Monday, May 23, 2011

"DESPERATE" LOOKS SMOKIN' HOT (WHEN IT WORKS)



In his post-game interview, Boston's Tim Thomas called his diving stick block late in the third period Monday night a "desperation save."

He was right. The shot came in from the point and he never saw it. The puck bounced off the back boards and out in front. Because he was too far out of the net, he had no choice but to be "desperate" and dive.

In volleyball, baseball sliding and, uh, the sport of diving, laying it out head first is often a first-choice tactic. But, in goaltending, it is a last resort when you just don't have time to push and get your body or pads there in time.

But, when it works, it looks pretty friggin' cool, eh?

Enjoy.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A YOUNG GOALIE DIES, BUT HIS DREAM LIVES ON ... DWAYNE ROLOSON'S MASK



My senior season at Colgate University, I scrawled with permanent marker on my blocker glove the initials "LB." It stood for Larry Baker. As in my dad, who by then was disabled quite severely by diabetes and a degenerative neurological condition that came with it.

I knew it likely would be my final season of competitive hockey and so I dedicated the season to my father to remind me and him of how important he was to getting me as far as Division I college hockey. It made every moment even more inspired than it already was knowing that it was a march to the end of a successful career.

So it was with bittersweet remembrance that I discovered that Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson has been honoring someone's initials on his mask this season. If you look closely there is a shamrock embedded with the letters "KR," standing for Kelly Ryan, a 12-year-old goalie who did last year after getting hit by a car on his bicycle months after attending Roloson's goalie school in Simcoe, Ontario. Moreover, around the shamrock are the letters TDLO for "The Dream Lives On."

"The dream lives on, that's true," Kelly's father Phil, an Illinois cement finisher, recently told the Tampa Tribune. "Every day I watch Roli in the playoffs, even though Roli's name is on the sweater, … Kelly is there. He's in the Eastern Conference Finals."



A lot of athletes will seek inspiration where they can find it. From Babe Ruth to Wayne Gretzky, there are countless stories of athletes inspired by friend or family members to take their performance to a higher level.

The rest of the Roloson story told in the Tribune lends insight into the inspiration that may be behind the amazing play of the 41-year-old Roloson this season:

"When Kelly was 7, he just started emulating Dwayne Roloson," Phil said. "He was comfortable with Roli's style on the ice, and as he got to know Roli, with his humbleness."

Kelly always wore a Roli hat and No. 30 in his games because Roli had worn 30 for the Wild. A few years ago, when his parents re-did his bedroom, Kelly insisted: Oilers blue. The guy at the paint store told Kelly, "I have no idea what you're talking about." Kelly returned with his Roli Oilers jersey. He got his Oilers blue room. It's still that color.

Through a mutual friend, Phil learned that Dwayne Roloson had a goalie camp in his hometown of Simcoe, Ontario. Camp co-founder and Chicago resident Tim Anderson, another former goalie, became good friends with Phil. In 2007, Kelly and the whole Ryan family headed for Simcoe.

"And we all just fell in love with Kelly," Tim Anderson said,

It's a 10-hour drive from Chicago to Simcoe and the Roloson Mason Goalie School, which also is named for Bob Mason, the Minnesota Wild goalkeeper coach. Dwayne Roloson is no figurehead. He's on the ice with the kids.

"We want to get to know them, each of them," Roloson said. "Kelly? He was the little guy with the smile, asking hundreds of questions, wanting to learn. He was just a phenomenal kid, very talented, very skilled. Every day he came to camp, he was happy."

"Roli was such a positive role model for my son, the way he worked with him, the way he treated him," Phil Ryan said.

Kelly attended three camps, the last in July 2009. Roloson always found extra time for him.

"Kelly had scholarship potential," Roloson said. "I think he could have been anything he wanted."

Roli was his idol.

"It's very humbling," Roloson said.

Sunday afternoon, April 18, 2010, Kelly finished up a weekend tournament. When he got home, his friend Alex called to see whether Kelly could come over. Kelly hopped on his BMX bike and promised his parents he'd call on his way home. And he did. He told his mom when he was a few blocks away. It was still light out.

A few minutes later, at 8:30, Phil's phone rang. He saw the ID. It was Kelly's cellphone.

But it was a police officer's voice.

"Do you have a son Kelly Ryan?" he asked.

At the accident scene, they kept Phil and Chris away from the ambulance. Chris saw the pickup truck. Kelly's bike was twisted in the truck's rear axle.

At the hospital, Phil cradled Kelly and whispered to him that if it hurt that bad, to let go, just let go, buddy. It was 11:03 p.m.

"A few seconds later, he was gone," Chris said.

There were 3,000 people at the visitation. Inside, there were Kelly's hockey jerseys, including his Roli jerseys. Phil put his own goalie equipment in the casket with Kelly, and some Roli hockey cards.

The funeral procession passed Kelly's grade school on the way to the Mass. His teachers and classmates were out front, wearing hockey shirts. They released balloons into an overcast sky.

