The role of the goalie in an ice hockey team is something that has its own quirks. The goalie is after all one man that faces the opposition for 60 minutes whilst his teammates swap and switch regularly. Whether it’s a phobia of the painted lines or the tapping of the posts in a prayer to the gods a goalie’s antics are well documented.
However what makes a good goalie? This may appear to have an easy answer. It is of course the goalie that stops a lot of shots and keeps the clean sheets. Of course you would want that goalie on your team wouldn’t you?
Perhaps not. The move of Garrett Zemlak from the Fife Flyers to the Braehead Clan this week has ignited the debate over what makes a good goalie for your team. Zemlak won huge plaudits during the last Elite League season as he backstopped the Fife Flyers in their inaugural Elite League season.
Zemlak faced over 37.4 shots a night in his 55 games, which was the highest in the elite league, yet recorded a save percentage on a par with half of the other starting goalies in the EIHL. But whilst Zemlak’s stats for 2011 – 12 season are not the going to blow anyone away his performances, such as his 70 plus saves for 2 goals conceded at the Nottingham Panthers to help the Flyers to their first Elite League point, did blow people away.
Whilst that may make you think the Braehead Clan fans would be delighted with the move you may be forgetting that there are some differences between the Flyers of 2011 – 12 and what the Clan of 2012 – 13 will look like. The major difference will be the defence. The Flyers were an inexperienced bunch both at playing in the Elite League and in defending whilst the Clan have become an organised team with an organised defence. All this means that Zemlak should not be facing the same level shots next season.
This is not necessarily a good thing. Some goaltenders react better to a busy night and make fewer mistakes the more shots they face. Others can turn it on and make the top saves on the quiet nights that will win you a game. Last season Zemlak certainly fell into the first category.
There are previous examples to go off. Curtis Cruickshank had a stand out season for the Basingstoke Bison in 2003 – 04 before switching to Nottingham were his stats remained good but the performances were perhaps little less stand out. Jayme Platt had a similar experience as a Sheffield Steelers player after a successful year with the Manchester Phoenix and JF Perez with Edinburgh and Coventry. Michel Robinson on the other hand a several stand out nights as a Nottingham Panthers player but struggled greatly before that with the Edinburgh Capitals.
It is worth noting however that whilst fans and commentators may perceive both Cruickshank’s and Platt’s performances as being less notable with a more established side both of their goals against averages and save percentages. Those stats do not however take into consideration the missed save or pass error in a big game that ultimately can cost a team a league title. And that is the point a team with a good defence can make a goalies stats look good but that defence can not mask errors at crucial times in crucial games. There are goalies that have big games and goalies for the big game.
Finding the right balance between the two is difficult especially in the Elite League with import restrictions. The Clan think they have the man in Garrett Zemlak but now he has to prove it something that he may struggle to do.