 Frozen Four in a triple-overtime game against Boston University.

“When I signed in the locker room, I had to sign or else the contract wouldn’t have gone through in time to play in Minnesota,” said Boeser. “That whole experience, signing that quick, it sucked…there was so much emotion and I was exhausted because of that game. I was stressed out. 

“I couldn’t see on the bus driving back to the hotel — I was cross-eyed because I was so dehydrated. You guys had a party back in Grand Forks and I had a flight at 6 a.m. the next day. I slept in Olsen’s bed, I was puking in the bathroom for, like, an hour. And then I ended up making the flight and going to play that game. It was pretty crazy.”

Boeser, of course, scored in that game — “That was just lucky, though, that was all adrenaline.”

Shout out to Sven Baertschi for that incredible backheel pass at the blue line to spring the 2-on-1 on Boeser’s goal.

“I don’t have Twitter.”

Boeser has scored dozens of goals since that first one five years ago but his swiftly rising star has also heaped pressure on his back.

“Vancouver, there’s definitely pressure up there,” said Boeser. “Canada — they love hockey and it’s awesome to play up there because of how passionate everyone is. It’s like Grand Forks, everyone’s so passionate.

“Everyone’s treated me really well in Vancouver. Good or bad, I’ve had ups and downs — all the media guys have been good to me, so I’m really thankful for that. There’s definitely pressure and expectations.”

One of the keys for Boeser has been limiting his exposure to some of the negativity out there.

“I don’t have Twitter. I mean, I have Twitter but I don’t have the app,” said Boeser. “I haven’t had it for over a year. If you sit there and look at stuff that people are saying, it’s not good and it’s not good for your mindset. It takes your confidence away.”

Confidence makes a huge difference in hockey because the speed of the game requires swift, confident action. There’s no time to second-guess yourself. 

“When you have a bad game, you think — that’s where everything goes wrong, whenever you start thinking,” said Boeser. “The best players in the world, when they’re confident, they don’t think and they play off instinct.”

“You think McDavid’s thinking? No,” he added, and it sounds like a burn but it’s not. At the speed McDavid plays, there's no time to think. 

The entire interview is worth a listen, as he relates some other stories, like the time Ausmus fought Boeser during practice after Boeser hit him with a slap shot.

“Of course [it hurt], I have a cannon.”

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