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Victor

Who is the best goaltender of this generation?

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Not too long ago, I wrote an article trying to find the best defencemen in the VHL today, as I felt it was a position without a clear superstar leader. Fittingly, two of my prime candidates for that role at the time, Maxim Kovalchuk and Ryan Kastelic, promptly switched positions to center, leaving a gaping void at the top once more.

 

However, perhaps even more pertinent to the issue of an absence of superstars is the situation among VHL goaltenders. We live in an era where there are more goalies than ever before and 10, soon to be 12, franchises all have fairly reasonable goaltending situations going forward. And yet, statistically, the league's leading goalies are some way back of the greats which preceded them. This is a position where we have spoiled by big names for decades – from Tuomas Tukio and Remy LeBeau, to Hans Wingate and the Cleganes, to most recently the likes of Rhett DeGrath and Apollo Skye. Mind-bending performances were had, records were broken and in many seasons, goalies were king. The likes of Ariel Weinstein, Jakab Holik, and Astrid Moon have struggled to get into the Hall of Fame due to the strength of their contemporaries. Oh, how they wish they were born a bit later.

 

Season 57 feels like an eternity ago, but it was actually the last time a Hall of Fame goaltender was drafted in the VHL, Norris Stopko being selected by Stockholm Vikings, a season before that franchise ceased to exist. Stopko didn't quite hit the heights of his predecessors but was easily the best goaltender of his generation, still dragging an average Toronto roster to a surprise Continental Cup in his final season, S64. Stopko had a few rivals early on, but they fell off for various reasons. Shawn Brodeur put together a solid, but unspectacular career, his activity falling off and back on and again throughout. While he had his moments, like a cup-winning performance in the S61 playoffs with Davos, these were few and far in between, with Brodeur ultimately spending his final season in the VHL backing up rookie Brick Wahl in Calgary. Ike Arkander looked like a bonafide star in his first seasons in the league, following in the footsteps of DeGrath, but agent Vince Wong's temporary departure from the league cut short his career after just 4 seasons.

 

So while Stopko remained largely unchallenged at the top for most of his career, has anyone stepped up to the plate after his retirement? Well this season was the last for two men who fell short – Roger Sterling and Tristan Iseult. Sterling was the first big-name goalie after Stopko going into the draft in S61, but his early promise went unfulfilled as he fell off the pace of draft rivals like Matt Thompson and Podrick Cast. Thanks in part to playing on the regular season-dominating Seattle Bears, Sterling did put up 239 wins, good for 27th all-time at the time of writing, but some way off the grandees of the past.

 

In the meantime, Iseult actually managed to put a temporary halt to Stopko's dominance with a superb performance in S63, but this was by far the pinnacle of his career. An infamous public implosion following the S64 playoffs where Quebec was penalised for breaking the backup goalie rule by starting QUE G for their brief wildcard round was followed by a prompt departure from practicing and with that any chance of becoming a great goaltender.

 

Where does that leave us then? There are, on paper, some great goaltenders currently active. Kallis Kriketers benefited from starting his career on the cup-winning Riga Reign and as they have continued to be a perennial contender, he claimed 3 straight Greg Clegane Trophies. Two Aidan Shaw Trophies to date also do no harm to his Hall of Fame hopes, but floating around the .920 save percentage and 2.20 GAA marks is quite some way below what we have accustomed to seeing in the VHL. However, that might just be the reality of this deeper, more balanced league we have today. Kriketers' main rival in TPE, Alexander Pepper has put up similar numbers on a similarly successful Helsinki team, and has only truly played at the expected level during the S66 playoffs.

 

Consistency seems to be issue for the modern goaltender, as despite several candidates, no one has really announced themselves as the VHL's best. This is perhaps best exemplified by the recent entries to my 'Greatest Goaltender Playoff Performances' list. Kriketers, Pepper, Brick Wahl, Finn Davison, and even Ismond Kingfisher have all had single great playoff series but are yet to repeat their heroics, although are all clearly capable of it. And yet, despite this it would be wrong to say we are living through an attack-dominated age, given that for several seasons now the 100-point mark seems to be hard to attain even for the league's biggest stars.

 

VHL statistics are a fickle beast and fluctuate wildly from season to season so things could well move in any direction going forward. As more and more goalies come through, we might enter a real dead puck era, with the best forwards struggle to get more than a point per game. Or on the contrary, perhaps the continued development of the S66 and onwards draft classes will result in the high-scoring days of the past to come back and even today's goaltending stats will seem unattainable. Or maybe this is the new normal in the VHL. If that's the case, then it will be interesting to see what this means for Hall of Fame voting, where we are already going through an enforced period of only voting in one player per season to maintain the high standards set in the past. It might well be the case that modern players require modern standards and in fact, Kriketers and Pepper are putting up Hall of Fame numbers in today's VHL. Either way, it will be interesting to see where we go from here.

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Review:

 - Tuomas Tukio misspell = article void. 0 points given. Just kidding I love you

 - Wonderful article talking about today's VHL goalies and how they factor (if at all) into the VHL history books. Tbh, I don't even care that there were not any pictures, titles, colours, like I normally would, just because of the quality of the words you put to the keyboard. But I guess after decades of seasons, I kind of expect that from you. Great work Viccy @Victor :cheers:

 

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