There have been pockets of pushback against major junior hockey's phaseout of import goalies, but Barrie Colts GM Jason Ford was the only one to act on it Wednesday.
The Colts, who came within one pinged crossbar of winning the OHL championship thanks to a playoff MVP-calibre performance from German goalie Mathias Niederberger, drafted 6-foot-2 Slovak goalie Daniel Gibl at No. 47 overall. That makes the 18-year-old Gibl and Saginaw Spirit backup Nikita Serebryakov potentially the last European goalies who will play in the Canadian Hockey League for quite some time. Or at least the last acquired through the import draft, since there could be a loophole.
Jason Ford pleased with @OHLBarrieColts Euro draft. Selected lone goalie of draft in 18yr old Daniel Gibl of Slovakia. 6'2" and hungry.
— Craig Ripley (@Craig_Ripley) July 3, 2013
Without professing to have a scintilla of a scouting report on Gibl, he does fill more net than the 5-foot-11 Niederberger did.
Barrie replacing Niederberger with Gibl actually leads to a case study that contains arguments for both those that dislike the rule and the netminding nationalists.
One argument for doing away with import goalies is that they tend not to remain in North America, coming over for a season or two before returning home if a pro opportunity doesn't materialize. They come, occupy a crease that could be occupied by a Canadian, and go home. On par, that tends to be true, but the vast majority of domestic goalies also don't earn an opportunity at the next level.
Niederberger's career arc with Barrie made a canard out of this argument when earned an AHL opportunity with the Manchester Monarchs, the Los Angeles Kings after his successful season as an overage import goalie. The Kings also took the Red Deer Rebels' Patrik Bartosak in Sunday's NHL draft are planning on letting him be a 'two-spotter' in the WHL, playing for Brent Sutter, the Team Canada coach (no, no irony there). That suggests NHL organizations are somewhat attuned to the need to let slightly older goalies develop, rather than squeeze everyone into the one-size-fits-all North American experience. (Part of the reason, by the way, Niederberger did not come to the OHL until his age-19 season was due to his family's insistence that he complete his secondary school requirements in Germany.)
Clearly, there is some combination of the Colts believing this was the best way to avoid a drop-off in goaltending performance, and conversely Gibl and his people were moved by the success of the departing European goalie. (There's also the tongue-in-cheek joshing that Barrie just likes to be play Al Davis to the junior hockey establishment's Pete Rozelle, like that time they drafted Kerby Rychel three seasons ago.)
That does not necessarily cement the argument for allowing import goalies. It might strength the one for the new rule, too. Please keep in mind that in 2011, before acquiring Niederberger, the Colts also used a fairly high priority selection pick on now 18-year-old goalie Alex Fotinos. Fotinos only played in 36 regular-season and playoff games across his first two seasons, roughly half of what a young goalie is believed to need to develop properly. Who knows how comfortable Barrie would be anointing him as their No. 1, instead of opening the competition, if Fotinos had played more. The trouble is it's not clear where he would have got that vital additional playing time; the Colts were trying to produce a winning team, while Junior A teams often prefer an older goalie with NCAA aspirations (however realistic) over turning over the duties to a 16- or 17-year-old.
That's the whole system being out of order, in effect. The bottom line, though, is Barrie believed this was still the best means for procuring a capable goalie. It shows there are more cracks in the system to fix.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.
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- Mathias Niederberger
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