Earning the Keys to the Crease


by McNutty

It’s that fun time of year again, this weekend coaches will get together and vote on post season awards for the players. All-Conference, All-State and All-American accolades will be handed out. A handful of families will be proud, and a bigger chunk will feel their player got jobbed. It’s an imperfect process, filled with perceptions not facts, guesses not science, and politics not fairness. It’s a bunch of good folks getting together at the end of a long season, trying to be interested but largely burned out. They’ll work to support their players but in the end will have to compromise and will not be able to make everyone happy.

The good news is that this imperfect process is the same all over the country. College coaches know this, and I’ve never met one who cared one rip about personal post-season awards. If you can play, you can play, and if you show a coach you can play, he’ll be interested. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion, although I’m smart enough to know there’s a bunch of things on which my opinion isn’t worth a hill of beans.

The player evaluation I’m most comfortable with is that of goalie. I’ve spent way too much time analyzing goalie stats and have come to the conclusion that they are a problem (the stats, not the goalies. Well maybe, but that’s another story.)  People, including coaches, love to focus on a goalie’s save percentage, and if that ever correlates to who the best goalie is, I’m here to tell you it’s a mere coincidence.

A goalie’s save percentage is next to meaningless because not all shots are created equally. An offhand shot from 15 yards by a 3rd line middie who’s only in because the score is 28-0, is different from a fastbreak one-on-one shot from a starting attackman in the closing seconds of a one goal game. If your defense plays a great zone designed to force shots from the perimeter, you’ll see different shots than if your poles play a high-risk, high reward man-to-man with no slides. So a shot is not a shot, therefore a save is not a save.

Since I’ve struggled with goalie evaluation for years, I decided this season I would work to see as many of the state’s top goalies in action as possible. (Yes, this jeopardized my marriage.) You’ll see below, I’ve identified a total of 19 goalies. I’ve watched 16 of them in person and another one on film. Of the top five, I’ve seen them play in multiple games. I don’t know much about offense, I still struggle to quickly identify a zone defense, but I’ve learned a bunch about goalie stuff, and stats don’t tell the whole story. So I watched.

It doesn’t mean that we can’t take a crack at making stats meaningful, however. I’ve taken to heart my belief that making your defense good is a big part of being a goalie. You’re the only player on the field that can see everyone at once. All your defenders are coached not to be ball watchers, but you need to follow the ball everywhere so you can get them in the right position. So if you’re a goalie on a defense that plays well statistically, you probably have something to do with that, and you need to be credited.

My approach was to take the average shots per game allowed, the average goals allowed, the goalies save percentage and mesh those together with a McNutty-derived strength of schedule (sorry Laxpower and ScoreCzar, yours are not close.) I call this the McNutty Defensive Ranking, or MDR. I then ranked all the playoff teams and made a list of the top 10 D1 defenses in the state and the top 5 D2. Then I listed their goalies and their Save Percentages, just so you can compare with something familiar.

Here’s the chart of my results:


A few comments about the chart:

  1. I used every game against an in-state opponent when calculating these numbers. I counted all league games, non-league games and D1 vs. D2. No games against out-of-state opponents were used.
  2. This is an article about the best goaltenders in the state, not the best goaltending. Eastside Catholic and Lake Washington have been getting great goaltending by platooning their keepers. Evidence shows that it’s been working well for them, but it probably means none of their keepers get nominated for post-season awards.
  3. Emerald Ridge Puyallup’s #1 keeper, Devin Ehli was out due to injury and missed nine games. ERP’s been on a roll since his return and he’ll get enough minutes in by the end of the season to deserve consideration
  4. Tanner Evans’ Liberty team played the hardest schedule in D2 and yet he led them to the 5th best defense and a playoff berth. It won’t be a shock if they make some noise in the playoffs.
  5. Lake Washington’s defensive success illustrates my point. Sure they only saved 43% of shots, but they only allowed teams to take 12 shots per game. That got them into the Top 10 and the playoffs.
  6. It’s hard to accept that Mercer Island’s defense is ranked lower than Tahoma and Auburn Riverside. All three teams are within half a McNutt of each other, but the Islanders did give up one more goal per game on average, and ultimately that’s why they’re ranked in that order.

So, on to my picks for D1 All-State goaltenders. I think the three All-State awards should come from a pool of Issaquah’s Jordan Dondoyano, Mercer Island’s Benji Rothenberg, Bellevue’s Cole Cansler, Auburn Riverside’s Jaron Scarbrough and Tahoma’s Dustin Hendrix. If you made me pick the top one, I’d choose Cole Cansler. He’s a calming influence, makes good quick clearing decisions, and isn’t a liability outside the crease. However, I understand there are differing opinions, political realities and horse-trading that happens and needs to happen in the voting, and I couldn’t really fault choosing any of these five.

In D2, it’s a little easier because the selections are All-Conference. Conrad Littlefield is a shoo-in for Central-South. Likewise Asa Smith, sporting an 80% save percentage, is the choice in the Eastern Conference. Vashon’s Marquis Stendahl is the clear choice for SPSL and Andrew McCall is the same for Metro.

This year was an extremely competitive year statewide for netminders. Next year looks even better as many of the abovementioned return for their senior years. Additionally, on my “Ones to Watch” list for next year are Cameron Cronk and Josh Matte of Eastside Catholic, Ezra Tillenger, who likely takes over the reins for Mercer Island next year, and Abe Escarda, a two year starter for Eastlake who will just be junior next year. Look for more great goalkeeping next year, and lots of obsessive analysis of marginal value…’cause that’s just what I do.


4 Responses to "Earning the Keys to the Crease"
  1. Laxer – Dondoyano, Matte, Tillenger, Escarda, Bartch and Evans are sophomores. Hendrix, Cronk, Smith, Littlefield and McCall are Juniors. The rest on the list are seniors.

  2. Sounds like a good group of sophomore goalies…heard that this the issaquah goalie is only playing in his third season as a goalie. pretty impressive for a third goalkeeper!

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