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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NHL: New Game for Europe's Goalies

Crossing the ocean to be a goaltender in the National Hockey League can be a helpless feeling. The difference is much more than a cultural shot to the chest protector.


"It's like going into a grocery store and watching the cash register tick away or listening to the ping at the gas pump," San Jose Sharks goalie Arturs Irbe says.


In other words, the goals come fast and often. And until this season, the only European goalie to make his mark in the NHL was the Philadelphia Flyers' Pelle Lindbergh, who was killed in a 1985 auto accident.


But the Buffalo Sabres' Dominik Hasek has been dominant this season, letting in fewer than two goals per game. Irbe has been consistent, posting a 2.86 goals-against average. And Calgary rookie Andrei Trefilov of Russia has passed Mike Vernon and Trevor Kidd to become the Flames' No. 1 goalie.


"I was the same goalie 10 years ago, two years ago and last year," Hasek says.


Come on Dominik, that's not really true. Like most European goaltenders, Hasek positioned himself deep in his goal crease, did not come out of the net to challenge shooters and never went behind the net to play the puck -- all prerequisites in the NHL.


"You have to be more aggressive in North America," Irbe says. "The ice surfaces are smaller, and shots, they seem to come from all different angles.


"The difference for me this season is that I haven't had to face as many shots, and I learned to move around a little better."


Actually, the larger ice surfaces in Europe make the job description for a goaltender completely different.


"There's so much room behind the net, you don't dare leave your crease in Europe for fear you might get caught out of the goal," St. Louis Blues goalie Curtis Joseph says. "It's OK over there because none of the teams dump the puck into your zone.


"But if a European goalie doesn't learn to handle the puck and help set up the play for his defensemen, he is like a sitting duck in goal here because there are too many good shooters in this league. You have to be able to move around and cut down the angles."


Yes, even the great Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak would have had to adjust.


"It's difficult to scout European goalies based on how they stop the puck alone, because they are like a stationary target," New York Rangers coach Mike Keenan says. "The Russians, in fact, don't even remove the goalie late in the game for an extra attacker.


"I knew Hasek was a good goaltender when I brought him to Chicago. But he's so much more into games than when he left Czechoslovakia. If I had known he was going to develop this way, I would have asked for Pat LaFontaine instead of Stephane Beauregard when I traded him to the Sabres."


Sometimes we take for granted how a goaltender sets up the puck for his defensemen. But the difference will be noticeable when you watch the Olympic Games from Lillehammer, Norway, the next two weeks.


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Former Winnipeg general manager Mike Smith used to say Russian center Jan Kaminsky had as much talent as Teemu Selanne but was not as flashy. Now that Smith has been fired amid a cry that the Jets had too many European players, the first move by general manager-coach John Paddock to North Americanize the Jets was trading Kaminsky to the Islanders for journeyman defenseman Wayne McBean.


Kaminsky scored the go-ahead goal in his Islanders debut last Saturday.