When Stan Butler was coaching Canada’s world junior team, all he had to do was look to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for a goaltender.
“Goaltending was always a strength of Quebec. In 2002 the only two players we had on our team (from the QMJHL) were the goalies,” said Butler, who coached the ‘02 team to a silver medal with Pascal Leclaire and Olivier Michaud in goal.
“There was a traffic jam of goalies coming out of Quebec in those days. There were a couple camps there where you had all four goalies from Quebec.”
But the days of Quebcec dominance in goal have long passed. This year, Canada is going with Carter Hart from the Western Hockey League and Colton Point from Colgate University in the NCAA for the annual tournament that begins on Boxing Day.
Quebec goalie Samuel Harvey was invited to the selection camp, but was let go in the first round of cuts by head coach Dominique Ducharme.
Ducharme, from Joliette, Que., is aware that his home province isn’t producing goalies as it once did.
“It might be the influence at the time of Patrick Roy and getting the best athletes to be attracted to going in net. Maybe that went away a bit with the new generation of guys,” Ducharme said ahead of the 2018 world junior hockey championship.
Canada had a strong lineup of QMJHL goaltenders at the world juniors in the 80’s and early 90’s, such as Jimmy Waite, Stephane Fiset and Felix Potvin, but nothing in comparison to what Ducharme labelled the “Golden Age” from 1996 to 2004.
The ‘96 team alone had four QMJHL goalies on its scouting list that would go on to NHL careers, while the next two tournaments would also see only Quebec goalies in net for Canada.
Dan Cloutier was returning from the ‘95 squad and was projected as the No. 1, but missed the tournament due to injury. That opened the door for Marc Denis to make the team as Jose Theodore’s backup, while Martin Biron was cut.
Then in ‘97, Denis was the starter and Biron was No. 2, while J.S. Giguere was the odd man out. In ‘98 it would be Roberto Luongo and Mathieu Caron.
Maxime Ouellette and Marc-Andre Fleury would also represent Canada during Quebec’s run of dominance in goal, both appearing twice. In all, 13 of the 18 roster spots from ‘96 to ‘04 were taken by a QMJHL goalie while a French Canadian started 56-of-60 games at the world juniors.
“We always knew there was going to be someone from the Q on the world junior team,” said Biron, who won gold alongside Denis in ‘97. “If you were a goalie in the QMJHL you were gonna get a chance, it was as simple as that.”
Since Fleury’s appearance in 2004, however, the number of Quebec-trained goalies has declined, with only Jonathan Bernier, Jake Allen, Olivier Roy, Zac Fucale and Mason McDonald emerging from the QMJHL to represent Canada at the world juniors. And two of those goalies (Allen and McDonald) were born in the Maritimes.
Meanwhile, the WHL has slowly taken over since 2005, with 11 goalies dressing at the world juniors. Eight have come form the OHL.
“There’s no loss of pride because like everything the evolution of the game at any moment it can change,” Biron said. “A lot of goalies came out of Western Canada with Carey Price, obviously there are goalie coaches on that part of the map that have been good.”
Biron gives credit to Francoise Allaire for giving goalies from Quebec an edge that pushed them to the forefront. Allaire, who recently retired as the Colorado Avalanche’s goalie coach, was Patrick Roy’s goalie coach with the Montreal Canadiens starting in the late ’80s. He also ran his own specialized camps that were ahead of their time, starting in Montreal before taking his knowledge world wide.
The advantage Quebec goalies once had started to diminish as Allaire’s teachings were spread out to a wider audience.
“That camp was the standout place, that’s where all the goalies went to,” said Biron. “Then it became much more of a world thing than a Quebec thing.”