So much for taking a long, hard – and most would argue overdue – look at what might really be wrong with Canadian goaltending development.
It appears the powers that be in Canadian hockey may prefer to simply remove the competition.
According to a report from long-time hockey writer Damien Cox in the Toronto Star, the Canadian Hockey League is contemplating a ban on European import goaltenders as part of a solution for the ongoing crease crisis facing Canada in international competitions.
The report in The Star indicated the issue had been discussed with Hockey Canada at a meeting earlier this week:
“The CHL has had discussions in a broader sense with Hockey Canada,” CHL Commissioner David Branch told Cox in The Star story. “One of the ideas put forward was eliminating goalies from the annual import draft to allow more focus on North American goalies. … That is something we’re exploring.”
There is no shortage of stories about the decline of Canadian goaltending over the past few years.
From falling short of high expectations at the World Juniors and other international youth tournaments, to three Europeans being named as finalists for this year’s Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie, to only one Canadian starter (Corey Crawford) left in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, to a really short list of no-brainer top candidates for next year’s 2014 Olympic team, the steady decline in the number of Canadian goalies playing in the NHL has finally trickled down a state of near panic at the lower levels.
If desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems the CHL, which handed its Vaughn Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year Award to Czech Republik-native Patrik Bartosak of the Red Deer Rebels (playing ahead of three Canadians after coming over at age 19, according to The Star report), is ready to lead the way with the drastic step of banning European goalies.
The idea of eliminating Europeans received support from Ron Tugnutt, the former NHL goalie who was recently let go as Hockey Canada’s goaltending consultant. Tugnutt believes the biggest problem facing goalie in Canada is a lack of opportunity at the top level:
“For me, it’s all about opportunity,” Tugnutt told The Star. “There’s nothing wrong with goalies in our country and there’s nothing wrong with how we’re developing them. They’re just not getting a chance to step up to the plate.”
That may indeed play a role, but maybe it’s also time to start asking why European goalies are more prepared to step up to the plate – at both the junior and professional levels. Maybe it’s time to ask why Hockey Canada’s goaltending development program is seemingly non-existent compared to the top-down models being implemented in Finland and Sweden, in many cases with Canadian born goaltending coaches playing a roll. InGoal Magazine has already begun talking to coaches who have been a part of programs on both sides of the Atlantic, including within the Hockey Canada structure, and the differences are staggering.
That’s not to suggest there is an easy answer, or pretend that InGoal has them all. Part of the problem may simply be the size of Canada in comparison to those smaller countries, and the fact Hockey Canada must work with – and not dictate to – the governing bodies of each province, added layers that make the implementation of a top-down goaltending program that much tougher. Whatever the reason, some suggest Canadian goaltending development is at least three to five years behind the Swedes and Finns, so it will be interesting to see whether those models are even discussed when the OHL hosts a symposium to address the problem next month.
In the meantime, InGoal will roll out a series of small articles looking at the problems, how they were solved overseas, and why similar models already attempted in Canada have failed to produce similar results. We know the parents, coaches, and goalies reading this will have some ideas, so by all means feel free to reach out to us about the problems facing developing goaltenders in Canada.
Maybe you think banning European goalies in the CHL is a necessary step. Maybe the fact Canadian goalie Zachary Fucale just won the Memorial Cup as a 17-year-old in the CHL and is the top goaltender for the upcoming NHL draft, a fact largely glossed over in The Star article, indicates the problem is somewhat cyclical and not as bad as some have made out.
Or maybe there is a problem in Canada, and it starts a lot younger than the CHL.
Let us know in the comments below.