April 9, 2012 Leave a comment
I previously wrote an article called “The NHL Legends Respectability List”, wherein I named my favorite Eleven NHL players, all of whom have been tremendous influences on me (http://jackhasspoken.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/the-all-time-nhl-legends-respectability-list-and-a-final-word-on-jaromir-jagr/).
Regrettably, I also wrote this:
“Who’s Not on the List…goaltenders (shut the fuck up and stop the puck, it isn’t fucking hard)”
Now, I wrote that jokingly and didn’t give it a second thought until a former goaltender of mine, Jim McKee, rightfully pointed out that it was a shitty thing to say. This is my formal apology to Jim and goaltenders at large.
Now, even the most staunch defender of goalies will admit that goaltenders, as a breed, include a bunch of absolute lunatics in their ranks. Like anyone who proliferates a stereotype, the most arrogant and psychotic goaltenders give all of them a black eye:
I have played hockey for 20 years. I am a goal-scorer. I look at most goaltenders with the disdain of Steve McQueen glaring at a Nazi:
It doesn’t help that I am lifelong disciple of Club Mario, which devalued goaltenders, coaches, and defensive coverage with cackling glee. The contributions of Tom Barasso are often marginalized in Pittsburgh, and the Penguins’ teams of the 1990s and early 200s turned over goaltenders on a bi-monthly basis. A .900 Save Percentage was the expected standard, and if a goalie came in and put up anything over that he immediately given the keys to the castle (Patrick Lalime, Moosey Hedberg, etc). If goaltenders are revered in Montreal or New Jersey, they are denigrated in Pittsburgh. Until Club Mario closed, the culture was that goaltenders, like coaches, were mostly unimportant and easily replaceable.
But having acknowledged all of that, of course I respect goaltenders. I’m a hockey purist and I fully appreciate the role of the goaltender. It’s the lonliest position in sports, and the most important position in hockey.
You can read about the nuts-and-bolts of goaltending elsewhere. This is just a list of my favorite goaltenders of all-time, and a brief explanation of why I admire them, in no particular order:
(I don’t think that’s Jim, but that’s the best pic I could find)
I hate to lose. I Hate to Lose.
Jim also hates to lose.
I only got to skate with Jim a little bit, and unfortunately I had to play defense (which is like putting my guy Alex Kovalev back there – it’s bound to be interesting, as one way or another someone is getting a scoring chance).
So while we didn’t have great success together, in the brief time we spent I quickly made a friend because:
A) We were both raging sons-of-bitches after losing a game or even Winning a Game in which one or both of us did not play to our expected standard
B) We both respect the game a great deal, and
C) Jim’s a hockey player. Not just a goaltender, but a Hockey Player.
That’s a problem with a lot of goalies – they don’t embody the other qualites that define a hockey player. They either over or under-estimate their own importance within the framework of a team, and they sometimes lack the aggressiveness and competitiveness inherent to a real hockey player.
Not an issue with Jim. I’m convinced he’d be an asset as a forward or a defenseman, if his team needed him to be. He’s a hockey player.
If I wrote a novel about Tim Thomas’ life story, it would be rejected for being wildly unrealistic. The full entry can be seen at Wiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Thomas_%28ice_hockey%29), but here are the Cliff Notes:
Timothy James Thomas, Jr. (born April 15, 1974) is an American professional ice hockey goaltender with the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League (NHL). Raised in Davison, MI, Thomas played college hockey for the University of Vermont for four years, from 1993–1997, during which he was drafted 217th overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. He played for several years in the minor leagues and Europe, before making it to the NHL at age 28, with the Boston Bruins. He finally emerged as the Bruins’ starting goaltender at age 32. Thomas is a two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy (2009 and 2011) as the league’s best goaltender, and was a member of Team USA in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Thomas won the Conn Smythe Trophy for Most Valuable Player in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. Winning it, along with the Stanley Cup, at age 37, he became the oldest player and second American-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in NHL history, after Brian Leetch.
Of course, there are other reasons to laud Flower, such as:
I have accepted that Flower is not going to get his due for his role in the Pens’ success until he’s suddenly sitting at 600 or 700 Wins; after all, he’s on the cusp of setting the franchise Wins’ record, and it gets almost no airplay because the Penguins ice a team full of All-Stars. But intellgent Penguins’ fans realize he’s the best goaltender the team has ever employed, and that he is an integral to the team’s success as Crosby, Malkin, and Letang.
Mark “Meatball” Vitalbo
I did not have a good picture of the Meatball stopping pucks, but as you can see he’s a phenomenal table-hockey player.
The Meatball was my primary college goaltender. He gets respect for agreeing to play goal because the team clearly needed an upgrade at the position, and he was one of our best athletes. It was an unselfish decision, and Meatball turned out to be a very competent goalie after he worked out a few positioning kinks.
Meatball will never be confused with a technique goaltender – he looks like a shortstop playing goalie – but the results spoke for themselves. He won more than he lost, he was fiercely competitive, he was clutch, and he always showed up to play. Meatball was vital to whatever success the team had, and as you can see he was a fun guy to have around.
And just to be fair, here’s a better picture of him:
…although I have far more entertaining slash incriminating photos of him. Nice fishbowl, you lush.
(I have no photos of Rick, but he most reminds me of Curtis Joseph)
Rick was my most memorable adult league goaltender. A native Canadian, Rick might has well have been Patrick Roy playing against some of the unwashed ass-jockeys we saw in Pittsburgh-area beer leagues together.
