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Great minds, great goalies a hallmark of Quebec

Thursday, 08.27.2009 / 9:00 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"Patrick changed a lot in Quebec for all the kids. He was on TV every night in Montreal. He was in the newspaper everyday. He was on a radio show every day. He really changed the importance of the job for all the kids to see. They realized, 'Wow, I can be a star in this League, too.' He was a role model for a lot of young kids that decided to be goalies instead of defensemen or forwards."
-- Goaltending coach Francois Allaire

Francois and Benoit Allaire, Jacques Caron, Stephane Waite and countless other goalie coaches will not be gunning for gold in Vancouver six months from now. For that matter, we won't see Patrick Roy standing on a medal stand at the end of February either.

They all could have a role in the outcome of the men's ice hockey tournament, though.

For years, a great source of pride in the Province of Quebec has been the success of the homegrown goaltenders. The pipeline dates back to the late Jacques Plante, who rose to prominence in the 1950s, and continues on to legends like Bernie Parent, Rogie Vachon and Daniel Bouchard.

But Roy and Martin Brodeur have turned goaltender into La Belle Province's glamour position over the last quarter-century.

Goalie schools were born in Quebec. The butterfly style that has become so popular across the hockey world was developed in Quebec. There's a good chance that for the fourth straight Olympics, Canada's No. 1 goalie will hail from Quebec as Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury are all in Calgary this week for Canada's National Men's Team orientation camp.

The popularity of the French-Canadian goalie has since spread overseas. Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Finland, for example, are developing their own rich goalie tradition based off of the teachings made famous in Quebec.

How did it all happen? Who are the innovators? Why Quebec?

Read on as NHL.com examines the legend of the French-Canadian goalie:

Roy the role model

As Patrick Roy was coming up in the early 1980s, Francois Allaire was looking for a guinea pig to try out a style that he thought would have an impact for goaltenders everywhere.

It turned into the perfect marriage as Allaire and Roy hooked up in Montreal and, using a system designed for goalies to take away the bottom of the net and to stop the puck with their body, a 20-year-old Roy led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1986.

Roy and his butterfly style immediately became iconic for goalies throughout the province. Brodeur, who ironically opted not to use the butterfly, began idolizing Roy. Luongo did the same. So did Fleury, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jose Theodore, Martin Biron and many others.

"When I first started playing, Grant Fuhr was my guy, but when I got a little older and started learning more about the position and the technical aspect of it I started looking more at the way Patrick was playing," Luongo told NHL.com. "You could watch him on TV every night and see that (the butterfly) was very practical."

Fleury was 8-years-old in 1993 when Roy led the Habs to the Cup again. He won the Stanley Cup this year using Roy's techniques. Giguere won the Cup in 2007 doing the same.

"Patrick changed a lot in Quebec for all the kids," Francois Allaire told NHL.com. "He was on TV every night in Montreal. He was in the newspaper everyday. He was on a radio show every day. He really changed the importance of the job for all the kids to see. They realized, 'Wow, I can be a star in this League, too.' He was a role model for a lot of young kids that decided to be goalies instead of defensemen or forwards."

Once kids wanted to be goalies, the natural thing was to find people to guide them and places to teach them.

Goalies get their own coaches

Warren Strelow is known as the first full-time goalie coach in the NHL, but Allaire's success with Roy led to a new phenomenon across Quebec that eventually spread into the NHL and now junior leagues: Personal goalie coaches and goalie schools.

"We were well structured," Brodeur told NHL.com. "Since I was maybe 8- or 9-years-old I always had a goalie coach and was doing one hockey clinic per week. For me, it was just normal. I didn't know other people didn't have goalie coaches."

Until recently, it was rare to see goalie schools and coaches anywhere but Quebec, Blackhawks goalie coach Stephane Waite told NHL.com. It was something unique to the province and the rest of the hockey world has spent the past decade catching up.

"I'm a goalie coach for 28 years and when I started I was in the QMJHL and it was really rare to have a full-time goalie coach," Waite said. "Maybe five years later every Quebec team had a full-time goalie coach. We were the first and now everywhere in the world is copying what has happened in Quebec."

Waite added that as soon as the Allaire brothers popularized the idea of goalie coaches and goalie schools in Quebec, schools for goalie coaches began popping up.

The coach had to learn how to teach the system or else nobody would learn properly.

"That's how they think in Quebec," he said. "They're thinking like that in Ontario and Western Canada now, but we were the first, 15 years or so ago, to have a program for goalie coaches."

And now, every NHL team has a goalie coach or consultant and just about every NHL goalie is a graduate of a goalie school somewhere on the planet.

"I remember at 18-years-old I was coaching," Benoit Allaire told NHL.com. "You're talking about 30 years ago. If you went to some of the goalies schools they have in Toronto just a few years ago, they were doing the little things that we started 25 years before in Quebec. It was very new there."

As other provinces were catching up with Quebec, the legend was spreading.

Across the pond

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who is mentored in New York by Benoit Allaire, said he basically learned the position on his own by watching guys like Roy and Dominik Hasek, a European who was ahead of his time in the NHL, but did not necessarily play one designed system.

