Why Are Canadian Goalie Numbers Down?

Looking at the decline in Canadian goalie numbers in the NHL. (Originally entitled “The State of Canadian Goaltending Development” as it appeared as an inGoal Magazine article). It is reprinted here with updates as of Jan 15th, 2012

When we examine Canadian goalie development today we are confronted with the reality of declining numbers.

In the 2000-2001 hockey season, Canadian goalies numbers were impressive with 25 of the 42 goaltenders who had played 30+ NHL Games (60%), and there were 7 US goaltenders (17%).

By the 2010-2011 season Canadian goalie numbers had changed. In the intervening 10 years when we look at those goaltenders who played 30 or more games we see Canada slipped to just 41% of the total with 16 of 39. The US stayed constant with almost 18% of the total, having 7. Where the major change has occurred is with the increasing large number of Scandinavian goaltenders. Sweden and Finland now make up nearly 18% of the total number of goaltenders who have played 30 games or more. With just 4.56% of registered players internationally the Finns alone made up almost 13% of those goaltenders who have played 30 or more games.

As for the Canadian goaltenders the major producer of goaltenders is Quebec but even their numbers have dropped in the interceding 10-year period. In 2000-2001 with just 17% of the CHA registered players they had 11 goaltenders who had played 30 games or more, 44% of Canadian goaltender numbers. They have now dropped to 8! Ontario, which has 48% of CHA totals, had 9 but that number has now dropped to 6.

The OMHA, which alone has 22% of all CHA registered players, has improved their goaltender NHL numbers. When we look at those NHL goaltenders who played 20 or more games we see the OMHA had 4 who played in 2000-2001 but this grew to include 8 goaltenders in the 2009-2010 season. The GTHL numbers have almost disappeared with only 1 playing in the NHL in 2009-2010 as compared to 6 goaltenders 10 years ago. This despite the fact that there are over 10 “elite” goaltending schools running programs in the Greater Toronto Area. These programs have been operating for over 10 years. It might appear to some that something may not be working.

We also see considerable changes in the area of performance markers.

10 seasons ago Canada had 6 of the top 10 and 14 of the top 20 in GAA. In SV% Canadian goaltenders made up 7 of the top 10 and 12 of the top 20.

Ten years later,  we had just 4 of the top 10 and 7 in the top 20 in Games Won, and 4 of the top 10 and 8 of the top 20 in SV %.

In addition, Goalie’s World magazine ranked the 2009-2010 goaltenders using an equation which combined games won, save percentage and total shots stopped. Canadian goaltenders made up just 2 of the top 10 and 6 of the top 20!

The biggest increases in each of the 2009-2010 categories in the top 10 and top 20 were the US and Scandinavian goaltenders.

As I mentioned before with just 4.5% of the world’s registered players the Finns are making a tremendous impact upon goaltending development.

The secret to this success dates back to 1985. At that time the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation (FIHF) introduced a standardized certification program for goaltending coaches. This program virtually provided each goaltender on every competitive team with a goaltender coach who taught the same basic fundamentals in goaltending. This started with goaltenders at 8 years of age! This program has continued on to the present day.

In June 2010 I spent time working at the top elite goaltending school in Finland. It was run by Finnish goaltending coach, Jukka Ropponen. There I saw the high level of expertise the young Finnish goaltenders displayed. With a sound basis in fundamentals these goaltenders were able to move up more quickly into the next level of elite instruction. I spoke with some of the top goaltending experts in Finland and they confirmed what the Finns were doing well and where they needed to improve more.

In the intervening years Finnish goaltenders have become a predominate force. Finland has some 67,336 registered players, 29,447 of whom are minor hockey aged players. To put this in perspective the OMHA has 110,000 registered minor hockey players. Simple math dictates that Canadian goalie numbers in the NHL should therefore be 3.7 times the number of goaltenders the Finns have in the NHL. Instead we have gone from having 5 times their number in 2000-2001 to having just 1.14 times their number today.

We have to examine how we can better develop goaltenders.

Unless we do something significant and long lasting to change these numbers we will only continue our downward slide in the next 5-10 years.

And now we have the Swedes to contend with! The Swedes have decided to focus their attention on developing goaltenders using the same approach as the Finns. The significant difference will be that where the Finns have been basing their goaltender development on using a volunteer system, the Swedes will bring their financial clout to bear and will hire goaltending coaches. The Finnish head of goaltending development, Petri Tuononen, resigned while I was in Helsinki. The reason given was his volunteer position had yet to be elevated, as promised, into a full time paid position. Now the Swedes have a full time goaltending head coach in place, Tomas Magnusson, and he is working to improve goaltending development there. In addition, the Swedes provide goaltending equipment free to new goaltenders in an attempt to reduce costs.

I firmly belief that unless we start doing things differently here ion Canada the Scandinavians (Finland and Sweden) will combine to make up 30% of the goaltenders in the NHL within 5 – 8 years!

Canada has the potential to improve to create, implement and monitor a goaltending development program which is similar to the one in Finland and with the potential to grow into an elite development program which will eventually surpass that of the Scandinavians. The only thing we lack right now is the commitment to act.

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