The Importance Of The Goalie Coach

As a long time amateur goalie coach, I read with interest the following comment from Red Berenson, U of M hockey coach. “It’s not like Josh Blackburn did a bad job because he didn’t. He did a good job, but he wasn’t able to be here every day and Shields will be here every day and that will help give our goalies some consistency which is important.” Goaltending is the most important position on a hockey team. Why is it that even the best coaches in the game give it so little consideration?Goaltending is considered 80% mental. One of the most important attributes a good goalie coach has is the ability to become a trusted advisor to his goalie student, living inside his head, giving his student the mental edge needed to be the best he can be. Berenson is right. Josh Blackburn may be a good goalie coach. But he’s not very good if he’s part time, and not spending time with U of M goalies every day.

IMG_0905It reminds me of a youth coach I talked to quite a few years ago. Half way through the season I asked him if he had anyone working with his goalie. He proudly told me he had a former Hobey Baker award winner working with his goalie. I asked him how often he comes out to work with his goalie. He said, “Well he’s been out once this season.” My response was, “A lot of good that Hobey Baker award is doing for your goalie.” The next week I got a call from that coach, asking me to work with his goalie. I may not have the resume that Hobey Baker award winner does but I guarantee you I had more of an impact on that goalie’s game.

I don’t know Jim Bedard personally. I know he’s been the Red Wing goalie coach for many years, under many head coaches. I can’t think of the last time a Red Wing goalie got better while playing for the Wings. Through the years they’ve had veteran goalies lead them to Stanley Cups. They’ve had younger goalies who are very talented, but their game never elevates.

Right now is a critical time for Red Wings goaltenders. They have a veteran goalie who started strong last year, then lost that mental edge and confidence, and ultimately lost his starting position. That mental edge will not come back by itself. They have a young goalie who came up when the veteran goalie was injured, and played somewhat inconsistent, which is not unusual for a young goalie. He had some really strong games and some very questionable games. He earned the starting role in the playoffs only because his good games exceeded the string of bad games the veteran goalie was playing. The Wings went in to the playoffs not knowing what they were going to get from their goaltending. This is a critical period for the young goalie. The next step he needs to take is huge. He won’t be able to take that step without the help of a trusted goalie coach.

In baseball, pitching coaches normally get released with the manager who hired them. Pitching coaches are considered critical to the success of a major league team. In football, the position coaches are as important to the success of the team as the head coach. Why do hockey teams settle for part time goalie coaches. Last time I checked, the U of M goalie coach is an unpaid position.

I struggle to understand why Jimmy Bedard has survived so many coaching changes when he has never shown the ability to help Red Wing goalies elevate their game. I believe he’s tied to Ken Holland. You see some of the better goalie coaches in the game like Mitch Korn occasionally change teams. Every time they change, the team they go to gets significantly better goaltending. Their fundamentals are always strong.

I’ve spoken to NHL head coaches who have told me, “I don’t know anything about goalies. Just stop the puck.” As you talk to them you find they really do know something about goalies. But you would think a position as important goaltending, would either be important enough for them to brag about what they know, or they would make sure they have the best goalie coach in the business in the pocket of their goalies every day.

The Red Wings have loaded up their off ice talent with goalies. Ken Holland was a goalie when he played the game. Now he’s hired Jeff Blashill, who was a goalie for Ferris State in his playing days. But Blashill’s focus will be on running the team, not so much on the mental state of his goalies.

You will frequently hear players say goalies are a different breed. They’re strange. They’re weird. I agree with all of that. There’s not a lot of sanity in letting guys shoot a puck over 100 mph at you. So make sure you have a full time coach who understands their weirdness, and uses it to take their game to the next level.

 

Mike Suty is a long time Detroit sports fan who loves sharing his passion for sports in the written word. If you enjoyed any of my posts and want contact me directly, you can email me at mgsuty@gmail.com

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