"I tried a lot of things that I saw on TV," Lundqvist told NHL.com. "When I was 11 or 12, my coaches always told me that I went down to cover the bottom of the net too much and that there was no way it would work."

It wasn't until he was 19 that Lundqvist finally started using a goalie coach. He turned into the best young goaltender in Sweden and under Allaire has blossomed into one of the best in the world, an Olympic gold medalist and NHL all-star.

"I had a goalie coach my last four years as a pro in Sweden and I was way more aggressive there," Lundqvist told NHL.com. "When I came here the first thing Benny worked with me on was being in more control, less movement. After a while I realized it was a lot easier to control things when you moved around less."

"I had a goalie coach my last four years as a pro in Sweden and I was way more aggressive there. When I came here the first thing Benny [Benoit Allaire] worked with me on was being in more control, less movement. After a while I realized it was a lot easier to control things when you moved around less."
-- Henrik Lundqvist

In the NHL we're now seeing the impact the French-Canadian style had on Europe, but a lot of the successful goalies -- Lundqvist, Evgeni Nabokov, Tomas Vokoun and Miikka Kiprusoff -- were late-round draft picks. Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom, an All-Star this past season, was never even drafted in the NHL.

It's not a surprise. Before the French-Canadian impact hit Europe, "it seemed that people were just drafting from Quebec and it didn't matter if the guy was so good or not," Benoit Allaire said.

The Europeans were not trusted because the only one who had success, Hasek, was raw and didn't necessarily play a style at all. He was just ahead of his time.

The 2009 Entry Draft is a sign of how far Europeans have come. The first four goalies selected in Montreal were European, including a Finn, two Swedes and a Russian.

"Now," Allaire added, "they have to take a look in Sweden, Finland and Russia, too. You need a model. In Quebec, it was Patrick Roy. In Sweden, I'm pretty sure everybody wants to be like Lundqvist."

But not everybody wants to conform, and apparently not everybody has to.

Brodeur's unique style, similar influence

Denis Brodeur, Sr. loves to tell the story about how his son Martin, then a teenager, begged out of attending another session of Francois Allaire's goalie school in Montreal after just one day.

As dad explains, Martin said, "The guy wants to put me in a butterfly and I don't want to be in a butterfly. I like to play my own style."

"He kept it his whole life," Denis Sr. added.

Although unique in an area and era where the butterfly was most popular, Brodeur's hybrid style -- a scoop of Roy, a cup of Ron Hextall, a flavor of Hasek and even a few tablespoons of Billy Smith -- has its own legend and continues to have an impact as the Devils goalie rewrites the record book.

"People in hockey understand that Marty is a great example to follow," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury told NHL.com. "Most of the people in Quebec are doing the butterfly, but it's great to see him have so much success without doing it."

The butterfly goalies admire Brodeur's ability to read the play. Luongo said it's "something special you need to have to stop pucks on a consistent basis like he has. It displays a tremendous amount of talent."

 
As a result of Brodeur, there may be more hybrid goalies coming through the ranks, even in Quebec. L.A. Kings prospect Jonathan Bernier, who is from Laval, calls Brodeur his biggest influence. Bernier turned 21 this month.

"He was the guy," Bernier told NHL.com. "I watched a little bit of Patrick, but I watched more of Brodeur. We're not the same style, but we're trying to do the same stuff like handle the puck really well and read the play. He's probably the best at reading the play.

"If it's a close play I may go into the butterfly early to cover the lower part," Bernier continued. "If not, I'll stay on my feet as long as possible."

Waite believes the perfect goalie is one who can mix Brodeur's hybrid style with the butterfly style.

"With the new rules, that's the perfect mix," he said.

Brodeur, though, wasn't the odds-on favorite to shatter Roy's records when he came out of juniors in 1992. Then again, nobody could predict Roy would be better than greats like Plante, Sawchuk, Esposito and Hall based on his three seasons in the QMJHL.

A goalie's worst nightmare

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League always has been able to humble even the goalies with the most potential.

"Look at Brodeur and Patrick Roy's career numbers in junior," Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas told NHL.com. "They were hardly unbelievable like they are now."

Before he became a legend and Hall of Famer, Roy finished his three-season QMJHL career with a 5.33 goals-against average. Before he started his run toward all of Roy's records, Brodeur was a goalie who posted a 3.54 GAA in his three seasons in the Q.

Giguere? He wasn't much better with a career 3.53 GAA over four seasons. Luongo topped that with a career 3.30 GAA over four QMJHL seasons. Heck, Fleury, with his 3.19 GAA over 151 games with Cape Breton, was an all-star.

But those stats, as startling as they may be, are deceiving.

Luongo suggests that by playing in the QMJHL, a goalie not only grows up and learns how to handle giving up a goal but also becomes better because he faces all different kinds of shots.

"It's a very offensive league and guys get a lot of shots and see a lot of different game situations every night," he said. "That helps in the development along the way. It really helps at such a young age like that."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com