In playoff hockey, the net belongs to rookies
What was once a cardinal rule in hockey - that a team needs to line up a veteran goaltender to compete for the Stanley Cup - is turning out to be a canard in the "new" NHL.
As playoff hockey galvanizes the puck world faithful for the next few weeks, three of four goalies in the semi-final round are rookies. The six goalies with the most victories in the regular season - mostly veterans - have all been eliminated. The last time two rookie goaltenders met in the Eastern Conference championship was in 1981.
Carolina's Cam Ward, Buffalo's Ryan Miller, and Anaheim's Ilja Bryzgalov are all recent backbenchers now leading their squads to the heights of frozen pond glory. Even the only over-25 goalie still standing, Dwayne Roloson of Edmonton, has never had a starring role in the playoffs.
"It's an incredible aberration," says Earl Zukerman, a vice president at the Society for International Hockey Research in Montreal. "It's certainly a blip in the type of goaltender that you would typically see in the playoffs."
Risk-taking coaches, general managers struggling with a new salary cap that requires tough decisions about expensive net-minders, and new league rules that favor a whole-team focus have given the three net-minders opportunities that they've jumped on. Perhaps, too, they've been helped along by a twitch in human psychology that allows the young to succeed in one of the most high-pressure positions in all of sports.
"One of the elements is the underdog theory," says Cal Botterill, a sports psychologist at the University of Winnipeg. "It's a blissful state to be an underdog, a kid playing above your head in a big final." But for big-name goalies like legend Patrick Roy, who carries the franchise's prospects on their backs, "it's easier to be affected by the pressure."