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Hockey Alberta and Hockey Calgary Bringing Players Back to the Net

By Neil Hilts on February 27, 2017

Hockey Calgary hosted two Try Goalie days recently in an effort to increase the number of players at the position. With the gear from Comrie’s Sports Equipment Bank and Professional Skate, along with volunteer instructors from the Calgary Canucks and Mount Royal University Cougars men’s hockey team, 50 kids attended each day. (Photos courtesy of Lisa Rosengarten, Hockey Calgary)

The natural resource industry and overall economy isn’t the only thing struggling in Alberta, as the lack of interest in being the last line of defence is also an issue.

Goaltending in hockey is on the decline in Alberta, including Calgary, so the sport’s governing bodies are countering the downtrend by increasing support to the position.

Hockey Alberta unveiled a provincial Goaltender Development Plan on Feb. 1 with the goal to educate coaches about the position while providing resources and knowledge to increasing the goalie quality. 

“Goaltending is a unique position, and as a result it is always a challenge in both rural and urban areas to get goalies at all age groups,” Brad Lyon, the senior manager of communications for Hockey Alberta, said via email. “The Goaltender Development Plan has come about as the result of Hockey Alberta identifying that more supports were needed for the position of goaltending as a whole.”

The Provincial Goaltender Development Plan has two focuses: coaches and players. With coaches, there will be a Hockey Alberta Regional Goalie Lead – a volunteer position – in six regions across the province. 

“The Regional Goaltending Leads will play a large role in supporting Minor Hockey Associations, educating coaches and parents, as well as providing development opportunities for the goalies themselves,” Lyon said.

Goaltenders will be provided “with specialized training opportunities, where they can work with other goalies as well as some of the most experienced goaltender coaches in the province,” according to the Hockey Alberta press release.

The 2017-18 year will have a several training weekends for goalies, coaches and others. Plus, this spring there are goaltender camps in Cochrane, Edmonton and Sylvan Lake.

“Hockey Alberta has had a goaltender plan in place for approximately two years…,” Lyon said. “Planning for the newly announced Goaltender Development Plan has been ongoing for the past number of months.”

The process has started and it will all be ready to go by the start of 2017 season.

At a smaller level, Hockey Calgary hosted two Try Goalie clinics, inviting players, both male and female, to try their hand in the crease on the last Friday of January and the first Friday of February.

“Both days sold out very quickly and we [had] a waiting list,” Kevin Kobelka, executive director of Hockey Calgary, said. “There were 50 kids registered on both days, so we will have 100 in total go through the program.”

Kobelka said goalie numbers are on the decline in Calgary minor hockey since the Calgary Flames last star goaltender left town.

“When (Miikka) Kiprusoff was in his prime with the Flames, we saw a jump in goaltending in Calgary, but that bubble has moved through and is at the midget age category now, so we need to refocus and get more players trying this position,” Kobelka said via email.

Kobelka said some minor hockey associations in the city have tried to offer lower prices for goalies or skill development camps, and said Hockey Calgary will likely offer the goalie clinics again if deemed successful this time around. 

At the Calgary camps, the focus was the experience of being a goalie. Thanks to Comrie’s Sports Equipment Bank and Professional Skate, the “Learn to Play Like Chad Johnson” Goalie Clinic included gear for potential goalies to try out.

Aimed at the Novice and Atom aged kids (seven to 10 years old) where kids first start playing goalie and strapping on the pads, it was a fun day with little competition.

There were guest coaches from the Calgary Canucks and Mustangs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), as well as the Mount Royal University Cougars men’s hockey team.

The general consensus seems to be that cost is likely the biggest hurdle holding kids back from getting between the pipes. Gear is much more expensive for goalies, much more so than for a skater.

“Coaches and parents often lack knowledge and understanding about the challenges of the position and how to support athletes to stay in the position or try it; as a result, the sport is losing out on great athletes with the potential to be great goalies,” said Lyons. “Hockey Alberta believes the Goaltender Development Plan will help reduce many of these challenges for goalies in our province.”

In addition, the idea the position is isolated from the rest of the team can also be a deterrent. However, with Hockey Alberta focusing on development and coaching knowledge, there will be no neglect to the position. The new resources should help fight this notion.

Chad Johnson, a journeyman in the NHL for a few years before settling with the Calgary Flames this year – even stealing the starting job – is the lone goalie in the big leagues born in Cowtown. 

The only other Alberta-born goalie is Airdrie’s Aaron Dell, currently the backup for the San Jose Sharks.

However, Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, the favourite for the Vezina this year, played his minor hockey in Calgary after moving from Saskatchewan. Washington’s Braden Holtby, last year’s Vezina winner, grew up in Lloydminster and although he played in both Alberta and Saskatchewan, his early minor days were in the western province.

Overall, there have been 10 goalies from Calgary and 46 from Alberta, according to (counting by birth city). The most notable from Calgary is Mike Vernon, the lone goalie whose number was retired by the Flames. He had 385 wins, five All-Star appearances and two Stanley Cups.

Grant Fuhr (Spruce Grove), Kelly Hrudey (Edmonton) and Chris Osgood (Peace River) were household names when they played in the NHL and are all Albertans.

The future is bright for Alberta’s goalies, with plenty of talented netminders in all levels who could potentially be NHL-calibre players. 
Last year, the first goalie drafted into the NHL was Sherwood Park’s Connor Hart to the Flyers.

Taylor Gauthier was the first goalie picked in the 2016 WHL Draft at No. 10 by Prince George, and Stuart Skinner (Lethbridge Hurricanes) from Edmonton and Ian Scott (Prince Albert Raiders) from Calgary were both first round picks in the WHL draft in 2014 and could potentially hear their names called in the NHL draft this spring.

With the new development in place province-wide, plus at a municipal level, Alberta could become the new goalie hotbed in the nation. And with a focus on tenders in Calgary and around Alberta, registration numbers should climb back.

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By Neil Hilts| February 27, 2017
Categories:  Minor Hockey
Keywords:  AB Minor Hockey

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