McKenna’s thoughts: Why keepers accept the risk of cat’s eye cages

For this week’s edition of McKenna’s Musings, I’ve decided to stay in my lane. All guardians. During the Stanley Cup playoffs, crease-related topics never run out. So here’s a closer look at two of the main goalkeeping scenarios.

Goaltenders all know a hockey stick can go through the cat’s eye, but they’re willing to take the risk.

When Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper took a stick in the face of Nashville Predators forward Ryan Johansen late in the first period of Game 3, the hockey world collectively gasped.

Any time something comes near a player’s eyes – whether it’s a stick or a puck – it’s worrisome. There is potential for a career-changing injury.

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It was scary, and it will happen again. The way most goalie masks are constructed, there is enough room for a stick to work its way through the cage and impact the netiminder’s face.

Most goalkeepers use a cateye cage, where the bars surround the eyes. This allows for optimal vision. No bars obscure the sightlines. But there are several vulnerable openings in the cage.

The solution would be to use HECC approved goalie cages that feature vertical and horizontal bars. Several goaltenders – John Vanbiesbrouck and Kelly Hrudey come to mind immediately – have used the NHL-approved cage with success.

But this is not the norm. The last NHL goaltender I remember using a non-cat-eye cage was Drew MacIntyre in 2014 when he adapted for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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During his junior career with the Sherbrooke Castors of the QMJHL, Drew suffered an eye injury while wearing a cateye cage. This prompted the whole of the CHL to impose cages with rectangular openings.

I don’t see that happening in the NHL. Goalkeepers all know the risk associated with the cateye cage.

Of course I did. During my college career at St. Lawrence University, I wore a HECC-approved cage. But when I turned professional in 2005, I switched to cateye. I thought it was much easier to see through. Could I have played with the approved cage? Definitively. But that was not my preference.

Could changes be made to make it more secure? Sure. And examples do exist, as you can see in the tweet below.

This is for major equipment manufacturers to improve their current product. The two examples worn in the tweet — by goaltenders Jeff Lerg and Jonas Hiller — are custom cages.

Even then, I don’t know how many Guardians would change. There hasn’t been much of an appetite in the past, regardless of the level of danger associated with the cateye design.

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I think the NHL has been consistent about goalie interference this season, but I have a problem with Jake DeBrusk’s tying goal in Game 4 of the series between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes .

It’s been a few days since the play took place, but I stand by my original assessment. The goal should never have counted.

The tweet above was my gut reaction. I didn’t see Pesce’s stick hit Raanta’s thigh until I watched the replay several times. So I decided to clarify with another tweet.

I can understand why the NHL left the goal hanging. Since we don’t get a full explanation with every review, I guess the contact between Pesce’s stick and Raanta’s thigh raise was heavily factored in.

The NHL had to decide that the cause of Raanta’s elimination was undetermined. Was it DeBrusk’s stick? Was it Pesce’s? Was it both? There is definitely a gray area.

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But as a former goaltender, I can tell you unequivocally that DeBrusk’s stick is the reason Raanta was knocked out of his position. When someone presses that hard on the boot breaker – the crease between the foot and the shin of the goalkeeper’s pad – it’s nearly impossible to hold firmly against the post and stay balanced.

If it had just been Pesce’s stick pushing against Raanta, the goalkeeper’s pad thigh raise might have moved. But without DeBrusk’s push, Raanta’s left foot would have stayed planted. In my eyes, DeBrusk’s impact is why Raanta’s ability to make the save was compromised.

I know people love to complain about goalkeeper interference and admittedly it can be difficult to understand the complexity of the rule. And ultimately, every review becomes a judgment call.

But I think the NHL did a really good job in the 2021-22 regular season being consistent. If contact occurred inside the blue paint, the goals were regularly waved. If there was a battle in the crease, as long as the keeper had a chance to make the save, the goals counted.

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It got to a point where I could accurately predict whether a goal was going to be allowed or not. I can’t think of anything I missed during the regular season.

But in this case, I agree with Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour and Raanta. It was a bad call. Jake DeBrusk’s stick is the reason Antti Raanta couldn’t do his job. The goal should have been recalled.


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