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Posted: Tuesday March 17, 2009 2:19PM; Updated: Wednesday March 18, 2009 11:26AM
Brian Cazeneuve Brian Cazeneuve >
INSIDE HOCKEY

Goalies: best, worst, oddest, more

Story Highlights

Saluting goalies great and otherwise in categories from reflexes to nastiness

Martin Brodeur and Ron Hextall are top stickmasters, but not like Billy Smith

Chicoutimi Cucumber is a cool nickname on the other end of Puck-goes-in-ski

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With feet and reflexes of clay, Ed Belfour had to rely in positioning to keep the biscuit out of his basket, and he was quite good at it.
AP
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Given Martin Brodeur's ascent to the top of the NHL's all-time regular-season victories list, we decided to grant our awards for some of the best, worst and oddest people and facets of the goaltending pantheon. Your dissent as well as additions are encouraged. Weigh in here.

BEST REFLEX GOALIE: Terry Sawchuk

The man whose career shutout mark (103) Brodeur is chasing was a tortured genius who endured all the physical and mental perils of the game. Yet he couldn't be bothered with technique. While other goalies focused on cutting down angles, Sawchuk was often late to face the shooter and relied on his instincts and quick feet. The man who suffered nervous breakdowns away from the ice was at his best when he didn't have time to think about his next move.

BEST GOALIE WITH THE WORST REFLEXES: Ed Belfour

A disciple of the legendary Vladislav Tretiak (who spent some years as a goalie consultant for the Blackhawks), Belfour made up for his average feet by being a slave to good positioning, and managed to win 484 games. If only he had been as disciplined off the ice.

BEST SOLO ACT: Grant Fuhr

The acrobatic Fuhr -- who once did a backwards somersault to get back on his skates after sprawling to make a save -- gets the nod because, well, his most illustrious teammates often left him alone. The Oilers' offensive juggernaut of Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Anderson and Coffey had enough confidence in their goalie that they attacked with abandon and left Fuhr to thwart the messy counter-attacks, which he usually did.

BEST PUCKHANDLER: Martin Brodeur

Brodeur only became a goalie because a teammate in his pre-pre-pre-NHL days went down with an injury. So the talented little winger agreed to don the pads. Now consider the lines behind the net that limit where goalies can roam to cut off pucks sent around the boards. Some call that trapezoidal area the product of the Marty Brodeur Rule because his skill at playing, passing and shooting the puck made him the equivalent of a third defenseman. Of all the comparisons between Brodeur and Patrick Roy, this one favors the Devil most decisively.

BEST OFFENSIVE THREAT: Ron Hextall

The way he went after opponents' ankles with the Sher-Wood, Hexy might also give Billy Smith a run for most offensive. Like a pitcher who always wanted to hit a home run, Hextall reveled when the opposition had to pull its goalie and give him a chance to fire the puck down the ice at the empty net. During his rookie season (1986-87), he became the first goalie to pull off the feat, though not the first to be credited with a goal. (That would be the aforementioned Smith, who was merely the last Islander to touch the puck before Colorado's Rob Ramage inadvertently deposited it in his own team's net.) Hextall also shot one into Washington's basket during a playoff game in 1989.

BEST POKE-CHECKER: Johnny Bower

Bower, who grew up poor in Saskatchewan using tree branches for sticks, always looked like he was diving headfirst into second base when he lunged and tapped the puck off an attacker's blade with surgical precision. Nobody did it better. During 12 seasons with the Maple Leafs, Bower backstopped three Stanley Cup champions (1962-64) as his maskless face paid the ultimate price in stitches and broken teeth for his fearless technique.

BEST HANDS: Bill Durnan

The Canadiens' Hall of Fame netminder of the 1940s developed an unusual talent: he made himself ambidextrous. This allowed the man known as Dr. Strange Glove to wear a modified mitt on each hand rather than a glove and a blocker. When the puck went to a particular side of the rink, Durnan switched his stick to the opposite hand so shooters always faced his glove no matter where they were on the ice.

