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Frozen Grounds: Hockey Goalies Really Are Crazy

Goaltending in the NHL is both a premier position and the worst place to play ever.


Love them or ignore them, but goalies really are crazy. They're not as crazy as they used to be, for some reason, but they're still a bit nutty. I mean, who really thinks throwing themselves in front of 90+ mph slap shots on a regular basis is actually a good idea, right?

In the NHL, much of the lore, the history, and the mythology of the sport revolve around goaltending and goaltenders. They're universally looked at as crazy and extremely superstitious. And big games have been won or lost by how they've played.

So everyone knows what a goalie does. They stop pucks from getting past them into their net. What's so interesting about them, right? What more is there to say?

Plenty, and most of it revolves around terminology, statistics, and rules.

There are three styles of goaltending. One is called the butterfly style. This is where the goalie drops down to the ice, and uses his leg pads to stop the majority of low shots. This was most recently popularized by Patrick Roy, but this style of play has been around since the 1950s because of Glenn Hall.

There's also a stand-up style of goaltending. And it is pretty much what it says it is. Goalies tend to use their feet and their sticks to stop the majority of low shots instead of dropping down to their knees. This is considered the traditional form of goaltending, and it's not very popular right now.

Most goalies these days use a combination of the two, which is referred to as a hybrid style. There's no real way to quantify the averages between how many shots are stopped on their knees or on their feet. This varies considerably from goalie to goalie.

On top of that, you have puck-handling goalies and non-puck-handling goalies. Some goaltenders will pass the puck whenever they can to their teammates, and very much prefer to do that. While others will just place the puck with their stick somewhere convenient for teammates to come and recover.

Martin Brodeur is considered one of the best puck-handling goalies to have ever played the game, and some general managers have complained that he has given the New Jersey Devils an unfair advantage. So a few years ago, the NHL put a rule in place to limit where goalies can handle the puck. This is called the trapezoid, which is located behind the net. They're also able to play the puck in the paint in front of their own net.

Which leads us to terminology, and this is where it gets, well, humorous. The paint in front of the net is called the crease, and the opening between the goalie's legs is called the 5-hole. The other four sweet spots are either side of a goalie's hips and above their shoulders. (Technically, there are eight holes that a shooter can see to get the puck past the goalie, but I'm trying to keep this simple.) The ideal shot to get past a goalie is about six to 10 inches off the ice above their skate, but also up over a shoulder and just under the crossbar of the net.

So announcers will often say things like "he just couldn't get it up (the puck), even though he was outside of the crease and had the goalie beat." Seriously, I can't make this stuff up. Depending on who the announcers are for NHL games, it can really turn into a total giggle fest.

There are two major statistics for goaltending, and one correlates rather nicely with pitching statistics. There's the goals against average, which is commonly abbreviated as GAA, and the save percentage, which is abbreviated typically as SV%. GAA is the equivalent to ERA (earned run average), but time on ice in minutes played is also figured into the equation instead of innings played.

SV% is a bit more complicated. It's a percentage of how many shots on goal that a goalie stops. (A shot on goal is a shot that has potential to get past a goalie. Hitting the posts or the crossbar on the net do not count as shots on goal.) It's the total number of saves divided by the total number of shots on goal. So a save percentage in hockey is different from that of relief pitchers who specialize in closing games.

If stats are your thing, and you think you might want to learn more about NHL goaltending stats, here's probably more than you'd ever want to know about the topic. (Please keep in mind that English is not the first language for everyone who writes for this site.) Check out, What Should We Expect from NHL Goaltenders?

In many ways, a goalie is a lot like a baseball catcher in regards to responsibilities and equipment. Part of a catcher's responsibilities is to stop wild pitches from getting past him, and that's what goalies do. The biggest difference, really, is that a catcher's equipment is lighter and less bulky. Other than the whole ice/dirt and stick thing, of course.

Speaking of hockey and baseball, here's a little humor combining both sports to top things off.