Chances are that, if Jake Patterson had toiled for an off-the-beaten path team instead a flagship franchise such as the London Knights, his choice not to subject himself to the vagaries of the market for overage goalies might have escaped notice.
However, the 20-year-old Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native, did play for London, he apparently did decide not to play and it does fall under a discomfiting pattern. That makes it worthwhile to talk about it. At the start of each season, there is a trickle of major junior players who "caught up in the 20-year-old game and its uncertainties, with each team being allowed to keep only three of them." It seems to apply especially to goaltenders, since the prevailing rule of thumb is that a 20-year-old goalie has to be a drop-dead No. 1 (or someone who can play until he drops).
It's just worth wondering why it has to be that way. It's well-known that goalies mature later than defenceman and forwards, yet they still fall under the same overage rule instead of being exempt.
Doing so does not seem to jibe with either the development or entertainment aspect of major junior hockey. On the first count, when the Canadian Hockey League excluded goalies from the import draft in 2013, I had a long conversation with a former NHL goalie (I won't say whom because I don't feel up to be called a weasel for sharing a private chat) who pointed out the current system pushes goaltenders through too quickly. Allowing a team to carry a pair of 20-year-old 'tenders, his argument went, might give that late bloomer just an extra bit more time, just a little more exposure. Goalies typically don't bloom in full until age 24.
From an entertainment standpoint, the aim should always be to improve the quality of talent. It's hard to say what would happen with a change, but having more 20-year-old 'tenders in the CHL could create more opportunities for younger teens to start at the Junior A level.
As it stands, the OHL, with only three European goalies left in the league (Saginaw's 19-year-old Nikita Serebryakov, Barrie's 19-year-old Daniel Gibl and Ottawa's 17-year-old Leo Lazarez, a 'naturalized netminder'), has a goalie shortage. Only one 19-yearold goalie, Mississauga's Spencer Martin, is a NHL draft pick (no. 63 to the Colorado Avalanche to 2013).
It's no wonder that, as the London Free Press' Ryan Pyette detailed, the going rate to trade for a quality goalie "is two-second-round picks and a third-rounder."
Point being, whatever issue there might be with training goalies in Canada, there seems to be an issue with retention is well. Whatever Jake Patterson's reasons — and he's entitled to his privacy — it is worth noting he had two netminding mates who got shunted aside during their age-20 seasons. In '11-12, Tyson Teichmann was London's backup. Last season, after nine games with Kitchener, he ended up playing out the season with the Junior A Wellington Dukes (albeit close to his hometown).
The following season, Patterson platooned with overage Kevin Bailie. Midway through the season, not long after the Knights had 24-game win streak, Bailie was jettisoned to make room for Philadelphia Flyers prospect Anthony Stolarz. Bailie, a one-time first-rounder in the OHL priority selection, also finished up his season in Junior A. Bailie, who now plays for the Queen's Golden Gaels, is the reigning rookie of the year in Canadian university hockey, which suggests someone was pushed aside too soon.
It does not have to be this way. I know the Ontario, Quebec and Western leagues have to agree as one to tweak the overage rules in order to keep the appearance of a level playing field for Memorial Cup. Whether the rules were a direct contributor to Patterson's choice is none of my business, but they certainly don't help someone feel needed.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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