Size and Style Changed Goaltending; Not Gear
Two photographs of former Chicago Blackhawks netminder Darren Pang and current Tampa Bay #1 Ben Bishop have sent the hockey world in to a spin.
The sight of the diminutive Pang stood next to 6’7″ Bishop proved to be both amusing and enlightening – bringing in to sharp focus just how much those acting as the last line of defence have changed over the past 30 years.
The Colorado native is just the latest in an increasingly long line of tall netminders to establish themselves in the NHL. And whilst goaltending equipment is under constant scrutiny, you can’t change the inalienable truth that modern goaltenders size, and style, prove the position has changed forever.
At 5’5″, Pang is the second shortest netminder in NHL history; but Bishop would still tower over a number of other greats – including Dominik Hasek, Billy Smith (both 5’10”), Curtis Joesph (5’11”) and even Patrick Roy (6’1″).
Attitudes to goaltending are changing. In the words of Predators goalie guru Mitch Korn:
“We’re looking for the most-skilled, biggest guy we can find.”
The idea of ‘sticking the fat kid’, or the boy that couldn’t skate, in net are over. Goaltending has changed almost beyond recognition – with more and more coaches actively seeking to incorporate goaltending drills in to practise, rather than simply using the netminder as some sort of pseudo target.
The butterfly technique, hybrid goaltenders and talks about post hug variations are common place now. Athleticism can be a goaltenders greatest trait, and many are now the strongest skaters on their team.
These changes are one of the core reasons scoring is ‘down’. The halcyon days of Gretzky’s Oilers are gone, fire wagon hockey is largely dead at the top level of the game.
Systems rule the day, and many of these are under pinned by having an elite netminder between the pipes – often one who could fall asleep and still cover 80% of the net…
Whilst the NHL may look at the equipment modern goaltenders are using; you cannot undo these fundamental shifts that have changed the goaltending game. You cannot ‘unknow’ the butterfly style, thus opening up the bottom of the net again, and you cannot stipulate how tall a netminder may be.
The gear has changed – you only need to look at the image of Pang and Bishop above to see that. But the pads have changed to meet the demands of the modern goaltender. They have not dictated a change in style, nor encouraged any growth spurts.
Square pads were developed to aid the butterfly – both in terms of covering the ice but also protecting a goaltenders knees. Likewise body armour changed to counter the increasing number of high shots, fired from composite sticks, the butterfly style brought about.
Perhaps in that regard it is a vicious circle. And I’m certainly inclined to agree some netminder’s take equipment size to extremes; but the reality remains that the idea that scoring is down is not due to kit – it’s due to a change in the style and size of todays NHL goaltenders.
Short of increasing the size of the goals, something there is great resistance to from many corners of the game, there is little that can be done to reverse this trend.
Perhaps we just need to accept that the goaltending game has changed.