Colorado developing goaltenders at a rapid pace for junior, college hockey
As the overall quality of youth hockey in the Rocky Mountain region has increased in the past decade or so, another trend has emerged – the place is starting to become a goalie factory.
Think it’s fiction? Check the facts.
Four goaltenders from Colorado and Utah have been selected in the past three NHL drafts alone – Arvada’s Evan Cowley by Florida in 2013, Parker’s Hayden Hawkey by Montreal in 2014 and Salt Lake City’s Garrett Metcalf by Anaheim and Parker’s Evan Smith by Nashville in 2015.
The rosters of NCAA and junior teams boast a couple dozen more players from Colorado or who spent significant time honing their skills in the state. This past spring, Littleton’s Ryan Massa helped lift a young University of Nebraska-Omaha team to the NCAA Frozen Four.
“For many years, the state would produce a goalie every so often, like Parris Duffus (a St. Louis draft pick who played at Cornell University and enjoyed a lengthy pro career that included a brief stint in the NHL),” said Littleton Hockey Association hockey director Brian TenEyck. “Former University of Denver (and NHL) goaltender Ron Grahame and Buddy Blom were the most influential goalie coaches in Colorado in the late 1980s and ’90s, but it was nothing like this.”
So how did the region’s masked men gain inroads into hockey’s higher levels? The path has been paved with several key developments.
One notable reason for the sizeable increase in advancement is size. The four NHL draft picks are 6-foot-2 or taller, with Cowley 6-foot-4 and Smith standing 6-foot-6.
“It’s a trickle down from the NHL,” said Rocky Mountain RoughRiders goalie coach Timm Lorenz, who brings decades of playing and coaching experience at national, junior and college levels to the same role for the Arvada Hockey Association. He also owns In The Crease goaltending school. “The huge guys are getting the attention. It’s nice to get bigger guys and teach them to move their feet, but there is room for others – Cale Morris (6-foot-1) and Ryan Massa (6-foot) aren’t the biggest guys in the world, but they compensate in other ways.”
Added the 6-foot-3 Metcalf: “There are a lot of bigger kids coming out of Colorado. Is it the gene pool? The air?”
Some like former Colorado College and professional goalie Matt Zaba move into the net later, not necessarily a bad thing.
“The main trend I’m seeing is the better skaters typically are better goalies,” the Colorado Rampage goalie coach said. “They’re better on their edges and have better balance. When pro teams scout and they see a kid who is big, they might be more inclined to take, teach and try to develop him into someone who can play at the highest levels.”
The return of the NHL to Denver in 1995 when a well-stocked Quebec franchise arrived also played a role.
“The Avs moved here in ’95 and won the Cup in ’96 – look at the number of great players from here born around that time – Seth Jones, the Shore brothers, Brandon Carlo, Scott Eansor,” TenEyck said. “Add the trade for Patrick Roy, and he made the position of goalie attractive. I really believe the Avs’ success in the late ’90s and early 2000s corresponds to how strong those birth years are.”
The presence of the Avalanche also helped fuel an uptick in the participation in and quality of youth hockey. As the level of club hockey overall improved in the past decade, that meant far more skilled skaters, which did nothing but benefit goalies.
“The strength of a team like the (Colorado) Thunderbirds, it helps to be on the ice with that level of player every day,” TenEyck said.
Princeton goalie Austin Shaw is one of several goalies to come through the program.
“Playing for the Thunderbirds was huge,” he said. “The Tier 1 Elite Hockey League was a huge part of my development. At 15U, I was getting destroyed by 16U teams, seeing tons of shots. Mentally, I developed a lot. At 16U, it was just the opposite – I’d see just 15-20 shots a game. That added the element of having to stay on your toes. The other great thing with playing in the Tier 1 league is you learned how to perform no matter who is watching.”
With the ante upped in the youth hockey world, another transformation took place – youth organizations began to hire coaches dedicated to goalies.
“A lot of top AAA programs have put an emphasis on getting goaltenders the training they needed,” Lorenz said. “They recognized a need for the position. The past five or six years, the RoughRiders and Thunderbirds have had it. This is why you’re seeing all the guys in junior, college and just getting out of college.”
That coaching has been crucial, Metcalf said.
“Teams are caring more and realized a full-time goaltending coach brings a lot of value,” Metcalf said. They’re there all the time so they can implement more and focus on more details. And they’re starting to work with younger and younger players, so now there’s no reason to leave Colorado. The coaches know these kids, know what they’re about, so even if they switch teams, the new coach probably is familiar with the goalie.”
That collaboration between coaches at competing clubs also has been important.
“The biggest point is there are no goalie coaches competing with each other,” Shaw said. “They realize they’re ultimately working for the same goal. I didn’t have to pledge loyalty to one coach as a kid.”
