The Evolution of the Goaltender

Great article from Mark Janzen on how the game of goaltending has changed in the last 20 years. Text taken from Hockey Now (Alberta Edition).

Since the 1980s, the goaltending position has been drastically revolutionized.

Gone are the days of the Grant Fuhr and Kirk McLean stand-up style of netminding where the curriculum focused much more on reflexology than arithmetic.


Today’s goaltending style from the NHL to the grassroots focuses far more on fundamentals and positioning than their reflexes.

With the crash-the-net, heavy traffic style of offence encouraged, to be a successful goalie, you have to get down, calculate how much area you still need to account for and make yourself as big as possible.

“The butterfly is a system to be most effective in making a save. It’s the most effective way to defend traffic, screens and tips,” said former NHL goaltender Andy Moog who is now the Dallas Stars’ director of player development and part-time goalie coach. “Play the percentages and see if they can find the corners up top. People and bodies and lack of vision require the goaltender to be prepared to get down on his knees and take the bottom…and middle away.

“The one strategy or fundamental that applies more now is that the offence comes to the net far different than it used to…In many instances, you won’t be able to use your reflexes to make a save. It’s going to be a blocking save and I’d say that’s more evident now than ever before. There’s fewer and fewer times you can use your reflexes. You need to be in position to allow the puck to hit you.”

Take a look at the great goalies of the wheeling and dealing era and you might mistake them for Buffalo’s Ryan Miller with street hockey pads. There simply wasn’t much in the way of bulk. The pads were more of a protective feature, rather than the massive puck-stopping tools they are now.

“If you take clips of games from then to now, size is the obvious factor. It’s unbelievable. I saw pictures of myself in 1998 and I saw pictures of myself in 1980 and I’m twice as big a goalie.”
“I think there’s excesses. The glove has far more blocking purposes than protection required. There’s very little in terms of protection in regards to the mitt itself. It’s just a blocking tool.”

But goalies’ inflation has not just been because of expanding equipment. Today’s NHL goalies are physically much bigger.

In the 1980s, goalies didn’t have to be big. Because they weren’t going down to their knees frequently, standing taller than six feet wasn’t necessary. Goalies like Moog, Mike Vernon and John Vanbiesbrouk were all 5 -9, Billy Smith was 5-10 and Grant Fuhr and Tony Esposito were 5-11.

In comparison, the stars of today’s goaltending universe are Roberto Luongo – 6-3, Martin Broduer – 6-2, Miikka Kiprusoff – 6-1 and Henrik Lundqvist – 6-1. Apparently, between the pipes, size does matter.

“I would say there’s an emphasis on the taller goalies right now and the equipment is bigger…out of simple mathematics [and] the way the puck comes to the net. [Dallas goalie] Marty Turco might be the fastest goalie in the game but he doesn’t get to use those skills all the time because he’s stuck in these traffic jam-ups and block, block, block type of games.”

On top of the style, size and look of goaltenders, they have also spawned success because they learned the value of training.

Young goalies used to be thrown into the crease largely because they couldn’t skate. But now, the strong athletes are voluntarily becoming vulcanized rubber stoppers.

“Bigger, stronger, better athletes are playing goal and as a result, they’re doing more in the position.”

And these phenomenal athletes are working at their craft from an early age. The off-ice training has become specific for goalie’s needs and there’s likely not a goalie in the NHL without a personal coach for the off-season. The Allaire brothers, Francois and Benoit, have now become household names for the great work in developing netminders like Patrick Roy and Roberto Luongo. Good luck naming another goalie coach from the 80s.

And with NHL starters often playing between 65 and 75 games a year, plus playoffs, goalies with the Gump Worsley body-type can’t keep up.

“[A goalie like Dominik Hasek] trains like a marathon runner. He just has endurance and stamina beyond all others and I really believe this really allows him to play the position as well as he does for as long as he does. We spend a lot of time on cardio, emphasising stamina and endurance,” said Moog.

This athleticism is also a valuable asset because of the sway towards puck-moving goalies. While Ron Hextall and his 34-point career proved the worth of this skill, current goalies like Turco, Martin Brodeur and Rick Dipietro have taken the skill to new heights.

“[Turco] ruins forechecks more than any other player on the ice. You can’t make a poor dump against the Dallas Stars. He’s forced the opposition to make good dumps. He can recover pucks because he’s quick and athletic and skates well. He’s [gutsy] back there. He makes plays others wouldn’t even consider.”

And as young puck-moving goalies become commonplace, prospects are developing a complete package that was never seen at such a young age.

“I think because the fundamentals weren’t as prevalent in young goaltenders [thirty years ago], it was easy to identify character because they had a never die, never give up on a play attitude. You see that less and less because there’s so many good fundamentals.”

But while talk of positioning and math may make goalies appear formulaic, ultimately success is largely garnered from the development between the ears. With the pressure on today’s goalies, mental fatigue has become unacceptable. In the high-scoring 80s, a team could recover from one or two bad goals per game, but now that kind of performance will quickly get you a seat on the bench. In the current NHL, allowing even three goals is basically lights out, game over, so you’d better be mentally prepared.

The position of goaltending has evolved greatly and will continue to do so, but with the modern style, if you do your calculations correct, the amount of open net will be so small, players will have to score an A+ just to have a hope of find


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