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Are European Goalies Taking over? FGRE Breaks It Down All Levels

A hot topic in hockey circles these days is the impact of European goaltenders playing in North America.

Canadian and American goalies used to dominate net time in the majority of North American leagues but other nations around the world have stepped up their development models and are now claiming substantial playing time. In 1999-2000, an incredible 71 per cent of goalies in the NHL were Canadian. Fourteen per cent were from the United States, and there was only one Finn, one Swede, and one Russian. By 2010, just 44 per cent of NHL goaltenders were Canadian, 19 per cent were American and there were seven from Finland, six from Sweden and four from Russia between NHL pipes.

Last season, of the 92 goaltenders that got into an NHL game, the number from Canada was down a little more to roughly 37 per cent (35), while the number of Americans had levelled off slightly at just under 20 per cent (18), and the number of goalies from Sweden (12 per cent, or 11 goalies) and Finland (12 per cent, or 11 goalies) had combined to make up almost one-quarter of the League. There were also four goaltenders from Russia, four from the Czech Republic, and two each from Germany, Slovakia and Switzerland, as well as a single Dane and lone Latvian in the NHL last season.

At the 2016 NHL Draft, the numbers favoured Canada by a slightly wider margin:

So how do these NHL numbers translate at other levels of hockey in North America? Thanks to the Foundation for Goaltending Research and Education, we now have a good idea. The FGRE took a deeper look into where goalies are coming from in pro hockey as well as some top college and junior leagues in the United States:

National Hockey League

NA vs Euro NHL JPEG

In total, 92 Goalies played at least one game in NHL this season, and the majority are still from North America. The USA and Canada combine for 57.14% of goalies in the league. 37% are from Canada and 19.78% are from the United States. European goaltenders account for 42.86% of goalies in the league, well up from 14 per cent in 1999-2000.

NHL by Nationality JPEG

American Hockey League

NA vs Euro AHL JPEG

AHL goaltenders are more predominantly from North America. There were 113 goalies who played in the AHL this season. 76.99% of AHL goalies are from North America. 48.67% are from Canada and 28.32% are from the United States.  Europeans make up 23.01% of goaltenders in the American Hockey League.

AHL by Nationality

East Coast Hockey League

NA vs Euro ECHL JPEG

ECHL Goaltenders are almost exclusively North American, with only 6.96% coming from Europe; 115 goalies played in the ECHL this season, and 93.04% come from North America, with Canada at 48.7% and the United States with 44.35%. Immigration and travel expenses for teams outweigh the benefits of having a European goalie in many cases.

ECHL by Nationality JPEG

NCAA Division I

NA vs Euro NCAA Div 1 JPEG

There were 185 rostered goalies this season in NCAA division I. They are almost exclusively from North America with the majority of them from the United States. In the past, Canadian goalies were more prevalent in college hockey but we are now seeing an increase in roster spots going to U.S. born and developed goalies.

NCAA D1 by Nationality JPEG

NCAA Division III

NA vs Euro NCAA Div 3 JPEG

There were 272 NCAA division III goalies listed this year and were exclusively North American, with most of them coming from the U.S. NCAA DIII schools do not award athletic scholarships. Only certain division III schools give out financial aid to European students.

NCAA D3 by Nationality JPEG

United States Hockey League

NA vs Euro USHL JPEG

The CHL (Canadian major junior) announced in 2013 that there would be no more European goalies selected in the import draft. Although the USHL has a maximum of four import players per roster, we may see more import goaltenders in the league in the future as a result of the CHL Euro goalie ban. Of the 53 goalies listed on USHL rosters this season, 86.67% were from North America  and 13.33% from Europe.

USHL by Nationality JPEG

North American Hockey League

NA vs Euro NAHL JPEG

The NAHL is made up mostly of United States goaltenders. The league is a free to play league but players still must pay for their housing and travel costs. Housing and travel costs can add up and may deter European goalies from coming over to play at the tier II level and scouting European goalies can get expensive for NAHL teams.

NAHL by Nationality JPEG

United States Tier III Juniors

Tier III junior hockey in the U.S. are pay to play leagues. Players must cover the cost of ice, equipment, housing if necessary, and all other related costs. The league’s place goalies in NCAA DI and NCAA DIII colleges and universities and limits imports per team. We take a look at all three Tier-III leagues:

NA vs Euro USPHL JPEG

USPHL by nationality JPEG

NA vs Euro EHL Premier JPEG

EHL by nationality JPEG

NA vs Euro NA3HL JPEG

NA3HL by nationality JPEG

Summary

After examining each league and each goalies nationality, European goalies are having a substantial impact on professional hockey in North America but this influence decreases as you go from the NHL to the ECHL. European goalies do not make much of a dent in the college game but are pushing to 15% in the primary junior hockey leagues in the USA. The key European countries have had formal goaltending development models for years and the USA and Canada are at the infancy of instituting a national goaltending plan. It will be interesting to see how these numbers fluctuate over the next 10 years.

 

~ Brian Daccord is a former goalie coach of the Boston Bruins and currently the goaltending consultant for the Toronto Maple Leafs and goaltending coach of Adler Mannheim in the German DEL. He is a co-founder of the Foundation for Goaltending Research and Education and founder of Stop It Goaltending. Matt Ouellette is a business management graduate of Endicott College, a former goaltender and director at The Foundation for Goaltending Research and Education.

Statistical Sources: www.QuantHockey.com, www.HockeyDB.com, www.EliteProspects.com, www.USHL.com, www.NAHL.com, www.USPHL.com, www.EasternHockeyLeague.org, team websites.

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2 Comments

  1. mm

    It’s important to note that, the lower level/younger the league is, the less impetus there is for a Euro goalie to come over. With the club system in place in Europe being arguably superior to the NA styles of development (consistent goalie coaching, don’t have to go too far from home to get excellent coaching, etc…), the case can be made that, a still developing goalie in Europe should just stay in Europe, until they’re ready for NHL/AHL duties, when they’re both more physically and emotionally mature and ready to handle playing in a foreign country.

    Not to mention, at the lower level pro leagues… why even bother? If you’re gonna be playing in the ECHL, you may as well play closer to home in the Finnish, Swedish, or Swiss league that’s just as good.

    So when we ask “are European goaltenders really taking over”, the answer is yes and no: they’re disproportionate appearance at the highest levels should be an indicator that they’re doing something right, while their lack of appearance at the lower levels indicates to me that there isn’t enough of a reason to uproot a kid to come to NA when European junior/developmental leagues are just as good.

    Reply
  2. Doug sanders

    The timing on this article could not be better. Our son recently attended a goalie camp that is run by an ex CHL goalie that also played pro in Finland and Sweden. Some of the training drills were very new to some of the goalies as they kept asking, “Why do I need to do this?” or “How will this help me as a goalie?”

    I’m not saying what they do is better, but it is different.

    Reply

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