Picking starting goalie part feel, part logic

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:44 AM ET

Dave Rook could flip a coin. He could go eeny-meeny, he could employ darts, draw straws, consult a ouija board.

But as a guru of the puck-stopping arts, the London Knights goaltending coach has to use logic and a feel for his netminders to make a decision as to which one will start each game.

When you've got Gerald Coleman and Adam Dennis in harness, it's not an easy task.

Rook and his associates in the Be A Pro Goaltending School just completed their London spring break school this week and the topic came up. Whom do you start?

"It's hard when you have two top goaltenders. And there are tough decisions coming up," Rook admitted as the playoffs loom.

Outwardly, it's fairly straightforward. Rook gives his goaltender recommendation to head coach Dale Hunter and it is accepted 90 per cent of the time.

His nod is based on who has the better record against the opponent, the schedule, who played last game, how practices went and a lot of feel for who is best suited for a particular game. But part of it is gut instinct, too.

Any past deployments he'd change? Well, in hindsight, he would change the game after the Knights broke the CHL undefeated string against Guelph in December.

He went with Coleman against Kitchener Rangers rather than Ryan MacDonald, who was then a Knight. MacDonald hadn't played and Coleman was on a high from a shutout. But MacDonald was called into action with the Knights down 3-0 and backstopped a 4-3 overtime win to keep the streak alive.

Thankfully, things are a bit more cut-and-dried in the school Rook, Bill Dark and Scott Dickie run. It's a compendium of three schools.

Dickie, who starred in the Kitchener Rangers' 2003 Memorial Cup win, joined Rook and Dark (Western Mustangs), whose combined goaltending tutelage includes the junior B London Nationals, St. Thomas Stars and St. Marys Lincolns and a host of minor teams.

They tend to simplify what is sometimes portrayed as an arcane specialty. Their motto, Less is More, expresses that. They strive for efficiency between the pipes.

"NHL goalies make the same mistakes as the kids," Rook says. "The only difference is they do it at a higher speed and when the kids see it on video, they say, 'I did that, too.' "

The school, which will run in the summer in London, Kitchener, Goderich and Gravenhurst, is age-specific in terms of curriculum. It includes off-ice training and also involves a sports psychologist and yoga instructor Jordan Billard, who does private sessions with Coleman.

All three partners are working on expanding the repertoire of goaltenders. Along with stopping shots, the modern goaltender now can play an important role in clearing the defensive zone and even on scoring plays.

"Good goaltending is 50 per cent of the game; bad goaltending is 100 per cent of it," Dark says.

Rook, who has seen just about everything goaltending has to offer, including playing in the U.K., sees an increased role for the goaltender in the attack.

"He can help eliminate the forecheck (with puckhandling skills)," he said. "The D (defencemen) can be fresher if they aren't being constantly being rammed into the end boards. And the goalie can create an odd-man rush against the forecheck."

It seems odd that it wasn't all that long ago head coaches tended not to pay a lot of attention to goaltenders. Odd, in that how the guys at each end play often dictates the outcome of games and series.

Rook and Dark are not saddled with that problem. Both Dale Hunter of the Knights and Clarke Singer of the Mustangs are well plugged in as to their goaltending, they're pleased to point out.


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