Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Robert Mayer: 10 Autographed Items

To close off my returns list from last Friday (after Scott Mellanby, Stéphan Lebeau and Sven Andrighetto) comes my largest return ever, nearly a year to the date after my first return my Robert Mayer:
Here's what happened: I really like Mr. Mayer; he's a pretty good goalie and (obviously) a great guy. Because of my four-card return last season, and the fact that he re-signed with the Montréal Canadiens organization rather than play overseas this year and the next, I wanted to thank him in the few ways I can: I went to a few Hamilton Bulldogs games this year (road trip!), and when I decided to write to him again on April 1st 2014 with custom cards to sign, I included extras that he could keep and do what he wanted with; what he did instead was sign them all, along with the index cards, and sent them all back, signed in red sharpie, in his unique autograph that includes his jersey number (29) in the twist after the last 'R'. As I mentioned before, I received it last Friday, April 25th, 2014 - a 24-day return!

The big knock on Robert Mayer is a perceived lack of consistency, how he can be great one game and let in a ''soft'' goal or two the next. My answer to that is two-fold: first, can't the same be said for established NHL goalies such as Carey Price and Antti Niemi? And secondly, there isn't anything soft going in per se, just a lazy generalization about people who don't study the art of goaltending and blindly follow the opinions of commentators, who view anything new as inherently negative.

First, let's talk about pedigree, because that's what those folks use as a reference in the number of chances a player can get at the NHL level: sure, he isn't a first-round pick, but he was a playoff MVP in his first professional season with the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones; the move to the AHL wasn't all that easy in 2010-11, but he has posted terrific records in the three seasons since, improving each year:
-2011-12: 2.94 GAA, .909 save percentage on the last-overall team
-2012-13: 2.93 GAA, .908 save percentage on the last team in their division
-2013-14: 2.80 GAA, .909 save percentage on the last-overall team
On teams that score merely two goals per game - and where the leading scorer doesn't net 20 - those stats are amazing.

Here is what he does well: he's extremely athletic, and his glove-hand is NHL-ready, reminiscent of Mike Vernon in his Calgary Flames Stanley Cup days.

Here's how he is different from the current norm of NHL goalies: he's 6'1'', not a giant. Therefore, his style just cannot be of the ''sit back calmly and cover the net, just barely sliding from side to side'' variety.

Who we should keep in mind when judging him are Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur; granted, I didn't like them very much, but one thing Hasek had was the element of surprise, as shooters never had the slightest idea how he would react in any given situation, and Brodeur likes to come out and challenge shooters, then has the agility (despite his weight and shape) to compensate for wrong decisions should they occur.

What Mayer needs to work on: when to move further out in front of his blue circle, and when to keep the back of his skate in the blue paint, at least. And possibly his lateral butterfly slides, at least when he reaches the next level, where he will inevitably be facing quicker adversity. He needs to make absolutely sure his defenseman covers the empty man on 2-on-1s so he can concentrate on the puck carrier and then come out, because if the D doesn't intercept the puck, it can lead to an empty net to shoot in, and the inevitable cries of ''weak'' goals.

Keep in mind that NHL defenders make less mistakes than their AHL counterparts, though, so that might be less of a problem in the higher echelon.

I've gotten back to teaching young goalies this year (at the pee-wee and bantam levels), and when I'm showing them how not to conform to just one style, Mayer has been an example I've given them. But every goalie should be helped by a coach who will use their protégé's abilities as the basis of their tweakings, not forced into a style that doesn't match their personalities, skill level and/or body type. Mayer has what it takes over the shoulders to endure the grind of a long season, and just needs a bit of work (and more freedom) to do what he needs to do from the neck down.

Here's a closer (and un-doubled) look at the custom cards I sent, all showing him with the Bulldogs' white uniform:
They are all variations (A, B, C, D) of my Hell's Kitchen 2013-14 Series 2 set (card #24) and, yes, one of them has a much lighter shade of the Habs' bleu-blanc-rouge than the rest, possibly a result of the printing.

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