It is a theme that began in 1998, the first year of NHL participation in the Olympics and the debut of women’s hockey.
From Patrick Roy and Manon Rhéaume to Martin Brodeur, Kim St-Pierre, Roberto Luongo and Charline Labonté, Canada has been led by goaltenders born, raised and developed in Quebec.
The 2010 Olympic Winter Games will be no different, as Quebecers fill five of the six goaltending spots on the Canadian rosters. Montreal natives Brodeur and Luongo are back for another turn in Vancouver, joined this time by Sorel’s Marc-André Fleury, while St-Pierre of Châteauguay and Labonte of Boisbriand look to help the National Women’s Team to a third-consecutive Olympic gold.
Only women’s netminder Shannon Szabados, born and raised in Edmonton, Alta., keeps it from being a clean sweep for Quebec in the Canadian nets.
So what is it about goaltenders from La Belle Province that make them so successful on the international stage? According to Labonté, it all goes back to one pioneering puck stopper.
“I think that Patrick Roy really had an impact on Quebec goalies,” she says. “Along with Francois Allaire (his former goaltending coach), they created and developed the butterfly style, which is used now by most goaltenders.”
Allaire, who works as goaltending coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs, continues to run a successful hockey school, teaching the next generation of goaltenders his style, one that has produced three Stanley Cup championships (19, Montreal and 2007, Anaheim) and three Conn Smythe Trophy winners (Roy, 19 and J.S. Giguere, 2004).
Among his disciples are both Fleury and Labonté, who attended his camp as young goaltenders.
But while it was Allaire they learned from, it was Roy they, and many others, idolized growing up – Labonté, at 27, is two years older than Fleury, meaning both were coming up through minor hockey when Roy was at his peak with the Canadiens in the late 80s and early 90s.
The Quebec goaltending boom can be attributed to Roy much the same way the growth of minor hockey in the United States, particularly California, can be attributed to the Los Angeles Kings’ acquisition of Wayne Gretzky in 1988 – everyone in Quebec wanted to be like ‘St. Patrick’ much like young players in California wanted to be like ‘The Great One.’
Today, with Roy retired, the eyes of prospective goaltenders in Quebec have turned to the man who replaced him as the NHL’s all-time winningest goaltender, a man with three Stanley Cup rings and an Olympic gold medal on his résumé.
“Even today, Martin Brodeur is one of my favourite goaltenders to watch,” says Fleury, who played on the same team as Brodeur during Hockey Canada’s men’s orientation camp in Calgary last August. “I love that I had the chance to see the little things he does on and off the ice. It’s interesting to see how he prepares and what he’s like when he’s not on the ice.”
Labonte, though, watches a different Stanley Cup champion.
“Marc-André Fleury!” she says, without hesitation, when asked who which goaltenders she watches today. “We played in the Quebec league around the same time (Labonte played 26 games with Acadie-Bathurst in 1999-2000, becoming the second female to play in the QMJHL) and I just thought he was so good. His technique was pretty much perfect and he was a fighter. I loved him right away so I just kept following his career.”
Although the 2010 Olympics will take place on Canada’s west coast, one thing is certain – the road to hockey gold will go through Quebec.