Quebec the cradle of goaltending
Goaltending in the National Hockey League has a definitive Quebecois flair to it these days.
A full 20 percent of the 82 goalies to appear in an NHL game during the 2002-03 season hail from the Canadian province of Quebec, a source of tremendous pride for the fiercely independent and hockey-mad province. Not only do so many goalies come out of Quebec, but some of the game's greatest netminders can -- and do -- trace their roots back to La Belle Province.
Patrick Roy is just a good old boy from Quebec City who happens to have won four Stanley Cups, including two with the Montreal Canadiens. New Jersey's Martin Brodeur is hockey royalty from Montreal with two Stanley Cup rings on his fingers. Current Montreal goalie Jose Theodore, a native of Laval, is the reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy holder.
Florida's Roberto Luongo, Marc Denis of Columbus and Anaheim's Jean-Sebastian Giguere are all among the next wave of outstanding goalies now making names for themselves under the white-hot glare of NHL competition. Meanwhile, players like Sebastien Charpentier, Maxime Ouelette and Simon Lajeunesse are starring in the high minors. Marc-Andre Fleury, the hero of Canada's silver-medal finish at the just-completed World Junior Championship, headlines yet another generation of potential NHL stars.
Francois Allaire, the goaltending coach for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, is a resident of Quebec, living in Boisbriand. One of the pioneers of the butterfly style in goaltending, which is the preferred style of most Quebec-bred goalies, he has seen what the explosion of native son goalies has done for his province.
"It creates lots of pride in the province that there are so many goaltenders," says Allaire. "I think there are 11 or 12 starting goalies from a League of 30 teams that are from Quebec, so it is in the news every day. One day, it is Brodeur did this, the next it is that Roy broke this record. Then it's Theodore this and Denis that. The kids (in Quebec) are reading about it every day. I always say to my (students), 'We're better technically and we have our own style of goaltending and it's well-known. We don't play like Europeans or Americans. And the players like that and they just want to get better."
Get better is exactly what the cadre of Quebec goalies have done during the last two decades.
For years, Quebec was the home province of some of the game's greatest scorers, players like Mario Lemieux, Jean Beliveau and the Richard brothers, Henri and Maurice. Today, the emphasis is on goaltenders, a trend that really began when Roy came to prominence as a rookie with the Montreal Canadiens in 1985-86.
Before that, Quebec had some great goaltenders -- including Bernie Parent, Rogie Vachon, and Jacques Plante -- but it was never to such an extent that it could become a provincial rallying cry. Incredibly, that all changed when the tall and shy, but supremely confident, Roy appeared for the Habs.
That year, Roy had a magical season, highlighted by an incredible playoff run that ended with another of Montreal's many Stanley Cup triumphs. For his efforts, Roy earned the first of three Conn Smythe trophies and the everlasting admiration of a generation of Quebec boys.
Denis, in his fifth NHL season, and third with the Columbus Blue Jackets, speaks for the whole generation, it seems.
And, just like that, Roy became a role model; an athlete young kids playing hockey in the streets or shinny on the frozen ponds and rivers across the province could pretend to be -- and one day hope to emulate.
"I think the success of Patrick Roy has been a big factor in Quebec's development in producing goaltenders," says Dave King, the former coach of the Blue Jackets, which employs two Quebec-born goalies in Denis and Jean-Francois Labbe. "When (Roy) does leave the game, he will be considered by many to have been the best goalie to play the game, and I think it is important for kids to have role models like that to aspire to. That is one of the things you have seen in Quebec.
Suddenly goaltending became a glamour position. No longer was the worst athlete on the youth team pushed into a life of goaltending because of his inability to skate. Now, Quebec coaches had their pick of great athletes to use as the goaltender, each looking to become the next superstar from the province.
"The athletes going into goaltending are definitely better, especially in Quebec," says Denis. "It used to be that the guy who couldn't skate on the team became the goaltender. But, it's not that way now, not by a long shot."