A long, long time ago, in a very different hockey era, goaltenders like Johnny Bower A.K.A “The China Wall,” Glen Hall and Gump Worsley patented the poke-check, of which Bower was clearly the master.
The move involved the goalie (usually sans-mask) throwing themselves and their goalie sticks at opposing forwards in an effort to dislodge the puck from the forwards stick—a skill that, for whatever reason, has long been absent from today's NHL.
Known as a scrappy, hard working goaltender, Bower used the poke check effectively to foil opposing forwards on breakaway’s and penalty shots alike, establishing himself as the best in the business.
Last winter Louis Pisano (a fellow BR writer) and I sat down with Hockey Hall Of Famer Johnny Bower on our show “Get The Puck Out” where we were able to ask Mr. Bower about the poke-check and how this one-time go-to move has lost it’s luster in today’s NHL.
When asked why he depended on the poke-check so much Johnny responded:
“...I knew how far I could reach from my post...and at the speed they (the forwards) were getting, I figured it was quicker for me to get my stick out..”
Think back to the last NHL game you watched—when was the last time you witnessed a goaltender using the poke-check to keep opposing forwards at bay? When was the last time you saw a goalie and his teammates practicing this move in practice? Does anyone out there think any of today’s goalies know how far their stick can reach from their posts?
Johnny went on to say that the key to success was letting the stick go, not hanging onto it as many do. “...you add another 63 inches with your stick if you throw it way to the end of the knob—don’t hold your stick”.
And if you missed the puck, what then, Johnny?
“A lot of times if you missed the puck you could get your stick in between his skates—I did it accidentally you know!”
As to why modern day NHL goaltenders have all but abandoned the poke-check?
“There’s a few of the young kids that are trying it—they’ve got to work on it, it took me a long time to get it, it’s all timing.”
Given what Johnny said, suffice to say that most NHL goaltenders do not work nearly as hard as they could on the poke-check, which, given how it could help them in the shoot-out, is a little puzzling.
Time will tell if NHL goaltenders start to make an effort to learn the art of the poke-check, until then check out this video of Johnny teaching the forgotten art.
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