In the beginning there was Ken Dryden, a goalie so tall that when he stood upright in front of the net he looked like a tourist at Legoland. He showed that size really did matter. And eventually, goalies started to sew extra flaps onto their equipment and began acting like teenaged girls by stuffing themselves with so much padding that they literally filled the net.
It worked, to an extant. More and more hockey games ended in soccer-like results, eventually convincing the league, as it was coming out of a lockout, that it needed to slim down the sumo-sized behemoths. Armed with rulers and a Jenny Craig-like mentality, they put restrictions on how big goalie equipment could be.
Of course, they could not change how big goalies could be.
So now you have 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop, 6-foot-6 Pekka Rinne and a league where, according to NHL goaltending supervisor Kay Whitmore, 76 of the 85 goalies who have appeared in at least one game this season are 6-feet or taller. And yet the net has remained six feet wide and four feet high.
“You can’t teach big,” Whitmore said. “I’ll get a call from a GM saying, ‘Why is this goaltender so big? Is he cheating?’ The fact is he is that big and you can’t do anything about it.
“It’s almost like they’re outgrowing the net.”
So why is it that last year’s Vezina Trophy winner is 5-foot-11 Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins? Why is it that 5-foot-11 Jaroslav Halak of the St. Louis Blues has the second-best save percentage in the NHL? And why is it that the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking at 5-foot-11 Dustin Tokarski to be their goaltender of their future?
Is bigger really better? Hockey is a highly coached and constantly evolving sport. When Jean-Sébastien Giguère led the Anaheim Ducks to a Stanley Cup championship in 2007, he did so with a style of goaltending where the object was to take up space and let the puck hit you. But over time, players became smarter and realized that bigger goaltenders were often slower and less mobile when they were forced from post to post.
“With the blocking style, you had to be big to cover the net,” said hockey analyst Greg Millen, a former NHL goaltender who was 5-foot-9 when he played. “But now that the game is quicker with the east-west game now, you have to be quicker to get over and stop the puck.”
“There’s always been talk about my size,” Tokarski said. “But look at a guy like Tim Thomas. He’s good because he’s so agile. A goalie who’s 6-6 can’t move like a goalie who’s 5-11. At the end of the day, it’s all about stopping the puck.”
In theory, that is what it should be about. But like pint-sized goal scorers, scouts tend to overlook smaller goalies.
When Central Scouting released its final rankings last month, three of the top four North American goaltenders were 6-foot-4 or taller, while the top-ranked European was 6-foot-3. Perhaps that is why Thomas spent the first seven years of his career backpacking through Europe before landing NHL work and why Halak was a ninth-round draft pick.
“Look how long it took a guy like Marty St. Louis to get into the league,” Whitmore says. “When Ben Bishop plays the way he has [for Ottawa], it’s going to be hard not to look for those types of goalies. It takes time to evolve, for trends to shift the other way.”
Tokarski, who was called up to the Lightning last week to fill in for the injured Mathieu Garon, is hoping to cause that change. After being passed up in the WHL draft, he went on to win a Memorial Cup with the Spokane Chiefs, where he was named tournament MVP. He also backstopped Canada to a gold medal at the 2009 world junior championship.
Tampa Bay probably could have used him this season, where Garon and Dwayne Roloson turned the Lightning’s net into an all-you-can-score buffet. But the team was careful not to rush Tokarski’s development, knowing that the 22-year-old factors heavily in the future.
He had been 1-1-1 in three games since arriving, compiling a 2.30 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. His development took a small step sideways on Thursday night when he was pulled midway through the second period after falling behind the Maple Leafs 3-0 on just 10 shots.
“The one thing I know is he’s won wherever he’s at,” said head coach Guy Boucher, who also coached Tokarski at the world juniors. “That means he’s strong mentally. So the things that he doesn’t have right now, there’s a big chance he’s going to get them.
“He’s a youngster, so I’m not going to put any pressure on him to save us. We don’t need to be saved. He needs to progress the way that he needs to progress.”
Essentially, he still needs to grow. Just not in the way that we have seen in the past.
Original article can be found here on the nationalpost.com .
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