The State of Canadian Hockey Goaltending Development

The State of Canadian Hockey Goaltending Development
01/08/2010 Juha Halmesvaara

By Larry Sadler When we examine the condition of Canadian goaltending today we are confronted with the reality of numbers. In the 1999-2000 hockey season, Canadian goaltenders numbered 34 out of the 53 who had played 20 or more NHL season games. That was 64%.  US goaltenders made up 15% with 8 goaltenders. By the 2009-2010 season that number has changed.  In the intervening 10 years Canadian goaltenders make up now only 45% of the total playing with 24. (The US numbers had remained constant at 9 or 17%.) Where the major change has occurred are with the increasing large number of Scandinavian goaltenders. With just 4.56% of registered players internationally the Finns specifically now make up 17% of the goaltenders in the NHL who have played 20 or more games. As for the Canadian goaltenders the major producer of goaltenders is Quebec but even their numbers have dropped in the interceding 10-year period. In 1999-2000 with just 17% of the CHA registered players they had 12 goaltenders, 35% of Canadian goaltender numbers. They have now dropped to 9!  Ontario, which has 48% of CHA totals, had 14 but that has now dropped to 10. The OMHA, which alone has 22% of all CHA registered players, have improved their goaltender NHL numbers to 8 as compared to only 4 who played 10 years ago. The GTHL numbers have almost disappeared with only 1 playing in the NHL as compared to 8 goaltenders 10 years ago. Where we also see considerable changes is in the area of performance markers. In the 1999-2000 season Canada had 5 of the top 10 goaltenders and 13 in the top 20 in the Games Won category, plus 8 of the top 10 and 13 of the top 20 in GAA. In SV% Canadian goaltenders made up 7 of the top 10 and 14 of the top 20. Ten years later, although Canadians remain strong in the GAA category with 8 of the top 10 and 15 of the top 20, we have just 3 of the top 10 and 6 in the top 20 in Games Won, and 0 of the top 10 and 6 of the top 20 in SV %. In addition, the Goalies World magazine this year ranked goaltenders using an equation which combined games won, save percentage and total shots stopped. Canadian goaltenders made up just 2 of the top 10 and 6 of the top 20! The biggest increases in each of the 2009-2010 categories in the top 10 and top 20 were the US and Scandinavian goaltenders. As I mentioned before with just 4.5% of the world’s registered players the Finns are making a tremendous impact upon goaltending development. The secret to this success dates back to 1985. At that time the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation (FIHF) introduced a standardized certification program for goaltending coaches. This program virtually provided each goaltender on every competitive team with a goaltender coach who taught the same basic fundamentals in goaltending. This started with goaltenders 8 years of age! This program has continued to the present day. This past June I spent time working at the top elite goaltending school in Finland. It was run by Finnish goaltending coach, Jukka Ropponen. There I saw the high level of expertise the young Finnish goaltenders displayed. With a sound basis in fundamentals these goaltenders were able to move up more quickly into the next level of elite instruction. I spoke with some of the top goaltending experts in Finland and they confirmed what the Finns were doing well and where they needed to improve more. In the intervening years Finnish goaltenders have become a predominate force. Finland has almost 22,000 registered players while the OMHA has 110,000. Simple math dictates that we should therefore have 5 times the number of goaltenders the Finns have in the NHL. Instead we have gone from having 4 times their number in 1999-2000 to having just 1.14 times their number today. We have to examine how we can better develop goaltenders. Unless we do something significant and longlasting to change these numbers we will only continue our downward slide in the next 5-10 years. And know we have the Swedes with whom we will have to contend! The Swedes have decided to focus their attention on developing goaltenders using the same approach as the Finns. The significant difference will be, where the Finns have been basing their goaltender development using a volunteer system, the Swedes will bring their financial clout to bear and will hire goaltending coaches. The Finnish head of goaltending development, Petri Tuononen.  resigned while I was in Helsinki this past June. The reason given was his volunteer position had yet to be elevated, as promised, into a full time paid position. Now the Swedes have a full time goaltending head coach in place, Tomas Magnusson, and he is working to improve goaltending development there. In addition, the Swedes are looking to provide goaltending equipment free to new goaltenders in an attempt to reduce costs. The OMHA has the potential to improve. Quebec is planning to set up a program for development of  goaltenders. With the compact OMHA region along with our established development regions we have the potential to create, implement and monitor a goaltending development program similar to the one in Finland and with the potential to grow into an elite development program which will far surpass that of the Scandinavians.