A lot has changed in sports over the past 30 years, from the rules that govern play to the sports themselves, and NHL goaltending just may be the greatest innovation of all sports over that time. Some may ask the question, “what makes you say that?”
Well here’s your answer:
Innovations in Gear and Player Development Forced Goalies to Shape Up
The evolution of the equipment definitely plays a role in the overall evolution of NHL goaltending today, but developing position specific movement drills, and analyzing advanced statistics such as Corsi stats have also played a part in the development of today’s super-agile, super-star tenders. These two combined forces allow today’s goalies, such as current Stanley Cup Finalists Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick, to play percentages, and to know when a reaction is needed (to avoid a poor rebound or second-chance opportunity), or when a block will suffice (if the shot is in tight, and your defense is hovering).
Tony Esposito playing in Chicago.
When the equipment was heavier and the players didn’t aim to shoot bar-down every chance, goalies lives seemed simple (once the mask was introduced to the game at least). They were the backstop to the team, they made sure that backdoor passes were intercepted, and shots from afar were turned aside, but somewhere in the late 80’s and early 90’s NHL goaltending took a monster turn for the better, and more dramatic.
Patrick Roy makes one of his signature windmill glove saves.
Transitioning to Today’s NHL
Over that time span Hall of Fame goalies such as Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, and Patrick Roy ran the show from their crease, even giving outlet passes for odd man rushes the other way at times. Their athleticism carried their respective teams through think and thin, and their mental prowess allowed their teammates to feel secure in who was the last line of defense behind them. As these legends of the crease passed their torch to many of today’s NHL goaltending stars, they stayed active in developing others at the position they call their own.
Patrick Roy is now the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, who won the Central Division in his first year (2013-14), and has proven that he can bring goalies to an elite level in today’s game. Just look at what former Washington Capitals reject, and current Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov has been able to do under Roy’s reign. Matrin Brodeur is currently mentoring future Devils All-Star Cory Schneider while still soaking up pucks himself, and Domink Hasek was considering making a comeback until this past season.
Goalies with this determination level and understanding of the game are what has brought the entire league (and hockey world for that matter) to the high levels we get to enjoy nightly while watching the sport played, but they are not the only ones to thank by any means.
Ian Clark is currently the Columbus Blue Jackets goalie coach, but he has helped tenders of all ages and skill levels get to an elite level.
Goalie Coaches Train Smarter, and Harder
The true masterminds behind the immense NHL goaltending boom we are currently experiencing are the goalie coaches themselves. The countless hours they spend analyzing each play and each shot opportunity are invaluable to those in the blue paint (the crease). They allow goalies to stay focused on what matters the most, reading the play while watching the puck, and they show goalies unique angles of the game that expose habits and holes.
These coaches then create specific drills to target those weak areas in the goalie’s game, in efforts to eradicate them before the opposition even notices they are there. It is truly a work of art, and an ongoing process. It doesn’t stop once the gear is off either, coaches train with goalies around the clock working on hand-eye coordination, agility improvements, plyometrics (for explosiveness), calisthenics and connective tissue stretching (for flexibility), as well as many other tools that force goalies to continue to improve while chasing the next elusive shutout.
Brian Elliott uses a tennis ball to aid his glove hand warm ups.
What This Boils Down To
All of these behind the scene efforts by the athlete and coaches themselves have truly come to fruition over the past 5 years. Look at franchise goalies such as Carey Price, and the aforementioned Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick. What do they bring to the table?
That’s what defines the excellence of Carey Price – even in a blowout victory, 100% compete level. Hates getting scored against. #CHampion
An amazing compete level, unparalleled work ethic, and tons of athleticism. They focus on working hard on and off the ice, and don’t limit themselves to a single type of workout or range of motion, so that they can constantly test their bodies for areas of weakness to fix before the next game. Though they may all play very different types of goal, they have proven to be adaptable in all situations, which may be the biggest difference over their predecessors.
Henrik Lundqvist makes goal line stands a regular feat.
They no longer worry about their save selection, they don’t have to worry about blocking versus reacting or even about rebound control, because it’s embedded into their brains, now they worry about doing everything humanly possible to keep that little black biscuit out of the twine. Whether it’s a belly-flop, and back-flip, or a head shot NHL goaltending today will find a way to make the save no matter what.
Though some like Lundqvist may rely heavily on reflexes and great sight lines to make stops, and others like Quick rely on quality positioning (depth and angles) and lateral movement strength/flexibility to make their saves, their athletic nature and compete level is what causes fans to shout and hearts to drop as they fly across the crease to deliver amazing and timely stops. These future Hall of Fame NHL goaltenders are showing what’s so great about the game today, it’s ever changing and you can’t expect much, except for some stellar saves and beautiful goals (if they do manage to sneak one by the tendy).
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