At the cemetery, one of the boys asked Phil whether it was OK to leave his jersey on the casket. Soon there was a pile of hockey sweaters, and sticks, too. No one wanted to leave. A light rain began to fall. Finally they drifted away.

Dwayne Roloson was in Simcoe, at his oldest son's lacrosse practice, when Tim Anderson called him about Kelly.

"You're watching your son out on a field and you get a phone call about a boy who's just a few years older than your child, and he's gone," Roloson said. "Twelve years old. What do you do?"

Dwayne Roloson did what he could. A few months after the accident, he invited Phil Ryan up to goalie camp as a coach. It helped. The first Kelly Ryan Best Camper Award was given to the most dedicated goalie.

Phil's biggest fear was that Kelly would be forgotten. Chris goes to the cemetery all the time. Sometimes she locks herself in Kelly's room, where nothing ever changes.

On Oct. 18, 2010, six months to the day Kelly died, there was a candle and prayer memorial at the intersection where the accident occurred. Chris and the girls went, but Phil lingered at the house. There was too much pain.

He decided to watch the Islanders-Maple Leafs game because Roli was playing for New York and Kelly would love that. Phil noticed Roloson had a new mask. As the Islanders left the ice after the first period, Phil saw the mask's back plate. There was a huge green shamrock. And Kelly's number 30. And the words:

"To Kelly … Your dream lives on …"

"And I just start crying," Phil said.

Then he got up and went to the memorial.

Roloson and his wife, Melissa, came up with the idea for the mask. He had two made: one for games, one for the Ryans. Roloson was traded to the Lightning on New Year's Day. He has a Kelly back plate on his Lightning mask.

The Lightning came to Chicago late this season, and the Ryans came to the arena. Chris hugged Roli.

"Roli finally told me to stop crying or he would start," Chris said.

"He's with me all the time," Roli told her.

Monday, May 16, 2011

WHY OLD GUYS ARE RULING THE PLAYOFFS



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.

(This article originally appeared on NHL.com.

Friday, May 13, 2011

HOCKEY + LACROSSE = GOALIE NIGHTMARE



If your job is to score goals, you'll love this move by Finland national team forward Mikael Granlund (a Minnesota Wild prospect) in which he scoops up the puck lacrosse-style and chucks it into the net behind the Russian goalie.

But if you're a goalie, you'll hope this sick move doesn't become trendy ... because it is a bitch to defend against!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

JIMMY HOWARD'S SECRET WEAPON (HINT: IT'S IN HIS MOUTH)



There's one piece of equipment that Detroit's Jimmy Howard's got that every other goalie remaining in the NHL playoffs doesn't. Something that you can't see while he's playing. And something so basic you might not even think it could qualify as giving him an edge.

But make no mistake about it: Howard's unique secret weapon - a mouth guard - is a vital piece of plastic in what has been an iron-clad postseason for him.

What's so special about a mouth guard? In a lot of contact sports, every player wears one. But not in hockey. In fact, I don't know of any other goalkeepers in the NHL that wear one. That could soon change. Why? Because the science behind why certain mouth guards can enhance athletic performance is hard to argue against.

One goalie who has taken to wearing a mouth guard is University of New Hampshire standout Matt DiGirolamo.

DiGirolamo tells Stop Da Puck that he began wearing an Under Armour mouth guard by a company called Bite Tech, fitted only to his bottom teeth, last season, when he was a backup. He noticed it helped him breathe better and wore it throughout this past season, with spectacular results: He made more saves (1,145) than any other NCAA goaltender.

DiGirolamo explains: "Mine is not for protection at all. What it is does it locks your jaw in a forward position and causes you to breathe better. My airways are more open. When you clinch your teeth your release adrenaline and lose focus and causes you to have tunnel vision. It works."

The Pennsylvania native also suffers from asthma, but he says that ever since he began wearing the mouth guard (see image below) he no longer has breathing problems. "I don't have to take an inhaler to the rink anymore," he says. "I can't say it is the reason why I am doing well. But it's a way to get an edge."

And if Jimmy Howard keeps playing like a hyper-oxygenated Energizer Bunny, then it might be an edge more goalies still start sticking in their mouth.

TEAM USA'S TY CONKLIN: HIS SWISS CHEESE PROBLEM

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What happens when American stalwarts such as Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas, Jimmy Howard and other top USA goalies aren't available to play in the World Championships currently happening in Slovakia?

Simple: Team USA digs deep into its depth chart and names NHL journeymen Ty Conklin and Al Montoya as their tournament goalies.

After a shaky showing by the Islanders' Montoya, Conklin came in and performed very well, with a great game against Canada in an OT loss and a win against France. USA was poised to vie for the gold and Conklin was the presumed #1. But then came a 5-3 loss to Switzerland in which Conklin was yanked (see above video) after allowing 4 goals on 16 shots, the straw that broke the goalie's back being a sloppy turnover by Conklin behind the net.

Conklin's sudden shift from being a Berlin Wall to being Swiss cheese is a micro-cosmic tale of his up-and-down career that tells the story of why he has yet to breakthrough to the level of a Ryan Miller.

