Shooters jammed up

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Things have changed quite a bit since Darcy Wakaluk strapped on the pads in the WHL.

The Calgary Hitmen goaltending coach, who played eight years with four different NHL teams, marvels at the numbers being compiled by the junior circuit's 'tenders.

"I think the year I got drafted, I had a 6.25 goals-against-average," says Wakaluk, who tended the twine for the Kelowna Wings and Spokane Chiefs from 1983-86.

"That wouldn't keep you in the league now."

Definitely not. WHL goaltenders will likely establish a record for shutouts this week.

Heading into tonight's action, netminders have registered 105 goose eggs this season. The loop is on pace for a whopping 142 in 2004-05. The record, which was set last season, is 107. Prior to that, the high mark was 61 (1999-2000).

The young puckstoppers have come a long way in a short time. But, Wakaluk says, there are other reasons why the lamp isn't being lit quite so often.

"Every year, the goalies are better athletes," Wakaluk says. "And every team in the league has a goaltending consultant or coach. When I played, you never heard of that at the Western level. But there probably isn't a coach in the WHL who isn't preaching defensive hockey first. People will tell you defensive hockey wins championships and all the systems are geared towards that."

Hitmen goalie Justin Pogge, who is expected to start tomorrow against visiting Vancouver (7 p.m., the 'Dome), agrees with his tutor.

"I think there's a more defensive style of play now," says Pogge, who has five shutouts.

"The league isn't as wide open like the OHL or the QMJHL. And it helps when your team is taking the guys in front because not too many shots are going to beat you from the outside."

Still, as much as teams are emphasizing strong defence, Pogge isn't about to put his WHL brethren in the backseat when discussing which league sports the top 'tenders.

"The WHL has some of the best goalies in the country," Pogge said. "You can tell by looking at the world juniors. Two WHL guys were taking the spots away from the normal goaltending factory in Quebec. The west has always had good goalies but no one has really looked out here for goaltending."

Veteran Hitmen sniper Ryan Getzlaf has faced the best junior-aged goalies in the world the past few years.

Goal-scoring is at an all-time low in the league with an average of 5.48 goals per game.

"The goaltending in this league has come up over the past few years," says Getzlaf, who's out of the lineup with a concussion. "A lot more teams are defensive-minded."

ICE CHIPS: Defenceman Braydon Coburn was named WHL player of the week after tying a league record by scoring four times against Seattle Friday ... Calgary Flame Jarome Iginla is one of eight former Kamloops Blazers named to the inaugural Blazers Legends roster. Former coaches Tom Renney, Don Hay and Ken Hitchock are in the builders category.


Videos

Photos