Usually I am full of opinions in this space. I like to provide answers to questions commonly asked by hockey fans. Today, there is a different approach. I want to make an observation and ensure that hockey fans are sharing this observation. It is an important one in terms of present day hockey and hockey history. After the observation is made, I am full of questions rather than answers. Frankly, I am perplexed by the rather obvious conclusion that no matter what way you look at it, Canadian goalies are disappearing from the forefront of the hockey world.
You don’t believe me? Take a look at the Vezina Trophy winners for the past three seasons. No Canadians. How about the first and second all-star teams for the past three seasons: One Canadian – Steve Mason, selected to the second team three seasons ago. What about the recent THN selection of the Top 30 goalies in the NHL: Twenty-one non-Canadians and only nine Canadians. What about a team-by-team breakdown of goalies in the NHL: Two-thirds of the 30 NHL teams have most of their playing time in goal taken by non-Canadians.
Let’s move a little bit down the hockey ladder. What about the World Junior Championship? The Canadians have had strong teams in each of the past three tournaments, but have gone home with two silvers and a bronze medal. In a spectacle that is as close to the hearts of Canadian hockey fans as the Stanley Cup and the Olympics, this is simply deemed unacceptable. Although hockey observers are not holding Canadian goaltending as the sole reason behind the “failures” the whispers are becoming louder. All Canadian hockey fans should be honest with themselves. In past years, superior goaltending was often the key factor in bringing home gold to Canada. In recent seasons, that superior goaltending has disappeared.
When considering the prospects about to enter the NHL, the situation becomes even scarier. In the 2011 draft, none of the first five goalies selected was a Canadian. In fact, eight of the first 10 goalies selected were non-Canadians. I am not giving away any trade secrets in revealing that three of the top goalie prospects presently being assessed for the upcoming draft are Europeans.
By any standards, part of the reason for this development is the leveling of the playing field brought about by hockey’s emergence as a global game. American and European players are now exposed to Canadian goalies and to Canadian goaltending coaches. Goalie “gurus” around the National Hockey League are overwhelmingly Canadian. Their knowledge has now spread into other countries.
Until the past few years, smug Canadians could point out that, with the exception of the Domenik Hasek era, goaltending awards went overwhelmingly to Canadians. In fact, Canadian hockey traditionalists would put superior goaltending right up there with toughness and shooting as long-time Canadian advantages.
Hockey Canada appears to be headed in the right direction to restore Canada’s goaltending reputation. It is conducting annual elite goaltending camps involving the top Canadian goalies from ages 15-20. Everybody who works in hockey is aware of the simple truth that goalies listen better to other goalies. These camps have been staffed by some of the best goalie instructors in the hockey world.
Some Canadian hockey officials with whom I have discussed this problem point to the drying up of the Quebec goaltending production line. Still, of the nine Canadian goalies rated in the top 30 by THN, five came from Quebec. Two emerged from Saskatchewan and one each from Ontario and British Columbia. If this shows that Quebec is drying up, what does it say for the rest of the country?
I need help on this one. Goaltending is still the most important aspect of any successful hockey club, especially in the playoffs. As former goalie great Ken Dryden pointed out, by the nature of his position, a goalie can never really dominate a hockey game. However, he can dominate the result of a game. Numerous times in international play, this adage has proven true, usually to Canada’s advantage. How and why is Canada losing this advantage? I would love to hear your input.
Tom Thompson worked as head scout for the Minnesota Wild from 1999-2001 and was promoted to assistant GM in 2002, a post he held until 2010. He has also worked as a scout for the Calgary Flames, where he earned a Stanley Cup ring in 1989. He currently works as a scout for the New York Rangers. He will be writing his Insider Column regularly for THN.com throughout this season.