Kevin Prendergrast on Canadian Goaltending

BUFFALO NY - JANUARY 05: Mark Visentin #30 of Canada standds in front of his net after allowing Russia's fifth goal of the third period during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship Gold medal game between Canada and Russia on January 5 2011 in Buffalo New York. ussia won the gold medal with a 5-3 win. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

If this were posted on SBN's Edmonton Oilers blog, The Copper and Blue, it'd have the title "quote that may only interest me", but here it is...

"Every junior team has a goalie coach. In some cases, midget teams have a goalie coach. All those coaches try to teach a technique. We’re taking the athleticism away from all our kids. We’re turning them into robots," Prendergast stated. "We’ve turned the position into a job rather than just let them play. Dominik Hasek had no technique. Tim Thomas has no technique. We’ve gotten to the point where teaching the position has gotten in the way."

- Hockey Canada's Chief Scout Kevin Prendergrast in The Globe & Mail

Bashing Canada's development programs for a lack of elite goaltending prospects has kind of replaced the old bashing of Sweden for lacking star offensive forwards from about 2002-07.  There are cycles, and Hockey Canada goaltending consultant Ron Tugnutt concedes that in this article as well.  There is no doubt that the advantage Canada once had in goal has largely dissipated, but that's kind of the nature of the position itself:  you can only dress one goalie, so therefore its the easiest advantage to negate on a team. 

Wanting to improve a position is great, and asking questions about the current development program in the country is valid when doing so.  But to say that Canada is over-coaching their goaltenders is quite an odd assertion to make.  One of the reasons Finland gained an advantage was the implementation of a structured, centralized program based on coaching certification and elite goaltending camps.  From an article on Goalie Pro from last summer by Larry Sadler:

The secret to this success dates back to 1985. At that time the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation (FIHF) introduced a standardized certification program for goaltending coaches. This program virtually provided each goaltender on every competitive team with a goaltender coach who taught the same basic fundamentals in goaltending. This started with goaltenders 8 years of age! This program has continued to the present day.

Tim Thomas and Dominik Hasek are the oddities of the hockey world...  they make the game more exciting and bring an element of flexibility, athleticism and unpredictability to the position, but basing your development program on the fact that a couple of goalies can flourish with little training seems akin to Austria pulling funding from their musical conservatories because Mozart was a prodigy. 

For Canada to regain their position as the top producer of elite goaltenders they need more structure, and access to high level coaching at a younger age, not less investment in the position as Prendergrast is suggesting.  As the Goalie Pro article goes on to suggest, Sweden has implemented a similar program, but will be paying their coaches unlike the volunteer system Finland's was based on.  Hockey Canada faces a unique challenge in terms of geography, but working with the various provincial minor hockey associations it can be done. 

Is it so hard to believe that learning the fundamentals at an early age, and thousands of hours of practice is the key to success in goaltending, as it is in every other athletic, academic, or artistic pursuit?  There is a point to be made about keeping the position a fun one to play, and that concern has to be addressed as part of any program.  But its time for Hockey Canada to wake up:  if you want to produce the best, you have to work at it.  The advantage in numbers just isn't good enough anymore.

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