BEST GLOVE: Grant Fuhr

A lightning-quick right hand helped make the five-time Stanley Cup-winner the 1988 Vezina-recipient (he also finished second in the Hart MVP voting to Gretzky that season).

BEST BUTTERFLY GOALIE: Patrick Roy

Though he may not have invented it outright, Roy certainly popularized the now-predominant style of stopping pucks. Most goalies, especially those as tall as the 6-foot 3-inch Roy, weren't expected to have the quickness or hip flexibility to cover the lower part of the net effectively, but most have tried to follow his example -- in part because Roy was so good at smothering rebounds.

BEST OCTOPUS IMPRESSION: Dominik Hasek

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Maybe it was octopus envy from playing in Detroit, but Hasek was so accomplished at stopping shots while flipping, flopping and morphing into a human pretzel that his five-hole seemed like it was in his ear half the time. Great elbow save by Hasek . . . rebound, butt save by Hasek . . . and he smothers it with his neck. It wasn't pretty, but you can't argue with six Vezina Trophies.

BEST INNOVATOR: Jacques Plante

The league's 1962 MVP changed the face of the game when, in 1959, he took a puck off the mug and became the first NHL goalie to regularly don a mask. Plante also strolled behind the net and left pucks for his defenseman rather than instinctively freezing the play at every chance. He was Brodeur before there was Brodeur.

BEST MASK: Gerry Cheevers

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Yeah, artists put faces, logos and fire-breathing demons on the mug protectors of today, but the simple stitches that the Bruin Hall-of Famer scrawled across his mask were enough to intimidate foes and certify his battle toughness. Cheevers hated empty white space because it suggested a purity he didn't want to convey. As a frequent scrapper who amassed more than 300 penalty minutes during his NHL and WHA career, Cheesy earned his marks, one for each puck that would have struck his noggin, he insisted, had he not worn the mask in the first place.

MOST FEARLESS RELIC: Andy Brown

On April 7, 1974, the Pittsburgh Penguin became the last netminder to play an NHL game without a mask. Of course, Brown was both nutty and fearless. The next season, he set the WHA record for PIMs by a goalie with 75. He later became a racecar driver.

MOST INTELLIGENT: Ken Dryden

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The signature pose of the Hall-of-Famer resting his folded arms on his stick bespoke a man who would sooner quote Epicurus than Esposito. How many future Hall-of-Famers take a year off to go to law school in order to prep their careers in politics? Clearly a man who talks of Bertrand Russell rather than Phil Russell. Along the way, Dryden found time to craft a 258-57-74 career record and win six Stanley Cups, five Vezinas, a Calder and a Conn Smythe.

BEST ONE-GAME WONDER: Lester Patrick

Patrick's tenure as a superb coach and innovator is almost lost in history because people still talk about the night he came in to play goal for the Rangers at the end of the 1928 playoffs. In an era when teams didn't carry back-up goaltenders, the 44-year-old coach subbed himself for injured starter Lorne Chabot and helped lead the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup.

BEST ONE EVENT WONDER: Jim Craig

Though he never amounted to much as an NHL goalie, Craig backstopped Team USA's great Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. In the famous game against the Soviet Union, the U.S. was outshot 39-16, but Craig's stout performance enabled Mike Eruzione's wrist shot to be the game-winner.

BEST GOALIE ON A BAD TEAM: Al Rollins

What do you do with a goalie who finishes a season with a horrible record of 12-47-7? Why, you give the Blackhawks netminder the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP for 1953-54. (Seriously. It happened.) So how bad was the rest of that team?

WORST GOALIE ON A BAD TEAM: Michel Belhumeur

The backup keeper during the Washington Capitals inaugural campaign of 1974-75 (the Caps finished with a gawd-awful 8-67-5 mark) played in 35 games and didn't win any, posting an abysmal record of 0-24-3. Don't they give you an entry win just for showing up?

MOST DURABLE: Glenn Hall

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Regarded as the granddad of the butterfly, Hall played in 503 straight regular-season games for the Blackhawks -- 552 in a row if you include the playoffs -- all without a mask. Today, if a keeper started each game for six straight seasons without a night off, he'd just be approaching that mark. Give that man a company watch for perfect attendance. The mark is even more amazing given his next honor . . .

