Why is it that Alex Auld can step in to give Carey Price a night off and look like he has played 50 games this season? Why is it that any NHL backup goalie, after sitting on the bench for spans of 10 games or more, is able to spit his gum out, grab his mask and enter a game without looking out of place? The answer is simple: hard work.
But the work put in isn’t quite as simple.
Every backup goalie in the NHL was a starter at one point in his journey to the show. Actually, securing that second position on any team’s depth chart is quite a feat. Think for a moment about how many outstanding goalies have come out of junior or college hockey in the past 15 years who were unlucky enough to be drafted by the New Jersey Devils. They had to know Martin Brodeur wasn’t going anywhere.
Just like his teammates, the backup goalie works hard every day in practice. But unlike his teammates, he is almost never preparing for the next opponent. Nevertheless, he has to be ready. So he spends extra time on the ice after practice with his goalie coach attempting to get as many game-situation drills in as possible.
He has to be sharp. His speed and timing need to be precise and since he cannot obtain that from playing game-in and game-out, he needs to find it in practice. He gets out of his gear and heads straight to the gym because he cannot allow his fitness level to slip. He rides the bike, lifts some weights and stretches - then he stretches some more. He does this every day during the season for a number of reasons. He believes in himself and wants to demonstrate he can get the job done when he does get an opportunity.
He is the ultimate team guy. He is the last one off the ice every day and is always on the ice for an optional skate. He respects the game. He respects his colleague and supports him. He understands how the business side of the game determines why he only gets 15 starts a year, but he never complains. He is often the most liked player on the team because his teammates reciprocate that respect and recognize his commitment to the team’s success. He almost never receives any glory from the outside, but inside the dressing room everyone associated with the team appreciates his efforts.
TIME FOR AN EYE-FOR-AN-EYE?
Let’s talk head shots, blindside hits and concussions for a second. I’ll keep it short because so much has been said about this all year. While you cannot and should never eliminate the physicality aspect from the game of hockey, you can take the brutality out of it. Hitting, checking, separating the player from the puck - whatever you want to call it - can be done without sending a player into the first row of seats. While it is a spectacular site, the trauma placed on the brain when two huge, fast and strong forces collide can be life changing. Ask Marc Savard.
Maybe it is time for a more severe punishment. If it is determined the blow to the head was deliberate and the player on the receiving end was injured, why not suspend the guilty party for the same amount of games as the injured player is forced to miss? Boston has had to play the entire season without Marc Savard, which has definitely weakened their team. How would Pittsburgh’s lineup be affected if Matt Cooke also had to sit out those games? Players would think twice about going that extra step to get their man if the consequence impacted their future in the game as well.
THREE-POINT SYSTEM THE WAY TO GO
Lastly, in the past 10 years the NHL has adopted a few rules from the IIHF, so why not consider the three points for a win concept?
Any team that wins after 60 minutes is rewarded with three points. Two points are given for a win in overtime or shootout and one point for a loss in overtime or shootout. This system works. It was in place during my playing days in Germany.
Yes, you may have to alter the record books because team point totals will be higher than ever, but so what? How many of Patrick Roy’s ties may have been wins if he had the chance to play OT or shootouts?
It is amazing how quickly you can jump up the standings if you are able to win consecutive games in regulation. Teams wouldn’t settle with going into overtime because so much more can be gained by getting the job done in 60 minutes.
Mike Rosati is a former professional goalie and current owner of the Canadian Goaltending Academy in Barrie, Ont. He grew up in Toronto, played in the OHL before being drafted by the New York Rangers. He then opted to head to Europe where he spent 14 seasons in Italy and Germany's DEL winning eight combined championships. Between 1994 and 2003 he was a key member of Italy's national team, participating in two Olympics and nine World Championships.