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Francois Allaire on Canadian Goalie Development

Francois Allaire on Canadian Goalie Development

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:

Francois Allaire

Francois Allaire

“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.”

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  1. D

    Maybe the problem is the Canadian Junior system.
    Kids playing professional hockey at such a young age is certainly morally questionable, if it results in what he claims is the situation.
    Get rid of them and go to college in Canada and be ready when you get out.
    Oh, and you will also have an education to fall back on if things don’t work out in hockey.

  2. Phil Power

    I respect Allaire, but I don’t think we’re approaching this far enough upstream. I wont go down the road of how the Allaire style of goaltending is outdated. However, I will state that America and European goalies are interacting with qualified goalie coaches earlier than Canadian goalies.

    Most Canadian goalies are lucky to have a full time goalie coach, at the time they enter Midget. Some, only see coaches during the offseason and really don’t experience goalie coaches until Jr (If they make it)

    Reports state that Hockey Canada is developing a goalie coaching certification program, I can’t stress how important this is to attract knowledgeable goalie coaches at the grass roots level. This is the exact same thing Hockey Canada did to address head coaching at the grass roots level. The first 5 age groups to be exposed to certified coaches went on to win 5 straight gold medals, at the world juniors.

    My opinion, the ban on import goalies was an knee jerk reaction… do we really believe Canadian goalies are really struggling?

  3. Jon

    Allaire is EVERYTHING that is wrong with goaltending. He represents a style that depends more on equipment and rule massaging rather than teaching skills. Remember the table hockey game? the goalie on a stick that is a flat face piece of cardboard? That is his dream in goal. He is the reason you have goalies that when they lose a crutch, they fail.

    Of course he is in love with this idea!! It will get him a job. People are realizing that Allaire would kick a goalie like Quick, Thomas, Miller, Elliot, etc out of his camps.
    Allaire trained goalies will never carry a team. EVER. Not with todays players that are realizing you beat an Allaire disciple by moving and shooting where he is, because he will move to play the % and you will have an open cage.

    • Kevin Woodley

      I get where some of this comes from but with all due respect, after talking to more than a dozen goalies who have worked with Francois, including several who would not label themselves fans of his style, this stereotype of his teaching is overblown.

      Here is an extended excerpt from a past article on this perception, and while Ben Scrivens, who is heavily quotes in it, is obviously a biased believer, not all the goalies I talked to were. And the notion that it’s all drop and block and nothing else just doesn’t fit with New York Rangers’ backup Martin Biron once describing a barrel roll drill they had to do as part of a Francois summer pro camp:

      “No, he never said to stop reacting in any way,” wrote one goaltender, who also took issue with talk about being too passive with initial positioning. “Can’t tell you how often Frankie said ‘top crease’ to me. He’s not a goal line guy.”

      Maple Leafs goaltender Ben Scrivens, whose relationship with Allaire dates back to his summer camps in Switzerland, is admittedly biased towards Allaire, saying he already has a plane ticket to work at the overseas schools next summer.

      To Scrivens, it’s the overgeneralizations that are maddening.

      “It’s an absolute joke,” Scrivens said. “People who have a problem with Frankie and the way he teaches and his ‘philosophy’ have never even talked to him and have never been coached by him. So how do they know what his philosophy is if they’ve never worked with him, right? Especially people in the media and fans, they just have no idea. People view Frankie as this rigid, my way, it’s blocking, you only do it this way, you only do it that way and I can say, do I play the same was as Jiggy or Reims? Does Reims play the same way that Patrick Roy did? In Anaheim Frankie coached Bryzgalov, and everyone loves Hiller’s glove and was he not Frankie’s pupil also? When people view Frankie they have a mindset about how he coaches, and it just becomes self-fulfilling prophecy after that.”

      That outside mindset often centers on the glove hand, and the belief Allaire goaltenders are taught – exclusively by some descriptions – to drop it to their side, create a tight wall, and block every puck shot at them.

      “I worked with Frankie for four years and he never once told me to put my chest in front of a puck instead of my glove,” Scrivens said. “Never once. So the fact people say he tries to block for shots going above his glove is ludicrous. Why would anybody every say that? They are just going on the stereotype.”

      It’s a stereotype that includes always dropping and playing only percentages.

