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Evolution of Goaltending in the NHL

Updated April 21, 2020

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Evolution of Goaltending in the NHL essay

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Today, the term hockey describes differing games in various parts of the world, but specifically in North America it refers to as ice hockey. In its origin, hockey is one of the oldest games played.

The earliest mention of the sport of hockey dates back to 1572, when it was on a list of prohibited games. Hockey’s birthplace is believed to be in Asia and authorities credit Persia with having devised it about 2000 BC. People who perfected the game of polo must have known “hockey on the ground” before “hockey on horseback”. Certainly though ice hockey originated in Canada.

Two theories have surfaced as to who really came up with ice hockey. The first credits English soldiers serving with the Royal Canadian Rifles at Kingston, Ontario. They improvised the game at the rear of their barracks at Tete du Pont, on the iced up harbor on Christmas day in 1855. After sweeping the snow from the ice, the soldiers tied “runners” to their boats and, with borrowed hockey sticks, played a match with an old lacrosse ball. The other theory gives not soldier’s credit, but students credit. It tells that G.F.

Robertson, of Mcgill University in Montreal first thought of ice hockey. On a visit to Britain in 1879, he had watched a field hockey match and had greatly been intrigued by it. Himself being a skilled ice skater, he wondered if it was at all possible to combine the two sports into one, thereby creating something new and exciting. On his return home, he discussed the idea with a friend and together they worked out a synthesis of hockey and skating, adding for good measure a few football rules. Enjoyment of the game proved so great that from an initial experimental venture, it soon graduated at their college to an invigorating sport of tremendous speed, leading eventually to the formation of the McGill University Hockey Club. The first theory is the one believed to be the right one but no one knows for certain the originator of the game.

We do know that the term “Ice Hockey” was the earliest recorded in a game that took place in Montreal. As the Canadians love and knowledge for the game of ice hockey grew, so did the sport. After various problems between teams playing with different rules, McGill University stepped in to set up the rules, thus making ice hockey a sport. The most popular ice hockey league in the world is the National Hockey League (NHL).

The NHL began November 22nd 1917, and less than a month later on December 19th the first games were held. Four teams took part in the first season: the Montreal Canadians, the Wanderers, the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Arenas. Then two more teams were added making the NHL a six team league; the Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. In the 60’s the NHL decided to expand the organization which was limited to six teams and added another six teams making 12 in all and opening doors for more players to became part of the great league. As the NHL grew into a prosperous league, the game changed from year to year because of expansion and rule changes so players had to adapt, especially the goalies! The game of ice hockey is played with 12 players on a 200 feet by 80 feet battlefield of ice.

Each team has five players and a goalie; there are three forwards and two defensemen who form the setup of players of that play the game of hockey. And then there are goaltenders, the most important position on the ice. Suited up in their equipment, they are the most essential part of an ice hockey team. But the position of goaltending has really evolved from when hockey was originated or even since the formation of the NHL. Many different parts of the position have evolved over the years;the equipment used, the physical and mental abilities of the goaltenders, the style of play, and the rule changes of the NHL which have forced goalies to change the way they play their game.

In the early years, goalies were not very well protected. Having to stop frozen discs of rubber was a very difficult job but somehow goalies where able to manage with the limited equipment that they had. There are five basic parts to goalie equipment that have been around as early as the NHL are: leg pads, chest-arm protectors and pants, blocker and catching glove, goalie stick, and the Face Mask. These five basic piece have really changed from the start of the NHL. The leg pads are the biggest and heaviest piece of equipment a goalie has to wear, especially in the 1920’s the pads wear made of heavy leather stuffed with feathers and other flexible yet heavy materials. These types of pads were difficult to use because they were so heavy, uncomfortable, and stiff which slowed down reaction times of the goaltenders.

As the years passed by, companies such as; Bauer, Canadian, Cooper, and Kenesly started making lighter and more comfortable equipment which was more flexible. Today, the pads that are used by goaltenders in the NHL are very light weight and flexible, some special features are: waterproof, built-in knee slots, rebound control, and very comfortable. Another piece of equipment is the chest-arm protector and pants. This piece have evolved greatly in since the 1920’s, back then the goaltenders wore leather chest protectors which were very heavy and hot and were separate from the arm protectors. This problem got better and better as the years went by and with new materials being used creating morecomfortable and cooler equipment.

Also the chest and arm protector became one piece which made protection better and setup allot easier. The pants has also were very hot but today they are made to keep the goaltender protected but not as hot because of built in ventilation. Another set of equipment has greatly changed, the blocker and the catching glove. A blocker is worn by the goalie on his stick hand and is used to deflect incoming pucks. The basic shape of the blocker which was invented in the 1900’s and still exists today, yet greatly enhanced upon to give the goaltender more protection and comfort. Also the catching glove has been improved to give more protection.

Made of leather, they were very heavy which slowed down the reaction time and uncomfortable but now the catching glove is one of the most lightest pieces of equipment the goaltender has. The least changed piece of equipment is the goalie stick. The sticks were always the same shape and same material and even today, yet today there are also sticks made out of graphite or aluminum. The most popular piece of equipment a goaltender has is his face mask, which is the most recognizable and personal equipment they have.

Not always in the NHL were masks worn by goalies, in fact the first goalie ever to wear a mask in the NHL was Jacques Plante. He decided after many bloody noses that he should have something covering his face but was nothing more than a piece of wired leather. This sparked a new thing for goaltenders because now they could play harder without risking as much injury. Face masks have come a long way since then, being made from leather to plastic then to light metals. Now masks are very well designed for protection, comfort, sight of view, and temperature control. Many goaltenders became popular because of the masks, like Gerry Cheevers who would make stitch marks on his mask everywhere he got hit on the mask or more recently, John Vanbiesbrouck who had a head of a panther on his helmet.

