It was my summer ritual in the late 70’s, a months’ worth of hockey school training that would always end with a week or two with François Allaire.
At the time, he wasn’t the goalie coach God we know today. Heck, he didn’t even have his own hockey school, he worked out of someone else’s in Ste-Thérèse, north of Montreal. He was a young avid student of the game, a keen observer of Canadian and Russian goalies, still honing his ideas on the best way to stop a puck.
We all know where that led him! So before Allaire shuffled off to his new job in Colorado working for his former pupil Patrick Roy, he spoke to me about a variety of goaltending subjects. Here is the first instalment:
“They had to do it”
When the Canadian Hockey League decided this would be the last year for drafting European goalies into North American junior, François Allaire applauded.
Not because he doesn’t like goalies from abroad – quite the contrary – but he believes it will give Canadian goalies a better shot at the big leagues.
“It’s good, we have to give OUR kids a chance, it’s protectionism but they need it,” Allaire said. “Think about it, for every single European goalie that plays on our junior teams, that’s one Canadian goalie that doesn’t get through. The impact is far less for forwards or defenceman where a couple imports don’t make as much of a dent in a roster of 20 players, but for goalies it’s 50 per cent of the workforce a that position.”
But the move by the CHL is something Allaire sees as the tip of the iceberg.
The issue for Canadian goalies hoping to break into the pros is much broader and needs retooling.
“The rules aren’t in their favour, European and American goalies have a clear advantage over us,” Allaire said. “Canadian goalies have to go through junior hockey and be ready to get drafted at 18 or 19 years old. US goalies often go to university and can ready their game until they’re 20-21, sometimes older, and then get drafted. They’re full grown men by then and much more mature at their position.
“In Europe, they have it even better,” Allaire continued. “A goalie can work his way through the system and end up making the first division pro level. He can play there for years get great experience and have one good season, even if he’s 27-28-29 years old, and an NHL team can sign him as a free agent to a one-way contract and then they have one year to decide whether to keep him or not.”
It’s a trend Allaire warned InGoal Magazine about way back in 2007, when his Anaheim Ducks signed Jonas Hiller out of Switzerland during their Stanley Cup run. He worried then that it would come at the expense of goalies playing in North American minor leagues. History has proven him prophetic.
“That’s why there are more Europeans than ever and they end up bypassing our younger kids in the minors,” Allaire said. “So our kids have to fight on a uneven playing field because we ask way too much of them at too young an age. Exceptional goalies will always get through. It’s for others that the system doesn’t work.
“There’s tons of talent in the AHL and Central league that never gets through because of that,” he continued. “Yan Danis, Cedrick Desjardins … if they had played in Europe they would be signed by an NHL team right away. Instead, they are branded career minor leaguers at 25 years old! It doesn’t make sense.
“They get called up from time to time with pressure to do well in the show, but often don’t stay long enough to fully develop whereas the European and American goalie was older and more ready when he got the call so he’s better prepared to stick in the NHL.”
For those who may think he’s a little radical, Allaire is quick to point out how the Kontinental Hockey League goes about it’s Russian goalie development. If a team wants to play a non-Russian goalie, it has to pay a $250,000 tax to the league to do so.
“It forces teams to hire Russian goalies and the trickle down effect helps develop better goalies through the system,” Allaire said.
Not one to shy away from thinking out of the box, Allaire thinks Canadian hockey could benefit from re-thinking how goalies are developed here – (Editor’s note: Hockey Canada is already working on a new national goalie development plan, though curiously Allaire is not among the NHL goalie coaches named to the new program’s advisory group) – but he’s not suggesting an overhaul.
“We develop some of the best goalies in the world, many of whom make it to the NHL,” Allaire said. “Just imagine though how many there could be if they had a level playing field and a bit less pressure to develop at such a young age.”