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French Connection

Nearly one-quarter of NHL goaltenders are from Quebec, including Ducks' Giguere and Devils' Brodeur

May 27, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — From the NHL's debut in 1917, when Georges Vezina came out of the northern Quebec town of Chicoutimi and earned the nickname "the Chicoutimi Cucumber" for his coolness under siege, goaltenders from the Canadian province of Quebec have been well represented among the top players in the league.

Jacques Plante of Shawinigan Falls, a town between Montreal and Quebec City, became synonymous with goaltending in the 1950s and became the first goalie to regularly wear a mask. Plante, a six-time Stanley Cup champion, wrote a book about goaltending that many goalies still consider their bible.

Memorable for his name and his steady play, Montreal native Lorne "Gump" Worsley played 22 NHL seasons from the 1950s through the early 1970s and won the Cup four times with the Montreal Canadiens.

There's also Montreal-born Bernie Parent, who led the Philadelphia Flyers to the Cup in 1974 and 1975 and became the first player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs two years in a row.

But never has there been such an influx of Quebec-born and/or Quebec-trained goalies as the NHL has seen in the last 15 years or so. It's no coincidence that's when Quebec City native Patrick Roy, then with Montreal and now with Colorado, became a star and elevated the status of goalies from the last guy chosen in pickup games to the position every kid in Quebec wants to play.

If not for Roy, Mighty Duck goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the talk of the playoffs with his 1.22 goals-against average and .960 save percentage, and his New Jersey counterpart, Martin Brodeur, might not be standing at opposite ends of the ice when the Stanley Cup finals start tonight at Continental Airlines Arena.

"It's probably attributable to Roy, because when you were a kid, you tended to play the position of the player you idolized. Most people do," David McNab, the Mighty Ducks' assistant general manager and a former goalie, said of the increasing number of Quebec goalies.

"Western Canadians idolized [Wayne] Gretzky and they're all forwards. I was a goalie. I idolized Glenn Hall. These kids idolize Roy and become goalies because of Roy, and then other kids look up to them, so it just keeps going."

No longer is the net reserved for kids who can't skate -- as it was for Plante, who had asthma and couldn't keep up as a forward or defenseman. Nor is it the place of last resort for someone's kid brother or sister.

Roy, who also excelled at tennis, glamorized playing goal at a time when cable TV made hockey more widely available and when pride in their French heritage was an important issue for French-speaking residents of Quebec, known as Quebecois. He enjoyed his greatest results after working with Francois Allaire, a former minor league goalie who has made a science of playing goal by breaking it down to its physical and mental components and advocating the butterfly style as the most efficient method to achieve consistency and success.

When Roy joined the Montreal Canadiens, he was put under the tutelage of Allaire, then the goaltending coach for the Canadiens and now the goaltending coach for the Ducks. Within two years, Roy zoomed to prominence by leading the Canadiens to the Cup, a feat he repeated in 1993.

"It used to be that people wanted to score goals and go one or two in the draft and make a lot more money than everyone else," said Rogie Vachon, who grew up listening to hockey on the radio on a farm near Palmarole, Quebec, and had a distinguished career with the Canadiens, Kings, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings. "When Patrick Roy was successful, all of a sudden kids wanted to be like him.

"And the money for goalies pretty much was equal to other players, so kids liked that. So you have the top athletes wanting to be goalies instead of wanting to score. The talent pool has been phenomenal the last 15 years."

While Roy was establishing himself as a clutch goalie with above-average puckhandling ability, Allaire and his brother, Benoit, were establishing their hockey school as a goalie factory. According to Francois, the school he and his brother run each summer in Sainte-Therese, north of Montreal, has produced 60 goalies who have been drafted by NHL teams over the last 15 years. Giguere attended every summer as a kid and later worked at the camp, teaching other aspiring goalies.

The camp lasts merely three weeks, but it's so rigorous that Francois Allaire said campers are encouraged to enroll for no longer than a week at a time. Ages range from 7 up.

"Some guys are coming from Europe, so they come for two weeks," said Allaire, who has also written an instructional guide for young goalies. "We tell them to take a week in between. It's pretty intense."

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