Tall Goalie, Short Goalie, or a Mindset?

Today in the NHL’s “goalie world” the current debate is about height. “Does a tall goalie take up more space?” “Does a shorter goalie move faster?” “Is there better reach for the tall guys?” Scouts spend countless hours looking for the slightest advantages to get their team that “next guy” with height being at the top of the list for goaltenders.

Is there really a big difference though? I mean physiologically speaking, yes – it’s obvious: one’s taller, one’s shorter. And with that means different anatomical: physics, centre of gravity, body mechanics, and make ups. But what about the mindset? What about the work ethic? After all, when you’re scouting a competitor for the future isn’t one of the first questions asked, “does he have the potential to not only make it in the league, but to stay in it for a long time?”

In my line of work (working with the mental resiliency and performance lifestyle of an athlete and connecting it to the physical game) I’ve taken note of two “game changers.” First off, potential has everything to do with the mind and very little to do with the body. I’ve worked with my fair share of professionals, as well as youngsters coming through the college systems to get into the NHL draft. If there’s one thing I can say with confidence it’s that every player is in charge of their own potential. Everyone at the top level is physically talented and can grow physically, but potential has to do with the longevity of a career, and more importantly the consistent growth as an athlete. It’s in the hands of the athlete to determine if they’ve had enough or if they can handle more; are they mentally resilient enough to handle the demands put on them by the coaching staff, and more importantly themselves? Do they have what it takes to spend hours and hours beating on their craft in the hopes that an opportunity will present itself for them to make the jump to the next level?

The second game changer I’ve noticed is that the athletes who are able to make it at the most elite level are the ones who are able to alter their lifestyle around their craft and work diligently at it. Hard work, in the eyes of myself and many others, will always trump natural talent and ability. In fact, I have a theory that all these “child prodigies,” are just athletes who developed a strong work ethic from a younger age. Think, the Sidney Crosby’s, or Wayne Gretzky’s were noted for their historic careers and hard work ethic since they were young. However, many mistake this for “natural skill and ability,” when the athlete was younger. To me it’s not that the talent and skill was something the athlete was born with, but instead something the athlete developed through their work ethic from a “younger than the rest,” age.

“…if the puck doesn’t find the back of the net, who cares?” – Allain Roy, RSG Hockey

Back to the debate about “tall goalie, or short goalie”; my colleague Allain Roy from RSG Hockey (former Olympic/pro goaltender and current NHLPA certified agent) weighed in on the subject, “Hockey is a sport with a lot of traditionalist viewpoints that are hard to shake. Commonly, scouts and teams are looking for a ‘safe bet,’ when they’re drafting a goaltender which means that they’re going to look to the traditional viewpoint of ‘taller goalies take up more net which means they can stop the puck better.’ However, we all know that it doesn’t matter how or what a goalie does to stop the puck as long as the save is made; if the puck doesn’t find the back of the net, who cares? To me it’s a matter of if the goalie can play big; can they get across the net fast enough to make the save; do they have the vision to find the puck through traffic like a tall goalie does; essentially – do they utilize the characteristics of being ‘big enough,’ but in their own way? At the end of the day, to me, it’s a combination of being mentally tough enough to stay focused and calm during high pressure situations, as well as having the right skill set and technique to make the saves required. I’ve noticed the common ideology across the league is that the bigger guys look calmer, but the smaller guys look all over; in reality that’s just another traditionalist viewpoint.”

“Don’t get me wrong, the taller goalies are definitely the ones that are appealing more to the coaches at the start, but I often find the shorter goalies recognize this and just out work the taller guys for a starting spot.” – Elliott Hogue, goaltender consultant and scout

I’d have to agree; the majority of goaltenders that I’ve worked with have been shorter (by this I mean anyone under 6’1), and to be honest all of them have had starting roles. Be it in the NHL, or for their college team, I’ve noticed that it’s a matter of consistency. On the contrary, I’ve also seen the taller goalies take a bit more time to come into their physicality and movement patterns than the shorter goalies have. A lot attribute this to a lower centre of gravity and less total body weight, which is something that cannot be replicated amongst the taller goalies (with the exception of less total body weight, but at the same time you can’t be a “skinny,” goalie in the game of hockey). My colleague Elliott Hogue (goaltending consultant and scout) felt that the taller goalies take their advantages for granted, “I’ve actually noticed that the taller goalies start taking their jobs for granted. They think that just because they’re taller they have an easier time getting the start. Don’t get me wrong, the taller goalies are definitely the ones that are appealing more to the coaches at the start, but I often find the shorter goalies recognize this and just out work the taller guys for a starting spot. And that’s when I see the mental, downhill, spiral of the taller guys because they completely lose their confidence knowing they had a starting role, but blew it because of a lack of work ethic.”

At the end of the day, from my own personal experiences as well as those of my colleagues, I feel as though this “tall versus short,” goalie debate is one that shouldn’t have to do with height at all. Instead it should come down to work ethic, drive, determination, and the will to make the sacrifices necessary to get the win. Hockey is a blue collar sport; if you work hard and do good things, good things will happen. Skill and talent can be developed simply by having the resiliency to work tirelessly on your craft. To me there shouldn’t be any debate over the “tall versus short goalies,” it should simply be, “does he play big?” And not just by physically being big, but by having a big impact on the team through his words and actions in the sport.

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