Goaltending is often one of the most misunderstood positions in lacrosse, given that it takes a pretty strong skillset to be a top-flight player at that position. But beyond that, the traits that differ amongst each goalie’s skillset are magnified in lacrosse because it creates easily distinguishable styles of goaltending. That’s why the lack of games played in the short winter box season makes it hard to get reliable data on a goalie, and why lacrosse is an “eye test” sport. Beyond goals, assists and your average goaltending metrics like goals against and save percentage, people’s minds are made up solely of what they see on the floor.
That conundrum is one that plagued the Stealth all season, as the stats suggested the Stealth goalies played below average but in reality kept them in a lot of games and even stole a couple. With Tyler Richards retiring at the end of the season from a string of concussions, it leaves general manager Doug Locker with a major question mark at the position. He has two young goaltenders in Eric Penney and Cody Hagedorn that have shown potential but aren’t ready to take on an NLL starting position full-time if Vancouver wants to be a contender.
Historically, the best goalies don’t move too much because they have additional value that most players don’t have. This is why Bob Watson’s most revered years are with Toronto; Steve Dietrich in Buffalo and Dallas Eliuk in Philadelphia are two other shining examples. Richards was in this upper echelon of goalies for a handful of years, but now the search must be for his replacement.
The Case for Eric Penney
Penney is an Ontario product who originally came to BC to play out his final year with the New Westminster Salmonbellies under head coach Dan Perreault. Penney had lead the OLA Junior A circuit in saves with the St. Catharines Athletics up to the point he was traded, so he has shown flashes of potential up to his NLL career.
He found himself in a tough position, winning the back-up job behind Richards without a lot of prior professional experience. He fared how you would expect a rookie to: he had some good flashes of potential but struggled often and needs more repetition at a high level. He’s getting that in the WLA where he’s had a good start with New West.
NLL 2015 Regular Season Stats—Vancouver Stealth
Games Played: 18
.754 Save Percentage
Penney’s best game arguably came in Vancouver’s lone visit to the New England Black Wolves where he faced a career-high 68 shots with 19 saves coming in the fourth quarter. That allowed the Stealth to stay competitive for the final playoff spot in the West Division and gave Penney some good experience closing out tough games.
He also played Toronto and Rochester in the eight-day stretch during which he had his best game against New England, and those were a little tougher. He allowed 24 goals on 91 shots, but there were lessons to be learned from those experiences.
Can Penney hold it down for a full season as a starter? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t bet on it at this point. He would be better served in a timeshare situation where he isn’t depended on every step along the way, such as the situation in New West. Penney and Alexis Buque have traded games along the way to the Bellies 7-5 start and have looked great at times behind a veteran defence.
The Case for a Two-Goalie System
Cody Hagedorn hasn’t played very much action in a Stealth uniform—just 14 minutes, to be exact—but there are a lot of intriguing aspects of Hagedorn’s game that may point to him being a potential starter at some point in his NLL career.
In that game, where he closed out a 14-7 loss to the Rock, Hagedorn allowed two goals on 11 shots but didn’t play with any fear and made a couple good saves. This isn’t where we’re going to get a full evaluation of his work, though, making his WLA experience with Victoria more relevant.
WLA 2014/15 Regular Season Stats—Victoria Shamrocks
Games Played: 15
.757 Save Percentage
WLA 2014 Playoff Stats—Victoria Shamrocks
Games Played: 6
.767 Save Percentage
Hagedorn has played somewhat sparingly in the WLA as well, but got some valuable experience in last year’s Mann Cup run and established himself as the starter along the way. Although he’s undersized, Hagedorn has good athleticism that allows him to cover a lot of the net but also plays with good instincts. He’s not out of position very much, and can make the first pass into transition.
His numbers look great behind an elite Victoria Shamrocks defence, but he’s getting a good amount of shots and will learn behind a guy who took a big step while in a similar position to Hagedorn’s in Aaron Bold. There’s no reason to believe that Hagedorn couldn’t hang around as backup option, or in a 1A/1B situation with Eric Penney if the Stealth do choose to go down this route.
If the team is willing to wait out the growing pains of starting a pair of younger goaltenders, they could reap the rewards sooner rather than later.
The Case for an Outside Option
Looking around the league, and free agency notwithstanding, there are a few options for the Stealth to bring in a stop gap option or a permanent one. It really depends on how they view their two current goalies. Locker has shown the propensity for making a move for a big name before and may need to do so again if he wants the club to stick around Vancouver beyond the next couple of seasons.
I look at the season Tye Belanger could have with the Burnaby Lakers and think that his stock is either risen enough for New England management to feel comfortable dealing away Evan Kirk or look to trade him when his value will be high. Kirk didn’t find much more success behind New England’s patchwork defence, facing 571 shots, third-highest for eligible goalies. He still ranked below Richards in save percentage, though, so the Stealth would need to find out what they’re getting back.
Another option might be trying to pry a goalie away from Toronto’s quality goaltending tandem in Brandon Miller and Nick Rose. Rose has been in a controversy before playing out west with Bob Salt accusing him of forcing his way out of Coquitlam in favour of a trade to Langley. While that might dissuade him from making a return, Miller would be no consolation prize.
Rose vs. Miller
Rose: 6-2. 432 minutes; 70 GA; 9.70 GAA; 285 S; .803 Save Percentage
Miller: 8-2. 654 minutes; 113 GA; 10.36 GAA; 431 S; .792 Save Percentage
Miller played in all five games in the playoffs, going 2-3 with a .787 save percentage, getting the Rock a win away from the Champion’s Cup. If the Rock want to make a move, though, Miller or Rose would command a nice package with picks or players. It would be tough for the Stealth to make a move without all of their picks at their disposal, but maybe you try to unload Penney back to his home province and draft well enough that you can afford to give up a young player or two?
The Stealth have time to look at their options and decide on what their plan of action will be, but bringing in a goalie would substantially upgrade the overall talent level of the team and make them a threat to win the west once again.