Hockey’s butterfly style can sting like a bee

Butterfly-style goaltending in the NHL seems to have been with us forever, but it did have its origins in the 1960s and ’70s...

Butterfly-style goaltending in the NHL seems to have been with us forever, but it did have its origins in the 1960s and ’70s, first with Glenn Hall, who used it sporadically, and then Tony Esposito who popularized it as his ubiquitous style.

Its use declined until Patrick Roy brought it back in a big way, and since then virtually all goalies use an exclusive butterfly style or at least a hybrid of styles including butterfly. It’s successful at stopping pucks and controlling rebounds especially with low shots, screens and scrambles around the net.

Unfortunately, with the advantages in stopping pucks comes the disadvantage of stressing the joints, ligaments and muscles in the lower body.

There have been numerous stories in the media about injuries resulting from the use of the butterfly style. Now some of the pioneers of the style are getting a bit older they are experiencing problems in their joints, premature degenerative changes, pain and mobility problems.

Typical lower body injuries that can occur include knee ligament sprains and tears, cartilage tears, groin muscle tears, sports hernia and abdominal pulls.

One of the overlooked injury spots is the hip joint itself. The ligaments and capsule that surround the hips are large and strong as are most of the muscles. However, the rotator muscles in the hip are much smaller in relation to other muscles and the load they are subjected to is great. The external hip rotators are perpetually stretched out and loaded and take a real beating. And despite the size and strength of the capsule, labrum and ligaments they can be injured too because of the load, torque and frequency of the movement.

Another problem that can be encountered is that not everyone has perfectly shaped hip ball and socket. If the socket has a little extra boney prominence on the rim or is too deep, the ball can jam into the socket and cause pain in the front of the hip. The ball itself can have extra bone formation on the front of the neck of the head of the femur, which can jam into the rim of the socket causing the same anterior hip pain.

Any of these situations can result in a hip impingement (or AI – acetabular impingement) and will often manifest in a sharp groin pain, which is made worse with quick change of direction or landing on the ice. The groin or front hip area will also remain sore and painful after playing, and hip mobility and flexibility will become restricted and may result in the inability to sit for long periods.

Prevention of injury can include a well-rounded and specialized core and hip strengthening and stretching program, posture and positional modifications when playing and greater time cross-training in-season and off-season.

The butterfly is an unusual and weaker position for the hip to be in, and as such needs special attention. If a goalie chooses to play this style greater care must be taken to prevent hip injury, impingement and labral tears than almost any other sport.


Kerry Senchyna is the founder, owner and president of West Coast Kinesiology.