Feature story: How To Improve at Fintars (Center Shots)

 

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By Eric Krol
Editor, “The Score”

Perhaps the single biggest way to improve your offense (and chances of winning) a game is to get better at taking center shots. Reggie Stefaniszyn of Edmonton rose to the top of the North American Stiga table hockey scene by focusing on them. In the table hockey world, these shots are called fintars, which translated from Swedish means “feints.” Which is a good way to look at them — you’re trying to fake out the opposing goalie and put one past him. A little trickeration helps.

“The tactic with the center tricks is to simply move the puck out sideways and shoot in one motion. Fast enough that the opponent can not keep up,” noted Sissie Wikstrom, a Swedish player who’s ranked 15th in the ladies division and 313th overall in the world.

To that end, we took a look at the available resources online and asked a couple of skilled European Stiga players for some pointers. At the very top level of Stiga table hockey, games can sometimes turn into fintar fests, with each player putting a premium on possession and the ability to convert the fintar when the opportunity presents itself. Even if you never travel to Europe to play, knowing how to nail a fintar will make you that much more dangerous of a player, and perhaps open up other offensive plays as your opponent adjusts his defense to try to stop the fintar (and the pass that leads to the fintar attempt).

While there’s no substitute for trying them out in a game with a live opponent across from you, you can also practice by yourself in the basement. Get a bunch of Stiga pucks and place them in your end of the rink. Let’s say 20, but if you only have one puck, or five pucks, that works too.

It’s important to practice the pass to the center as well as the shot. So start by practicing the pass from the RW to the C or the LW to the C. It’s good to be able to do both. The RW-C pass is probably the easiest. If you’re playing against someone who is using the box defense, the RW-C pass will probably be unchallenged.

“It is important because the fintars are also tactical moves,” said Bjarne Axelsen, a top-ranked player from Denmark who has won numerous North American tournaments. “You need to use them against specific defenses, for example the box defense. Using the fintars can open up this defense.”

Don’t even try the Center shot yet, just practice the pass. Karl Jonsson of Sweden, who won this year’s Stiga North American Championships tournament in Detroit and was runner-up in Toronto, said he and his brother Nils sometimes make a game of it.

“One player puts the puck on one of the wings. He tries to pass to the center and gets one point for an accurate pass (e.g., that would make it possible to make a “center fint”),” Jonsson said. “Do not shoot on goal — this exercise is only about making and defending the pass to the center. The defending player gets one point for intercepting a pass.

Once you have a good feel for the RW-C (or LW-C) pass, set the puck up and practice taking the various types of fintars.

Axelsen and Jonsson agreed that he two best fintars to start with are the Lillstövel and the Nacka. “You do not need to rotate the figure around itself so these are good fintars to begin with,” Axelsen explained.

So what the heck are these odd-sounding shots, anyway?

Notes Jonsson: “The Nacka means holding the stick to the right, moving the puck with the foot and shoot with the stick in the right corner. The Lillstövel means holding the stick to the left, moving the puck with the foot and shoot with the stick in the left corner.””My recommendation is to pick one of these moves, and then learn another move from exactly the same starting position, but a shot in the opposite corner,” Jonsson adds.

But you have to crawl before you can walk. Let’s break down the Nacka, with the help of Sissie Wikstrom, who was kind enough to write and post online the Bordshockeyskolan, or table hockey school for everyone to consult. (You can check out her tips on fintars and much, much more here: https://bordshockeyskolan.wordpress.com/in-english/)

The Nacka is named after a mid-20th Century Swedish soccer player, ”Nacka” Skoglund. The illustration will help, but here’s how Sissie breaks it down:

*The center has his back to the goalie.

*The puck is placed between the two feet. It will be on the slot.

*Turn the center rod slightly to the left (counter-clockwise) so the center’s free foot (the one that’s on an angle) kicks the puck slightly to the right.

*Quickly turn the center rod back to the right (clockwise from the offensive player’s perspective) so the player’s stick hits the puck into the net (the right side of the net, from the attacking player’s perspective).
nacka
(Illustration by Sissie Wikstrom)
*Players also can have success locking the puck in the little pocket between the upright foot and the stick. But don’t take my word for it. Watch how Sweden’s Thomas Petersson does it at his Table Hockey School.

Now let’s look at the Lillstovel, which means “little boot.”

*The center is facing the goalie.

*The puck is in the middle of the slot.

*Twist the center rod slightly to the right to kick the puck to the left of the slot.

*Quickly turn the center to hit the puck with the stick into the net.

*If done correctly, you will score into the left side of the net, from the attacking player’s perspective. (There’s probably a way to score into the right side of the net, but that’s an advanced lesson for another time.)

littleboot
(Illustration by Sissie Wikstrom)

There are many more types of fintars. Let’s take a look at the Spjass, which is kind of a reverse-Nacka.

*Keep the puck on the slot in a similar fashion to the Nacka.
*Turn the center rod to the right (clockwise, from the offensive player’s perspective) to kick the puck to the left of the slot.
*Quickly turn the center rod to the left (counter-clockwise) and hit the puck with the stick. It should go into the left side of the net (from the offensive player’s perspective.)
*Sissie stresses that it’s important to do this slowly at first. If you hit the puck too hard, it will end up in the possession of your opponent’s defensemen. “While you get up to speed of execution, you will also get the advantage of the puck not stopping completely after the first rotation, which makes it easier to get the puck to lift up into the corner,” Sissie said.

It’s good to be able to hit both the Nacka and the Spjass. That’s because ideally, you will be able to hit a fintar to either side using the same setup (more of a long-term goal after you’ve mastered the basics.) This allows you to keep the opponent guessing. Is he going left or is he going right?

Some players put their free arm over the plastic end glass to try to hide which direction they’re going to shoot, but Jonsson said that more important is “to always do the ‘fint’ from the exact same starting position. This means both the puck position and the center player position.”

“Be very aware about exactly where you place the puck and the center player. Practice to score in either corner of the net from the exact same starting position. Watch some YouTube clips of players like Roni Nuttunen, Hans Österman, Maxim Borisov, Ahti Lampi and Jan Pelkonen. You will notice they all start start from slightly different positions compared to each other, but each player always start from the exact same spot,” Jonsson added.

Petersson also shows the Hjerpe and the Osla.

Bottom line, go start practicing.

“Fintars can be very useful but you need to practice them a lot,” Axelsen said. “Always keep them in shape. If you do not practice, your fintars will be one of the tricks which you will lose during your break.”
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