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Lefty Vokoun has slight edge in right-handed world

by Adam Schwartz

Panthers' goaltender Tomas Vokoun, a native of the Czech Republic, was a ninth-round selection by the
Montreal Canadiens in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.
Tomas Vokoun video highlights 
Here is a hockey fact you might not have thought about. Only seven NHL goalies catch with their right hand.

To Tomas Vokoun, one of the lefties, the difference gives him an edge, a slight one to be sure, but an edge nonetheless. And we all know how goalies love those advantages, however small.

“It's a little bit easier for me to stop left-handed shots and most of the players in the NHL have left-handed shots,” said Vokoun, the Florida Panthers’ top goalie. “Although, I don't think it's a significant advantage. I don’t think a goalie that catches with his right hand has a significant advantage.”

Right-handed catching goalies do have more trouble with players that have right-handed shots because that leaves their stick side susceptible to a shot from the player’s strong side.

"Righties are a little bit tougher for me because a goalie's natural weak side is his blocker or his stick side and that is what the righties are facing against me,” Vokoun said. “It's tougher to make a save on the stick side, but fortunately, most of the players in the NHL are left-handed (shots), even though there are more and more right-handed shots in the League.”

Confusion plays a part in all this. When a player is shooting against a right-handed catching goalie, the sight appears backwards to them, sparking that sliver of hesitation.

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"It's a total flip for what you're used to seeing,” said New Jersey Devils winger Jamie Langenbrunner, a right-handed shot who scored 23 goals last season. “It changes what angles you are coming from and what your eyes see."

Players try to prepare for the change as best as they can.

”You make a note of it (facing a right-catching goalie) so you know what you're looking at when you take the shot,” Langenbrunner said. “But a lot of times things happen so quickly in a game you are picking certain spots to shoot at as far as what you don't see with the goalie as opposed to what you do see.”

Here is another interesting fact. Vokoun and fellow right-handed catching netminder Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders made up two-thirds of the Eastern Conference goaltending corps at the 2008 NHL All-Star Game.

While opposition shooters notice a difference with a right-handed catching goalie, the goalie’s best friend -- other than the goal post -- their defensemen don’t notice much of a difference.

“I didn’t have to adjust my play this year with Vokoun in net,” Panthers defenseman Bryan Allen said. “To be honest, I didn’t even really notice that he was opposite.”

"I don’t think a goalie that catches with his right hand has a significant advantage."  -- Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun

Vokoun agrees with Allen, who didn’t even notice what hand the goalie caught with.

"There wasn't much of an adjustment with the defensemen,” Vokoun said. “Before the season, we played exhibition games and guys get used to it. I don't think there's a big adjustment period just because a guy holds his stick in a different hand.”

While some teammates may not notice the difference, it affected Vokoun when he was growing up in the Czech Republic trying to obtain left-handed equipment.

"I used to have trouble getting equipment when I was really young in the Czech Republic,” Vokoun said. “Everything had to be custom made back then because there were almost no goalies that caught with their right hand. Since everything was custom made, it was really expensive for my parents to get me equipment.”

With over 400 NHL regular-season games on his resume, Vokoun has noticed that his advantage is dissipating over time as the League’s better shooters will score regardless of what hand a goalie catches with.

“More and more guys in the League have right-handed shots,” Vokoun said. “So, whatever advantage I had is becoming less. If there is a good, smart player he knows where to shoot regardless of what hand you catch with.”

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