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E.M. Swift
October 06, 1997
As in the late 1950s and early '60s, when almost every team had a Hall of Famer in the nets, goaltenders are dominating the game. Here's why
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October 06, 1997

What's Old Is New Again

As in the late 1950s and early '60s, when almost every team had a Hall of Famer in the nets, goaltenders are dominating the game. Here's why

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A puck striking the torso was easier for the goalie to control than a shot stopped with his leg pads. Suddenly, instead of having to use the catching glove or blocker to stop shots above the thigh, goalies allowed pucks to hit them in the shoulders and arms—even in the mask—with impunity. They could drop down in a butterfly and protect against low deflections before the shooter had even released the puck. If screened, instead of staying upright or going through contortions to get a glimpse of the shooter, the goalie could simply dare the shooter to thread the puck into a top corner. "When you were screened, you used to yell at your defenseman, 'Get him out of the way so I can see,' " says Hall. "Now it's, 'I've got the angle covered, tie up his stick.' "

"Roy's the guy who brought this style into the league," says Caron. "Then Brodeur copied him. Now a lot of kids in Quebec are copying Martin. The equipment's so good that the goalies are playing in a relaxed way, with confidence. When you're relaxed, you can let your skills take over."

"We had to deal with the fear factor," Myre says of netminders from his era. "Now goalies dive in front of the puck with no fear. More kids are playing goal because they aren't worried about getting hurt. It has enabled them to perfect their skills."

Many hockey observers believe that improvements in equipment have gone beyond merely adding protection. Snow wears a chest protector that makes him look as if he has football shoulder pads beneath his jersey. "When I played, I wore a size 48 or 50 jersey," says the 6'4" Ken Dryden. "Today goalies are wearing size 60 jerseys, which hang down to close the holes under their arms and between their legs. In the playoffs I was surprised that some coach didn't dress his backup goalie with a size 120 jersey, like a balloon, as a way of highlighting the problem. Something should be done about it."

The NHL's rules on goalie gear are so vague that it's difficult to address this tactic. There are, for example, no size limits on catching gloves, and they have grown significantly in recent years. The rules do stipulate that the maximum width of each leg pad is 12 inches, but league officials started measuring them only last fall. When they did, they found several goalies' pads exceeding that limit, one by as much as two inches.

"The areas in which a goalie can cheat are oversized pants, the jersey, the chest protector and the catching glove," says Brian Burke, the NHL's senior vice president and director of hockey operations. "Snow's chest protector has clear protrusions on it, and the rule book says that the goalkeeper's equipment must be constructed solely for the purpose of protecting the head or body, and he must not wear any garment or use any contrivance which gives him undue assistance. This season referees may instruct Snow to leave the ice and change his chest protector. By next season we're determined to draft new standards because it's clear goalies are wearing equipment that isn't necessarily for protection."

But anyone who thinks this golden age of goaltending will be cut short by restrictions on equipment is kidding himself. There are too many netminders who are simply too good, and outstanding prospects are entering the league every year. With expansion again on the NHL horizon, brace yourself: The Age of Shutouts has probably just begun.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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