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One of the great fears of those running the National Hockey League is that their product will too closely resemble that scourge on the sports landscape, professional soccer.
You know … having diving like soccer. Or embellishment like soccer. Or, perhaps worst of all, having a bunch of games with little to no scoring just like the most popular sport in the world.
Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins has heard this too, and wondered aloud to DJ Bean of WEEI: Why is it a bad thing if your sport resembled soccer?
“I think that people that know the game have always enjoyed a game that has lots of scoring chances, but the goaltender’s been extremely good. Good pace of the game. … Why do people enjoy soccer so much in Europe that you can’t even get a ticket? 2-1 games. It’s like, you have to appreciate the whole game. … I really think there’s still a lot of speed in our game, there’s still a lot of skill, there’s still a lot of scoring chances and there’s still some unbelievable saves.”
Imagine that: Enjoying the nuance of the game, and the little moments, instead of slavishly hoping to see the red light.
As we’ve noted before, shots on goal have remained static through the years in the NHL.
But as Julien notes, there’s some unbelievable saves. Which brings us to his next point: Maybe goalies are just really, really good and there’s not much we can do about that?
“Maybe give credit to the goaltenders. Instead of being standup goaltenders, they’ve modified their style that they make it tougher to score, but the scoring chances are still there. I haven’t seen a change in our scoring chances in tons of years.”
That’s the part of the nostalgia for fire-wagon 1980s hockey that never gets acknowledged: That not only did the goalies wear thinner, flimsier pads, most of them didn’t know what the hell they were doing. The technique has improved dramatically, as has the coaching.
The fact that goalies are now the size of NBA small forwards is a factor, too, but I agree with Julien: There’s only so much you can do when goalies have perfected their craft and coaches, Julien among them for years, emphasize defense as the path to victory.
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