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Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere makes a glove save against the Edmonton Oilers during first period NHL action in Edmonton on Tuesday, December 14, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Ulan (John Ulan)
Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere makes a glove save against the Edmonton Oilers during first period NHL action in Edmonton on Tuesday, December 14, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Ulan (John Ulan)

Butterfly style takes toll on goalies' bodies Add to ...

When most people hear about hip surgery, they think of old folks homes and the elderly.

Few imagine professional athletes, many in their mid-20s, going under the knife, enduring a painful and laborious recovery that can mean nearly two months bedridden.

Such is the life, however, for many NHL goaltenders these days.

In a story that should have received far more attention around the league than it did, Sports Illustrated chronicled the problem facing butterfly netminders late in the 2008-09 season, breaking down how the up-and-down style inspired by Patrick Roy was causing all sorts of groin, knee and especially hip woes for his disciples.

One of the article's main subjects was Jean-Sébastien Giguère, of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had hip surgery at the wise old age of 27 during the NHL lockout.

Giguère grew up in Montreal, watching Roy flourish with a new style, and he adopted it as early as anyone, dropping to his knees to stop pucks from as young as 8 or 9.

Nearly 25 years after Roy began to popularize the butterfly, almost every NHL goaltender uses it.

Giguère said he agrees the style takes a toll on players' bodies.

"Every time you go on your knees, you hit the ice so hard," Giguère said, demonstrating by smacking his hands together. "With that force, you can imagine, you're maybe two or three feet from the ice and you hit it so hard, every time.

"It drives through your bone, hits the hip bone and there's always a bone spur that's formed. That can be really, really painful."

It's an injury that has affected countless goaltenders recently, including some at a very young age. Rick DiPietro, Niklas Backstrom, Brent Johnson, Ray Emery, Tim Thomas and Josh Harding, among others, have all had hip surgery within the past two years.

Giguère said on Wednesday that he feels his hip problems are behind him, but mysterious groin injuries have limited him to just 17 starts and his numbers have been trending downward for several seasons.

He is expected to miss at least another week, as the Leafs turn to youngsters Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer to start a grueling stretch of 11 games in 20 days against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

Some in the goaltending world have speculated that playing the butterfly for so long has caught up with Giguère, who will turn 34 in May and become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

"Some people don't have a clue what they're talking about," Giguère said. "They don't know me, they don't know what I've been through in my whole career."

Others around the league see a pattern, not only for Giguère, but many goalies around the league.

Former NHL netminder and current Hockey Night in Canada analyst Kevin Weekes said being a butterfly goaltender is incredibly taxing and complex, and comes with issues and injuries many don't yet fully understand.

"I definitely think there's a correlation between the injuries and the butterfly style," Weekes said, adding that trainers have only recently begun developing effective routines to prepare goaltender's bodies to drop down to the ice 300 or 400 times a day in practice and games.

Weekes argued that decreasing the size of goalie equipment after the lockout of 2004-05 has only made the problem worse, as smaller pads provide less cushioning and change how players' legs rotate into position.

"I know from experience that it's a huge factor," Weekes said.

As for Giguère, his future in the NHL remains uncertain. With three or four young netminders in the Leafs organization pressing for playing time, the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner could well be searching for a new home in the off-season.

He said he realizes the importance of staying healthy the final three months of the season.

"In my situation, I want to play," he said. "I want to try to show this team that I'm worth it - for the future, too. There's a lot of reasons why I want to play."

As far as the butterfly is concerned, it's here to stay.

"I can't see anybody playing any other way," Giguère said.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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