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The province of Quebec produces hydroelectricity, maple syrup, lunatic drivers, overwrought C�line Dion songs and elite goaltenders, the last a resource seemingly as inexhaustible as the others. About 10% of the 700 or so players in the NHL last season were Quebecois, but almost 40% of the No. 1 goalies in 2002-03 were born or trained in Quebec (11 of 30). All told, 18 netminders with Quebec roots played in at least eight games last season, including a Caron (S�bastien), a Garon (Mathieu), a Biron (Martin) and an icon (recently retired Patrick Roy). You can prattle on about Dominican shortstops or Penn State linebackers, but if the Nittany Lions churned out NFL 'backers the way Quebec does goalies, Happy Valley fans would be delirious. � In today's NHL, where the total goals per game is 5.3 and a save percentage of .900 is no longer praiseworthy but grounds for benching, goaltending is the league's fulcrum—everything else in the Dead Puck Era is window dressing. The middling Mighty Ducks of Anaheim made that point emphatically last spring, when they rode the superb goaltending of Jean-S�bastien Giguere to their first Stanley Cup finals, losing Game 7 to the New Jersey Devils and their French Canadian goalie, Martin Brodeur. With a 1.62 goals-per-game average, Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs, an upset considering the award had gone to a player from the Cup-winning team every year since 1987, but not surprising in the context of the recent dominance by goalies out of Quebec.
In the past two years French Canadians have won the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie twice ( Jose Theodore of the Montreal Canadiens in 2001-02 and Brodeur in '02-03) and the Hart Trophy as regular-season MVP once ( Th�odore). Last season Quebec netminders ranked first through fourth in shutouts ( Brodeur, Giguere, Jocelyn Thibault of the Chicago Blackhawks and Patrick Lalime of the Ottawa Senators) and placed four among the top six in victories ( Brodeur, Lalime, Roy and Giguere). The Stanley Cup semifinalists all featured Quebec goalies ( Giguere, Brodeur, Lalime and the Minnesota Wild's Manny Fernandez, who split the job with Dwayne Roloson).
Quebec has also produced the two most influential coaches of hockey's most influential position, Fran�ois and Beno�t Allaire, brothers who share a commitment if no longer a vision. The goalies who stream out of the province will always be St. Patrick's descendants—Roy won a Stanley Cup at 20 with the 1985-86 Montreal Canadiens using a creative butterfly style that inspired a new generation—but these kids needed someone to raise them. Fran�ois, 48, who worked with Roy in Montreal and is now the goalie consultant of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and Benoit, 41, the Phoenix Coyotes' goalie coach, turned boyhood dreams into big-time saves, redefining what now is informally known as the Quebec Position.
"Tune in any game almost any night of the season and you'll probably see a French Canadian guy [in net]," says Fran�ois, who rebuilt the 26-year-old Giguere from a goalie who relied on instincts into a paradigm of technique. "It's like holding up a mirror to the people here. There's no other sport where we can find heroes. We don't have any big golf or tennis guys. There's Eric Gagne [the Los Angeles Dodgers' closer], but he's just one player. You talk to the kids, you see how proud they are playing goal. Thirty years ago you were a goalie because you were chubby or couldn't skate. Now you're a goalie because everyone knows it's the position for somebody special."
In a French-speaking province that prides itself on distinctiveness, the position changed from thankless to cool as children rushed to don the tools of influence (page 66). "It's fashionable, all that equipment," Fran�ois says, "and fashion is important culturally in Quebec. Kids see the painted mask and the colorful pad, which announce, 'We're somebody. We're different.' "
"We have a different mentality because we speak a unique language here," says Benoit. "Not French. Hockey. We talk hockey all the time. We've got a different way to see the game, and we want to be the best." IN AN 1881 speech in Montreal, Mark Twain joked that this was a city in which a man could not throw a brick without breaking a church window. Even then, it seems, Quebec was comfortable on its knees. Fran�ois Allaire no more invented the butterfly technique—the name comes from the kneeling goalie's splayed pads, which vaguely resemble a butterfly's wings—than Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity by attaching a key to a kite during a thunderstorm. Before the rules were changed in 1917, NHL goalies were penalized for intentionally dropping to the ice to make a save. Through the decades notable goalies such as Hall of Famers Glenn Hall in the 1950s and '60s and Tony Esposito in the '70s would drop to the butterfly position to make the occasional save, but the move was reactive, rooted in the moment. The butterfly was not a founding principle of their styles. But it was Allaire who, in the 1980s, studied the butterfly move, harnessed it, codified it and preached it, making it the rock on which he built his goaltending church. Allaire started with a handful of students in a rink in Ste. Th�r�se, just north of Montreal, in the summer of '78. Now he has goalie schools on three continents.
Allaire had been an unexceptional goal-tender at the Universit� de Sherbrooke in the mid-1970s. His education provided the intellectual framework to move beyond the anecdotes of Jacques Plante's Devant Le Filet, the goaltending bible of its day, and turn his own fragmented thoughts and observations into a system. Allaire got a degree in physical education and then toured Europe like so many college graduates of that era, but instead of visiting castles and museums, he went to hockey schools in Switzerland, Germany and Sweden. He observed. He asked questions.
When Allaire returned home, he called the Biblioth�que Nationale in Ottawa and the phys-ed department of the Universit� Laval and ordered every book in every language ever written about goaltending. Over the next two years he read about 200. (Allaire doesn't understand a word of Czech, but he says the diagrams were outstanding.) At that point he literally had exhausted the body of goaltending knowledge. "Now I was free," Allaire says, "to follow my own way."
His teaching methods were still evolving through trial and error, but the butterfly was a founding principle. In the early 1990s, when hockey became more of a tight-checking, crease-crashing game, more and more goalie prospects learned the butterfly. According to Allaire, most shots are low along the ice, produced either by harried shooters or down-low scrambles. The butterfly, when played by a goalie such as Giguere, who is 6'1" and outfitted with bulky armorlike equipment, enables the netminder to cover more of the lower portion of the net than any other technique.
"Fran�ois has meant a lot to me," says 25-year-old goalie David Aebischer, Roy's replacement with the Colorado Avalanche who has attended Allaire's Swiss school for the past nine summers. "I went from a guy playing on instinct to one with a game plan. I had a style before, but I would use different moves at different times. He got it down to three or four moves, made it much simpler than before."