July 16, 2012

Original Six: New England's greatest goalies

By Jesse Connolly

They say there isn’t a more important, pressure-packed position in all of sports than that of the goaltender. Over the years, countless New England natives have shined between the pipes when it mattered most at every level, from college to the Olympics to the National Hockey League. They have carried their teams to Beanpot titles, Olympic gold medals and Stanley Cup championships. Here are the six best backstops to hail from the region:

6. Brian Boucher

Woonsocket, R.I.

Since Ron Hextall retired in 1999, the Flyers have been on an endless quest to find a goaltender that could lead them to glory. On multiple occasions, Boucher was almost that guy. A standout at Mount St. Charles, Boucher led the United States to a silver medal at the World Juniors, honed his craft for two years in the AHL then burst onto the scene in 1999-2000, leading the Flyers all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

After falling out of favor in Philly, Boucher bounced around, fought his way back from the minors and was once again the Flyers’ starting netminder from 2009 to 2011. Injuries derailed his 2011-12 season — his first in Carolina — but if healthy, the 35-year-old veteran should provide great support for Hurricanes’ starter Cam Ward.

NHL record: 120-137-45

5. Rick DiPietro

Winthrop, Mass.

If hockey had its own dictionary, DiPietro’s mug would be pictured right alongside the phrase “snake-bitten.” Having made just 46 starts in the past four seasons, and with a contract that won’t expire until the sun burns out, it’s easy to label him a colossal failure.

But before injuries began to derail his career, DiPietro certainly achieved some noteworthy accomplishments. After being named Hockey East’s Rookie of the Year, the Boston University standout became the first goalie ever selected No. 1 overall at the NHL Draft in 2000. In 2006-07, he guided the Islanders to their most recent playoff appearance with 32 wins. Now 30, it’s unclear if DiPietro can regain his old form, but the former Terrier deserves kudos for all he did before becoming a permanent fixture on the Islanders’ injured reserve list.

NHL record: 130-133-8

4. Jim Craig

North Easton, Mass.

To be blunt, Craig didn’t do a whole heck of a lot in the National Hockey League. He appeared in just four games for the Flames, the team that drafted him, came home to the Bruins and was decent in limited action, failed to stick with the North Stars in 1983-84 and soon after called it a career.

Ultimately, though, none of that matters. Craig, after all, was victorious in net for arguably the most celebrated achievement in sports: the “Miracle on Ice.” A national champion at Boston University, Craig went 6-0-1 in the 1980 Olympics, helping Team USA defeat the Soviet Union in the most astonishing upset the world has ever seen before capping it off with a victory in the gold-medal game against Finland. No NHL shortcomings could ever tarnish his status as a legend.

NHL record: 11-10-7

3. Garth Snow

Wrentham, Mass.

Long before becoming an NHL GM, Snow put together one of the greatest amateur résumés ever seen. After a stellar tenure at Mount St. Charles in Rhode Island, he moved on to the University of Maine, where he led the entire nation in wins not once but three times. He capped that off by leading the Black Bears to a national championship in 1993, as he and Mike Dunham formed a dynamite goaltending tandem that combined to go 42-1-2 that year.

Snow’s NHL career wasn’t nearly as illustrious, but he proved to be a solid presence between the pipes during his 13 years in the league, primarily for the Flyers, Canucks and Islanders. Among ’87 draftees, only two goalies (Jeff Hackett, Guy Hebert) went on to appear in more NHL games.

NHL record: 135-147-44

2. Jonathan Quick

Hamden, Conn.

At this rate, Jonathan Quick won’t just be one of the best goaltenders to come out of New England. The Connecticut native may someday rank right up there with the Roenicks and Tkachuks of the world as one of the finest players the region’s ever produced.

Just 25 years old, Quick has accomplished a ton in an extremely short amount of time. His playoff run for the ages earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy this spring, as he backboned the Los Angeles Kings to their first Stanley Cup. He’s just 14 wins behind Kelly Hrudey for second on the team’s all-time wins list, and 40 behind leader Rogie Vachon. He may never be able to top all that he accomplished in 2011-12, but Quick sure seems poised to give the Kings elite netminding for years to come.

NHL record: 131-87-25

1.Tom Barrasso

Stow, Mass.

The heroics of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr always will come up first when looking back on the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992, but their netminder certainly deserves his fair share of credit. Known for his feistiness and ultra-competitive nature, Barrasso remains the only goalie to ever jump directly from high school (Acton-Boxboro) to the NHL. Upon doing so, he made quite the splash.

After winning the Calder Trophy and becoming the youngest Vezina Trophy recipient ever in 1983-84 for Buffalo, the 6-foot-3 netminder found his way to Pittsburgh via trade in 1988 and truly made his mark in the Steel City. The all-time leaders in playoff victories among American goalies, Barrasso suited up for 777 games during a 20-year career. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.

NHL record: 369-277-86

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ 

Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com