The NHL had just formed and begun to play when, on January 9, 1918, President Frank Calder announced an important rule change that would have a lasting impact on the game. From that point on, goaltenders could move however they like to block a shot.
Until then, goalies were penalized for dropping to the ice and had to sit out for three minutes, leaving their team to scramble for a replacement netminder. Referees knew how much delay this could cause and were reluctant to make the call. In early 1918, the worst offender was Ottawa Senators goalie Clint “Praying Benny” Benedict, who often dropped to his knees to block. Benedict knew his moves were against the rules so, he explained, “if you made it look like an accident, you could get away without a penalty. I got pretty good at it.”
However, the leader in the push for the rule to change was Art Ross, who had just folded his Montreal Wanderers. He was friends with the Patrick brothers, whose Pacific Coast Hockey Association had allowed goalies to drop for some time, and followed their lead with his amateur Art Ross Hockey League. Mere days before the NHL began playing in December 1917, Ross proposed that the NHL “allow the goal-tender to take any position he wishes in stopping a shot – to bite the puck, if necessary.” After all, every other player on the ice was already allowed to “go into the nets and get down on his knees or elsewhere.”
A mere three weeks into the NHL’s inaugural season, Calder announced the official rule change. “Section 13 of the rules, and that portion of Section 9 dealing with the goalkeeper, are hereby deleted, thus permitting the goalkeeper to adopt any attitude he pleases in stopping a shot. Please be governed accordingly.” Calder clarified that this rule change would “help the entire league, the public, the teams, and the officials. Very few of the teams carry a spare net-minder, and if the goaler is ruled off it means a long delay in equipping another player, and in a close contest, would undoubtedly cost the penalized team the game. The old rule made it hard for the referees, so everybody will be helped.” Perhaps the most legendary comment Calder made at the time was, “In the future, they can fall on their knees or stand on their heads, if they think they can stop the puck better in that way than by standing on their feet.”
This was the first rule amended in the NHL and caused the amount of goals per game to dramatically decrease (from an average 12.2 goals a game to 8.9).
Decades later when Glenn “Mr. Goalie” Hall pioneered the butterfly style, goalies still were not encouraged to drop to the ice. Hall said, “They often called me a flopper. I’d get upset with that. I was the opposite of a flopper. I was under control.” He considered himself a standup goaltender that played in a crouch. By January 9, 1992, Dominik Hasek was throwing himself all over the place to stop the puck and earned his first NHL shutout. Hockey today would look quite different without the ability for goaltenders to move as they wish when blocking shots.
- “Goalers in N.H.L. Can Now Lay Down in the Nets,” Ottawa Journal, 10 Jan. 1918, p. 8.
- “Art Ross Wants the Hockey Rules Changed,” Ottawa Journal, 17 Dec. 1917, p. 12.
- Bob Duff, The First Season: 1917-18 and the Birth of the NHL (Ontario: Biblioasis, 2017).