Rick as a player is big, rangy, and polished. He took pride in his performance, and accepted blame even when it was obvious that he was not at fault. For much of our time together, out teams were outclassed in terms of skating and skill, and Rick gave our teams a puncher’s chance with his consistently excellent play. He would regularly see 25+ shots, and most of them were high-quality because our two talented players were forwards.
Rick was usually quiet and reserved, but he had no problem giving us a tongue-lashing if we weren’t putting up a worthwhile effort in front of him. He’s also a drinker’s drinker and a hell of a lot of fun to be around (maybe you’re sensing a trend in how I select my goaltenders).
Here’s a photo of Jeff far away from his crease, where he’s seemingly most comfortable.
Jeff picked up the slack after the Meatball sailed away in his gondola to his Italian retirement home, or perhaps the local Papa Johns, where they have the pepporcini Meatball eats by the fistful.
Seriously though, Jeff is a tenacious competitor. He rightfully expects the same compete level and effort from his teammates that he expects from himself, and at times that led some…blow-ups within the team leadership hierarchy.
Aside from respecting Jeff’s compete level, I’ve always sympathized with him because we both find roller hockey extremely frustrating, as neither of us can play roller as well as we play on ice. I know how infuriating it is when your game is limited by stupid plastic wheels, which any roller-hockey goaltender’s largely is. For a meticulous positional goalie like Jeff, this must have been constantly aggravating. On ice, he’s a very fluid butterfly goaltender.
Still, Jeff is very competent as a roller-hockey goaltender, and I enjoyed playing with him. And really, I can get along with anyone who hates to lose as much as Jeff does.
Zack “Marinara” Marrapese
Zack, the Wop Daigo holding two beers in one hand, is my best friend. He is the original “Useless Goaltender” and served as my go-to goalie through high school.
Until he quit playing to focus on trivial things like “a wife” and “fatherhood”, Zack was a heck of a goaltender, especially considering how much he and I drank in high school.
Our high school team was basically undefeated because Zack refused to let anyone score more than one goal on him. Like Flower, Zack is a career leader in Wins with One Goal Against, as it was part of our team concept to let the other team score a quick one on him so he would settle down and not have the pressure of a Shutout hanging over his head.
Our Senior Year of travel league was a “rebuilding” year. Our team had to call up a bunch of 15-year olds to fill out the roster, so we looked an awful lot like the ’03-04 Pittsburgh Penguins. We had a shot counter at the rink, and most mornings the Visitor shot totals were over 40. Zack kept us competitive most days, although unfortunately the team still had a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 losses (which is why God made Beast Ice, Yuengling Black & Tan, and vodka – to make 2-1 losses bearable). He would regularly put out superhuman efforts to keep our team competitive.
Zack is extremely passive, which dictated that he stopped playing as soon as the game stopped being purely for fun. But wow, did we have a lot of fun. I don’t have an exact number of how much beer we drank or how many games we won, but I would say we won a game for every beer we drank. Here is a rough count of our beers and Wins:
In the post-Lockout era, two goaltenders have really distinguished themselves with their consistently stellar performances: the aforementioned Tim Thomas, and New York Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Lord knows I love Flower, but consistency is something he’s developed as he’s matured. While Flower has always been a joy to watch, anyone who saw him in his early years knows that his positional work has come a long way. He used to make tons of spectacular saves because he waswaaayout of position, though also because his woeful teams iced players like Kelly Buchberger and sloppy Joe Melichar.
Hank Lundqvist is the model of consistent excellent. As you can see in the photo above, he is an athletic 6’1, and gives shooters almost nothing to look at when he’s on his angle. Unlike most tall goaltenders, who are vulnerable five-hole and low stick-side, Hank has the agility of a much smaller man in addition to the composure of a true winner. He does not get rattled; he just makes saves with machine-like efficiency.
A cursory look at his statistics bears out the obvious, whic is that he’s well on his way to being a Hall-of-Fame goaltender:
If I had to win one hockey game and I could pick any goaltender, I would take Hank. Not only does he have exceptional ability (as evidenced by the .920+ Save Percetange he puts up every year despite being in the same division as Sid, Geno, Claude Giroux, Ilya Kovalchuk, et al), but he has the ice in his veins that you want out of a big-game goaltender. Until this season, he has dragged his Rangers’ teams kicking-and-screaming to whatever amounts of success they’ve had, and now that he has a talented roster in front of him, he looks almost unstoppable.
Too bad gay guys and women hate him because he’s ugly:
While Hank is a typically composed and well-spoken Swede, one also gets the sense that he does not really appreciate American humor, much like the doctor in this scene from Funny People:
Hank had that reaction every time Sean Avery brought up “sloppy seconds” to the assembled media or had to do an interview with noted intellectual Jeremy Roenick (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6qHGx4XJE8).
As I’ve said, I’ve played hockey for twenty years; trying to acknowledge every goaltender I’ve ever played with or seen would be like trying to acknowledge every girl I’ve ever gone on a date with.
Having said that, I do acknowledge that while goaltenders are not the straw that stirs my drink, they are the glass that holds my drink. I could not have had the experience and success I’ve had as a hockey player without the contributions of some fantastic and memorable goaltenders. I do respect them, and I do again acknowledge that goaltending is the most critical aspect of success in hockey.