CHL bans European Goalies Starting With 2014 Draft
The Canadian Hockey League wasted little time following up on the idea of banning European goaltenders, announcing Monday they would no longer be eligible for the import draft starting in 2014.
The news comes just 11 days after the possibility was first raised in a report by The Toronto Star, and at the end of the first of a two-day “Protect The Net” goaltending symposium being hosted by the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
According to The Star, any goaltender already selected, including in the first round only of the upcoming 2013 Import Draft in early July, will be allowed to play out the remainder of their junior eligibility in the CHL, which is made of three leagues – the Western Hockey League (WHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and the OHL – and includes eight American-based teams. Import goalies will be banned completely starting with the 2014 draft, and the two remaining import roster spots granted to each CHL team will limited to forwards and defensemen.
The debate sparked by the initial news of a possible ban on Europeans was a good one, and it should be pointed out not everyone was against a protectionist policy. Despite a relatively low number of European goalies in the CHL overall – this past season only four of the top-20 minute munching goalies in both the WHL and OHL were from Europe, in the QMJHL it was two of 20 – there are some good goalie coaches that see value in a move that at the end of the day creates more opportunity for more North American goaltenders.
Both sides were argued – and argued well – in both the comments section of the initial InGoal story on the ban, with the 70-plus comments including thoughts from coaches who are actively involved in the goaltending development programs from Finland and Sweden. Add in the 30-plus comments on InGoal’s Facebook page, including some from former WHL goalie coaches, and all sides are well represented in an interesting debate.
A pair of articles on Yahoo’s excellent Buzzing the Net junior hockey blog took a better look at whether or not Canada’s problem at the junior hockey level – both in the CHL and at the World Junior Championships – was being overstated: Cam Charron broke down the actual number of European import goalies in great detail, and Neate Seager took a look at what he saw as an over reaction from a broader editorial perspective.
Meanwhile, here at InGoal the debate evolved beyond the CHL ban on Europeans and into a discussion on the state of goaltending development in North America compared to the models overseas. The focus shifted quickly from what was going on with a select group of 17- to 20-year-old goalies, and the questions became about why more Europeans were better suited for those jobs in the CHL than similar aged North Americans. The discussion shifted to developing goaltenders, and many opined Canada has fallen behind.
InGoal ran articles from a Canadian goaltending coach with experience in Finland that argued the need for a goaltending coaching certification program here. And Swiss Dusan Sidor coach shared portions of the program he ran with HC Lugano for everyone from the pros down to the kids, including video highlights.
InGoal has also talked to coaches working on both sides of the Atlantic, and the differences between the models are clear.The Swedes and Finns both have a comprehensive national goaltending development plans.
Canada has none.
The Swedes and Finns gather annually for a national goaltending conference, sharing and discussing ideas on and off the ice in an effort to constantly improve and evolves those development models. Consensus among top-level coaches is explained and shared with regional coaches, who take those messages back to their hometowns with a mandate to share it with coaches below them, ensuring a consistent message is delivered from the pro team down to the kids starting out in that team’s club-based minor hockey systems.
Hockey Canada will host it’s annual Program of Excellence Goaltending Camp later this week, combining 19 of the country’s top under-20 puck stoppers with a group of eight coaches from across the country. But goaltenders who have attended recent POE goalie camps said afterwards they were sometimes told to do something one way at one station, and then the opposite way by a different coach at another station. Perhaps that will change with ex-Calgary Flames coach David Marcoux running this year’s camp, but even if coaches get time to get together beforehand and agree on a camp curriculum, how does it benefit anyone other than the goalies in attendance?
Without a national development plan, how does the knowledge passed along at those camps ever reach the grassroots level? More often than not it doesn’t.
Documentation from past camps has alway been limited, and most – but in fairness, not all – of the coaches involved will be available to the public almost exclusively through private lessons or summer goalie schools and camps.
Therein lies another key difference. Where much of the development plan in Finland and Sweden is carried out through their equivalent of minor hockey programs, most goaltending development in Canada takes place in a private setting. And while some minor hockey organizations hire these coaches to work with a larger group of goalies during the season, a lot of the position-specific development is limited to camps in the summer, which is ironically when Europeans focus on developing goalies as broader athletes off the ice.
All of which isn’t to say there aren’t great goalie coaches developing a lot of great goalies in North America. Clearly there are, but there are also concerns about whether enough young goalies get enough access, especially in-season, to enough good coaching.
As for the NHL decrease in Canadian goaltenders – both the overall percentage and to a lesser extent at the top end – the reality is the recent influx of Europeans includes more late-bloomers and slightly older, more developed goaltenders, than CHL-developed goalies from Europe, a trend that continued with Viktor Fasth in Anaheim last season and the recent Chicago Blackhawks’ signing of Antti Raanta. Why? Among several reasons is the fact there are more full-time goaltending coaches in the top European leagues than there are in North American minor pro leagues like the ECHL and even the American Hockey League. And those coaches in Sweden and Finland are part of the same top-down national development models that are also producing so many good young goaltenders.
Lastly – but certainly not least – those national models are not just designed to develop better goalies, but also to develop better goaltending coaches right down to the grassroots level. It is about sharing knowledge and ideas to consistently improve and evolve, ideals that are hard to replicate in a Canadian system dominated by private, often insular, goalie schools.
Incidentally, InGoal also had one former WHL goalie coach say that he learned a lot working with a European goalie that came over to the WHL years ago.
It’s a development opportunity that won’t exist in the CHL much longer.