Being a goaltender is one of the most pressure-packed jobs in professional sports. The masked man absorbs pounds of vulcanized rubber on a nightly basis and must face players who can fire this vulcanized rubber at upwards of 100 miles per hour.
Some goaltenders can handle this for repeated seasons and sustain a successful career, while others play at a high level for one or two seasons only to disappear into the unknown after that.
For hockey’s sake, we will call the following netminders one-save wonders:
1. Jack McCartan, New York Rangers
If you’re a die-hard hockey fan who grew up in the 1950s and early ’60s, this name might sound familiar.
Jack McCartan is known for being the first United States Olympic goaltender to win a gold medal. McCartan won gold in 1960 back in Squaw Valley, California, before Jim Craig (later for him) accomplished the same feat in 1980 in Lake Placid.
Unfortunately for McCartan, his NHL career was far from spectacular. MCartan’s strong play impressed the New York Rangers enough to sign him after his impressive play.
McCartan did not fare well at all in the big leagues. In the 1960-61 season, the Olympic champ played in seven-and-a-half games and allowed a whopping total of 36 goals. In comparison, McCartan allowed just 17 goals in seven games in the Olympics and was clearly the best goaltender in the tournament.
McCartan would end up being sent down to the minors and never returned to the NHL.
2. Jim Carey, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues
After the Washington Capitals parted ways with veteran goaltender Don Beaupre after the 1993-94 season, the Capitals were in the hunt for a new netminder that they could rely on to be their No. 1.
The Capitals appeared to have found their man during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. Jim “Net Detective” Carey. That season, Carey took the NHL by storm, going 18-6-3 with a 2.13 goals against average (GAA), a .913 save percentage and four shutouts.
For his strong play in ’94-95, Carey finished third in voting for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. The Net Detective also finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie and third in voting for the NHL all-star team.
Believe it or not, Carey was even better the following season, as he posted a league-best nine shutouts, won 35 games, had a 2.26 GAA and a .906 save percentage. After the season, Carey was awarded the Vezina Trophy, was named to the NHL First All-Star Team, and finished eighth in voting for the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.
After that season, however, Carey’s netminding prowess seemed to disappear. He allowed plenty of soft goals, lost his confidence and also lost everything it takes to be a successful NHL goaltender whether it was with the Capitals, Boston Bruins or St. Louis Blues.
The last time Carey played professional hockey was in 1998-99 with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the International Hockey League (IHL). While with the Cyclones, Carey ended up suffering an inner-ear concussion and missed the remainder of the postseason and, unfortunately, the rest of his hockey career.
3. Blaine Lacher, Boston Bruins
During the very season that Jim Carey came into the NHL, another young goaltender also took the league by storm before disappearing into hockey darkness.
In the lockout-shortened season, the Boston Bruins had a young netminder by the name of Blaine Lacher. After working on his game with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, Lacher got called up by NHL Bruins and immediately took control of the congested goaltending debacle by beating out Craig Billington and Vincent Riendeau.
In his first seven starts, Lacher went 6-1 and finished the season with a 19-11-2 record, a 2.41 GAA, a .902 save percentage and four shutouts. Lacher helped the Bruins reach the postseason as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately, things seemed to go downhill for Lacher from here on out as his Bruins lost to the New Jersey Devils in five games:
The following season, Lacher played in just 12 games. He went 3-5-2, allowed 44 goals, had a GAA of 3.52 and a save percentage .845. These numbers certainly did not equal an NHL starting netminder.
The rest of Lacher’s 1995-96 season was split between Providence and the IHL’s Cleveland Lumberjacks. The 1996-97 campaign would be the last professional hockey season for Lacher, who spent it with the Grand Rapid Griffins, also of the IHL, and went 1-8-1 before hanging the pads up.
4. Jim Craig, Atlanta Flames, Boston Bruins, Minnesota North Stars
In 1980, goaltender Jim Craig was one of the main reasons behind Team USA’s miracle run to the gold medal in Lake Placid.
Outstanding would be an understatement to describe Craig’s play in the 1980 Olympics, particularly against the heavily favoured Soviet Union team. In that game alone, the U.S. was outshot 42-16, but Craig made 39 saves, many of the unbelievable variety.
It was Craig’s performance in that game that helped the Americans reach the following match against Finland, where the U.S. would officially capture the gold medal, beating the Finns 4-2. Craig will go down in history as a man who played a significant role in one of the landmark moments in U.S. sports history.
Unfortunately for Craig, he was fresh out of miracles when he came to the NHL. Following his superstar performance in the Olympics, Craig would play in 30 NHL games combined for the Atlanta Flames, Boston Bruins and Minnesota North Stars.
Craig would go 11-10-7 with a 3.78 GAA, a .839 save percentage and no shutouts in the NHL. Certainly not numbers that would make anyone a starting goaltender at hockey’s highest level of play.
5.? Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
While this particular netminder is still playing in the NHL, there’s a chance that he might go the way of McCartan, Carey, Lacher and Craig if he continues to play the way he has over the past two and a half seasons.
Back in the 2008-09 season, Columbus Blue Jackets’ prized netminding prospect Steve Mason burst onto the NHL scene and was one of the league’s top netminders. In 61 games, Mason went 33-20-7 with a 2.29 GAA, a .916 save percentage and 10 shutouts.
Mason’s strong performance that season helped the Blue Jackets to their first and only playoff berth in their 12-year existence. His terrific season helped him earn the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year while also getting serious consideration for the Vezina and Hart Memorial Trophies.
After his fine rookie season, however, Mason has been nowhere near the same goaltender. Since that season, Mason has played in 136 games and won just 49 of them. His goals-against average has gone up each season as he posted 3.06 (2009-10), 3.03 (2010-11) and is currently at 3.46 this season, while his save percentage has also gone down.
While Mason is just 23 years of age, one has to wonder what goaltending path he will down. Will he get his career back on track, or will he take the road of the one-save wonders?