by Jacob Weissman
For this article I write from the perspective of a right-handed player, as I and most players are right-handed. If you are one of those rare, left-handed unicorns, simply think of my right hand as your left hand. For example, if I am talking about my right-wall banks those are essentially the same to me as your left-wall banks are to you.
There are two basic shots in the game of Air Hockey, the straight shot and the bank shot. Today I am going to focus on the bank shot. In its simplest form a bank shot is: any shot which bounces off of a rail of the Air Hockey Table.
When it comes to bank shots there are two basic types, an over-the-mallet bank shot (over) and an under-the-mallet bank shot (under). Today I am focusing on unders.
The under-the-mallet bank shot is a fundamental Air Hockey shot. It is the quickest and most effective way to score underneath a mallet which is positioned in the middle of a goal to block a straight shot. An effective under-the-mallet bank should bounce only off of one rail (left or right) before entering the opponent’s goal. The reasoning for this is because of the purpose of unders. If we are trying to score under our opponent’s mallet, then we need our shot to score before our opponent can pull back and block our shot. Logically then, we want to send the puck on the shortest path to our opponents goal. In this case, the shortest path for a bank is from one rail to the goal, and not from one rail to another and then to the goal (aka. A double bank). The less time it takes for the puck to approach our opponent’s goal, the more likely we are to score.
To make the puck bounce off of the wall of our choice and under our opponent’s mallet, we must hit the puck at a steep angle with the rail. To best practice this, place a goal blocker or mallet over the goal corner closest to the rail you are using, and hit the puck until you get the angle down. Remember we want the puck to enter the closest corner of the goal. It may be difficult to get the right angle down, but, with enough practice, striking the rail in the right area becomes intuitive, locked down in muscle memory.
Once you feel comfortable with this angle, you then need to add the necessary power to the shot. Not only do we want the puck to enter the closest corner of our opponent’s goal, but we want the puck to do so quickly. A mistake many players make is attempting to create this power by lunging at the puck with their arm. This is ineffective for a couple of reasons. For starters it is too much power, and tends to knock the puck off the table, resulting in a wasted shot and, worse, a wasted possession. Secondly, in my experience, it is particularly difficult to aim with the arm. The shots that do not fly off of the table are just as likely to hit the rail at an unpredictable angle and miss the corner of our opponent’s goal, landing softly in the center of their mallet instead. While some arm motion is important to generate the force needed to drive an under home, for the reasons aforementioned, too much arm makes a shot unwieldy. For this reason, pro level players use their wrist to create much of the power necessary for a quick under, while maintaining the shot’s accuracy.
To strike the puck with a “wrist-powered” shot, simply snap your wrist in the direction you wish the puck to go as your mallet comes into contact with the puck. Done correctly, this snap of the wrist will give the puck enough energy to sail quickly into your opponent’s goal.
As there are two rails, the left and the right, there are thus two types of unders, the left-wall and the right-wall under.
The Right Wall Under:
By the following the basic rules I laid out above for unders, you should be able to execute an effective right-wall under. When it comes to where you strike the puck with your mallet, I have found the front right of the mallet the most effective area to strike the puck with in order to give the shot the “umph” it needs.
Effectively scoring the right-wall under does have one more, extremely important piece: time delays. In general, before you execute your under you want to “freeze” your opponent on defense, tricking them into staying out of position long enough for you to score. This is where time delays come in handy. By having your hand cocked and ready to let fly a right-wall under, as you drift the puck and put it into position to shoot, your opponent will be kept on edge, wondering when you are going to release. Often your opponent will unconsciously freeze their mallet in one spot in anticipation, like a deer in headlights. This gives you a perfect opening to score your shot, before your opponent has the chance to react and block the under. Throwing a couple pump fakes in the mix, acting like you are about to shoot the puck, but in actuality not, can help to make your opponent a perfect icicle on defense.
The Left Wall Under:
When it comes to the left-wall under, start by following the rules I laid out for all under-the-mallet banks. To create a consistently powerful and accurate left-wall under you still need to follow the mantra of more wrist and less arm. Snapping your wrist when executing a left-wall under will not only make the shot more consistently powerful, but it will also make the left-wall under more deceptive. Traditionally, a left-wall under is meant to look like a cross straight. Snapping your wrist toward the right as you execute a left-wall under can make the shot look similar to a cross-straight; as the mallet normally moves towards the right when a cross-straight is released. This similarity in execution helps to pull our opponent away from the corner of their goal closest to the left rail, where we hope to score. The top left corner of the mallet should hit the left side of the puck, sending it to the left rail, while the mallet itself snaps rightward. You want it to look like you are hitting the puck one direction when in actuality you send it in a completely different direction. If you find you are having trouble hitting the left-wall under, try positioning your body slightly to the right of the goal with your shoulders pointed toward the left rail. With your body positioned this way, finding the leverage you need to execute an effective left wall under should be easier.
As with the right-wall some time-delays can help to freeze your opponent on defense, allowing you to score. Pump fakes, however, become more interesting with the left-wall under. If you are making the unders execution look similar to that of a cross-straight, a pump fake can get your opponent to pull for a cross. This leaves their goal wide open for a crisp left-wall under.
Until next time…