Conks is 35 and has played for six teams in eight NHL seasons. Although he has hopped around more than the Easter Bunny, Conklin's career stats - (91 W - 61 L- 4 T -16 OTL) and a 2.64 GAA - are solid. And he has shined in the international spotlight before, leading USA to its last WC medal, a bronze back in 2004 when he was voted that tourney's top netminder.

But the Alaska native, who likes to fly planes in his spare time and I'm told is a mentally sharp guy who has great intellectual skills, until now has been overlooked by the Team USA bosses as Miller, Thomas and other Americans have risen to dominance.

Insiders tell me that his biggest problem has been consistency. He might play four great games in a row, but then turn around with two horrible games. Which, of course, is what happened at the World Championships.

It's a shame.

As a result, Conklin, a former University of New Hampshire standout, has been relegated as a capable NHL backup and fifth or sixth-string Team USA goalkeeper, but not a starter - mostly because of these consistency issues.

When a keeper is branded as inconsistent, the roots of his on-and-off performance typically are in his mental state. Is it possible that the hyper-intellectual Conklin is too smart for his own good? Is he over-thinking his highs and lows to the point where it takes him out of the moment? I am the first guy to argue that a dumb goalie is an inferior goalie. In fact, the more mentally agile a goalie the better decisions he makes. But I do believe that, besides physical injury, the single greatest enemy to a 'tender is his own mind.

My prescription for Conklin is this: Make like Tim Thomas did a few years back and take up yoga. Find your breath and lose your mind. Meanwhile, he can watch the highlight reel below and see what great things he can do when he's of right mind.



Saturday, May 7, 2011

TIM THOMAS: WINNING UGLY BUT, SO FAR, NO COPY EYE-CATS



Tim Thomas is lucky the competition for the Stanley Cup is not a beauty contest.

My son made a very good observation recently about the unique looking square-caged mask worn by Boston's veteran goalie: "It's weird."

I agree. But I will take it a step further and say it is downright ugly.

But then my son, who by the way is 8, asked a logical question: "Why doesn't he wear a mask like everyone else?" The wired-cage style he was referring to is worn by just about every NHL goalie and is the "cat eye" cage, featuring circular holes around the eyes.

Here is the cat-eye style (fun fact: it's mine):



The conventional wisdom is that the cat-eye holes make it easier to see the puck than squares. The reasoning being that looking through large holes that are roughly the shape of your own eyes is optimal for vision.

But Thomas has said the reason he switched from a cat-eye to a square-eye design is because, in fact, he sees better through the squares!

InGoal magaine reported that Timmy T. visited Tony Priolo at the Sportmask factory in Oakville, Ontario, last summer and ended up trying on several designs. The one he chose for the 2010-11 season is a customized version of the square-grid cages worn by amateur goalies (amateur squares are small enough to prevent a stick blade or puck from going through them).

Tony explained: “Tim put on a number of different masks and I threw balls at him so he could decide which gave him the best vision – and this is the one we settled on.”

Now, the eye experts say that there is not definitive science to back up Thomas' claim that his eyesight is less impaired through the squares, but you can't argue against his results: He is the hottest goalie in the playoffs and is set to win this year's Vezina for the league's most outstanding goalie.

Which begs the question: Why hasn't a single goalie copied Thomas?

Most players and coaches I've spoken to say that no one is convinced that the square cage offers improved vision ... plus it is just plain U-G-L-Y.

It's a sobering reminder that goalies, though obsessed with getting an edge however they can, rarely want to do it at the expense of looking cool in their gear. I mean, Dominik Hasek had a lot of success wearing that dorkball old-school helmet and mask. But, to date, he is still the only NHL'er to don it since.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

GOALIE COACHING INSPIRED BY BALLET (BUT WITHOUT TUTUS)



Ballet instructors long have taught their dancers in front of mirrors, so that students could perfect their moves and correct their form in real time. It's a tried-and-true practice that has resulted in one of the most exacting and perfectionist-oriented art forms.

So why wouldn't goalie coaches use mirrors for goalies?

Philadelphia-based goalie guru Chris Economou asked himself this very question and has come up with the answer in the form of what he calls "The Goalie Room" at his Hockey Heaven training facility just north of Philly.

The simple combination of a small patch of ice (real, not synthetic) and a mirrored wall has taken his 'tenders to new heights. Goalies can see that their glove isn't high enough, or that they are leaving a hole between their elbow and their hip, or that they are hunching their shoulders and, then, self-correct accordingly.

"The question isn't, 'Why use mirrors?'" the creative coach (who also serves as goalie coach for the USHL Waterloo Black Hawks) tells Stop Da Puck. "The question is, 'Why not use mirrors?' It just makes sense."

We agree with Economou (who, by the way, is also an amusing Tweeter).

Of course, video has been used for a very long time, but, ironically, it is this low-tech teaching tool (inexplicably, the only of its kind in the U.S. that we know of!) that's truly on the cutting edge of modern goalie training.