Goalies have a world-renown reputation of being quirky and odd. Being a goalie, you are pretty much isolated and in your own world. You have one job to do and that is to stop pucks. If you win, you were supposed to. If you lose, you are the goat. There is so much pressure being a goalie. To top it off, you have to stand in front of 90-mile-an-hour shots all night.
Being a goalie is a tough career choice in hockey because there is only room for one true starter on every team. That means that only 30 can be NHL starting goalies. If you have a team like the New Jersey Devils, then you’ve got one guy starting for 20 straight years.
In an NHL team’s system, there is only room for six goalies. Two at the NHL level, two in the AHL and two in the ECHL. That’s roughly only 180 spots for goalies in all of pro hockey. To put this into perspective, there are roughly over 1000 forward spots and over 600 defensemen spots in pro hockey.
When I was in college, David McKee was the cat’s meow when it came to goalies. In his junior year, he was a Hobey Baker Award finalist and signed a 3-year NHL entry deal with the Anaheim Ducks. When you sign a player out of college before the season ends, you have to keep them on the NHL roster. So McKee got to spend two months in Anaheim and once they were beat out he was named to USA’s roster for the World Championships as the third-string goalie.
Two years later, Dave and I were team-mates in Augusta, which was Anaheim’s ECHL affiliate. The previous year, David played in Portland in the AHL and was recently bumped down with the emergence of Jonas Hiller and a trade that brought Gerald Coleman, who played two games in NHL the year before, over from Tampa Bay.
That season, Anaheim had J.S. Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov in the NHL, Jonas Hiller and Gerald Coleman in the AHL and J.P. Levasseur, Nathan Marsters, David McKee and Bobby Goepfert fighting for spots in the ECHL. In total this was eight top-of-the-line goalies fighting for six spots in a deep system.
To put it into perspective, Marsters had played two seasons already in the AHL and was a very good goalie who had attended NHL camps in Los Angeles and Anaheim. Levasseur was an Anaheim pick who was fresh out of the QMJHL and was under contract with the big club. He was tabbed to be the eventual successor to the incumbent J.S. Giguere. Bobby Goepfert just signed with Anaheim out of college and was the goalie who played for USA that beat the Canadians at the World Junior Championships that were hosted in Halifax. These were some pretty impressive resumes battling for spots in the ECHL.
Eventually it became a numbers game and the higher-ups decided to trade McKee and Marsters to keep Levasseur and Goepfert in the system. It was sad to see outstanding talents like Marsters and McKee go. These were guys with extended AHL experience and dominant college hockey resumes. Watching them leave also created a lot of pressure for the two rookies, Levasseur and Geophert to step up and perform. With all that pressure and competition, no wonder goalies are always a bit off. Thinking about that always made me glad I was a defenseman.