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Age, experience in net key for final four teams

Friday, 05.13.2011 / 5:31 PM / 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs - Conference Finals

By Ken Baker - NHL.com Goalie Insider

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Age, experience in net key for final four teams
What are age and experience in the net worth? For three of the final four teams standing in the playoffs, it's a spot in the conference finals.
In his latest installment on playoff goaltending, Ken Baker -- the Chief News Correspondent for E! News, and the author of the goalie blog at www.StopDaPuck.com -- looks at how older might just be better when it comes to playoff goalies.
 
Judging by the ages of goalies in the conference finals, you'd think there are bouncers at the doors checking ID's.

But the minimum age is much higher than 21. In fact, the ages of the starting goalies in the final four of the Stanley Cup Playoffs more closely resemble those found on my beer league roster.

Tampa Bay's mind-bogglingly ageless wonder Dwayne Roloson (41) will square off against Boston's equally indefatigable Tim Thomas (37), while Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (32) will compete against San Jose's Antti Niemi, who, at 27, looks like a diaper-clad kid compared to the rest of the winning goaltenders.

Time and again throughout the 2011 postseason, elder puck-stoppers have put on clinics against younger, less-experienced goalies.

Luongo outlasted the wildly talented but younger Pekka Rinne (28), while Roloson was a calm, modern-day "Chicoutimi Cucumber" in the last round against Washington's 23-year-old Michal Neuvirth. The battling Thomas, meanwhile, has rolled over younger goalies like a '57 Chevy over a line of Honda Civics.

The wild card, of course, is that Niemi downed fellow 27-year-old Jimmy Howard, but a closer look suggests that Niemi being the reigning Stanley Cup-carrying goalie is an experience that virtually adds years to his longevity resume.

Has age been the sole factor in this postseason's winning goalie equation? Obviously, no.

But to deny that age and experience has played an impactful role would be tantamount to denying that Dominik Hasek (another old man, who at 46 still is stopping da puck in the KHL) plays with an ugly helmet. In other words, a rather silly argument.

Great goaltending, like most any athletic skill, is the product of hours of repetition and practice. Go to any NHL practice and you'll see goalies working on the very same movement, positioning and reaction drills rehearsed by most elite youth hockey goalies. As the cliché goes, practice makes perfect. There is no substitute for putting in the time in the crease.

It's a truism that author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book "Outliers," calls "The 10,000-hour Rule," pointing out that trailblazers such as the Beatles and Bill Gates didn't realize greatness until they had put in at least 10,000 hours of playing time (or, in Gates' case, programming time).

It wouldn't be a stretch to place similarly a "10,000-minutes Rule" on NHL goalies.

Rarely do we see goalies exhibit consistent greatness until they have logged at least 10,000 minutes in The Show. In the minutes-played category, Luongo (38,257), Roloson (32,198) and Thomas (18,432) meet this standard, with Niemi still being a relative neophyte with 5,856 minutes spent standing in the mental and physical crucible that is an NHL crease.

Assuming a goalie is not suffering from chronic injuries or the decaying physicality that comes with truly advanced age, generally the more minutes spent in front of the net, the more competent the man behind the mask.

As positioning and puck-tracking has replaced reflexes as the paramount skill-set for modern goaltenders -- and as equipment technology has resulted in less stress on knees, hips and groins -- the notion that a goalie must possess the acrobatic ridiculousness of a teenager has become passé.

Moreover, due to the advances in training, positional knowledge and overall competence of today's goaltenders, it appears the position of goalie finally has come of age. And I don't say this only because, as a beer league weekend warrior, I happen to fall into the aged sweet spot between Roloson and Thomas.

Rather, it just so happens also to be a convenient truth.
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