From the archives: Theo has Hall on his side
This story was originally published on Feb. 7, 2006
MONTREAL — Because the demands on a goalie are mostly mental, it means that for a goalie the biggest enemy is himself. Not a puck, not an opponent, not a quirk of size or style. Him. The stress and anxiety he feels when he plays, the fear of failing ... of being embarrassed (or) physically hurt, all are symptoms of his position. ... The successful goalie understands these neuroses, accepts them, and puts them under control. The unsuccessful goalie is distracted by them, his mind in knots, his body quickly following.
- Ken Dryden, in his 1983 book The Game.
I have the ability to make a difference in every game. That's my goal. I want to be a big part of the result, and the fact I have the confidence to do it every night is drawing me to another level. I can get the job done, no matter what happens on the ice.
- Jose Theodore, March 2002, during his Vezina and Hart Trophy-winning season.
Many Canadiens fans, unburdened by knowledge, have loudly decided why Jose Theodore has been playing less than stellar goal in recent weeks, and therefore should be traded for the ghost of Georges Vezina, a bag of pucks or anything in between.
Among their reasons, on a list growing by the hour:
a) the NHL's new rules;
b) lockout whiplash;
c) smaller equipment;
d) Theodore's new pads are yielding too many rebounds;
e) a lack of confidence;
f) his teammates' lack of confidence in him;
g) the distraction of family issues and impending fatherhood.
And why not the Roman numeral jinx? Theodore has painted LX, his sweater number 60, on his mask this season. Speak the letters aloud; they're the opposite of excel.
It seems everyone, however, has overlooked the real reason for Theodore's woes.
Glenn Hall and Jean Beliveau.
Hall pioneered the butterfly style of goalkeeping in the mid-1950s while playing for the Detroit Red Wings, during the era of the maskless, self-preservation-minded standup goalie.
The Hall of Famer says he did so because he couldn't see around or over Beliveau, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound hulking, immovable object planted on the lip of the crease at least 14 games per season.
"The problem with big John was that you couldn't move him," Hall said from his home in Stony Plain, Alta.
So he took the deep crouch of Red Wings goalie Terry Sawchuk lower still, until his pads were on the ice, knees together and legs fanned out to the posts.
This way, Hall could cover virtually the entire lower half of the net while seeing through Beliveau and the maze of traffic in front of the goal, yet still be able to bounce quickly back to his skates to cover his angles.
In other words - if Beliveau hadn't parked in front of the net, Hall might not have invented the butterfly, which a half-century later would be practised by Theodore, who has been beaten by soft goals while on his knees, deflating his save percentage and confidence.
"I'm responsible? Is that going to be your headline?" Beliveau asked, laughing heartily.
"I think that Jose is surrounded by stress, from inside and outside the game. Don't tell me the poor kid doesn't feel it. I don't know anybody who wouldn't, and not just in sports.
"He's probably staying home a lot these days."
This city gives little slack to a struggling Canadien, preferring to knot the rope into a noose. In the case of a goalie, no matter the quality of his defence, it's not what he's done lately but whether he stopped the last shot.
Beliveau heard the fans' abuse during his own Hall of Fame career, and always considered its source. It's a lesson Theodore could heed.
"One guy was after me all the time," Beliveau wrote in his autobiography, My Life In Hockey. "He must have weighed 300 pounds. On one occasion, I lost patience and said to him: 'How can you boo me? You can't even bend down to tie your shoes.' "
Life got no easier for Theodore on the weekend, watching from the end of the bench as the Canadiens' erstwhile No. 2 goalie Cristobal Huet earned shutouts over Boston and Philadelphia.
Of course, Theodore is not the first Montreal goalie who's had shivery legs, and he won't be the last. Pressure cracked the great Bill Durnan, and at one time or another Beliveau saw it buckle most every goaler on his championship teams, including Hall of Famers Jacques Plante and Gump Worsley.
Hall played against both, and shared the 1969 Vezina with Plante in St. Louis. He looks on today as one of hockey's greatest goalies of all time, his butterfly having revolutionized the position, a template for thousands who have followed him into the nets, from novice to the NHL.
"Jose should just stop the first shot and not worry about where the rebound is going. Don't try to complicate the situation," advises Mr. Goalie, as he's still known. "I loved to give up rebounds. Any goalkeeper who doesn't is the guy who's let in the first shot.
The father of the butterfly knows of what he speaks. Hall is a three-time Vezina Trophy winner, 13-time all-star, 1955-56 Calder and 1968 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the NHL's top rookie and playoff MVP, respectively, and anchored the 1960-61 Chicago Black Hawks to the Stanley Cup.
Save percentages weren't calculated by the NHL until the 1983-84 season, but Goalies' World magazine figures Hall was a stunning .917 from 1956-69.
While playing 16 full seasons for Detroit, Chicago and
St. Louis, and later as an assistant coach for the Calgary Flames, he saw dozens of goalies swing from superb to sieve and back.
Hall also worked himself out of a Theo-deep pit more than once, without a backup ready to step in. He played an astonishing, untouchable NHL-record 502 consecutive games from 1955-63 for Detroit and Chicago, 551 games including playoffs.
"I tried not to dwell on the slumps," said Hall, 74, author of 90 shutouts. "When I was playing well, the puck looked as big as a football. But when I was playing poorly, it was like somebody was throwing rice at me. I wasn't going to stop it, and I knew it.
"I know what Jose is going through. When you're going bad, the puck has eyes. It goes in off somebody or off the post. Or off both posts. Or off the post to hit you in the ass and then in. When things are going well, that never happens."
Theodore has been pulled in three of his last four starts, with statistics more beer-league than NHL - a .714 save percentage and 8.44 goals-against average. No matter the Canadien's calmly spoken resolve, Hall knows that he's beating himself up - or he wouldn't be a goalie.
Thus, the root of the problem.
"It's the mind that fouls up a goalkeeper," said Hall.
He believes Theodore will bounce back; the 2001-02 Hart and Vezina Trophy winner hasn't forgotten how to play goal. Soon, Hall predicts, the light will go on again, and it won't be red.
"Until then," he joked, "maybe they should just give Jose a lobotomy. When a goalie thinks too much, he's in trouble."
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