Butterfly style stings NHL goalies

Many hockey observers are connecting injuries to goalies this season - no less than 17 through Nov. 26 - to the butterfly style, involving a goalie dropping and covering the bottom of the net with toes pointing outwards and the tops of the pads meeting in the middle.

Unorthodox style, 'profly' spinoff partly to blame for rise in injuries: experts

Former NHL goalie John Davidson believes hip replacements and groin injuries will become even more of an issue for those who play the butterfly style like Detroit's Chris Osgood, shown here. ((Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press))

Watching Hall of Famer Patrick Roy veer side to side as he walked the red carpet during his recent No. 33 jersey retirement ceremony in Montreal reminds John Davidson of the abuse inflicted on today's NHL goaltenders.

Many hockey observers are connecting some of the injuries to goalies this season — no less than 17 through Nov. 26 — to the butterfly style. The body-contortioning goaltending move involves dropping and covering the bottom of the net with toes pointing outwards, and the tops of the pads meeting in the middle.

"They [goalies] practise on their knees and they play on their knees," said Davidson, whose knee joints have been replaced with titanium and plastic, evidence of 10 years of wear and tear as an NHL goalie in the 1970s and early '80s.

Now the St. Louis Blues' president of hockey operations, Davidson was among several experts asked by to discuss the butterfly style and its potential long-term effects for a three-part series examining the rise in injuries to NHL goaltenders.

'Stand in your driveway and go up and down on your knees on a mattress 300 times a day. Do it for 10 years and see how you feel. It has to affect you physically.'—Glenn Healy, former NHL goalie

Part 1 looked at the overuse of netminders and how coaches feel pressure to play their starter often in a salary-cap NHL world.

Part 2 dealt with the league's recent changes to rules and goalie equipment, and how, as a result, goalies' bodies are being stretched to the limit.

Davidson, 55, believes eventual hip replacements and groin injuries will become even more of an issue, especially for the bigger goaltenders.

Former NHLer Glenn Healy, who played a standup style during his 14 years in the league, believes most netminders go down on every shot in practice and games.

"Stand in your driveway and go up and down on your knees on a mattress 300 times a day," said Healy, now director of player affairs with the NHL Players' Association. "Do it for 10 years and see how you feel. It has to affect you physically.

"At what point, whether it's hip or groin, does your body break down when you're asking it to do that day in and day out, year in and year out?"

Hall, Esposito introduced butterfly

The butterfly style, introduced by Hall of Famers Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito — who both happened to play for the Chicago Blackhawks — between the 1950s and '80s, and refined by Roberto Luongo and Roy, is an unnatural movement because it is all hips, said Ottawa Senators goalie coach Eli Wilson.

The femur rotates in the hip socket and as it moves towards the middle to create the butterfly, the goalie's knees are driving to the ice and loosening the hip socket. Once the hips are damaged, groin problems soon follow.

"The stronger you can be, the more long, lean muscle you have, the more support you can give your hips, will only help," Wilson said. "But it is bone, it is a socket that is being abused by doing that, so I don't know how much you can do."

Investing in warming up muscles and performing the recommended stretching exercises would help, according to Calgary Flames goaltending coach David Marcoux, who has watched the team's starter, Miikka Kiprusoff, remain relatively injury free in each of the past three seasons.

"It used to be that No. 1 goalies were very poor practice goalies because they would just stand up and save their hips and bodies," said Marcoux, noting rest and recovery is part of the recipe for staying healthy.

"But now repetition is so important, so you have to find the right balance of how many reps you do and the time you take to warm up."

Steve McKichan, who coached goalies Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft (now with Colorado) with the Toronto Maple Leafs for two years prior to this season, contends there isn't a correlation between the height or size of the goalie, and the frequency of hip and groin, which are being attributed to the butterfly. The 41-year-old pointed to the profly, a variation of the butterfly.

The profly requires a goalie's leg pads to fully rotate 90 degrees when he or she drops to the ice on their knees. The leg pads roll on the leg and have a landing pad for the knee to keep it higher [off the ice], enabling goalies to flare their feet to the side and creating a wider butterfly.

That rotational use puts stress on the hips and is causing some of the recent injuries, said McKichan, who runs Future Pro Goalie School in Strathroy, Ont.

Willing to 'pay the pain price'

"In minor hockey, you don't see kids busting out hips all the time, so it just can't be the equipment, but rather how the game is played.

"I don't think you'll see goalies go back to playing standup or completely change the gear. They'll pay the pain price once in a while just to be playing the most effective, successful style," said McKichan, adding the butterfly style is the only way for goalies to make the NHL.

Training then becomes an issue and there is belief goaltenders are working out too much. Tired muscles, more often than not, result in frequent injury.
Many hockey observers point to years of playing the butterfly style to Hall of Famer Patrick Roy's noticeable side-to-side movement when he walks. ((Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press))

Wilson, however, thinks the year-round maintenance to develop long, lean muscles helps prevent injuries during a rigorous season.

Kelly Hrudey, who tended goal for 677 regular-season games in 15 seasons, said such conditioning is a must to compete at the current NHL level, but wonders about the long-term effects.

"Sure, it's great to be in impeccable shape and it's important, but your body can only train so much for so many years before it has catastrophic breakdowns," said Hrudey, now works an analyst on Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts.

"You can overtrain and I think we're seeing the results of that. A lot of these injuries are not from being hit or crease crashing — they're just plain old stretching [the body to its maximum].

"Athletically, [being an NHL goalie] is one of the most challenging jobs in the world, and then you add the stress on the body, and [injuries are] going to happen."


Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc