Hockey as a whole has come a long way from what we all remember, hasn’t it? Rule changes, lockouts, technology and equipment have all served as catalysts to change the game into a faster, and more intense sport. Due to this, the players have also been forced to change how they play. Even for younger talents, it has forced them to learn differently, or at least learn something they never have been taught or seen before.
Out of all positions, the one that perhaps has felt the most impact of all these changes is goaltending. If we look at goalies now, compared goalies from the beginning of hockey, you may barely even recognize that they are even playing the same position! Aside from the obvious difference in equipment (No mask? No thanks!), the style that these goalies play is not even remotely similar to the style modern goalies play. Most people know that the more traditional style of goaltending as “Stand-up” style, most obviously because the goalies are predominantly on their feet.
This was the main style for quite some time, in fact some of the last goalies to use stand up weren’t too long ago, for example Bill Ranford whom retired in 2000-2001 season. That being said, stand-up goalies were far and few at this point in time, due to the newer style of goal tending known as the butterfly style. The first few goalies to do the butterfly style, such as Tony Esposito, played around the 70s. However is wasn’t very popular nor effective at the time. Once hockey took a change in the early 90s, with young talents and much more developed equipment, so too did goal tending. The butterfly was fully implemented with Patrick Roy reintroducing and making it popular along with other goalies such as Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph.
Oh but that’s it right? Isn’t that what everyone uses now? Not the case. If the classic butterfly was used currently, games would be a much higher score than they are. Why do I say this? Today’s hockey is a much faster pace of sport, in fact it’s quite extreme how much faster it has become since the recent lockout and rule changes, as well as the breakthroughs in modern technology. Traditional butterfly is more of a “blocking” style of play, where the goalie is to stay perfectly square to the puck, take up as much of the net as possible and make positional saves. This relies heavily on a goalies ability to perform rebound control, as typically after the first 1 to 2 shots, the goalie will be out of position. This causes a multitude of issues for modern play; shots are harder, passes are faster, even the players are faster. Goalies have to be able to keep up with the play, they needed to be more mobile. Butterfly was further developed into the “Profly” and “Hybrid” styles. Both are very similar, yet different in their own regards.
A Profly style goalie will resemble a little more of the older style, still relying heavily on blocking and positional saves. However the style and equipment has been designed specifically for this, and allows them to take this positional style and still stay mobile. Being able to slide around and follow the play without compromising size or position is key for this style of goaltending. Good examples of these goalies are Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist.
Hybrid goaltending, just like Profly, uses the drop-down butterfly heavily. Where they differ is within the depth of play (such as shot selection-save selection), rebound recovery, and positioning. A hybrid goalie, after a save is made, will always try and get back to his feet as soon as possible allowing him to make another quick reactionary save. Whereas a Profly goalie may slide around moving his block.
Hybrid goal tending is more reactionary dependent than Profly, and many times goalies can be slightly out of position. However the mobility and flexibility of the Hybrid style allows them to make much better recoveries. This isn’t to say Profly goalies are less reactionary or slower, elite goalies are fast no matter which style they play, just that they are much more conscious of positioning, rebound control, and movement. They tend to play much more precise and tight play, while a hybrid will sometimes be out of position, even purposefully in some cases, trusting their reactions and experience to get them out of scoring situations. This allows them to be a bit more mobile, and arguably faster, not always have to be locked to perfect form. Many crazy stretching or sliding saves are seen from these goalies, some looking very pretty, some not so much. Examples of hybrid goalies would be Ryan Miller, Evgeni Nabokov, and Tuukka Rask.
So who’s to say which is better? Profly or Hybrid? Often times a goalie’s body size and mentality comes into factor (height, weight, calm, excited, etc.), but both of today’s styles can be applied to any goalie. Many goalies, if not all goalies, will develop their own style of play that blurs the lines between cut and cold styles. Interestingly enough, one of the NHL’s top goalies Jonathan Quick is actually self-taught, and certainly plays his own brand of the two styles which can be a whole article in itself.
When it all boils down to it, a goalie is defined by his skill and mentality and not entirely on what style of play he or she chooses. However one thing is certain, as a goalie you should always be striving to move forward and adapt, just as the sport and position does. Older goalies may find difficulty keeping up with younger talent and fast play, and yes, it’s arguably due to an age difference. However some may agree it’s the outdated styles of play that simply doesn’t match with not only the play of hockey, but even the equipment itself. Skates are now made for a much wider and more aggressive stance, pads have a flatter and more slideable base for mobility (especially on hybrid pads), and gloves are designed and shaped to be held in specific spots. Of course equipment comes in all kinds of varieties for different preferences, but undeniably it is always designed to accommodate modern, and newer styles. It is conclusive that on all fronts hockey is moving forward, everyone can see this, and so too is the goalie world. When will it be time to fully abandon the old ways? Is stand-up and classic butterfly truly dead? Arguably so, but what do you think? Perhaps there’s something to learn from the old ways.
Cover Photo by: Joey Macneil. Original Images from left to right: Photo Archives, AP Photo/Charles Krupa, Scott Slingsby of www.ingoalmag.com