      “There’s a logical disconnect,” Scrivens said. “Why would anyone tell someone to sit on their knees when a guy is shooting high? Frankie has never told me that, and it makes no sense. Frankie has never once told me to play only percentages. There are times and places where it makes sense, places you can react and times you can’t, but that’s save selection, that’s not a steadfast rule.”

      As for “catching” pucks, Scrivens again points to save selections. Just as it would make no sense to never use your glove, it also doesn’t make much to use it for everything by attempting to cover half the net with the glove alone.

      “Frankie is all about efficiency and whatever way you can be most efficient,” said Scrivens. “If a puck is coming at your chest you are better off to take in in your chest because it’s going to hit there anyway and smother it against your chest. If it’s going into the crossbar-post corner, it’s obvious you are going to catch that because there is no way for a shoulder to get there. All that gap in between is where the goalie has to decide is it quicker to move my shoulder an inch or two inches over, or does it make more sense to bring my glove out five inches and in two inches? It’s up to the goalie to decide what save to make, but if you are trying to make your save coverage area for your glove from the ice to the cross bar and post to chest, that’s too much area to cover efficiently. You can’t go one way or another 100 per cent. Only trying to block won’t work, but all glove won’t work either. You need a combination and it’s up the goalie to decide what that is.”

      Another goalie InGoal talked to this week echoed those sentiments, again stressing that Allaire had never told him not to react or just to block all the time, and “was instrumental in the way I understand positioning and using markers on the ice as guidelines when choosing save selections. He really emphasized skating and powerful t-pushes, arriving early, being set and square. Those are important traits for any goalie, no matter what style they play.”

      However, that same goalie, who admittedly hasn’t worked with Allaire for several years no, added that he could see how blocking habits might develop.

      “So many of his drills are from in-tight and require blocking that over time you start to instinctively drop your hands to your sides as you drop into the butterfly, no matter where the shot comes from,” he said. “His entire theory is rooted in simplifying the game. But game is so fast and skilled now you need more.”

      Scrivens didn’t disagree with that last part, saying good technique provides a foundation for consistency, but it takes another layer to succeed in the NHL.
      So maybe the question could be asked whether Allaire was teaching that extra layer. But from all accounts he was not telling goalies they couldn’t use it.

      • Cam

        Great response Kevin.

      • Mike

        Thank you Kevin for your informative response. The most amazing thing about Ingoal is the level of intelligence and thoughtfulness that backs up the passion about all things hockey and goaltending. To hear from first hand direct sources like Scrivens is invaluable.
        When Jon starts shouting in capital letters absolutes like “EVERYTHING” and “EVER” about Allaire, with all due respect, that just sounds over the top and extremist, like so many other tiresome sports pundits, commentators, forums, etc.
        I don’t think Allaire has planted microchips in goalies brains and controls them from the bench. He’s obviously a big part of the interesting and complex story of modern goaltending. No one person is all things at all times, give him a break.
        Thanks again Ingoal, keep up the good work!

        • Jon

          Then you post only stuff from his disciples. Of course they are biased.
          Here is comments from the last gear change. When Allaires disciples had 39+ in pads. So a guy that is taught to play positional and react secondary, if you call it even secondary ( who would teach you not to react ) has his kids in 39+ in pads? He is taking away all mobility with his ideas and trying to get as much, jenpro and plastic infront of the net that is possible.
          And Name one of Allaires prospects you want to build your team around. At least the League got some sense and fired him so he needs a new angle. OH I know lets ban anyone that doesnt attend an Allaire camp from the CHL. That is a GRAND idea. Its funny that the successful kids in the CHL don’t use his style.
          On a side note, MD’s are starting to see a lot of hip surgeries in the blocking goalie. No official study yet but a lot of guys are getting the surgery or having issues.
          Its the new Tommy John i guess.

          But hey, INgoal got to talk to a “pro” so we need to drool and gaze in amazement that we too can interact with a….. OMG PRO!! Well pro in the sense he knows some pro goalies as he never played. Kinda like Piku, dude played BS hockey and is now a gear maker. Yup thats whom I wanna buy from.

