Gucassoff’s stick: trick or cheat?

You’ll have to excuse the poor attempted wordplay for a pun (Halloween was quite some time ago now!) to introduce this article, but it seemed worth having a go summarising the article up in a light-hearted manner!

With the Euro Hockey League tournament finals running this weekend just gone, there was a chance to see some of European’s best talent on display; goalkeepers included ()! And other than Tobias Walter achieving MOTM for the gold medal against Oranje Zwart, with some impressive saves at crucial times at the game, as well as crucial ‘shuttle’ saves, in spite of some otherwise unorthodox technique in other games (like reaching down and wide with his left hand to stop a shot that could have been saved with the leg), a goalkeeping feature that proved noteworthy was Jeremy Gucassoff’s equipment. The hockey section of Twitter was abuzz with commentary, and if you haven’t heard much about (or care too much for goalkeeping!) here’s why: because his stick was so long it was being called a broomstick!

As you can see in the photo below, it is quite the sight to behold, being a little over the top in its length!

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This isn’t the first time that sticks have been modified to gain what some would seem like an unfair advantage. But perhaps not so much when it comes to goalkeeping! Let’s not forget that it wasn’t too long ago that drag flick specialists in the early 2000’s enjoyed great success with an extended bow at short corners. As the stories go, some even went as far as having a stick spare at the dugout handy just so they could change stick for the corner. Just like when ice hockey forwards would change their sticks at penalty shootouts to get some slick and fancy moves going! And for goalkeepers, this is almost the equivalent, if pushed to the extreme! So it’s no wonder that so many hockey fans (forwards mainly, perhaps?!) are crying foul over Guccassoff’s stick which does look so ridiculously long it’s no wonder that it drew such attention.

A lot of goalkeepers that play to the elite level and are good enough to represent their country in international fixtures, have highlighted their desire to go with a longer stick in order to compensate for the changes in the ‘shuffle’, and stated that they would go with a longer than standard choice of stick, in order to deal with the technical changes for the ‘shuffle’ format. With this length, the job of tackling can become a little easier as they deal with the ‘dummy and shake’ of players trying to wrong foot them and force them out of position. I have heard it said that one of the goalkeeping adages in Australia is to have a slightly longer stick to provide greater reach when going prone for barrier saves and to get that extra reach during a 1-on-1 and breakaway play.

For a goalkeeper, the advantages of having a stick with extra reach are certainly obvious when it comes to the shootout: when faced with a 1 on 1, the goalkeeper needs a longer stick to help deal with tackling from distance and reaching out for the rebound. And the battle to win the ‘shuttle’ can also amount to running down the clock, whereby the closer they can get to the ball after the initial save, the further they can reach in order knock it away in the hope that they can make the follow-up chance take long enough to run out of time, and also to get it clear of the D and away to eliminate that chance.

If the goalkeeper prefers to move with the ball carrier, they need to change quickly as they move with a ‘fake’; the extra length giving them the benefit of being able to reach out from where they are at the time of being sent the wrong way. The extra length also assisting with a ‘reach back’ attempt against a ball that could cross the line, whilst also taking away the low option wide, as the stick covers that horizontal space .

There are obvious limitations to this in game terms though. A lot of goalkeepers prefer a shorter stick for play, as it allows easier hand movements for glove saves. A longer stick forces the goalkeeper to have their right hand further away from their body to avoid ‘double coverage’ and getting their wires crossed (metaphorically speaking!) as they struggle to make a glove save with the stick bashing against their upright physical frame. Hence the reason for it only being used at this point in the game.

Goalkeepers and equipment designers have experimented with attempts to create a specific stick to aid with shot stopping and tackling, as seen with ‘kinked’ sticks and larger heads for stopping area, so the stick has not exactly avoided the touch of goalkeeping designers. But when it comes to stick length, this is a little new! Goalkeepers themselves also find a player’s stick to often do the job more than well enough, with a low bow providing the best saving surface, and weighted sticks (often ‘old school’ and wooden!) for a balanced save and greater clearance.

Why Gucassoff went with this invention is therefore pretty clear, but getting away with it perhaps isn’t! His maverick looking invention really pushing the boundaries on what the goalkeeper can get away with via the equipment rules!

I’m sure outfield players might consider the machination to be akin to Frankenstein’s monster (felt the need to include such a reference having been made to study it during my degree!), as it would seem akin to the ‘crazy goalie’ stereotype, but be more unhappy with the thought of the lives being made harder in scoring. It would definitely appear that a stick handle from another stick has somehow been grafted onto a stick originally, for an extra long handle! I personally think that the tape up the stick is to do with gripping the stick further up the top end (relating to the technique problem for glove hand stated earlier). Here Guccassoff would be looking for a smoother grip, allowing him to extend the stick as appropriate but also to bring it closer in, as needed.

Whilst I am all for goalkeeping innovations, it does seem a little perplexing as to the bigger impact on ruling for equipment. Ice hockey for instance has made the decision to make goalies’ pads smaller in the NHL so they couldn’t get away with wider pads (firstly) and extremely long pads for simple saves between their knees! And it will be interesting to see how the powers that be react.

Hockey is all about innovation: from having no off-side to video referrals and the experimenting change with the own goal rule. The Euro Hockey League is the testing ground for changes in the highest levels for internationals right down to mere mortals. Whilst it sounds trivial, it could see a decisive impact, with goalkeepers more confident in their use of longer sticks in these situations, having seen others like Gucassoff play like this. Quite well known for his specialism at shuffles, proving his worth to Belgium in World Cup competition, Jeremy would probably be fine without such a long stick. So who knows, maybe goalkeepers will be allowed to get harder to beat or face the ban hammer like those pesky drag flickers!

Daniel Grim

@Grim_GK

grimsgoalkeeping.blogspot.co.uk

 

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