Added Lorenz: “One nice thing with the Colorado hockey world in general, and especially with goalies, is it’s tight-knit. We all work together and we have a nice goaltender community. Having mentors has helped. The older guys always come back and help at camps. Evan Cowley, who didn’t play AAA hockey, will tell players about his path.”
If there is an outlier in this story, Cowley is Exhibit A.
The University of Denver junior said he didn’t have much formal goaltending coaching growing up aside attending sporadic camps. Cowley, who played AA hockey then a season in the North American Hockey League before getting drafted, used another method.
“I found the position early on and developed a passion for it,” he said. “I started studying NHL goalies I would see on TV, imitating what they did even in my living room, then taking it to the ice the next day.
“When I started playing, (goalie coaches) weren’t in the spotlight like they are now, and it wasn’t like today where you could go online and look anything up.
“Watching NHL goalies, that’s how I learned what to look for and study.”
Expect the emerging goalie trend to continue and perhaps gain more steam.
The Colorado Amateur Hockey Association now has a new role dedicated to the position – a director of goalie development – for which it tabbed author, coach and The Goalie Guild founder Justin Goldman, who has worked in various national-level capacities, including with USA Hockey.
And not only are members of the goalie fraternity making their way into professional hockey (Massa recently was called up to Toronto’s American Hockey League affiliate), they’re infiltrating the coaching world. Colorado Springs product Cody Campbell is in his third season as a North American Hockey League assistant coach after tending the nets for Niagara University and in the USHL.
All of it bodes well for the masked men.
Some of the region’s notable goaltenders
Player (birth year); Hometown; Current team; Notable
Kris Carlson (97); Centennial; Austin (NAHL); Former Littleton, T-Bird goalie in college recruiters’ sights
Evan Cowley (95); Arvada; Denver (NCAA); Never played higher than AA, but Florida Panthers picked him in Round 4 (92nd) in 2013 draft
Chris Dylewski (92); Colorado Springs; Air Force (NCAA); Former Rampage in his fourth season with Falcons
Hayden Hawkey (95); Parker; Providence (NCAA); T-Birds alum was a sixth-round pick (177th overall) of Montreal in 2014 draft
Nicole Hensley (94); Lakewood; Lindenwood (NCAA); The former Foothills and Select star has represented Team USA twice on Under-22 Select teams
Cole Huggins (92); Centennial; Minnesota State (NCAA); Former Rampage and T-Bird has nearly 30 college wins
Zach LaRocque (97); Arvada; Cedar Rapids (USHL); Called up to USHL this season from RoughRiders’ 18U team
Ryan Massa (90); Littleton; Toronto (AHL); Former T-Birds and Rampage goalie helped Nebraska-Omaha to the 2015 Frozen Four
Evan McCarthy (94); Castle Rock; Miami (NCAA); Former RoughRider beginning college career
Garrett Metcalf (96); Salt Lake City; Madison (USHL); Ex-Rampage a sixth-round pick (179th overall) of Anaheim Ducks in 2015 Entry Draft
Cale Morris (96); Larkspur; Waterloo (USHL); Former T-Bird has committed to Notre Dame
Danny Mumaugh (96); Centennial; Seattle (WHL); Former T-Bird retired last season
Gavin Paczosa (96); Greeley; Aberdeen (NAHL); Beginning his junior career this season
Dean Shatzer (96) Castle Rock; Odessa (NAHL); Former RoughRider has committed to Dartmouth
Derek Shatzer (94); Highlands Ranch; Colorado College (NCAA); Former T-Bird also played at Culver Prep
Austin Shaw (96); Highlands Ranch; Princeton (NCAA); Former T-Bird and RoughRider thrived in one season in NAHL
Evan Smith (97); Parker; Sioux City (USHL); Ex-Littleton, T-Birds and Pikes Peak player was picked by Nashville in seventh round (205th) in 2015
Kara Smith (96); Denver; New Hampshire (NCAA); The former Select goalie went to five USA Hockey national development camps
Jacob Weatherly (96); Castle Rock; Amarillo (NAHL); Former Ramage is in second year of junior
In addition, several other goalies came to Colorado in recent years to play AAA hockey before moving on in their careers. This includes Marc Audet (RoughRiders, Acadie-Bathurst/QMJHL), Nick Kossoff (T-Birds, Lake Superior State/NCAA), Francis Marotte (RoughRiders, Nepean/CCHL), Rob Nichols (T-Birds, RoughRiders, Connecticut/NCAA), Dayton Rasmussen (T-Birds, Tri-City/USHL)
Morris photo/Stephanie Lyn Photography; Massa photo/Fernando Medina/Gary Bassing/Orlando Solar Bears; Cowley photo/DU Athletics
— Chris Bayee