“Back in the early ’90s,” he says, “the guys just went out and worked on their own. Now the other coaches, with the help of the goaltending coach, try and design practice drills to help goalies work on various aspects of their games.”
Mason says the proliferation of “goalie gurus,” as they are called around the league, has also changed the way the position is being played: “I remember growing up and watching goalies back then and every goalie had a unique style, every goalie had a unique way of playing and it was really individual. But now I do a camp in summer and I see a lot of young goalies and they’re all taught the same movements. It’s almost fair to say they’re robotic, to some aspect.
“They’re all great skaters and athletic, but a lot of times I think you kind of get hauled into that thinking that every movement is this way, that you have to do it the same every time.
“The position has just taken on such a technological view with all the video and all the coaching.”
And this again has had a ripple effect on the position. The days of Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur owning the position seem to be a thing of the past. Increasingly, the backup goaltender is not just someone sitting at the far end of the bench in case of an emergency; he plays, and is expected to play well, and if he plays well enough, starting goaltender and backup goaltender can often switch places, sometimes several times a season.
“The level of goaltending has improved to the point where you just don’t have that one guy,” Flaherty says. “You have that capable guy behind him that the coach has confidence in. There’s good goaltenders everywhere now. Not just this league. But everywhere.”
The one thing that hasn’t changed – despite the never-ending evolution of goaltending – is the reality that Frank (Ulcers) McCool pointed out when he tended net for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1940s.
“If you lose,” Ulcers lamented. “the fans blame the goalie … and the reporters take up the cry. After a while the other players believe what they read and the goalie feels like it’s one man against the world.”
The loneliest position in professional team sport.