Inside the Highlight Reel: How to master ‘The Forsberg’ like Pettersson

Watch all 27 goals scored by Vancouver Canucks star Elias Pettersson so far in the 2019-20 NHL season.

Each week, stickhandling specialist Pavel Barber and Sonny Sachdeva will go Inside the Highlight Reel to break down one of the silkiest moves from the NHL’s best, dissecting it to explain why it’s so dangerous and demonstrating how to master it yourself.

It started with three crowns, royal blue adorning yellow. First, worn by Kent Nilsson when he pulled off the move against Team USA in ’89. Then, half a decade later, by Peter Forsberg when he made his name synonymous with that dazzling display, clinching the ’94 Olympic gold medal over Canada with the one-handed shootout sequence that’s since been known only as ‘The Forsberg.’

On this week’s edition of Inside the Highlight Reel, stickhandling specialist Pavel Barber and I break down the mechanics of The Forsberg for aspiring danglers looking to master the move during these quarantimes.

With the hockey world coming to a halt in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve called on Barber to share his on-ice expertise for young players using this downtime to fine-tune their skill-sets. The YouTube phenom-turned-skills coach has made his name dissecting the finer points of offensive wizardry. While amassing half a million followers online, the Toronto native has trained NHLers like Jonathan Toews and Jake Virtanen, and recently linked up with Bo Horvat and the Vancouver Canucks to coach some local Vancouverites.

In Week 1, we broke down the backhand toe drag, courtesy of Mitch Marner. Next up was a look at another bit of one-handed, backhand magic, that one from Sidney Crosby. Last week, it was Connor McDavid in the spotlight, granting us a look at the art of deception.

For the fourth instalment, we look to Elias Pettersson‘s iteration of The Forsberg:

(Watch Barber’s tutorial on how to master the move via the video embedded at the bottom of this story).

Pettersson is the latest in a long line of NHLers to bust out The Forsberg in the big leagues, with Anze Kopitar coming up with his own during that very same season, and everyone from Henrik Zetterberg to Vladimir Tarasenko to John Tavares breaking it out at some point in their careers.

Let’s take a look at why this particular move is effective enough to have worked its way into tool kits of half of the league’s elite.

First, the basics:

“The Forsberg one-handed deke is a fake move to the forehand that gets the goalie moving laterally to stop the forehand shot,” Barber explains. “Then the player pulls it across their body while releasing to one hand, for extended reach, to finish backhand.”

The vantage point below grants us a look at just how simple yet deadly the move is. The key is the fact that the first stage of the sequence is a dangerous combination in its own right — faking backhand and shooting forehand.

Here, we see Pettersson go through the motions to pull that combination. Mackenzie Blackwood bites and slides right, and Pettersson, anticipating that response, is already shifting the puck back to the newly-open side of the cage by the time he and the netminder meet.

The Canucks pivot has an added advantage working in his favour, too, given his track record with that backhand-forehand combination, and how similar the early approaches look for both moves, masking his intent.

“Pettersson approaches on an angle on his off wing before coming to the middle, then he prepares it on the forehand and acts like he’s going to do a fake-backhand and forehand-side finish — he’s been successful with this move before, which helps him,” Barber explains.

Essentially, Blackwood’s trying to protect against suffering this equally undesirable fate (which opposing netminders have endured plenty of times from No. 40):

Comparing the two clips above should illustrate why this move is so effective — it’s more the mind game than anything else. Pettersson can take the exact same path to the net, pull a backhand-forehand combination, and force netminders to gamble in that moment on whether he’ll stick with the forehand option or pull it all the way back the other way, both of which he’s shown an ability to do with ease.

A crucially important aspect of successfully doing the latter comes in the moment that lies in between those two options, in fact. But it has more to do with your skates than your hands, explains Barber.

“Now, as Pettersson pulls it across and extends to one hand, he sprays snow to slow down on his left foot. This is a subtle detail that makes or breaks the move,” Barber says. “The reason these players will do this is to ensure their body doesn’t continue to move too far to the forehand, which would limit how far they can reach on the one-handed backhand finish.”

That bit of last-second footwork is the key to creating enough time and space to pull the puck back to the far side of the cage — and to remain centred enough to reach over there at all. A look at that final moment in a few different iterations of The Forsberg makes clear its importance:

For those honing their skills at home and looking to add The Forsberg to their arsenal, we asked Barber to demonstrate the mechanics of the move, how to ensure you can pull it off with maximum effectiveness, and one drill that’ll help build the skills to do it.

Watch Pavel Barber’s video tutorial on how to master The Forsberg:

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