Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The wonderful circles of life … in goal

As promised, today I am going to reply to Pam's questions the best I can.
First, it must be understood that some of my information might be out of date slightly. Life is trying really hard to rip me apart from the object of my undying love : goaltending. I am not as up to date with trends, rising stars etc, as I once have been but I do have a somewhat working knowledge of the world in the crease, past what the regular fan sees in the NHL.
With that in mind: let's get to work.
What country has the best up and coming goalies … About 5 of them :)
Not a straight answer , right?
That's because it is not so easy. Short term, there are a couple of great prospects from Finland, Sweden and Canada but there's a ton of potential in a few US kids as well as some bad arse Ruskies.
Looking strictly at raw numbers Canada has the most up and coming kids however the top cream of the crop from Canada is a bit out-staged by the Scandinavian kids. To get a better feeling about what is going on we have to take a look at a bit of history:
There was a time when , if you wanted a goalie, you only had to look at the swarm of schools in Quebec and just pick your poison. Other than that you had a few other sources in Europe, mainly Russia, and a couple of US schools. Back then ( 80's 90's) Canadian goalies dominated the league to the tune of 70% or so.
In the last decade however, that percentage dropped dramatically, the reason being : Finland. Sometime in the mid-late 80's they decided they needed a standardization of the goalie coaching, among other things. As I understand, every goalie coach/school had to pass a sort of “exam” with very well established criteria. It meant that for every level , coaches had an established list of items to adhere to, which mean that every kid, got the same sort of coaching weather he was playing in Turcu or Tampere. That also meant that coaches who got new kids had a pretty solid idea of what the kid was taught already. And that was very solid fundamentals. Another thing they did was implement that system at a very young age (7-8) and they made it mandatory , at “pro” levels, that each goalie had to have a goalie coach.
Another thing the Fins did was stay relatively close to the NHL game. While other countries worked hard to get their own “identity” , it seemed like the Fins wanted to copy the game in North America but with some touches of their own. Like , when the whole NHL went exclusively almost to standard B-fly, the Fins did exactly the same but while in Canada, they allowed the kids to be a bit flamboyant and show their individuality, in Finland they were a lot more strict and urged the kids to always stick to the basics. They also adopted elements from Russia Czech republic etc. Long story short, what you see now is the result of about 30 some years of a continuous and rigorous evolution of the school of thought implemented in the late 80's. If people are interested in finding more about the Finnish school do a Google search for Jukka Ropponen, one of the finish innovators, he actually ran the Goalie coaching national program for a while. There are many articles with and about him and others related to him and the Finnish schools and he even has a website and a twitter page where he posts videos worth watching.
Anyway, sometime in the last 10-15 yrs the Sweeties liked what they saw in Finland and they started copying them and even hiring Fins who find themselves more than happy to go work for the Sweeties since in Finland they weren't exactly paid to do the coaching work.
However, the rest of the world took notice now.. including Canada and US and more and more, these days you see coaches at all levels, from all over Europe, Canada and US going to Finland, working with their system and learning from their people ( thought things like GoaliePro program) . Even coaches who work with NHL goalies ( like Korn, Heinz, Elkin , Janosz )have adopted the Finish system or part of it. Schools all over the world are altering their philosophies to catch up.
Bottom line is, in the long run , if Canada continues to be the country to with most registered active players they will have the most top end goalies. Because, while they fell behind in the goaltending department, they are working hard to catch up.
Boy I think I confused even myself. In that part.
Going to the up and coming NHL goalie coaches question, it's hard to tell. It depends on who wants to come up to this level. I know of many good coaches who will work with NHL goalies but only in summer camps or as consultants but they do not wish to become full time NHL coaches because they want to stick with bringing up new talent. The NHL job just isn't for everyone and that is why I think some of the best coaches never come up to this level. Working with eager kids with bright eys and open minds can be a lot more rewarding than catering to the needs of a spoiled millionaire star :) .. and that is exactly what I was told by someone who has worked in NHL shortly but went back to Europe to bring up the future spoiled stars because he believes that is what he is meant to do :).
So I could give you some names I heard are making the rounds, like Healey, Danielsson, McCaig , Welby ,Frantz and so on but while some have already been involved with NHL goalies , I have no idea if they even want to become full time NHL G coaches.

And on to the last question: will KHL growth and stability pull some of the players from NHL. Well, yes and no. KHL isn't really that stable to start with, they have major issues even with just the logistics of day to day operations, payrolls etc. However they are growing and they are and will attract player who can't find work in NHL or are willing to go there to revive their career and so on as we have seen in the past. And of course , there will be the odd crazy Russian who could be a good player in NHL but chooses to be a rock star in Russia. You know .. the big fish in the small pond syndrome.
But no, in the long run I do not see KHL threatening to steal the thunder from the NHL, and neither do I see any other European league doing so. The lure of the CUP and living/playing in North America is still very strong. Not to mention the payroll is better. Yes the Russians have thrown big money to a handful of former/present NHL stars but they can only do that in limited numbers and do not go ask some of those players how and when they got paid :). That doesn't mean they will ever stop trying to bring their Russian stars home … and maybe once in a while they will succeed but it won't be the norm and that would only affect a limited number of players in the NHL.
There are also the “agreements” between the leagues, the international rules and the Quota system implemented in most of the European leagues, where only a limited number of players coming from NHL or in some cases,“foreigners”in general are allowed to play. They simply do not want your spoiled North American cocky arses over there ruining their kids and their development :)
Juuust kidding.

Anybody still awake after reading this?If you are, since I am too lazy to proofread this thing please excuse my typos etc. 
I hope I did not confuse you too much but if I did .. get over it.