WEAKEST STOMACH: Glenn Hall

Hall really couldn't stomach pre-game meals or the tension that came with playing his position. He developed an unintended ritual of blowing his beets before and sometimes during or after games, considering it a messy indication that he was giving his utmost effort.

BEST GOALIE WHO NEVER PLAYED IN THE NHL: Vladislav Tretiak

Who knows how great the Soviet Olympic hero would have been had he ever played for the Canadiens? Montreal actually drafted him with the 138th pick in 1983, knowing he would likely never be allowed to play for them. The three-time Olympic gold medalist and nine-time world champion now runs an elite goalie school in Toronto. He was in net for what some consider to be the greatest one-game performance by a goalie in the history of the game: a 5-0 shutout for the Red Army team against the Habs at the old Montreal Forum on New Year's Eve, 1982. After the game, Tretiak received a lengthy standing ovation from the knowledgeable crowd when he was named First Star.

MOST REVERED NAME: Georges Vezina

Hey, his name is on the trophy for good reason: The Chicoutimi Cucumber (extra points for the nickname) played during a time when netminders weren't allowed to fall to the ice to stop pucks. He backstopped the Canadiens to their first two Stanley Cups and played in 328 straight regular-season games during 16 seasons (1910-25), leading the NHL in goals-against average three times.

MOST UNFORTUNATE NICKNAME: Steve Buzinski

Known as Puck-goes-in-ski for his lamentable inability to stop rubber discs from entering his net, the hapless grain and cereal specialist was brought in by none other than the Rangers' Lester Patrick during training camp in 1942 because World War II had depleted the supply of available netminders. Buzinski allowed 32 goals in his first four games, and one scribe later quipped that the falling, flailing, unfortunate soul spent more time on the ice than a mackerel in cold storage.

FLAKIEST: Gilles Gratton

Gratton claimed he was a Mayan priest in a past life and that his latest existence as an NHL goaltender was cosmic punishment for the ills he'd committed in his prior go-round. Alas, the punishment ultimately befell his teammates, who wondered why Gratton had been re-re-incarnated as Swiss cheese for many of his starts.

MEANEST: Billy Smith

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Sorry, was that your kneecap? Gee, excuse my stick. Trouble hitting that high note? A good spear will adjust the scale. Smith's fondness for butt-ending crease invaders forced the NHL in 1982 to order goalies to tape their sticks. While winning his fourth successive Cup with the Islanders in May '83, the aptly-nicknamed Battlin' Billy was proclaimed Public Enemy No. 1 in Edmonton for having the temerity to take the lumber to none other than the tender pegs of Wayne Gretzky, whom Smith labeled "a crybaby."

BIGGEST BROOM: Terry Sawchuk

In eight stellar playoff games in the spring of 1952, Sawchuk's Red Wings fashioned two sweeps, knocking off the Maple Leafs and Canadiens. He allowed just five goals in the eight games.

BIGGEST BUCKET OF WHITEWASH: George Hainsworth

The 11-year vet not only won the first three Vezina Trophies ever awarded, he actually recorded 22 shutouts in a 44-game season (1928-29). And Hainsworth allowed only 43 goals in those 44 contests. Then again, sticks hadn't yet been curved and rink attendants cleaned the ice with Cuisinarts instead of Zambonis (not quite true).

MOST FORTUNATE: Clint Malarchuk

Malarchuk was playing for the Buffalo Sabres in 1989 when he was involved in a goalmouth collision that nearly cost him his life. Steve Tuttle of the St. Louis Blues accidentally stepped on Malarchuk's throat, severing his jugular vein and causing a horrific scene. Malarchuk was lucky that his team's trainer, Jim Pizzutelli, had been an Army medic in Vietnam and was skillful enough to stop the bleeding. By then, Malarchuk had already requested a priest and asked Buffalo's equipment manager to phone his mother to tell her he loved her.

MOST HONEST: Gump Worsley

Asked by a reporter which NHL team gave him the most trouble, the overworked and beleaguered Rangers goalie replied: "The Rangers."

 
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