Canadian Goaltending Under Focus at CHL Import Draft

BUFFALO NY - DECEMBER 29: Mark Visentin #30 of Canada makes a save against Norway during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship game between the Canada and Norway at the HSBC Arena on December 29 2010 in Buffalo New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Buzzing the Net, Yahoo's junior hockey blog, had a timely article penned by recent OHL graduate John Cullen, an American goaltender who played four years in the world's most famous junior hockey circuit. Cullen offered his appreciation for the opportunity to play in a highly competitive, professional environment offered by major junior clubs, but he also sounded off on Hockey Canada's apparent desire to close the door for roster spots for goaltenders like him as a means to improve Canadian goaltending as a whole. This is an incredibly controversial plan, but it seems to have reached the point of consensus view amongst Hockey Canada operatives.

A year ago I blasted Kevin Prendergrast and Hockey Canada for his seeming support of a more lackadaisical approach to coaching aspiring young goaltenders. Shortly thereafter, Hockey Canada hired Ron Tugnutt as their full-time goaltending coach, an upgrade from a consulting position he had been in for major tournaments while he worked during the season for the Peterborough Petes. It's a positive step in the right direction, and he recently ran a camp for the top 16 U20 goaltenders in the country. A hands on, national approach is more akin to the model we've seen from Sweden and Finland that has been so successful, although it's still quite early to see what direction Tugnutt will take with his new role, or even if Canada is ready for a major change in developing goaltenders. He does believe that Canadian goaltenders today have sacrificed individual style for technique, although that's a little different than believing in 'overcoaching'.

Tugnutt has, however, offered support for the elimination of import goaltenders in major junior hockey that sparked Cullen's article on Yahoo! Prendergrast also supports this view, with both espousing the logic that it's too easy for major junior teams to put an older, more experienced European goaltender in front of a young, developing Canadian goaltender. The question they don't seem to answer is this: Why are they ready for this level of competition at ages 17-18 when Canadian goalies aren't? It's not like Canadian goaltenders playing 20-40 games at age 16 or 17 in major junior has ever been terribly common... they've usually had to compete with a Canadian goalie that was 18-20 years old ahead of them. Now those 16 or 17 year old Canadian kids are competing against an 18-20 year old Czech, American or Swedish goaltender. The relationship between opportunity for advancement in major junior and the state of Canadian goaltending quality doesn't seem to be a strong one.

Meanwhile, CHL teams did what they've grown accustomed to on Wednesday: taking a large amount of goaltenders with picks at the CHL Import Draft, as they aren't enamoured enough with their bantam and midget draft selections in recent years at the goaltending position. If CHL teams were more confident in the quality of those bantam and midget goaltenders they have coming up, perhaps this wouldn't be the case... from following major junior hockey for years it seems those picks are valued quite heavily by clubs with development closely monitored. Eight goaltenders were taken in a total of 77 selections overall. When a team picks an import goaltender, generally they're trying to pick their next starter.

In the meantime, take a quick look at Hockey Canada's website for how to become a certified goaltending coach. Oh wait. Well, better luck checking the Swedish Ice Hockey Association's webpage instead for their three tiered certification program.

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