Andersen Success Highlights British Failings
A little over a fortnight in to the new NHL season, and Anaheim have resumed their place at the top of the Western Conference.
With a 5-1-0 record to start the new campaign, the California outfit has established its Cup credentials early – thanks in no short measure to 25-year old netminder Frederik Andersen.
Named one of the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week today; Andersen has won all 5 games in which he started, posting a .950 save percentage and 1.38 goals against average.
Part of a wave of young Danish players in the NHL, the Herning native and his country men have come along way since they faced off against Team GB at the Under 18 World Championships in 2007.
Along side Montreal’s Lars Eller and Arizona winger Mikkel Boedker, who was named tournament MVP, Andersen and the Danes were unbeaten on the way to promotion – with the 6’3″ puck stopper winning each of his four starts, giving up just 5 goals in the process.
Andersen spent four more years with Herning, eventually breaking in to the top level Blue Fox side in 2008 before spending two seasons with Frederikshavn White Hawks. A season with Frolunda in Sweden’s top flight followed before being drafted 87th overall in 2012.
Going 24-18-1 with the AHL Norfolk Admirals in 2012/13, Andersen earned his shot with the Ducks last season – supplanting Viktor Fasth as the clubs #2 behind Jonas Hiller.
The veteran Swiss netminder departed over the summer, leaving Andersen and blue chip prospect John Gibson battling for the starting role.
Two weeks in to the new year, there seems little doubt who is the Ducks #1 now.
Whilst there are elements of his game Andersen is still looking to perfect, his development is in stark contrast to the Great Britain netminders from that same 2007 tournament.
Martin Clarkson, Euan King and Gary Russell were Team GBs choices that year. While Andersen’s career is underpinned by a national program that learnt from others and invested in goaltending, Great Britain sold its puck stoppers short.
Clarkson opted to concentrate on his education, a decision no one could blame him for making – but what has become of the other two members of that squad? Both of whom are now entering their prime.
Are they knocking on the door of the EIHL? Starters in the second tier? Playing abroad?
No – both play in the UK’s third tier.
This isn’t a criticism of them – the British setup never gave them a chance to succeed, to make the most of their talents. And that’s an all too familiar tale for British goaltenders.
Since 2000, only Ben Bowns and Nathan Craze have gone from u18 internationals to Elite League starters – leaving a trail of names who never moved beyond the bench or lower levels, or left the sport entirely.
Where Finland, Denmark, Switzerland and other small nations have learnt the value good goaltending can provide, Great Britain’s attitude languishes in the gutter.
Numerous clubs still lack a dedicated goaltending coach for their juniors (including some of the biggest junior setups in the country), while the idea of aiding senior goalies is almost unheard of.
Denmark may have some distance to go before they join Finland and Sweden among the upper echelons of the game, but the fruits of their efforts are starting to become apparent – with Andersen at the forefront.
Small attempts are being made to address the situation here – with Bowns working more closely with the EIHA – but in the grand scheme of things, our goaltenders fall further and further behind each year.
For a nation so heavily reliant on Stevie Lyle, Stephen Murphy (and likely Bowns too in the near future), you’d think Great Britain would have learnt the value great goaltending by now.
Instead, while others continue to raise the bar, British clubs cast their eyes abroad and relegate more and more British netminders to the bench.
It takes time, it takes effort and it takes commitment – but Andersen is proof of what small nations can produce with the right program in place.
At what point does British hockey put a little faith in its own goaltenders?