The Goalie Issue: Net Gain

The American Goalie Assembly Line Is Producing More Top Level Goalies Than Ever Before

John Gibson, left, and Jonathan Quick, right, seen here with fellow All-Star goalie Pekka Rinne, are products of the American goaltender development system.John Gibson, left, and Jonathan Quick, right, seen here with fellow All-Star goalie Pekka Rinne, are products of the American goaltender development system.

Somewhere Dave Peterson is looking down and smiling a big bear cat grin.

Few grasped the importance of the position of goaltender more than the long-time USA Hockey coach, who once said the sport should be called “goalie” because of its importance to a team’s success.

When asked about the secret to international success, the head coach of two U.S. Olympic Teams and three National Teams matter-of-factly said, “Get off the bus with the best goalie.”

These days that bus includes more homegrown goaltenders who aren’t content to take a back seat to anyone.

Nowhere was that more evident than at the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, where half of the roster spots at the league’s mid-winter showcase were occupied by goalies with American passports. Ben Bishop (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Cory Schneider (N.J. Devils) represented the Eastern Conference while California standouts Jonathan Quick (L.A. Kings) and John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks) suited up for the Western Conference.

“There’s so many good goalies in the world today, but to have so many of them from the U.S. is a matter of pride for us,” Schneider said during the All-Star festivities.

And those players are pinnacle of the player development pyramid. A quick search of AHL and ECHL rosters show that there are plenty of locally-produced talent waiting for their shot in the big leagues.
The AHL boasted a whopping 34 American goalies while the ECHL had 47 Americans start at least one game this season.

But it’s not just quantity where the U.S. has struck goalie gold. It’s in the quality of those who are strapping on the pads. Quick and Bishop finished in the top five of every major statistical category for goaltenders during the regular season, including wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.

“Goaltending in the United States is in a good spot. There are a lot of guys who have excelled at the NHL level and continue to have guys coming up through the system. It’s great to see,” said Jimmy Howard, who has been a cornerstone between the pipes for the Detroit Red Wings over the past seven seasons.

“With guys like Cory Schneider, Jonathan Quick, John Gibson, Ben Bishop, those guys are putting U.S. on the map when it comes to being one of the better countries when it comes to developing goalies.”

So where did all this success come from? It certainly didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. In fact, it may have been over 20 years in the making thanks to the trail blazed by American goaltenders like Tom Barrasso, John Vanbiesbrouck and Mike Richter, whose accomplishments helped create a generation of U.S.-born players that wanted to be goaltenders.

Kevin Reiter, USA Hockey’s national goaltending coach, knows just how important their success has been.

“I think it’s great because you have somebody to put a face with in regards to the younger kids,” he said.

“Now they have a chance to watch these [American NHL goalies] in action and learn from them, and I think that’s an important piece to it.”

Not ready to rest on its laurels, USA Hockey is introducing several new initiatives to keep that pipeline flowing. USA Hockey has placed a greater emphasis on goaltender development thanks in large part to the efforts of Reiter and Phil Osaer, who was hired as an American Development Model manager for goaltending. Working with USA Hockey's Co-Chairman of the Board  Ron DeGregorio, Vanbiesbrouck and others, the plan is to provide a consistent nationwide program to recruit, develop and produce elite goaltenders well into the future.

“Right now, it’s a great opportunity for us where we need to capitalize on the success of the guys being in the NHL,” Reiter said. “I think [their success] will help tie some comparisons to younger kids to try to incorporate some of the abilities of the older guys into their own game and enhance it.”

And that pleases those who have already made their mark between the pipes.

“I think coaching over the last 10 or 20 years has been getting better,” said Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, who at 34 is among the elder statesmen of American netminders.

“I know when I was growing up playing youth hockey a lot of teams just stuck the least talented, least athletic player in the net and said, ‘have fun.’

“That’s changed and coaches have found that goaltenders are usually one of your top athletes. You need to coach them and help them to continue to get better.”

And that’s something that would make Dave Peterson smile.

Issue: 
2016-06

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