On a December day in the late 1960s, Sherry Bassin walked to an outdoor rink in Toronto to watch a team of 11- or 12-year-old house league players practice.
After watching some of the boys’ fathers instruct the players, Bassin took to the ice and spent time talking to the goaltender about positioning and fundamentals.
Bassin soon realized the young netminder had never received proper instruction about the position.
“He absorbed it all and was so excited. Every practice we’d have he’d come out and do all the basic things,” Bassin, now the general manager and majority owner of the Erie Otters, recalled over the phone.
The team hadn’t won its first 10 or 12 games, recalled Bassin, who later accepted an invitation to coach the team.
“We ended up winning the house league championship,” Bassin said. “He [the goalie] was a big part of it and all I had done was taught him the basic fundamentals.”
In a news release Tuesday, the CHL said it “has identified the need to further develop Canadian goaltenders by providing increased opportunities for them to compete in our league and succeed at the next level.”
Since Chet Pickard in 2008, a Canadian-born goalie hasn’t been the first taken at the position at the annual NHL entry draft. Last summer, only 11 of the 24 netminders selected were Canadian, continuing a trend of the past few years.
Bassin said there needs to be a conscious effort at the early stages of minor hockey to teach goalies the basic skills like those taught to forwards and defencemen.
“It’s the least-coached area on a team,” he said of the goalie position.
Over the years, Bassin has attended minor hockey practices where the instruction amounted to the goalie being told to “get out of the net.” Several years ago, the former minor hockey and junior coach made a point of having someone work with his team’s goalies, but believes it’s a practice that has been neglected over time.
“When goalies got to be a certain age [in the past] they would get help,” said Bassin, a two-time OHL and CHL executive of the year. “But I think the real issue is in the formative years of their play. You have to develop a very serious approach to working and developing goalies.
“To be a good goaltender, you have to be a significantly good skater. People don’t realize this, with all the movement you have in net, and that’s an issue.”
On a recent Coach’s Corner segment, Hockey Night in Canada personality Don Cherry said goalies in Canada aren’t receiving quality coaching, and agreed with the CHL’s decision.
“The OHL or [Western Hockey League] teams draft a European goalie, an older one,” he said. “He comes over, he plays. Our younger guys sit on the bench. And when the older guy gets too old, they bring over another European.
“I don’t think it’s right in our own country that we get the short end of the stick.”
The teaching of basic fundamentals is paramount, according to Bassin, as well as giving goalies specific instruction at practice while their teammates are performing other drills.
Earlier this week, the OHL ran a goalie symposium to investigate and find answers for goalies from atom to midget hockey. The symposium examined on- and off-ice developmental issues in Ontario and how goalies are used in games in hopes of developing long-term recommendations.
In the younger age groups of minor hockey, two goalies often alternate starting games and share playing time, regardless of their performance, because of the high cost to play. But Bassin said there is a fine line between entitlement and competition.
“They have to play enough to develop and you learn by playing,” he said, “but you also have to maintain a certain competitive level to make [both goalies] compete for the job. It’s like anything in life. If you don’t compete hard, you don’t keep your job.”
The CHL’s decision will start to have an impact on teams after next season. For this year’s CHL import draft on July 3, European goalies born in 1994 or 1995 can be chosen in the first round only. Those goaltenders, along with any current CHL import netminders, can continue play with their teams until they have exhausted their major junior eligibility, or the year of their 20th birthday.
Bassin’s Otters will be greatly affected by the CHL rule change considering the GM has had recent success carrying a European goalie on his roster.
Erie was among 13 of the CHL’s 60 clubs (21.7 per cent) with a European goaltender on its roster during the 2012-13 season.
Last August, Bassin brought aboard Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk of Sweden to battle 17-year-old Devin Williams of Saginaw, Mich., for the starting job, with 16-year-old Daniel Dekoning third on the depth chart. Dansk eventually won out and appeared in 43 games this past season compared to 33 for Williams.
“We’re preparing him to accept the load when Oscar finishes [his OHL eligibility],” said Bassin of Williams. “Right now, Oscar’s a premier goalie in the world for his age.”
Bassin, who isn’t overly concerned about the current crop of North American goalie talent in the CHL, also understands there must be an investigation if there is a concern that Canadian goalies aren’t reaching elite status.
“If there’s a perceived problem, you have to dissect the problem and implement a plan to overcome it. I think that’s what’s happening here,” said Bassin, adding he wouldn’t be surprised if there are no European players, period, in the CHL in the not-too-distant future.