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Unmasked: Goalies embrace All-Star Game challenges

by Kevin Woodley /

For goaltenders, the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) is a chance to revisit their youth, a flashback to flashy glove saves made playing hockey on the street or in the basement.

For Jaroslav Halak of the New York Islanders, a first-time All-Star, part of his childhood was spent imitating a handful of past All-Stars in his native Slovakia.

"Like any kid you start playing street hockey, you have different idols growing up," Halak told "Growing up I used to be Curtis Joseph, Patrick Roy, Mike Richter, a lot of different goalies."

Roy played in 11 All-Star Games and finished with a 7.44 goals-against average. Richter played in three and had an 8.00 GAA. In two All-Star Games, Joseph had a 10.50 GAA.

Halak understands the numbers don't matter in a game defined by its lack of defensive structure. But for all the highlight-reel scoring, it also presents a chance to make some of those incredible saves he grew up trying to replicate.

"It's not the most fun game to play for goalies but you just have to go out there and try to have fun," said Halak, who played in an American Hockey League All-Star Game. "I'm sure guys will try to do some fancy stuff. Obviously in All-Star Games you see some crazy stuff happening, crazy plays, but also some crazy saves."

The secret, said Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, is not worrying about all the offensive plays and trying to enjoy the opportunity to make a few of those crazy saves.

It's fitting then that Luongo fell in love with the position watching Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr and imitating his glove saves with the other hand in basement of his parent's home in Montreal. Fuhr won the Stanley Cup five times and earned a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame with a career .887 save percentage and 3.38 GAA, an average of almost one goal per game fewer than the 4.33 he allowed in six All-Star Games.

But Fuhr was remembered for big moments, not big numbers. That's exactly how Luongo will approach his fourth All-Star Game.

"Stats obviously don't matter," said Luongo, who has a 6.46 GAA in his first three All-Star Games. "Just have fun with it."

For Luongo, it means a slight adjustment in how he plays.

For goalies, the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) more closely resembles a real NHL game because the Discover NHL Shootout is similar to a regular-season shootout. The All-Star Game itself is nothing like a regular-season game, with little to none of the defensive resistance and structure goalies rely on to make reads and anticipate plays.

The All-Star Game is more like a game of shinny, with loads of extra time, space and passing options for the world's best players.

Some might assume that would force goalies to be more aggressive, to cut down the angle on shooters and take away more room over the shoulders. That would be a mistake.

"I like to play extra deep and wait for plays to develop," Luongo said, noting the extra passing. "Guys rarely shoot from [the] perimeter."

Halak already is a more neutral-positioned goalie; he spends most of his time in the blue ice and won't change where he plays. But Halak, and Pittsburgh Penguins All-Star Marc-Andre Fleury, each agree it is important to stay patient with all the east-west play.

Commit too soon and there's a good chance it will be tapped in behind you.

"I would probably be more patient and not so focused on the shooter," said Fleury, who gave up four goals in the 2011 All-Star Game. "Guys will try to do the pass across, the backdoor, or send guys on a breakaway. I just try to stay on my feet as long as possible."

Fleury has the added benefit of squaring up against some of the world's best forwards on a daily basis in Pittsburgh. Given most NHL practices have plenty of unchallenged rushes, it can be great preparation for what he's about to face in the All-Star Game.

"When you get a chance to face those guys every day you get used to it," Fleury said of a lineup that features Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. "They got the best shots, the best hands, so I am fortunate to be on this team and working with them."

Other than that, most goalies don't see a lot of the wide-open style of play featured in an All-Star Game anymore. Shinny used to be an offseason training staple for goaltenders, but these days many avoid it at all costs because all the wide-open looks and late passing options can force goalies to anticipate plays rather than react to them.

The temptation to start cheating can creep in, especially if you play informal scrimmages for several weeks.

"I think an All-Star Game is going to be kind of similar to those scrimmages, I would say," Halak said. "It's a lot of passing and you see different plays happening and you can create bad habits for sure if you play that style of game for a long period of time."

Fortunately, All-Star Game goaltenders only have to worry about one period.

"It's probably not the thing I like the most," Fleury said of shinny, which he sometimes plays as a forward with friends during the offseason. "But this time will just be a good time, so many good players out there; it will be fun."

Regardless of what the statistics say when it's over.

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