Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The importance of a goalie coach

In 2003, Jean-Sebastien Giguere had many Calgary Flames fans asking themselves – why did the organization let him go? The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim goaltender caught the league’s attention – enough to have been named National Hockey League Player of the Week ending December 15, 2002, edging out Vancouver Canuck scoring sensation, Markus Naslund.

Giguere was a key factor in Anaheim’s legitimate hunt for a playoff spot – something his team hadn’t seen since 1999. On December 15, 2003, with a 5-0 win over Pittsburgh, Giguere inked the Ducks into the record book as the first NHL club to post three consecutive shutouts since the Colorado Avalanche in November 2001. Registering four shutouts in six games, Giguere helped advance his team to second place in the Pacific Division.

If Giguere’s success had Flames fans scratching their heads, perhaps it was because Calgary gave up on the young goaltender too early. Giguere admitted he was much older and wiser in Anaheim, but there was one thing he had in California that he never had in Calgary: a goaltending coach.

"The organization in Calgary always gave me a chance. They let me play a few games, but I don’t think I was ready. I was still very young. When you’re 22 and trying to step in as a goalie, it’s really hard. In Anaheim, I was a bit older and had more experience. My game was better. I worked a lot with a goalie coach, so when I really got a chance, I was more ready."

How important is a goaltending coach to the development of a young netminder? Just ask 2001-02 Hart Trophy winner, Jose Theodore.

“Sometimes you have the talent to play but sometimes you have to polish your game a little bit so you can do it on a consistent basis. The only way to do that is by working hard and having a guy like I had in Roland Melanson, who had been my goalie coach since I’d been in Montreal. When I was 20, 21, I was sent back to the minors and the team didn’t give up on me. Rollie was coming into the minors, helping me. Talent is one thing, character is the other but you have to put everything together. And that’s just by having someone who can teach you. Another guy, like Jeff Hackett, was also a big factor for my development. I learned a lot from him, just watching him play, the way he practices, prepares for a game. Then when I had the chance to become the number one goalie when he got hurt, I was ready for that challenge. When you have a guy like Rollie or Jeff to help you out, although you’re only maybe 25 years old, you can play like you’re 30 years old because you have more experience by working with different guys.”

Aside from hiring a full-time goaltending coach, if the two young goaltenders set any example, it’s for clubs not to give up on their young players too quickly. Development takes time and happens at an individual pace. At age 21 and 22, you can’t force a player to develop at a faster pace. However, one only needs to look around the NHL to see which teams have lost their patience.


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