Goalies decorated the mask to signify them or the team the played for. These five basic pieces of equipment have been greatly modified since the start of the NHL and will keep getting better and better as the years go on. The physical and mental abilities of goaltenders has also greatly evolved. Goalies in the early years were not generally thought of as thinkers, the basic stereotype of goalies is that of a wacko with fragile confidence, chubby kid who you shoved into the net because he couldn’t skate well enough to play forward or defense. This was basically true in the early years of the NHL, many goalies did not care about what shape they were in or did not try to improve their skating skills or playing techniques.

Gerry Cheevers was a classic example of this, he said the he used to get in shape running around trying to avoid practice. Also Glenn Hall, who would convulse and vomit before every game just thinking about the possibilities of what was going to happen. As the game changed and speed up, goalies also had to change their game and speed themselves up. The stereotype above is no longer valid in today’s game, goalies train just as hard as the forwards and defensemen.

Because of the size, speed, and skill of the players have progressed dramatically in recent years, goalies must be great skaters and students of the game, quick thinkers with a keen sense of anticipation. Goalies today also seek help mentally from sports psychologists to better themselves because of the enormous pressure of playing the position. Today’s goaltenders have all the attributes one wants in a high-performance athlete: technical skills, physical ability, emotional and psychological management, and intelligence. Another aspect of the game that has evolved is the style of play the goaltender uses. In the early years of the NHL, the goalies had to make-up their own styles of play because there was no real set styles of play for them to look off of, often changing it from game to game to adjust.

Today’s goaltender usually has one style of play and sticks with it his whole career. Also in the 1920’s, there were no goalie coaches or goaltending schools that young goalies could go to so they can learn the position, they had to learn it by themselves and make up their own moves. Now there are goalie coaches on every team from little league all the way up to the NHL, and also schools that teach young players about the position and what technique is good for them. In the 1920’s up to about the 1950’s there were no real defined styles of play, each goalie used there own stance that they had made up themselves. Since the 1950’s, styles of play became more defined and the young goaltenders of the next generation had something to look off of. There are four basic styles of play that are used today that have evolved from the 1960’s; stand-up, butterfly, hybrid, and traditional.

The stand-up goaltender must stand tall at all costs, is very systematic and positional using his skate to help him out instead of his pads. Meticulously playing every angle giving the shooter nothing to shoot at. The Butterfly style goaltender has an open stance and is ready to drop and cover the most vulnerable part of the net, the bottom twelve inches. This style of play has a positional approach, getting hit by the puck rather than deflecting it. An unorthodox style of play is the hybrid, this is the combination of the stand-up and butterfly to create a full range acrobatic goaltender. This style of play, the goalie fights for the puck and usually ends up in some bizarre positions.

Finally, the last style of play is traditional. A tradition style goaltender uses all three of the styles of play in his technique, plays every situation presented to him on the ice with no real selective movements. Styles of play are very important in the NHL these days and evolved greatly since the early years of the NHL. Another aspect of the game that has evolved and forced goaltenders to evolve along with it is the rule changes in the NHL. There are changes made year after year that has changed the ways goaltenders play their game.

Before the NHL began, there was another league called the National Hockey Association (NHA) in which the goaltenders were not allowed to drop to their knees, and every fallen goalie were fined two dollars! Goaltenders were delighted when the NHL was formed and took over the NHA because goalies were allowed to drop to their knees or go into any other position for that matter. This was probably the biggest and most loved rule change in the history of goaltending. Other rules were made in the NHL to protect the goaltender, not allowing other players to touch the goaltender was a big help to goalies because they could concentrate on what they were doing and not worry about getting hit by the other players. The goalies crease (the semi-circle in front of the net) was often the center of debate as years went on, players complaining that the goalie was given to much protection by the crease. The rule is that if the opposing team is in the crease as the puck is going in, the goal does not count.

Goalies were greatly favored in this rule because they did not have to worry about the players that were in the crease scoring a goal. So rule changes on the crease started taking place, in 1998 the NHL made the crease allot smaller by cutting off the edges of the semi-circle on each side to allow players to get closer to the net without being threatened by the crease. Also the NHL, told the referees that players were aloud to be more physical with the goalies so less penalties would be called and the game would be more exciting. Goalies had to adjust the way they played their game again to fit these new rules. Also in 1998, the NHL changed another part of the game by moving the nets up farther from the back boards so the opposing teams had more room to set up plays behind the net, this was just another obstacle that goalies had overcome and adjust to.

Goalies had to change their game dramatically over the years from the start of the NHL from all the rule changes that the NHL had made to speed up the game and make it more action packed. These rule changes are going to keep happening and goalies are just going to have to adjust to them if they like it or not. In conclusion, the goalies in the NHL have always had to evolve along with the game. The position of goaltending has greatly evolved since the formation of the NHL and even before the NHL started.

The formation of the NHL in 1917 opened doors for players to show off their skills to the world and make a living, especially the goalies. The equipment that goalies use have evolve to be much lighter, more comfortable, and more aerodynamic since the start of the NHL and will keep enhancing in time. The physical and mental abilities of goaltenders today is much more sharper, stronger, and quicker than what they were in years in the past. The style of play of goalies these days has evolved greatly from the base styles that were set by some of the great goalies in the past.

Also, the rule changes that the NHL has set forced goalies to evolve their game to fit the new rules and make the most out of what situations are presented to them. These are all the aspects of the position that have evolved throughout the years in the NHL. Goaltenders today are the most conditioned, sharpest, quickest, and most important piece of a professional hockey team and has all evolved from what goalies in the past have done. Category: Miscellaneous

Evolution of Goaltending in the NHL essay

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Evolution of Goaltending in the NHL. (2019, Jun 20). Retrieved from