          My point is Allaire needs to go away. He needs to take his unsuccesful style with him. If the CHL needs to ban people from making it a better league then do it. But dont do it because a dude without a job wants to push an agenda, that oh gee whiz will get him a job or more kids at his camps learning to be robots.
          Look Allaires disciples would have a chance in the NHL if they allowed 24 Slice Pizza Boxes for gloves. And i am SURE he would love the idea and vote for it.

          • Jon


          • Nel

            Frank can hear you, he has his 2 cup rings blocking his ears. Unsuccesful…

  4. Kam

    You’re pretty much all straying from the point.
    Are canadian goalies given a fair shake at making the pros or not?
    I personally see room to improve the system.
    Allaire raises a point we should all consider.
    It’s not about how many make it to the NHL, it’s how many didn’t but still had the talent….why didn’t they.

    • Jon

      How are they not getting a fair shake? because some kid from overseas COME here to play? If its so bad, go to Europe and get better. These European kids are leaving their country to come here to play. Why can’t the Canadian kids leave?
      Is it because they wouldnt make it there either?
      The problem with Canadian goailes isnt not getting a fair shake its how they play. If they dont have 4 SOLID D men they will crash and burn. They for the most part play a blocker style and that is just easier for a kid to beat of the level kids are at in the CHL.

  5. Paul Ipolito

    I’m sorry I did not provide the link, but there is an interesting article on the IIHF website that basically states the CHL ban on imports is just fine with them. They believe their goalies are better off where they are by working in their respective systems.The article states that the CHL has not done much in developing their goalies anyways. They also believe they will turn out better, more mature goalies who will have a good chance of succeeding in the NHL. An interesting, alternate point of view from the other party to this discussion. I hope you can re-print the article here.

    Thanks also for discussing the other side to the Allaire saga. He takes way too much flak from the other “experts” who are busy pumping the tires on their magic bullet solution to all of the world’s goaltending issues.

  6. Joe

    My own two cents, in general, is who the hell are these so-called goalie coaches anyway? Where have they played and for how long? It seems anyone who has “studied” the position can pass himself or herself off as a goalie coach for the past several years. It is laughable when you hear fan boys of this coach or the other say that a guy like Bill Ranford or Rick St, Croix shouldnt be goalie coaches. Nothing wrong with blocks, butterflys etc but if the only thing young guys learn is how to look “pretty” doing drills rep after rep, big deal. The scoreboard doesnt care about that and if the gear gets smaller, young guys wont know what to do when they cant “maximze” their net coverage. We used to have to be strong skaters, have fast reflexes, technique, and guts. Now you just have to be big, wear big pads, and have durable hips.

    • Mike

      I guess a lot of this bitterness is just like in any field, certain people make it to the top and others don’t. Some good people make it on merit, but there’s always politics and money involved, and sure enough there is going to be ill feelings.

      But as a fan of hockey and goaltending, I just don’t get the bitterness over today’s goalies. Joe says : “We used to have to be strong skaters, have fast reflexes, technique, and guts. Now you just have to be big, wear big pads, and have durable hips.” Say what? I loved Bernie Parent as a kid, still do, but your trying to tell me Lundquist, Miller, Rinne, Quick etc. don’t have guts, technique, reflexes and can’t skate? That’s just crazy talk. Price is the poster boy for “pretty” goalies I suppose, Joe. Well, when he skated his tooth over to the bench in the playoffs last year, that was old school enough for me. I think goalies of today are fantastic.

  7. Joe

    Mike, if my remarks werent narrow enough, I apologize. All of them in the NHL can play and certainly have guts. I’ll match your Price with Anderson’s tooth. LOL.

    What I was getting at is they way youth goalers are taught by what I see as mostly unqualified socalled goalie coaches.

  8. Dezi Wright

    I want to add my 2 cents [on the CHL Import Goaltending — Not Allaire’s Coaching Style]
    Is it possible to get clarification on a few things, so I understand the decision a little better…
    * Is the ban specifically for European goaltenders or does it apply to [US] American goaltenders as well? The rules for the import draft which it sounds like are the ones being modified I thought applied specifically to Europeans. Is this a ‘European / Foreign’ ban or ‘non-Canadian’ ban?
    * Does the ban also apply to European goaltenders that have been drafted by NHL teams?
    If it does, will the AHL modify their rules preventing players under 18 from being in the AHL [that were made to accommodate the CHL].

  9. Dezi Wright

    I had a typo in my previous comment for my email addy,,,