TBT: How Patrick Roy Changed the Face of Hockey

This week longtime New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur announced his retirement after a short stint with the St. Louis Blues. Hearing all the talk about Brodeur reminded me of the old rivalry between him and Patrick Roy. Most hockey fans have a definite stance as to which goalie they think was better.

Brodeur has more regular season wins, Roy has more playoff wins. You can look at  bunch more stats, you can argue about ties vs. shootouts. You can point out how much longer Bordeur’s career was than Roy’s, 22 vs. 17.

 

They both have Stanley Cups and loads of trophies. Roy is already in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Brodeur will join him soon. Roy has had his number retired by two teams, the Colorado Avalanche and the Montreal Canadiens. Brodeur is sure to have his retired by the Devils.

In short, Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy are both extraordinarily accomplished hockey goal tenders.

However, Patrick Roy as a goalie has one distinct edge that Brodeur never matched. Roy changed the face of goal tending by popularizing the butterfly style.

The Butterfly Style

Everyone knows what the butterfly style of goal tending looks like — just watch anyone from Montreal’s Carey Price to Colorado rookie Calvin Pickard. Goalies are adding their own spin, of course, but the butterfly is overwhelmingly the style of choice.

It is a very effective style. The goalie’s big leg pads cover the lower part of the net as he wings his legs out. He wings his arms up, and even more of the net is covered.

Developing the Butterfly Style

Patrick Roy didn’t invent the style. Rather, in the 1940s and 50s, goalie Glenn Hall started dropping to his knees to stop pucks. Most other goalies bent over or kicked pucks away. This was an era before masks and when their legs were covered in padded leather.

Goalies Tony Esposito and Roger Crozier further adapted the style in the 1970s. Equipment had improved, but it was nowhere near as protective as it is now.

In the 1980s, as Roy was starting his career, the pads changed to the pillow-looking structures we’re used to now. Masks fully covered the head and neck, and goalies began wearing full torso padding. (It’s bigger now, but so are players, and they’re shooting with composite sticks.)

Patrick Roy and the Butterfly

Goalie coach Francois Allair, who was once Patrick Roy’s own coach, was a big advocate of the butterfly style. He’s a gifted coach, as we’ve seen from his work with Semyon Varlamov. He helped Roy perfect his technique, and then Roy’s natural talent took over.

Roy made it look so easy. He had fantastic reflexes that allowed him to make his highlight-worthy saves. However, his day-to-day butterfly style allowed him to backstop two different teams to four Stanley Cups. He simply stopped more than 90% of the goals that came at him.

Goalies and goalie coaches noticed the effectiveness of the technique. They also realized it was easier to teach such skills rather than have a goalie rely so much on his reflexes, as the stand-up style does. Yes, butterfly goalies must still have lightning-quick reflexes, but the butterfly is a good standby.

Today, the butterfly has been hybridized. Players who like soccer sometimes add elements of that style of goal tending. Others mix in their own moves — forwards have found the flaws in the butterfly, so it has to keep metamorphosing, so to speak.

However, the foundation remains the same — the butterfly that Patrick Roy popularized.

Martin Brodeur, on the other hand, was considered the last of the full stand-up goalies. His style is not a revolution — it was the old way, one that he was gifted in employing.

To be fair, the NHL did change a rule thanks to Brodeur’s puck handling, but it’s not the same. Goalie schools across the world aren’t teaching his specific techniques — he was just that talented.

So, the debate can rage on about who was the better goalie. They were both extraordinary. However, my vote goes for Patrick Roy simply because of the legacy he left behind for the sport.