The Great Wall of Montreal

Lunging in front of 100 mph slap shots is all in a day's work for Josh Gorges

Originally Published: March 21, 2014
By Chris Gigley | ESPN The Magazine

Josh GorgesRichard Wolowicz/Getty ImagesEvery game, the Canadiens defenseman sacrifices his body for the benefit of his team.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's March 31 MLB Preview Issue. Subscribe today!

BLOCKING A SHOT is the most selfless act an NHL player can perform. The league has kept blocks as a stat only since 2005, and analytics folks argue that they don't correlate with wins. The only time a block makes the highlights is when the blocker suffers an injury. But can a block have a big impact on a game? Just ask Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges. Google his name and "shot block" and the first result is a YouTube clip from 2010 that shows Montreal's alternate captain taking a slap shot to the back of his head. The puck left a dent in his helmet, but he wasn't seriously hurt and returned to block another shot in the next game. This season Gorges, 29, has continued to sacrifice his body for the benefit of his team -- playing two games with a broken hand after fracturing it stopping a shot. He underwent surgery on March 10. If statheads don't appreciate Gorges' art, his teammates do. "When someone with a big slap shot winds up for a one-timer and hits you," says Gorges, "it gets the whole bench on its feet."

Here's his take on how he gets the dirty job done -- and our take on the impact it has for Montreal.

Gorges' 5 Keys To Blocking Shots

1. If you're down, you're out
The 6'1", 203-pound Gorges used to block shots by sprawling across the shooting lane. Since taking that 2010 shot to the head, he's done his work vertically. "If you leave your feet, guys can make another move and take you out of the play," he says. "And you leave a lot more areas on your body vulnerable."

2. There's no angle of repose
Blocking shots is more than just being in the way. "The key thing is timing and knowing your angles, like a goalie," says Gorges. "If you know where the shooter is in relation to the goal, there's really only one spot that he can get it on net. You try to get in front of that spot. If he misses you, there's a good chance he'll miss the net."

3. Protectionism doesn't pay
Gorges wore plastic shields over his skates -- until he blocked a shot off his foot in the 2010 Eastern Conference finals. "The shield dangled under my blade," he says. "Every time I stepped on my skate, I slipped. Claude Giroux went around me and scored the game winner. It's not worth wearing something that takes away my ability to play."

4. Take one for the team
"You're seeing more guys block shots because they're expected to," says Gorges. "Ten years ago, if you blocked a shot, the boys on the bench loved it and the team appreciated it, but it wasn't an expected thing. Now if you have a chance to block a shot, you do whatever you can to get in front of it."

5. But puck ... It still hurts!
"You can't control where the other guy shoots it," says Gorges. "You try to put yourself in position to take the puck in a padded area, but there are always little exposed holes and gaps the puck finds."

Follow The Mag on Twitter (@ESPNmag) and like us on Facebook.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.